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The 1999 Year In Review
wjw: Sean Sellers, who killed a convenience store
clerk in 1984 and his parents in 1985, was executed in Oklahoma on February 4th of 1999.
Among the defense tactics used to keep him off of death row was the infamous "D&D
made me do it" defense. As always, it failed.
Later in the year, on July 5th, A&E aired a special on Sellers, titled "Dead Kid
Walking." The teasers for the show mentioned his obsession with D&D, but the show
itself left the subject out for the most part.
Also in February, three Catholic families sued their local school district over violation
of their religious and privacy rights. Their grievances included: the use of
"ghoul" as a 4th-grade vocabulary word, the study of Indian and Mexican culture,
a field trip to a cemetery, a discussion on crystals from a visiting mineralogist, Earth
Day celebrations, a meeting with a yoga teacher and the district's tolerance of Magic: The
Gathering on school grounds.
The case stemmed from the Bedford County debate over the permission of M:TG on school
grounds in 1997. After the initial objections over the game, the district banned it
from school grounds until mental health experts could report on the possible dangers of
the game. When the game was found to pose no danger, it was permitted once
more. Angry parents then filed a suit against the school district, compiling a much
longer list of grievances.
In late May, U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant ordered the Bedford Central school
district to stop some of the activities, but rejected the complaints regarding the card
game. Mary Ann DiBari, one of the original parents to file the complaint, was pleased with
the decision, but disappointed that the game could not be found unconstitutional.
sml: Right. You know, our forefathers MEANT to put
in an amendment prohibiting games with wizards and magical creatures, but that meddling
kid Tom Jefferson and his crazy ideas about personal freedom got in their way...
wjw: The most unforgettable event in the previous year would have to be
the Columbine massacre. Media sources clutched at any possible causes that they could
find, including the goth scene, Marilyn Manson, and... you guessed it... gaming.
Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire the Masquerade were mentioned in numerous articles in
the wake of the incident, with absolutely no basis at all. While it was rumored that the
murderers played some wargames, there was no evidence of gaming materials found among
sml: I remember where I was when Littleton happened
- right at home, fairly routine day. I saw part of the report on the news and thought
something like, "Oh, another school shooting, how horrible." Literally. I had no
idea how bad things really were, or what was to come next.
I remember how shocked I was when I saw that one casual slam in the Boston Globe. My shock
grew as I read other articles that had also connected D&D and Vampire to the
shootings. I started posting reports on the original Beyond website on GeoCities, and I
actually got a flame from an apparent Goth who thought I was whining too much about games
when Goths were facing problems too. Well, I imagine they were, but my e-zine isn't
designed for Goths, it's designed for gamers. Sometimes the two cultures intersect,
sometimes they don't. But most of the readers I know of aren't Goths, and so I write for
the benefit of the gaming community as opposed to other subcultures.
But I digress. Let me just say this, for I think Bill's covered the rest pretty well: the
events at Littleton were tragic, a testament to the evil man can be driven to. But the
evil wasn't in books or games or even guns alone, though sloppy gun control certainly
played a role and violent computer games might have as well. The evil was in a belief held
by some that it's all right to attack those who are different, and in the sort of mind
that is driven to violence when pushed too far. We need to solve the real problems here:
the rampant intolerance in many high schools and the mental illnesses that can
develop in relation to such intolerance. Leave the gamers and Goths and everyone else who
wasn't involved out of it.
wjw: Columbine will eventually become our generation's Kennedy
assassination; everyone will recant where they were and what they were doing when it
I was at work when I first heard the news. This is important to note
because I work for my in-laws in their sporting goods store; the television sits literally
in front of a rack of shotguns and rifles. While everyone else was moaning about how this
would feed the anti-gun movement, I was getting another one of my hunches. Somehow, I knew
this was going to creep into the gaming community, it was just a matter of whether or not
the killers were actually gamers.
By the time I got home that night, I was flooded with e-mails about the stories that were
circulating. The media had connected these two to gaming (among other things) long before
there was any evidence at all. Reporters and interviewees were dropping the names of
D&D and Vampire as if they honestly believed that these kids were gamers. The media
seeded the scene with as many "possible causes" as they could, and as a result,
people were blaming something that was not involved in the least. It was a terrible
example of how they operate.
The end result is an endless circle of hatred; people distrust anything unusual or unique,
the media feeds off of this fear, and gives the people more things to fear about it. With
this system in place, we really can't expect things to get better.
The summer of 1999 brought us teasers for the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie,
something that many of us have been waiting for for a very long time.
Produced by Sweetpea Entertainment, and directed by Courtney Solomon, the film will
feature such talents as Jeremy Irons (Die Hard 3), Justin Whalin (Lois & Clark), and
Marlon Wayans (The Sixth Man). The most exciting part for me, however, has to be the
casting of Tom Baker (whom everyone should know as the epitomical Doctor Who) and the
immensely talented Richard O'Brien (who created, scored, and starred in The Rocky Horror
What makes this movie truly promising is the fact that director Solomon is a long-time
gamer and veteran DM who has spent over 10 years trying to bring D&D to the silver
screen. We may be seeing an excellent treatment of the game here... and if it brings more
players to the table, it's all the better.
