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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: Top 8 Wanted RPG-Based Movies

June 7, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Dungeons & Dragons Beholder D&D

Top 8 Wanted RPG-Based Movies

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

This weekend Warcraft finally makes its way into theaters, the culmination of a long campaign to get the beloved video game franchise on the big screen. Some may say that the film is too late, and it certainly may miss its financial marks (with a $20 million to $25 million opening expected against a hefty budget) but it actually comes at a good time overall. As we all know, we’re still in the middle of a geek culture renaissance of sorts and that geekiest of hobbies, tabletop roleplaying games, is finally starting to come into vogue. Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Dragon Age RPG and other such games are becoming actually cool to play now, making such things as the “moral panic” controversy and abominations like the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie a thing of the past. Warcraft is a video game RPG, but one with a very popular pen & paper RPG as well and that got me thinking about such games I’d love to see make it to the big screen. So this week we’re looking at the games I think would make the best films.

Caveat: In creating this list, I was looking at tabletop “pen & paper” roleplaying games that would make for good movie adaptations. To do that I focused on games that had established settings rather than ones that were more focused on a rules system (such as GURPS) or that were positioned primarily as sandboxes for homebrewed games like Champions, which I enjoy but doesn’t have a particularly great setting. I also disqualified any RPGs that are media tie-ins for films or television such as the Firefly RPG, Eden Studios’ Buffy and Angel games, the Warcraft RPG and so on.

Just Missing The Cut

Aberrant
Cyberpunk
Battletech
Legends of the Five Rings
Paranoia

#8: Deadlands

Western-based games have long been an important part of the RPG industry. Ever since the classic and underrated Boot Hill was published by TSR in 1975, gaming companies have been capturing the adventurous spirit of the Old West as a place for players to adventure through. While there has been no shortage of good Western RPG’s, Pinnacle has arguably created the best of them with Deadlands which combines the Western genre with the equally-prevalent horror genre and mixed in some steampunk for good measure. The setting’s alternate view of history sees powerful malevolent entities known as Reckoners having been unleashed in the midst of the Civil War. About fifteen years later the “Weird West” is a dangerous place, with the entities having gotten the war to drag on and the government trying to hide the existence of undead gunslingers, magical cults and demonic entities from the general public while the heroes — gunslingers, lawmen, mad scientists and more — try to stop the Reckoners from creating a literal Hell on Earth. It’s a great setting that is ripe for a film; the success of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk last year shows that Hollywood can get a horror Western done well if properly inspired. Microsoft was developing a series based on the game at one point in 2014 but with them abandoning their original programming slate plans, a film studio would be smart to snatch this one up.

#7: Curse of Strahd

There’s no getting around the fact that when it comes to roleplaying games, Dungeons & Dragons is the unmitigated king in terms of name recognition. With over forty years since Gary Gygax first brought us a little boxed set of three pamphlets that would change the world of hobby gaming, D&D has gone through many ups and downs and given us a variety of fantastic settings. One of my all-time favorite D&D settings is that of Ravenloft, first published as a stand-alone adventure in 1983 and then converted into its own full setting in 1990. Ravenloft takes the fantasy elements of D&D and sets them in a world of gothic horror straight out of the classics from the genre like Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula and many others. The latter formed the basis for Ravenloft’s most dangerous adversary, the vampiric lord of Barovia known as Strahd Von Zahrovich. Strahd has become one of D&D’s most well-known and beloved bad guys, to the point that after the publishing of D&D’s fifth edition, the first setting explored outside of the default of Forgotten Realms was Strahd and Ravenloft. A film focused on fantasy adventurers navigating their way through the Transylvania-like setting of Barovia and having to deal with Strahd seems like a no-brainer, especially with the Curse of Strahd adventure providing a nice cinematic story background to base it off of. And the appeal would certainly be there between the D&D fans and those of fantasy and horror in general, particularly as Universal develops its classic horror monster universe.

#6: Pathfinder

While D&D remains the high-water mark in terms of name recognition, it is far from the only fantasy RPG out there. After Wizards of the Coast made D&D’s d20 rules system an open source, share-alike project in 2000, many companies jumped on board and began publishing their own material for use in the system. One of those was Paizo Publishing, who had been publishing WotC’s Dungeon and Dragon magazines. When that license expired the company began publishing their own content and when WotC made D&D 4th Edition a more restrictive license, they developed and released the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game using a modified version of the d20 rules. Improbably, the little guy actually overtook the big guy and Pathfinder surpassed D&D 4th Edition as the top-selling RPG for several quarters in the early 2010s. While a good portion of that has to do with the difference rules (4th Edition D&D is a mess), Paizo also had a great setting established in the world of Golarion, which plays on classic D&D fantasy tropes without just being a straight copy. Paizo has done a great job in the last eight years of building up its world with its “Adventure Paths,” which combined adventure sets into overall story arcs, and detailed exploration of Golarion’s many depths. If a film studio wanted to make a classic fantasy adventure film and didn’t want to or wasn’t able to come to terms with Wizards of the Coast, they’d be smart to look Pathfinder’s way.

