Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"The Dungeon Masters" Documentary

Yesterday I watched an obscure 2008 documentary called The Dungeon Masters, which profiles the lives of a handful of long-time Dungeons & Dragons players, most of whom look to be in their 30s or 40s. I had first heard about this film over a year ago, but could never seem to find it anywhere, not even any clips on You Tube.  But it's now become available on Amazon HERE for download as an on-demand video ($3.99). 

I really liked it, both the film and the on-demand service (which I'd never used before). Predictably given the subject, the featured personalities in the documentary are extreme and a little damaged.  One woman is in the habit of dressing up as an elf queen, including a striking white wig and charcoal black face and body paint.  But underneath all that make-up she's divorced, living alone, and frustrated in love.  Another guy is an army reservist in real life who is also a passionate and theatrical 'dungeon master' with a penchant for killing off characters (and thereby alienating his players).  But he's also a nudist who's trying to give up D&D at the insistence of his middle aged fiancee, for whom he's also converting to Judaism.  And that's just two of the four or five people whose lives are profiled in the film, as they struggle to reconcile their elaborate 'fantasy lives' with their mundane, disappointing and sometimes troubled surroundings in the real world.

Critically, the film makers do not mock their subjects, which in many ways would have been so easy.  But neither is the film an approving apologia for them either.  The documentary merely turns the camera on its subjects and captures what transpires, including many, many cringe-inducing silences between the subjects and their disaffected, uncomprehending loved ones.  In that way I thought that this film was very reminiscent of the 1997 documentary Trekkies, about fanatical Star Trek enthusiasts. I found that film funnier, though, to be honest, probably because the subjects seemed to be much better adjusted in real life, so their eccentricities aroused laughter, not pathos.  In The Dungeon Masters, the subjects are clearly struggling to cope in real life.  But those same struggles made the film more compelling viewing overall, I thought, than Trekkies.


  1. I've heard about this documentary as well. Didn't it win some awards recently?

    I'm not sure I need to see it. I mean, I've known many dysfunctional, sad RPG players over the years. Thankfully, I'm not one myself. But I guess normal, well-adjusted married professionals like me don't make exciting documentary fodder, do we? :)

  2. I'm going to throw out a guess that those who made "Trekkies" chose to include subjects who were more adjusted, to achive the lighter feel of the film. "Dungeon Masters" could eaisly followed subjects with more normal tendancies, and included only one or two etreem cases. Documneteries like this sell the idea that the majority of those who enjoy the past time live lives like those portrayed in the film. it's easy to say "we just turned the camera on the subject and let them go" But they leave out the part about cutting out all the subjects who didn't further the stereotype.

  3. I'm really glad I posted before I ran spell check. Now my thought look far less valid :)