The D&D Movie That Never Was

The long and winding history of the Dungeons & Dragons film rights has been covered extensively, particularly as companies attempt to capitalize on our nostalgia by turning any brand of your youth into a franchise. And yet despite the numerous failings of the D&D movies that have gone before, we may already have gotten a D&D movie in the form of a 1983 film:Krull.

View attachment 76846[h=3]Krull? Yes, Krull![/h]Wikipedia sums up the plot of Krull:

The planet Krull is invaded by an entity known as the "Beast" and his army of futuristic "Slayers", who travel the galaxy in a mountain-like spaceship called the Black Fortress. In a ceremony involving exchanging a handful of flame between the newlyweds, Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa plan to marry and form an alliance between their rival kingdoms in the hope that their combined forces can defeat the Beast's army. The Slayers attack the wedding before it is completed, killing the two kings, devastating both armies and kidnapping the princess.

Our hero, Prince Colwyn, is nursed back to health by a wise old man named Ynyr. Ynyr explains that the only way to defeat the Beast is with a five-pointed throwing blade known as the Glaive. Upon retrieving it, Colwyn much then catch the Beast's lair, which teleports to a new location every sunrise. Finding it requires scrying the location, which the Beast does not allow easily -- and then once the heroes find it, they must travel there quickly via magical means.

By most measures Krull isn't very good. It holds a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews, and it made over $16.5 million in the U.S., failing to recoup its $50 million budget. However, it has gained a cult in the intervening years since it debuted (51% of Rotten Tomatoes' audience liked it). Judging by the conversions of Krull to D&D, some of those fans are definitely tabletop gamers. But that connection alone doesn't explain Krull -- for that, we need to look to two popular franchises at the time in book and movie format.
[h=3]Fantasy and Sci-Fi Influences[/h]Given that Krull is nominally a fantasy adventure, the influence of Lord of the Rings is impossible to ignore. Jon Peterson inPlaying at the World explains just how influential Lord of the Rings was on American media:

In 1965, Donald A. Wollheim, now an editor at Ace Books, came to believe that the American paperback rights to the Lord of the Rings had never properly been secured. Acting on this uncertain supposition, he put out his own imprint of the three volumes in paperback. Since these were offered as a public domain work, without any royalty paid to the author, the individual volumes traded for only 75 ¢, a small fraction of the cost of the deluxe hardcover editions which remained largely unsold since the 1950s. The reduced price no doubt contributed to a sharp increase in sales of the book, but more importantly, America itself had changed during the intervening decade into a much more receptive venue for an epic fantasy. Where hardcover sales had been a trickle of a few thousand copies a year, the Ace edition sold some 100,000 copies in a matter of months. Ballantine, believing themselves on more plausible grounds to hold exclusive American paperback rights to Tolkien’s work, managed to produce a “revised” softcover edition before the end of the year which contained a stern admonition penned by Tolkien himself against Ace’s alleged act of piracy. The controversy over the rights, of course, served only to draw more attention to the Lord of the Rings and stimulate further sales.

It's no wonder that Krull hews closely to the Tolkien formula: Like the Fellowship, a variety of nobles and a ragtag band of other folk gather together to save their world. The Beast/Sauron parallels of a nebulous evil holed up in a dark tower are easy to spot, but the more prominent comparison is the Widow of the Web and the battle with Shelob. Sean Keeley explains at SBNation:

Let's see...the white wizard, the magical object that must be taken to the evil lair of the monster lest he take over the world, and oh my God how bout the spider cave scene? Swap out Frodo for an old guy and voila!

There was also another movie that would heavily influence Krull: Star Wars. Peterson explains how Star Wars influenced role-playing games:

As it happens, GDW had the great fortune to schedule their release on the heels of the monumental success of the film Star Wars, which provided a fresh and engaging template for heroic fantasy in a science fiction environment. Traveller appropriated, with especial fortuitousness, the psionics rules from Dungeons & Dragons, which provided a means to read or send thoughts, enjoy clairvoyant visions, move objects telekinetically— virtually all of the Force powers that Obi-Wan Kenobi invokes await the reader of Traveller. Just as the sword-and-sorcery tradition taught prospective dungeon masters how to plot their perils, so did Star Wars, in the earliest days of Traveller, provide a familiar blueprint for future fantasies.

