04 November 2011

Tombstone: The Best D&D Movie Ever Made

It isn't hyperbole. Tombstone perfectly embodies what I consider to be a fantastic D&D campaign.

Let me break it down a little. You have four travelers coming to Tombstone, each with a different story and closely connected to each other through bonds that simply will not break. One, Wyatt Earp, is a former marshal and a lawman. One, Doc Holiday, was a gambler, dentist, gunman, and part-time outlaw. This is the quintessential party- they have a shared goal (move into Tombstone, live a quiet life), they trust each other implicitly, and they are willing to fight for what they believe in.

The city itself, while ostensibly guarded by a foppish mayor and an ancient sheriff, are really in the hands of the wild, red-sashed Cowboy gang. The delicate balance between the clearly despised but powerful and reckless Cowboy gang and the townspeople means that it's just waiting for a strong group to come by and make some trouble.

If you rewrote the entire plot of Tombstone to be a D&D campaign, and renamed the Cowboys to the Red Sashes or anything else, and gave the marshal a title (Lord Marshal), make the sheriff a nobleman, and gave everybody swords and crossbows, nobody would even notice. It'd just be another day. "Oh god, not another boring mining town controlled by a local gang," your players would say, "how many times do we have to save these fuckers?"

And yet, Tombstone is more than the sum of its parts, as every D&D campaign is. I'd go so far as to say that Tombstone is a better D&D movie than Conan the Barbarian is, or the Lord of the Rings is. Especially Lord of the Rings, matter of fact.

Tombstone is abound with player agency. In other words, it feels like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday can do whatever they like. It's a wide-open world, and they have choices. For example, Virgil chooses to become the new town sheriff when the old one gets killed. He feels a personal need to bring vengeance back to the Cowboys who've gotten away with the bullshit for far too long.

His friends, his brothers, do not. There's no real reason to fight the Cowboys, or for that matter, not to fight them. The decision is a more personal one- should I risk my life to stop these people from doing things I don't like? Is it worth getting involved, possibly lethally, in a fight that's really none of my concern?

Wyatt Earp doesn't change his mind until it's almost too late.

That's D&D to me. You have to make decisions, and it's not as easy as "Throw this trinket in a volcano or the world will end." It's about "You have to do what you think is best." Tombstone is a movie about the choices of brave men, and of consequence. Everything they do has a consequence, from when Wyatt drives out that bearded fat guy from the first saloon he sets his foot into, or when Virgil and Morgan make themselves targets of assassins by letting the world know exactly where they stand.

So I'll stand by it again- Tombstone is the best D&D movie ever made.


  1. Really good post! Tombstone is one of my favorite movies. It is rich with character development and as you pointed out, decisions that have huge impacts and lasting consequences (not to mention that Kurt Russell is a total badass in the movie- "You gonna do something, or just stand there and bleed?"). I honestly never looked at it in the light of which you are saying (however I did use it as a huge piece of inspiration in a few Weird West games I ran).

  2. Great, great post. Makes me want to run a "Dungeons & Desperados" kinda game.

  3. This is a great example of a D&D campaign. Never looked at it like that until I stumbled upon your post. Great post!