Last week, Lost in Translation looked at ways to adapt a Dungeons & Dragons setting. Dragonlance was built around the War of the Lance and its aftermath, so the plot tends to be locked in. This week, a look at a different D&D setting, The Forgotten Realms.
The Realms, also known as Faerûn, was created by Ed Greenwood in 1967 as a setting for his children’s stories. When D&D came about, he adapted the setting for his home game, expanding the setting. He sold the setting to TSR, the owner of Dungeons of Dragons, and continued to contribute to the setting through published setting books detailing parts of the Realms and through Dragon magazine in his column, “Pages from the Mages”. The Realms are the epitome of D&D fantasy – high magic both arcane and divine, warriors wielding magic weapons and wearing magic armour, and rogues sneaking around with magical cloaks. Unlike Dragonlance, the Realms had no ongoing plot, just various organizations both good and evil plotting.
Through novels set in the Realms, a number of characters have become breakthrough stars, from the dual-wielding drow elf Drizz’t Do’Urden to halfling bard Olive Ruskettle. There isn’t one core cast, which will help with any adaptation. DC Comics took advantage of this when they published the short-lived Forgotten Realms comic, bringing a mix of characters that wouldn’t feel out of place at the gaming table.
The question becomes, what can be done? The different parts of the Realms provides different answers. Waterdeep allows for intrigue and has an entrance to the Underdark, the part of the Realms under the ground where monsters roam. The Dalelands are a pastoral area with a number of nations around it looking at invading, not all of the potential invaders being evil. There is a nation, Thay, ruled by evil wizards, including an undead necromancer. Any number of fantasy antagonists can be cooking up a plot that needs to be thwarted.
The advantage of the Realms as a gaming setting becomes a drawback for adaptations. There is so much potential, where would a studio start? Movie or TV series? Start in a large city or in the middle of nowhere? Dungeon crawl or surface quest? With a film, the story can get to the action faster, showing the characters in action, then introducing the main plot, along the lines of a 007 opening. Television gives time to develop the characters, show them growing.
Dungeon crawls are what people associate with D&D. At some point, the adventurers head underground to clear out monsters. Even the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie had a couple of dungeon crawls including a decent scene at the thieves’ guild. But all dungeon all movie means a cramped movie where the expectation is that the full screen will be used. Even if at the end of the crawl is a dragon’s layer – the game is called Dungeons & Dragons after all – a crawl doesn’t allow for many character moments.
Television is much more set for character moments. What would be seen as a filler scene in a movie becomes required on TV. There’s room to learn more about the characters, give everyone a moment to shine, even episodes focusing on a specific character. The drawback is budget. Television episodes don’t have the budget that film can get. There may not be an appetite for a fantasy TV series. A Game of Thrones succeeded, but was on HBO, so ratings weren’t as important as new and returning subscribers. Broadcast TV lives and dies on ratings, even with the ability to shift when an episode is watched.
The Forgotten Realms has name value among fans, but audiences might not have heard of the setting despite the sheer number of tie-in novels released. The result could be a flop; it doesn’t matter how good a movie is if no one goes to see it. With television, the stakes are higher; if ratings for the early episodes are low, a network will cancel to replace with something else. That said, the Realms provides a wide open sandbox to play in. There’s no overall plot to worry about when creating new stories in the setting, giving the Realms a slight advantage of Krynn.
And since the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie was mentioned, a new D&D movie has been filmed and is due for release March 2023. The new film was originally scheduled for July 2021, but was pushed back first for the latest Mission: Impossible entry then by pandemic response. Normally, a film being pushed back is a cause for alarm, but the last two years have seen many movies, good and bad, delayed thanks to COVID-19.