Nick Schager at the A.V. Club outlines just how much the two movies have in common:

Written for the screen by Stanford Sherman, the film concerns Colwyn (Ken Marshall), a Skywalker-ish prince with an immaculately groomed beard who marries Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) and then loses her when she’s kidnapped by the Beast, a globe-trotting monster with an army of spiky-armored Slayers who wield spears that shoot laser beams. Left for dead, Colwyn is nursed back to health by a wise Obi-Wan Kenobi-style sage named Ynyr (Freddie Jones), who comes down from his mountain home to join Colwyn as he endeavors to save Lyssa. That mission necessitates first locating the Beast’s location-hopping spaceship castle known as The Black Fortress, and soon finds him teaming up with a skinny shape-shifter named Ergo The Magnificent (David Battley) who functions as the story’s de facto C-3PO, as well as some bandits (including a young Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane) and a Cyclops named Rell (Bernard Bresslaw).

Krull tried to have it both ways, a fantasy film with a sci-fi villain. And yet that's not a far cry from many of the early D&D campaigns like Blackmoor, which were often a mashup of sci-fi and fantasy tropes.
[h=3]You've Got D&D in my Krull![/h]Because Krull drew on the influence of Lord of the Rings, it had similar parallels to D&D, including the diverse adventuring party of nobles, wizards, thieves, and even a non-standard race (a cyclops), as Den of Geek explains:

So begins what is essentially a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired road movie, in which Colwyn and Freddie gradually amass a band of allies. The first of these is the hapless Ergo the Magnificent, brilliantly played by David Battley. He makes a grand entrance in the form of a fireball, but then accidentally turns himself into a goose.

Arriving at the Beast's lair even requires the heroes to navigate traps:

And in its conception of the Beast’s lair as a borderline-abstract environment akin to the villain’s body (with Lyssa trapped in his eye, his chest cavity, and his heart), the film strikes a near-perfect balance between the hallucinatory and the cheesy.

Also like early D&D, there is a surprisingly high mortality rate among the adventurers:

It's in Krull's concluding act, as Colwyn and his loyal band fight their way through the Fortress, that the film's the most exciting. It's also surprisingly harsh, with Colwyn losing allies at every turn. The Star Wars franchise never dispatched quite so many characters in such a graphic manner.

It is perhaps not surprising that the influence of tabletop role-playing games went both ways.
[h=3]You've Got Krull in my D&D![/h]The most obvious influence of Krull on D&D is the Glaive. Of course, the glaive in D&D was nothing like the wicked five-pointed throwing star of the movie, but rather -- to the disappoint of the film's fans -- a kind of polearm. Fans rectified that situation by creating their own statistics for the killer artifact.

I converted the entire Krull movie (and the Glaive) to the 3.5 Edition myself several years ago. You can pick it up here. For Fourth Edition stats of the Glaive, see Geek Rampage. For Fifth Edition stats , see this Geek and Sundry post:

Another iconic 80’s hack and slash film, Krull also stands out for its weapon. This multi bladed throwing disk is just so bad@$$ you can’t help but want one for your next dungeon crawl. Also, the bad guys are aliens with laser lances. Sign me up! In the movie, the hero (Colwyn) can throw the Glaive and control where it goes. There are a lot of possible mechanics here and Mercer and I debated the pros and cons for each for a long time. In the end we decided to treat the Glaive like a dancing weapon, attacking each turn on its own as a bonus action then returning to the wielder’s hand.

[h=3]So Why D&D?[/h]Just Press Play elaborates on Krull's influence:

Upon its conception Krull was supposed to be the official Dungeons & Dragons movie adaptation, and was even titled so, with artwork and press releases prepared under that name. At some point before the completion of the film, the Dungeons & Dragons license was removed from the project. Despite that setback the film spawned a board game, a pinball machine, an Atari 2600 video game and a two-issue Marvel comic book series.

But was Krull really meant to be a D&D movie? According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Krull was originally titledDungeons & Dragons. It's telling that the names listed on IMDB also include The Dungeons of Krull (apt, since our heroes journey into the Beast's dungeon) and Dragons of Krull (which makes no sense, as there are no dragons in the movie at all). If there's a rumor that was spread about Krull being titled Dungeons & Dragons, it likely started at IMDB.

By all accounts, it never happened. Co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons Gary Gygax himself said:

To the best of my knowledge and belief the producers of Krull never approached TSR for a license to enable their film to use the D&D game IP.

Devin Faraci sums up what fans may have been seeing for all these years:

There are some who say that you can still see the Dungeons & Dragons in Krull, especially in the way the film hinges on a series of encounters during Prince Colwyn’s journey, but I’m not sure that’s special to the D&D game. Even the Dragons of Krull script, written when the movie was a D&D tie-in, feels like a D&D movie only in as much that it’s fantasy. There don’t even seem to be any references to elements of Greyhawk, the campaign world in which early D&D was set - Dragons of Krull is completely its own universe.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him at Patreon.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Finally scored the soundtrack for Krull at a decent price. Thrilling stuff.

That final act, where so many characters die, was tough as a kid. The cyclops’ fate, in particular, still gets to me.

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