Saving Throws, Glancing Blows and the people who roll them. A review of The Dungeon Masters

Nerd /nɜrd/
1. a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.
2. a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age-inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities.

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Battlestar Galactica, Wrld of Warcraft, Firefly, Heroes, Star Trek. Statistically speaking, it’s likely that you’re familiar with and enjoy one of these fine intellectual properties. Many have. Some pay the price for it. It’s a double-edged sword to enjoy what the majority of society considers “nerdy”. If you watch, read or play anything that has even a veneer of intelligence, you’re socially dead outside your little circle of wizard friends and Jedi acquaintances (please note the capitalization of “Jedi”).

Sure, more and more people everyday are picking up video games and watching sci-fi films for the first time. Jocks who would die before considering themselves a geek have no problem playing video games starring a space marine. Your stunningly attractive female coworker? Yeah, she was totally down for the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica when it was airing. Your aunt that lives in Jersey? Thoroughly addicted to WoW.

But have any of those people heard of H.P. Lovecraft? Doubtful. Will they ever go to a ComicCon? Don’t think so. Are they aware that having an Armor Class of “-10” is actually superior to “10” in some editions of Dungeons & Dragons prior to version 3.0? Insurmountably negative. This eye opening documentary is about the people who are. The nerds. The geeks. The dregs of socially acceptable cliques around the world.

I doubt you even know what a d20 is…

With a backdrop of a crumbling American economy, we’re told the story of three people who chose the lifestyle of a nerd. Each is a “Dungeon Master”; an individual that is in charge of creating the details and challenges of a given adventure, while maintaining a realistic continuity of events during a session of D&D. They don’t play with others. They stand alone. They have no allies or team mates. Essentially, their goal is to kill everyone… In the most oratorically creative way possible.

Throughout the film, we follow a married Jewish convert Airman, a prospective writer/failed TV show supervillain, and a self-described “drama attractor” that dresses in medieval garb with elves ears and paints herself a silvery-black. Each has a story to tell and each are shown to know the plight of being a nerd or, at the very least, a generic social outcast. Jobs are harder to get, relationships are strained, success is ever fleeting.

Though not necessarily a downer, The Dungeon Masters isn’t exactly a feel good movie. Suffice it to say, it leaves you wanting. You want him to get the book published. You want her to find a guy that isn’t a latent violent offender. You want him to be able to love his adopted son.

They have less control over their lives than they do the game, and it hurts to realize that it’s probably one of the reasons they play D&D. They can escape. Is it cathartic to be able to tell players they’ve failed? That they’ve rolled too low? That their bag of holding doesn’t contain the rune they need to open the gate?

The film has a great soundtrack, great camera work and is suitably produced, but it rolls a few glancing blows with the seemingly injected commentary on the American recession and its attempt to involve Hurricane Katrina. Regardless, this film pulls on the ol’ heartstrings for those viewers it may hit close to home for. You don’t have to be a nerd to love this documentary. Those with a bit of empathy can appreciate it too.

Some of us have the courage to do it. Some of us fear what others may think. But we’ve all once dreamed to be someone else, somewhere else. And a handful of us can.

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