This is the Way

The long-gestating Dungeons & Dragons film continues to creep along, but another series has demonstrated that the game may not need a big budget movie at all: The Mandalorian.


The Manda-who?​

For the uninitiated, The Mandalorian follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter and his ward, a Yoda-like Force-using creature named Grogu in the Star Wars universe. The Mandalorian draws on rich lore from existing Star Wars canon and elements of the Expanded Universe (now known as Legends) that was created in books, comics, and video games.

What makes The Mandalorian so groundbreaking isn't just that it's a streaming show on Disney+ launching after a massive nine-part movie series, but that it has managed to seamlessly fit into the films' story lines while maintaining movie-level special effects. Jon Favreau, who worked on Marvel's Iron Man and Disney's live action Lion King, took what he learned from those experiences to make a streamlined series that feels like a movie.

And that's a good thing, because the massive diversity of alien fauna and sentient beings in Star Wars has a lot of parallels in the monster-rich world of Dungeons & Dragons. Previous D&D movies have all struggled with portraying monsters true to their D&D roots, both from a script and a special effects perspective (most notably a beholder distracted by a rock).

Favreau's Innovations​

Favreau set out to create a television show with movie-level special effects on a limited budget (for Disney, $15 million per episode). To keep the series within budget and on time, he leveraged two technologies and integrated them into the planning and shooting process.

The first is The Volume, a massive 360 degree projection sound stage where the actors are filmed in real time. Green screen isn't necessary as there's less work done in post-production; the actors in costume stand in front of real-time rendered virtual sets, which means the light glinting off twin suns in the background is automatically reflected in the Mandalorian's shiny beskar armor. Or to put it another way, the special effects are integrated into the background as the actors are filmed.

The second innovation is game-rendering technology. Epic Games, maker of the Unreal Engine, and other partners created StageCraft, a virtually reality platform that enables directors to render the action before a single scene is filmed. The game engine does all the work, allowing directors to determine where cameras and actors should be placed before filming begins.

Taken together, these two technologies are revolutionizing film making for series that require fantastic locations and creatures. Which makes it perfect for D&D.

The D&D Series that Never Was​

Ironically, the Dungeons & Dragons media franchise was always a supposed to be television series. This all came to light in lawsuits over the movie rights, which pivoted on the TV rights. The rights were originally owned by Sweetpea Entertainment and continuation of those rights were contingent upon creating further movies; Sweetpea made two movies that were released on the Syfy channel, "Wrath of the Dragon God" and "The Book of Vile Darkness." According to the suit, their status as TV movies did not qualify as a "theatrical motion picture" and therefore did not "reset the Sequel Rights' five-year revision clock." As evidence that Sweetpea Entertainment knew it was creating a television show and not an actual sequel to the movie:
Sweetpea paid, and Hasbro accepted, a payment of $20,000--the amount contractually tied only to the exploitation of Television Rights, and consistent with the parties' mutual understanding that the Second TV Movie was a made-for-television production for release on the Syfy Channel. Were the Second TV Movie planned or released as a theatrical or non-theatrical sequel, prequel or remake based on the Picture, Sweetpea would have paid the greater amount under the License for exercising the Sequel Rights.
Using the payment as evidence, the lawsuit alleged that the movie rights actually reverted to Hasbro five years after the movie's debut on December 8, 2005. Sweetpea's counter lawsuit claimed the company had invested over 60,000 hours and $2 million in a television series.

Thanks to the pandemic and Favreau's innovative new filming techniques, the line between a movie and a television series have blurred. All this legal wrangling seems moot now, but it illustrates how with the right budget and the right technology, a "good" D&D series today is more possible than ever. Maybe we don't need a D&D movie after all.

Your Turn: What multimedia will work best to bring Dungeons & Dragons to a wider audience?
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


I remember in the early to mid-2000s, 2001-2005 or so there was talk of both Forgotten Realms and George Lucas driven Star Wars TV shows. Neither ever came to fruition and they just vanished into the ether. I'm so glad they did as the FR probably would've been akin to Xena and Hercules, though the SW one may have fared a little better as iirc I think it was supposed to be on HBO. Regardless if either came out then Im sure they wouldn't have lasted long and gotten another chance.

