If it weren't for Vin Diesel's 'Dungeons & Dragons' character, 'The Last Witch Hunter' wouldn't exist
Last November, I had a chance to sit down and talk to Vin Diesel on the set of his upcoming fantasy film “The Last Witch Hunter.” Ostensibly we were supposed to discuss Diesel's immortal witch hunter character Kaulder and how the lore of the witch world differs from any other telling audiences have ever seen.
Instead we talked about Dungeons & Dragons. Oops?
What was it about “The Last Witch Hunter” that attracted you?
VIN DIESEL: Let me go way back. For the 30th anniversary Dungeons and Dragons the company at the time asked me to write the foreword for the book. [In it] I talked about my experience growing up playing Dungeons and Dragons religiously. I even talked about a character that I had named Melkor — a name that obviously I stole from “The Silmarillion” — and [how] that character was a witch hunter.
[Then] about four years ago I met with a writer name Cory Goodman and we started talking. Someone put us together because he was a D&D player. [Afterwards, Cory] went off to write a whole film around my character Melkor. Just the very fact that I’d be playing a witch hunter speaks to how nerdy I was about the game, how committed I was to D&D because witch hunter [wasn’t a] class by TSR at the time. It was a character that you could get from a third party book of characters called The Arcanum. There were a few characters that started there that eventually Dungeons and Dragons took over; one of those characters was a witch hunter.
What drew you to the witch hunter class?
VIN: I played the witch hunter because I was a huge fan of rangers and this was a class that was somewhat like a ranger and had a small spell class, called mysticism at the time.
What edition were you playing?
VIN: I was playing the second edition. When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, I think maybe a thousand people in the world knew what the word internet meant. And I say that to kind of contextualize how far back that experience was for me and how much of a pioneer Gary Gygax was at that time. Now we take it for granted and we get to play MMOs online and video games have gone to another level. But at that time when we started playing? We were just a bunch of artists living in an artist community in Manhattan. All the kids that I played with were sons of artist. And we had access to all kinds of great material.
We would go to the hardware shop, we’d go up to a place called The Complete Strategist. We would go and buy these huge sheets of canvas and we’d slave over creating this world and we created worlds — which you often hear a lot of directors boast about how they can create worlds? Well there’s no training that you can think of that sets you up [at] creating these fantasy-like worlds [than D&D]. With just paper and old pieces of canvas. We’d treat it and make it look aged and then we’d have these huge nets and we’d be able to delve into this thing.
So basically you’re living out every D&D player’s dream. You’re playing your avatar?
VIN: Cory went off to write “The Last Witch Hunter” and was attempting to speak to [my] D&D character. But [he was] also attempting to set it in a modern time which is kind of fun because. How could a D&D influenced genre live in a Bond-like cinematic world? And that’s [just] what he did. [Cory] was a forward thinker in all of this and was very, very ambitious.
The lore for “The Last Witch Hunter” is really deep. Is there any chance that you might go to your buddies at Wizards of the Coast? Might see a pen and paper based on the universe of this movie?
VIN: It’s funny that you say that, because when you see me in the story meetings, especially regarding films like these, I’m always the guy in the room saying, “Ok, just stop for a second and talk to me like I’m about to play the game” [Laughs] “Which character would I play, and why would I be attracted to that character?” Yeah. I think that there could very easily be a tabletop game, and I feel like this [movie] is just the introduction to the world. I’ll tell you something. We’re not done shooting the movie and just last week they sent down Cory Goodman again, for the whole week, to discuss the next two chapters of this movie. And I thought that’s pretty remarkable, that they’ve been so excited about this that they’ve commenced on the two follow-up chapters. I thought that was pretty cool.
You said that your D&D character has a witch hunter had a small amount of magical ability, does that translate into his spiritual successor on film?
VIN: It was something we debated. I mean, for anyone that knows D&D, a witch hunter is obviously a hybrid character. I guess if you really map it out it would be impossible to fight magic without some form of magic. The great thing about Dungeons and Dragons was that it was able to categorize different forms of magic. So we’ve definitely played with that and attempted to incorporate different levels of it, even for the Michael Caine character. It’s not a full blown priest character but you have to assume that there’s something like bonuses to constitution or something that come from years and years of prayer and what have you. So I think as the saga continues, as the mythology unfolds, I think we will see.
Would you consider a witch hunter to be more of a more wizard or a sorcerer?
VIN: No, no, he would have more of a mysticism spell base. Because the people they’ve been fighting are the ones employing sorcery and necromancy and all those things, so his would be [different]. When I think of mysticism I think of this kind of more spiritual-based power.
Shamanism kind of?
VIN: Kind of shamanistic.
Would you consider Kaulder a level 20 or has he gone into prestige classes?
VIN: He’s a bad motherf*cker. How many level 20s have you played?
We only played once and it was so that we could go take on the huge end game dragons and other monsters. But it didn’t matter, we died anyway. [Laughs].
VIN: There was a campaign when Deities and Demigods first came out where we attempted such insane power so we could walk into Asgard and beat the f*ck out of everybody.
It doesn’t work.
VIN: It never works! You think you want it and then after about three weeks of playing you’re just like, “Uhm… Let me go back to my second level”.
If you ever make the game version of “The Witch Hunter,” I’d definitely try it out.
VIN: It’s hard right now in the face of technology. You can tell that Gary Gygax was kind of fighting the wave of technology because that’s something that you’ll never get again. Because when we played you never had that option, you could never download an MMO. So if there were humans that you knew that were willing to commit to going into this fantasy world? It was just priceless. I used to ride on my bike when I was 15 on the west side of downtown New York, and in the middle of the night I would ride to pick up my friend just so he would D&D with me. I would ride my bike at midnight just to go put him on my handlebars and bring him back to play [the game with] me. And I was like, “When I’m rich, I’ll pay you” and he’d say to me, “Well, Vin, what would you want in return?” and I’d say, “Everything.”
You can read more about my trip to the set of “The Last Witch Hunter” over here
“The Last Witch Hunter” arrives in theaters on October 23.