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


Game of Thrones showed there was an appetite for fantasy TV shows. Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show is going to be the most expensive TV show ever made. The time is definitely ripe for it.
Heck, if we go a little further back I'd argue that Hercules: The Legendary Journey and Xena: Warrior Princess are good evidence that there exists an audience for fantasy television. I actually believe there's an audience for almost any show that's well written, has decent acting, and good production values (I don't know how the two shows I mentioned fit in there but a lot of people remember them fondly). As Xena proves, you don't even have to have Shakespearean levels of writing to keep people entertained.

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I'm concerned that people are too concerned with 'D&D'. The problem is that everyone has their own opinion what it is and what they like. I could say that I would want a FR world and a campaign set in Phandalin and everyone else would picture something else. I would want X races and not Y, or high/low magic, or etc... A GoT series did well partly since the world was not 'D&D'. A LotR series should do well since people know more what to expect up front.

I do believe that character development is most of a shows success, even if some of the other things are crap.


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."

I still have yet to see a single episode of Game of Thrones, because I refuse to pay for even more TV I don't have enough time to watch. So with my luck it will be an awesome show that everyone talks about that's on the one streaming service that I don't subscribe to.

The LED projection method gets a better performance, in my opinion. Having something physically there gives actors more to work with, grounds them in a scene. It's the difference between the extensive sets and real world locations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the primarily green screen and CGI confections of The Hobbit trilogy. Not that the former didn't make use of those as well, but it certainly wasn't anywhere near as extensive. See also the Star Wars original trilogy vs. the prequels.

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.

I also think, with box office takes still taking a major hit for the foreseeable future, we're going to see more genre TV series (see the slew of Marvel and Star Wars series in development).

I can imagine the plot of the RISK teleserie, I guess in the facebook videogame Risk: factions, with soldiers, zombies, robots, antropomorphic cats and sentient yetis...You can't say it can't be fun.

Hercules and Xena are good example of how fantasy tv could be made.

Dragonlance has got a lot of one-shot or short stories could be adapted as "pilot episode" to test audence's feedback. Not only that with the title "what would you bet?" with Caramon's children, but also how the end of Toede when he tried to hunt two kenders and these were very clever.

Game of Thrones was not a fantasy soap opera, but it was a fantasy saga whose characters behave like in a historical novel. Their actions were like people from a book of History from the real life. The fact is GoT was a "softer" way to explain us some things about the power and highest castes.

I guess the audence wants something the action-live Aladdin, a piece of fantasy, adventure and comedy, and not too violent.

You know I have said several times Ravenloft is the easiest line to be adapted into action-live. It may work better than Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teen Witch.

I would like to speculate about the cinema industry, but 2021 is going to be a year where a lot of things will happen, and even Hollywood will be not the same, falling some big fishes.


Wouldn't the best D&D setting be one that, like The Gamers, has both the PCs and the players?

Two plotlines going at once: one of whatever the game is, and the other being the ins and outs of the players lives. The first could be any sort of action, fantasy politics, or whatever. The second would be normal family/friend drama. Half the episode devoted to each. Something for everyone!


So? This is a thought for a D&D-based movie or TV show. It doesn't have to be based on any particular setting.
What I meant to say is that "You could certainly work it that way." i.e. Having the the story revolve around the "game" itself and then the real life of the players is a viable option. I think that'd work best if you were going for a comedy though. Which is certainly a possibility. And I think you really need to have it based on a particular setting. No reason to leave all that lovely IP sitting around doing nothing.

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