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2012
03.23


I’m always excited to see how roleplayers are depicted in the media, and when a google search for historical comparative values of gold and platinum pieces led me to Gold: The Series, I watched all six episodes right then, right there. This web TV show boasts high production values, good music and a particularly nice opening credit sequence; the producers obviously sunk some money into the series and hope that their hard-spent loot will be rewarded. But what interests me, of course, is: is it good for the hobby? Is it accurate? Will it appeal to gamers? And will non-gamers have their prejudices about gamers confirmed… or shattered???

The story follows a group of players of the “Goblins & Gold” roleplaying game (why must people always use silly alliterative pseudonyms when we all know it’s Dungeons & Dragons? (ー_ー)) Jamie, an elderly gamer, has returned to his hometown after 15 years, and finds Martin, his old GM, still waiting to finish his Zombie King adventure, “that one last campaign.” During this promising first episode I couldn’t help feeling my chest tighten with emotion because every gamer has an unfinished campaign or two in their past; myself, I often dream about my unfinished 3e game from junior high, and still keep track of the players’ addresses and phone numbers hoping that one day we will be able to finish it. Jamie goes back to Martin’s house where they encounter the rest of the party: Brian, who is bald; Hicks, who works at a game store, and Danny, who despite her name is a girl. They gather their old characters (still preserved after 15 years — another good, realistic point) and resume the epic campaign!! Unfortunately, there is out-of-character bad blood between the players, and it all boils up in a steaming cauldron of gore on that fateful night…

For most of “Gold”, I had very mixed feelings. In terms of production values and “flash”, the show is very good. I admired the way that there is loud music throughout, particularly in (or slightly before) the emotional moments; I wish I had such good music in my own games, but it is hard to do moment-by-moment scoring while also rolling dice, etc. I don’t believe the old saying “All arts aspire to be music,” but music may be second best. I appreciate little touches, like the way the DM asks the players to turn off their cell phones. And there are some emotional moments — the line “You’re not the person who used to spend the night at my house… but neither am I” captures some of the complicated blend of feelings in the friendships forged during role-playing. The miniatures and gaming equipment are also convincing.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the show, and as it went on they began to grate on me. I am extremely flexible in terms of newbies making mistakes about D&D, but the script was tantalizingly — or frustratingly? — unclear on what type or edition of D&D they were playing. Based on one reference to Comeliness, they may be playing 1st edition, but references to “shifting” suggest they may be playing 4th; then again, another player dismisses 4th edition with harshly pointed words. Based on references to the Flaeness, they are in any case playing in Oerth… but it could be a homebrew Oerth… anyway, I have to give the makers a “thumbs down” for these inconsistencies. (And in what editions of D&D could four 10th-level characters handle an Ancient Undead Dragon? :/ ) These errors may have slipped in because of the other problem: the show focuses too little on D&D and too much on the out-of-character conflicts. I approve of the filmmakers stretching the definition of gaming by showing different types of gamers: instead of the bright, attractive young faces I associate with D&D, these gamers are middle-aged adults, and even jocks and football players (!). But one of the players actually throws another player down a flight of stairs IRL: is that really the way a person who roleplays a paladin would behave? (Granted, he is a fallen paladin.) Of course there are dysfunctional gaming groups in real life, in fact one of my best friends is currently being sued in a class action lawsuit for throwing dice in someone’s eye, but this focus on alcohol, violence and swearing distracted me from the real action at hand, the in-character action. One of the most important fight scenes in the game even takes place off-camera!! *_*

Clearly only the best DM in the world could bring such a group together, but sadly, Martin is not that GM. I was ready to give the series an “average” review when I got to the final episode, in which Martin does something which should be UNTHINKABLE for any DM or Gamemaster. Frankly I found the final episode offensive and I think that IRL the players would have stormed away from the table, the way I stormed away from my laptop, leaving it alone in the dorm lounge for two hours during which time it was unfortunately stolen (I am writing this from my desktop computer). “Gold” breaks new ground in the depiction of twilight-years gamers, and it is a very well-produced show, but I have to say — MARTIN IS NO GM. With the sixth episode twist, “Gold” jumps the shark and squanders what could have been a promising series.