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I think a good approach to a D&D series would be somewhere between Order of the Stick and Discworld - presenting a setting which operates upon narrative principles, and whose occupants are acutely aware of that fact, but which isn't fourth-wall-breaking to the extent of them acknowledging that they have an audience.

That lets you explore common genre tropes present in both fiction and gaming, using them for both comedic and dramatic effect, without it devolving into pure parody.

Jeff Carpenter

Maybe mini series would be better way to represent D&D and show the full variety of it.

Each series has a cast of different charachters taking on classic dungeons, urban intrigue, wildness hex crawl, ect. That way you see the variety of both the type of adventures, type of characters, and type of settings.

Also season 3 episode 4 has a TPK of the first cast when they wander into the ownbear lair in the Cave of Chaos. This blows peoples minds as every main character dies (take that GoT). Episode 5 shows how to bounce back from a TPK with the new party arriving at the keep.

Sometimes I wonder about a second opportunity for Dragonlance adaptation. In the right hands it may be a true blockbuster, and even to be more famous than FR. But I doubt who would produce it. Paramount still has to find the secret to produce blockbusters. A famous franchise is not enough, not even a first blockbuster. My intution tells me this will be a bad year for Disney and AT&T/Warner, by fault of things not linked with the world of culture. Netflix is producing a lot of action-live and some animation series, but also some epic fails, for example "The Indhun Chronicles", the adaptation of a succesful Spanish fantasy saga.

Today filming action-live is harder than animation by fault of this epidemic, and I hope this ends this year.

This could be the right time for the fantasy action-live productions, but the key is a good story and a perfect hook to attract public/audence. We have to remember fantasy isn't harder to be created than the superheroes comics, but today the comics of sword & sorcery aren't the best cash-cows.

A D&D production needs something children loved, to sell toys and other merchandising products.

To tell stories about "from zero to hero" better the TV or streaming series, more time for the evolution of the characters, and this is more true when we talk about adaptation of written fiction.

* My brother sent us pictures of his children, and in one of these my dear nephews appear with a doll of Gregorio Grogu, the "pet".

I think that for the typical fantasy plots, a TV series does the genre more justice than a single movie. There is so much exposé necessary to understand the world that it would be better served as a series. The Witcher series is pretty good at handling this. GoT shows a sweeping story. A D&D movie would be akin to a one-shot, where as a series could capture the mood of a campaign. Structure it along the tiers of play, and you get to raise the stakes each season in a natural progression. Also, possible innovation: don't try to convert a novel into a series, but rather one of the campaign books like Tyranny of Dragons, Dragon Heist or Rime of the Frostmaiden, or one of the iconic classic adventures.


Baronet of Gaming
One thing that I think should be embraced for D&D media to really work is to show the in-world and at the table story a la The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

I've always felt The Mandalorian was very D&Dish, from it's paladinish protagonist to it's structure: "sure, I will tell you where to go next, I just need you to complete this sidequest for me first." It's much more D&Dish than Game of Thrones, which is more of a soap opera in a fantasy costume.

The episodic nature of TV makes it far more suited to D&D than a movie.

Jeff Carpenter

Saw this article on another Hasbro property, "Risk" being developed for TV it also which mentions a D&D TV Series.

"It is the latest Hasbro property being developed by eOne after it was acquired by the toy giant in 2019 for around $4B. The company is working on TV and film adaptations of Power Rangers with Jonathan Entwistle, while Deadline revealed that The Clarkson Twins, writers on Amazon’s Wheel of Time, are one of a number of writers working on TV adaptations of Dungeons and Dragons. "

Which links to this info

"All of this has culminated in the pair developing a television series based on the classic world of Dungeons and Dragons for eOne. They are one of a number of writers working on ideas for a small screen adaptation. “There’s no certainties but we have loved those books as well since being teenager,” said Paul. “Whether it’s the Star Wars universe, the Marvel universe, The Wheel of Time universe or the Dungeons and Dragons universe, we’ve immersed ourselves in that world, for decades without realizing it by virtue of reading the books,” added Michael.

In fact, the pair have presented their ideas to Wizards of the Coast, the experts behind the game. “They looked at our timeline based on the stories we tell, which characters, where, and when and how it would culminate in a final season in ten years and they’re like that’s right, that looks correct,” said Paul. “We know the finale. We know how it ends in our head,” added Michael."

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