For more on the upcoming film, visit www.dndmovie.com.
sml: Well, so far, I like what I've seen when it
comes to the D&D movie...but I'm still skeptical. I mean, turning active entertainment
(i.e., role-playing games) into passive entertainment (movies) - it just sounds strange. I
guess I should wait until the movie comes out before I judge it, though.
wjw: Sure, it does take a three-dimensional experience and narrows it to
something static... kind of like trying to paint a hologram. But I'm thinking not only
about the movie and the actors involved, but also the amount of people who will go to see
this film who have never played, or haven't touched the dice in years, and getting excited
about what they're seeing. Maybe they'll consider trying the game out. I know when I go to
see a film, I instantly begin to ponder "what a great game this would make..."
With the D&D movie and the upcoming Lord of the Rings film by director Peter Jackson
(of whom I'm a big fan), we're likely to see a new market for fantasy. It could also open
the door for other RPGs to hit the screen... personally, I'd love to see a Deadlands or
Changeling movie. We can always dream...
Speaking of movies, the end of July saw the release of the Blair Witch Project, which has
now gone down in the history books as one of the most profitable films of all time. I
mention it here because the film itself is little more than a LARP in action.
Three actors were sent out with cameras to pose as film students doing a documentary on a
local legend. The directors of the film planted townspeople for the actors to interview,
and created many of the eerie scenes that were encountered during their fateful
expedition. In what may be a cinematic first, the actors shot every scene in the film
We may never know how much the writers were inspired by the LARP hobby (as with The Game
and The Man Who Knew Too Little), but I'm guessing there was more than a little influence.
sml: I didn't see the Blair Witch Project; I don't
like scary movies. But I wonder if improvisational drama will become a trend. Think about
the potential inherent in the application of LARP techniques to independent filmmaking! It
could make things very interesting indeed. I'm actually hoping to put on an
improvisational play based on such ideas; I'll try to keep everyone posted on my progress
in that regard.
wjw: At Gen Con in August, Wizards of the Coast announced that they will
be releasing a third edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2000, comprised of a new Dungeon
Master's Guide, Player's Handbook, and Monstrous Manual. The game will take the place of
both D&D and AD&D lines, and promises to be a streamlined model of the present
Opinions have been mixed, but as they say, opinions are like that certain part of the
anatomy that everyone seems to have. It cannot be argued that WotC plans to make a tidy
sum with the game when the Dungeons & Dragons movie is released in the summer of 2000.
sml: I went to WotC's AD&D GameCamp in July
1999, and though I didn't know it at the time, I figured it out later - I think I
playtested D&D 3E! If it's anything like what I played, the system is EXCELLENT. It
allows greater flexibility during character creation, for one thing - instead of rolling
up each stat individually (or using the DM's preferred method) and then figuring out what
your character can be, you get to decide what you want him to be, roll 4d6 six times
(though if I'm not mistaken, there's a pleasant surprise in there which makes it very
different from AD&D Method V - sorry, I signed a confidentiality agreement and can
only tell you what TSR's already revealed to the community) and assign the scores wherever
you like. Maybe you can't
quite create your dream character, but you can get very close.
I'm also happy that the three core books are only going to cost 60 bucks total. (Or less,
if your game store gives you a discount like mine does.) Sure, it's probably a trick to
trap you into buying more books, but it's one I can live with.
And speaking of D&D and Wizards of the Coast, in 1999, WotC released their first
miniatures for the fantasy game, having already terminated their license with Ral Partha
in favor of in-house miniature production. They're actually pretty good - minimal flash
(excess bits of metal, for those who don't know), very detailed, made
out of lead-free pewter like most of the miniatures I see these days. My one gripe is that
they're a little bigger than the Ral Partha minis - my poor dwarf fighter is going to be
demoted to gnome or halfling if I use him in a game with the new figures! I'd like to
think WotC had the best interest of gamers at heart - bigger miniatures are easier to
paint, perhaps - but logically, I think they're just trying to make their miniatures
incompatible with other companies' products.
wjw: Yes, they use the European standard of 30mm versus the 25mm scale to
which we are more accustomed. I'm baffled by the change as well, unless they are either
attempting what you suggested, or trying to generate a little more income on the other
side of the pond. I haven't seen the figs for myself yet (fatherhood ruins your miniatures
hobby on two levels: lack of time and choking hazards!), but I think I'll stick to the
25mm scale, just to keep everything uniform.
sml: It's a pity. They're great
figures, really. Hey, maybe if enough gamers complain, WotC will introduce 25mm versions
of the miniatures. We can always hope.
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