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Way back when, my sister talked about a TV movie she saw which I missed called Caves and Caverns, about a group of students who play Dungeons and Dragons for real in the steam tunnels beneath their campus. Their Dungeon Master is a highly strung child genius who loses himself, thinking the game is reality. During the game he disappears into the city and people/police try to find him.

This may have been the pilot for a TV series or a standalone TV movie. I've been trying to find it for decades but the closest I've come are a two books. The Dungeon Master (1984) by William Dear, a true story about James Dallas Egbert III, which I think is the story I'm searching for. Mazes and Monsters (1981) by Rona Jaffe was made into a film (1982) starring Tom Hanks, based on the Egbert story but using caves.

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    That sounds a lot like the infamous Mazes and Monsters, which despite dealing with the alleged effects of fantasy role-playing games, is not really fantasy itself.
    – Adamant
    May 15 at 17:12
  • @Adamant I agree: larping D&D in tunnels sounds exactly like that.
    – DavidW
    May 15 at 17:12
  • IMDB has nothing relevant for "Caves and Caverns". "Mazes and Monsters" is the likely answer. May 15 at 17:29
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    I’m voting to close this question because the work in question seems to be about the game of D&D (as played in the real world), but it has no actual scifi or fantasy elements,.
    – Andres F.
    May 15 at 20:27
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    Voting to reopen. It is "about" fantasy and magic, even if it doesn't directly contain fantastical elements. Haven't meta questions like this been allowed before? I mean a recent question asked for an ID of a list of SF stories. The list does not in itself contain any SF elements, but the question was allowed. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/287500/… I'm sure we've had other meta questions.
    – Pete
    May 16 at 3:24

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While you've discounted Mazes and Monsters, as the 1982 TV film adaptation of the eponymous book, it's a strong match.

Bound together by a desire to play "Mazes and Monsters," Robbie and his three college classmates decide to move the board game into the local legendary cavern.

These days, it's more well known for being an early Tom Hanks film. As I recall it (it's been a few years), they did not play in the steam tunnels, but in a nearby cave system. Robbie, the role played by Tom Hanks, loses himself in the character of Pardieu, the cleric, and travels to New York City, seeking the "two towers" he saw in a vision. After he stabs a mugger, seeing them as a monster, and plans to jump off of the South Tower of the Twin Towers to get back to the fantasy world, his friends find him, and convince him to stop and come with them based on the lore of the game. At the end of the film, he's on the grounds of a mental asylum, still stuck in his delusion, and they have one last game with him.

Trailer

And indeed, there's no actual fantasy aspect to it.

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  • It was noted in the question, of course...
    – DavidW
    May 15 at 17:38
  • Ah. I misunderstood the reference, thinking that they'd only spotted the book.
    – FuzzyBoots
    May 15 at 17:39
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    As for the steam tunnels, the real-life incident that it was based on involved steam tunnels.
    – Adamant
    May 15 at 17:55
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    ". At the end of the film, he's on the grounds of a mental asylum " minor correction - actually his parents are taking care of him.
    – Pete
    May 16 at 2:51

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