The Great Kingdom is a new documentary that tells the story of the people that created Dungeons & Dragons and how its success affected their lives and families. I spoke with two of the producers, James Sprattley and Andrew Pascal, about their upcoming film.
Michael Tresca: What is "The Great Kingdom" all about?
James Sprattley: "The Great Kingdom" is about the relationship between the two credited game designers, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. How they came together to collaborate and develop Dungeons and Dragons. We expand further to include their close friends, early game testers, and family members.
Andrew Pascal: After long discussions about how best to approach the history of the game, we decided that the focus really should be about Gary, Dave and the members of their respective families and gaming groups as opposed to the factual history of the game. Jon Peterson, David Ewalt and yourself (in your book) have done such an amazing job of laying out the history in published material that we felt we didn't need to go over the same ground. with the help of Jon and David, we sketched the factual history together and then with the help of Paul Stormberg, we have been able to fill it out with color. in the telling of their personal history, the audience who may not be as familiar to the game's history as hard-core gamers might be would be informed of the history. there is such a compelling story to be told about the people involved in the creation of the game that even with 100 or so minutes that we have to tell this story, it might still not be enough.
MT: Tell us a little about the team behind the film. What is your gaming history?
JS: We have an amazing team working with us. Andrew and myself cannot be working with a better group of dedicated filmmakers. We are truly blessed in having them with us every step of the way. Jim Gavin, Eric Matos, Alex Gutenmakher and Andy Adams have the expertise to cover every aspect of putting a project like this together. Andrew and I would be lost without them, and the goes for our director, Christopher Haifley as well. His creative vision for this project has elevated our film to a higher standard. We cannot express our gratitude enough to be working with all of them.
AP: Yeah, pretty much what James says...Chris, James and myself make a great team that would exist only in a vacuum without the generous support of the people mentioned. the number of others that have lent their support and help in the past few months has been overwhelming. they love the project and want nothing more than to help and be a part of it.
MT: Do you currently play D&D? What's your favorite edition?
JS: Yes, I play 2nd Ed. with Andrew and his gaming group. I'm sort of the newcomer, playing only for the past few years.
AP: 2nd Edition AD&D all the way. I DM the group we play with and when the mere mention of another edition was put on the table (literally), it was shot down pretty quickly.
MT: What period of Dungeons & Dragons' history does the documentary cover?
JS: The D&D story is enormous and would take multiple DVD box sets to cover everything in detail. We chose to explore the time between the games development through its pinnacle in the early 80's. We found the history of that era to be important to D&D, the game overall.
AP: To be more specific, we cover the time from when Gary Gygax gets fired from his insurance job at the firemen's fund to when he gets fired from TSR...so much amazing stuff happens in that time frame.
MT: Who was involved in the making of the documentary?
JS: Our film involves authors David Ewalt and Jon Peterson, as well as historian Paul Stormberg, as our key sources of information and fact checkers. Our interviews consists of close friends and family members of the late game designers.
AP: As James mentions, our 3 historians are really the backbone to our film. we stand on their shoulders. where they point, we go. as for the day to day of production, it's really the 3 of us putting everything together with the help of the folks we mentioned above. it's been such a great collaborative effort on everyone's part. i am humbled every day at the amazing people i get to work with.
MT: A lot of reviews of Dungeons & Dragons' history avoid the unpleasant parts. How does "The Great Kingdom" explore this subject?
JS: True, but we must be unbiased when presenting the facts. Let the games history, whether positive or negative, be represented in the film. After all, it's what shaped the game into what it is today.
AP: We don't see it as pleasant or unpleasant, really...just the truth. or as close to the truth as we can get. we are exploring the lives of complicated men...like anyone, they have their strengths and their shortcomings. it's just part of what makes us who we are as people. Gary and Dave lead such remarkable lives that to paint only the "pleasant" parts would do them an injustice. there's no redemption without the fall.
MT: How much does Dave Arneson feature in this film?
JS: Our approach in telling this story relies heavily on the accounts of people close to the two creators. Gary Gygax has been associated as the man behind the game and prominently the patriarch of role playing games. We feel that the other creator's experiences, Dave Arneson must be accounted for in our film. Both men contributed to design of Dungeons and Dragons 40 years ago, so it's important to us to have both of their experiences represented in our film.
AP: Agreed. We're hoping to once and for all lay to rest the argument of "who invented dungeons & dragons". the truth is much a surprise to us as we hope it will be for our viewers.
MT: What's the most surprising thing you uncovered in your research?
JS: Not just what both men went through to keep their dream alive, but what their friends and families struggled through as well. Very compelling testimonials.
AP: That practically everything we understood as gospel with regards to the history of these amazing people, is not. If we tell you any more than that and we will have to kill you, Michael.
MT: Noted! What do you think of D&D Next?
JS: D&D Next is great for the game. Releasing on the 40th anniversary is a fantastic way to reacquaint the game with its fans, and hopefully bring in new players to it. Wishing WotC much success with their campaign.
AP: I haven't play tested (for reasons, see above). But if it is everything that WOTC is claiming it will be, then I don't imagine that it will be nothing but the definitive version of D&D. Don't tell our gaming group, but I can't wait for its release
MT: When will the documentary be released?
JS: Our goal would be to finish by the end of the year, and make the SxSW Film Festival. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but Nothing that our team can't handle.
AP: Gods be kind, we hope to finish by the end of this year.
MT: What cons will you be at this year?
JS: We will be at Gary Con and Gen Con for sure. Depending upon our schedule, we may be able to attend a few others.
MT: Where can fans follow the film online?
JS: Yes, please follow us on all of our social media site for the latest news and updates, and we may have a few surprises too!
MT: Anything else you'd like to add?
JS: I personally would like to thank our team members that have been extremely valuable to me (and Andrew), we couldn't have accomplished what we've done so far without them. Alex Gutenmakher, Eric Matos, Andy Adams, Erika Dahl, Adam Goldberg, and Jim Gavin. We are truly blessed to have them working with us every step of the way. Of course, our director Chris Haifley. His creative vision and insight will make our film truly unique. Many thank to them as we take on the adventure of bring this film alive. I hope you all enjoy it!
AP: James is too modest to include himself in that list...he is the glue that keeps this movie together. and a personal note to everyone reading this: we are very excited to show you our film. the story we hope to be able to tell is so compelling, filled with romance, betrayal, epic battles, fall from grace and eventual redemption. like any great D&D adventure should be, Dave and Gary lived an epic adventure. please help spread the word by any means you can. we don't have the funds for a big huge marketing campaign. we are relying on grassroots marketing to get the word out. we would love nothing more than for everyone out there to join us on our grand adventure.
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