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2 comments so far

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  1. Actually, Night of the Zombie King is a between seasons spin off from Gold. The actual series about teams of role players competing in a tournament. I admit it’s a bit flawed, but I enjoyed it enough to support it on Kickstarter.

  2. Theo,

    I’m sorry you you didn’t like our series and – even worse – sorry that your reaction to the twist in episode 6 indirectly cost you your laptop.

    This isn’t¬ an attempt to rebut arguments made – or try futilely to convince you liked it better than you did – but more an explanation as to why certain decisions were made and why the in-game inconsistencies exist. You represent our core audience – this was intended to be a show for rpers by rpgers about rgers and the failure to gain you as a fan, especially due to authenticity of the in-game stuff, is painful to me.
    As to why the game isn’t D & D – this is a tough one because we thought of it as D & D when we were writing, you translate it to D & D when you watch, but our hands are tied because if we use a Wizards of the Coast trademark, we risk litigation. And because we’re filmmakers of highly specialized content who try to shoot this stuff on weekends around day jobs, familial obligations, etc.,, ¬we are poor. And lawsuits terrify us.

    The edition discrepancies are probably mostly do the disparate gaming systems of the three writers. I run a 4e game, David based the night of the zombie king adventure on an old 2nd edition Ravenloft campaign, and Andrew only has experience with Pathfinder. So when one writer writes a line about a player shifting or getting an ‘attack of opportunity’ or having the comeliness stat, it’s based on our experience with different systems and didn’t due our due diligence in syncing them because, by slapping the ‘Goblins and Gold’ label on the game, we forgiving ourselves it sometimes feeling like it wasn’t perfectly attuned to a single edition.

    Your ‘I want to see more of the gaming’ point is one’s that very familiar to us. It was leveled at the original GOLD: the series and again at NOTZK because I think gamers want to understand what’s happening in the game, what the character classes are, what they’re fighting, what spells they’re casting, because this is the fun stuff, what draws them to watch a series like GOLD or Night of the Zombie King. This is a hard one for me, because I think as a dramatist you best serve your audience by telling a story about the most critical time in your protagonist’s life – and for Jaz, this is that time. He stands between the precipice between rediscovering who he was when he gamed with his friends and losing himself completely into what he’s become since – a journey mirrored by his character’s journey. If it’s just a game to the characters in the film and all we do is follow the game and ignore most of the interpersonal rivalries, then my problem is why do we care? GOLD circumnavigates this by existing in a fictional universe where gaming is like a professional sports and all involved are deeply invested in the outcome of the game. Night of the Zombie takes a different tack and makes the game important because of what it means to players – they are personally invested in the game because of their baggage and their friendships are intertwined with what’s happening. I worry that if we would produce a script that focused purely on the game in a realistic setting, the stakes would be really low for the characters and interest in the series would wane. The only thing at risk would be the death of characters and then a re-roll, which to me, isn’t good enough.

    ***SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ IF YOU PLAN ON WATCHING NOTZK***

    As to the moment, you refer to in episode 6, I don’t think it’s jumping the shark, because to me it’s very true to life to have a DM cheat a dice roll to further his story. This is a particularly egregious example – the dice roll is the difference between life and death for the party, but based on comments we have received elsewhere (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGmU2W14lyw for example), the DM cheating a roll for the good of his story seems to be a common theme. Most of the time it’s more innocuous, like deciding a battle-weary party doesn’t need a random encounter or deciding the monsters done for before he’s all the way to 0 because the tide of battle is so much of the players favor that the battle is no longer in doubt and you don’t want to drag. Do these small cheats violate the sanctity of the game?
    As a DM, I roll in front of a screen, so the players can see exactly what I’m rolling and know that their fates are determined by the dice and not my whim, but most I know roll behind a screen, including my co-creator David, and if you’re rolling behind a screen – why? What other reason than the occasional fudging of rolls for the good of the story? It depends on whether or not you think the DM is the god of his micro-universe or just a guide story-teller who must live by the same rules as his players. And while that’s a matter of taste, I don’t think it’s egregious stretch to show a character in our story bend the story and the dice to his will for the good of his friendships.

    Anyway, that was way longer (and probably more defensive) than intended. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job of drawing you in (and with the in-game realism) on our next project…

    Rick Robinson
    Writer/Producer, Night of the Zombie King
    Richard Wright in GOLD: The Series