From ‘Iron Man’ to ‘Game of Thrones’: How Dungeons & Dragons influenced some of the biggest fantasy universes

As ‘Bridgerton' star Rege-Jean Page joins the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ film, here's how the original role-playing game created an enduring legacy

Once upon a time, the announcement that Bridgerton's Rege-Jean Page has joined the Dungeons & Dragons film cast is news that would only have been welcomed by romance fans and cosplay aficionados.

However, in this post-Marvel, Netflix world of entertainment, where everyone pretty much watches everything, and you'll be positively shunned by the Zoom watercooler if you're not up to date with the latest goings-on in the Featherington household, the news has been met with excitement by a global audience hungry for the next Avengers-style fantasy universe.

And there's no doubt that if the film, scheduled for a 2022 release, is a hit, then sequels will follow.

Page joins Chris Pine, Fast & Furious actress Michelle Rodriguez and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Justice Smith in the film, which will be directed by Game Night's Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, and based on the popular role-playing game from Wizards of the Coast.

Having more recently been brought back to the forefront of pop culture, thanks to Mike, Dustin and the boys playing it in Stranger Things, as well as being a favourite pastime in The Big Bang Theory, the fantasy game, which spawned multiverse fandoms, films and a 1980s cartoon series, boasts a legion of celebrity devotees, including Jon Favreau, Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello and Stephen Colbert.

"It was really good preparation for being a filmmaker," Iron Man director Favreau told Jimmy Kimmel of playing the game as a teen. "When you build worlds, making a superhero movie or dealing with CGI in filmmaking … You're putting on a show, you're setting something up, improvising different characters in the game."

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

First released in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons began as an interactive game which would be set up on a table. One player would take on the role of Dungeon Master who directed the game, while the other players each portrayed a character, determining its species, occupation, and moral and ethical outlook. They would also choose the character’s abilities, such as strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and charisma.

In layman’s terms, the winner is the one who amasses the highest score, although as every fan knows, "playing Dungeons & Dragons to win is the most boring way to play", as the popular phrase goes.

Evolution of fantasy

Dungeons & Dragons is widely recognised as the great-grandparent of modern role-playing games and the role-play gaming industry as a whole. Almost immediately after its release, role-playing games including Tunnels & Trolls and Empire of the Petal Throne popped up the following year, while Chivalry & Sorcery arrived in 1976.

Over the years, there have been many iterations of the game which weaved in medieval history and mythology, as well as spells. There were also advanced modules introduced, including Ravenloft and Spelljammer, which added elements of horror and science fiction, respectively.

From kitchen table game to big screen

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Justin Whalin in Dungeons & Dragons (2000) IMDb

Having made the transition from board game to inspiring comic books and novels, many Gen X-ers have fond memories of the animated TV series of the same name, which ran for 27 episodes from 1983 to 1985.

Focusing on a group of friends who are transported to another world via a ride at an amusement park, the series featured a Dungeon Master who gave each child a magical item, including an invisibility cloak – long before Harry Potter got his hands on one – a magic bow and a magic shield, to help them as they try to find their way home.

However, 2000 film Dungeons & Dragons, starring Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons, was savaged by critics and bombed at the box office, scoring only a 10 per cent ratings approval on Rotten Tomatoes.

Celebrity fans

A-list fans have not been shy in extolling their love for the game. True Blood star – and Sofia Vergara's husband – Joe Manganiello has spoken about his role as Dungeon Master for a celebrity-packed Dungeons & Dragons group.

The group, which includes Fanboys director Kyle Newman, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, actor Vince Vaughn, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and Dan Weiss, co-creator of Game of Thrones, meet regularly to play the open-ended game.

"The guys who created Game of Thrones play in my group, and the game was instrumental for them in creating long-form storytelling within a fantasy world, with dragons and archetypal warriors, fighters, wizards and things like that," Manganiello told Variety.

“It’s a lot of fun, all of us used to play when we were younger. It was instrumental for a lot of us in terms of what we’d wind up doing for a career. For me as an actor, doing the character building, writing back stories … I was doing this stuff before I even started acting.”