#5: The Dark Elf Saga

Let’s get my disclaimer out of the way really quick: I’m actually not a big fan of Drizz’t Do’Urden. The most famous drow/dark elf in fantasy fiction is a character who, to me, started off great and then quickly became sanctimonious and more than a little condescending to pretty much everyone around him, despite the fact that he clearly wasn’t intended to be. But my personal thoughts about the character aside, it’s hard to deny that R.A. Salvatore’s series of books set within D&D’s Forgotten Realms universe are among the best-selling and critically-appreciated adapted stories from a D&D setting. And those first several books are quite good. For the uninitiated, Drizz’t is a member of a subterranean race of elves who have an evil society and worship the Spider Queen, Lolth. Drizz’t is an outcast because he isn’t evil, making his way to the surface where he finds a group of friends that accompany him on various adventures. The Forgotten Realms are the default setting for D&D these days and will be the basis of the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie, although reports suggest it will go in a very different way than a Drizz’t saga would. If done well (read: the opposite of the last theatrical film), the new D&D movie could be the start of a franchise, and The Dark Elf Trilogy would be a great second film in what I guess we’d call the D&D Cinematic Universe.

#4: Call of Cthulhu

To be honest, I’m stunned there’s never been a big-screen adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos before. Guillermo Del Toro has plans a few years back for an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness with Tom Cruise starring, but the studio balked at providing a blockbuster budget and it all fell apart. If that kind of film can’t get off the ground, I’d love to see a studio approach Chaosium Games for the rights to create a film set within the environs of their 1920s darker version of our world. The Cthulhu mythos involves a series of ancient, diabolical gods — the kind that fall under the “Things Man Was Not Meant to Know” trope — who are trying to get into our universe and pretty much destroy everything. The Call of Cthulhu games make for great psychological horror plots, as a small team of investigators delve into the kinds of lost secrets that lead them to secrets that sap away their sanity — and eventually, inevitably, servants of the Elder Gods. This is the kind of film you don’t need a Warcraft-style budget for, and a director like James Wan (The Conjuring), David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) or Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) could do amazing things with a story like this.

#3: Shadowrun

While many of these potential RPG-based films are set primarily in fantasy and/or horror environments, a Shadowrun film would cover something entirely different. Originally developed by FASA Corporation (who also created the classic RPGs Battletech and Mechwarrior) in 1989, the property has since gone on to other companies after FASA shut down. There are some elements of urban fantasy in the setting of Shadowrun but it mashes that up with cyberpunk sci-fi for a very unique sort of blend, set in 2050 where mythological beings have emerged and the United States has fallen apart, leading to the likes of elven hackers, orcish street samurai and bioware-enhanced trolls. It’s a setting that allows for a lot of high action and humor, making it prime ground for a good blockbuster that would stand way out from the rest of the increasingly generic mish-mash of big-budget sci-fi reboots, remakes and re-adaptations out there today. It’s an odd sort of property but its concept are stil mainstream enough that it would have a strong appeal, making it a film I’m surprised isn’t already in development.

#2: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Among the D&D films, this is the one that most needs to get made. Technically we’ve already seen a movie version of this but the less that can be said about that low-budget, terribly animated straight-to-DVD version, the better. Dragonlance isn’t perhaps the most well-known of the Dungeons & Dragons worlds, but Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s quartet of books (and prequels and sequels) about the Heroes of the Lance are the most revered fiction relating to Dungeons & Dragons out there. The Dragons books offer everything there is to appeal to Dungeons & Dragons in one extended storyline: the adventure, the classic archetypes, the drama, the humor and some themes that would surprise people in terms of how deep they are. Dragons of Autumn Twilight isn’t a film that could have been made before now, because it would require quite the budget and that would make it a risk for whatever studio picked it up. But with Dungeons & Dragons riding a new high thanks to Fifth Edition and the spread of online shows like Critical Role, as well as interest in geek culture at a new peak, this is a financial risk that could easily pay off big time if all the cards come together right like I suspect it could.

#1: Vampire: The Masquerade

Yes, technically like Dragons of Autumn Twilight there is a previous version of Vampire: The Masquerade. In this case it was the television show Kindred: the Embraced which aired on Fox under Aaron Spelling’s production in the mid-1990s for one season. Let that go and look at the potential for this to become something truly great. White Wolf’s World of Darkness games have been at the forefront of story-based roleplaying since they first emerged on the scene in the early 1990s. With a system that focuses more on character depth than combat and deep, interesting social dynamics, Vampire: The Masquerade sought to explore what made the vampires of its gothic punk environment monsters, and what made them more than monsters. A host of games followed after, set in the same world including Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Mage: the Ascension, Changeling: the Dreaming and Wraith: the Oblivion. It’s a highly cinematic world that seems tailor-made for adaptation to the big screen and a smart studio could start with a great Vampire film, then slowly build from there into the other creatures of the night within the setting. The appeal is still there, evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have gone into Kickstarters for Onyx Path to create new sourcebooks for the games in recent years. This is really one that should happen at some point, and I suspect that new owners Paradox may well look into the possibility. We can only hope, anyway.


And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411wrestling.com! JT out.