Jul 12 , 2023
When one adapts one medium to another, there’s bound to be as many differences as there are similarities. This should in no way take away from your enjoyment of one or the other. Already, it’s very hard to compare a tabletop game to a movie. I will do my best to at least hit the high points as I break down the new Dungeons and Dragons movie: Honor Among Thieves.
If you’ve ever played a game of D&D, you’ll know that the world is jam packed with lore. If you’re playing in an established setting like Forgotten Realms, there are just things you need to know. It can feel like homework. It’s one thing to know Baldur’s Gate is a major city. But it’s another to really dig in and learn about the city. How it was founded, the government structure, the laws, known factions inside the city, etc. It adds a whole new dimension to your game. In Honor Among Thieves, it takes place in the city of Neverwinter. The writers did their homework bringing the city of Neverwinter to the big screen. They mentioned extensively how Neverwinter is a major trading city with many aristocratic merchants. This plays heavily into the plot of the movie. Then there’s the sub-plot with Lord Neverember. I recommend playing through Waterdeep: Dragon Heist if you want to learn more about Lord Neverember.
In Dungeons & Dragons, before even picking up your DnD dice, there are certain questions to which a player may want answers. Some players just ignore them, but they can eventually creep up and throw a story off the rails. One of those questions is the “resurrection” question. Afterall, this is a world where magic is real, prevalent, and powerful. A powerful enough cleric can bring people back from the dead. So, where’s the drama? An NPC dies or a player dies, so what? Pitch in for a resurrection. Problem solved. So, when making a movie where the death of a loved one is a major plot point, that question needs to be asked. The writers did a great job providing context by explaining the power of the Red Wizards. So, it wasn’t just a death, but a cursed death. So they need the magical MacGuffin to do the resurrection. That’s drama. Imagine how much different the movie would be if the entire journey was just a trip to the library?
It was so fun to see some very iconic monsters make cameos in the movie. We got to see a black dragon flying around and spitting acid. We also got to see some axe beaks walking around. And then there were “the games.” From there we got to see three of the most iconic and notorious low-level monsters in the game. We got to see a gelatinous cube. It’s easy to dismiss a gelatinous cube as no big deal. Then you encounter one. Suddenly, that ability to eat away at adventurers becomes much scarier. Displacer beasts are so much fun. And fun fact, the pelts of a displacer beast make for a fun magic item. To see their abilities in full effect was such a pleasure. It’s that ability to project another near them that allows the displacer beast to ambush so effectively. We got to see that. Speaking of master ambush predators, there of course was the mimic chest. The very definition of surprise attacks. The mimic will disguise itself as just about anything and then unleash a surprise attack. Their favorite form is of course the treasure chest because adventurers will always go to the treasure chest.
For the sake of pacing in movies, some things get dropped. For example the use of to cast and prepare spells. Look, it’s a movie. They have about two hours to entertain. Dungeons & Dragons has way more time than that. Have you ever wanted to go to a movie and watch someone do paperwork? It’s a bit dry. So, I can forgive them for not going into spell management.
As for the plot, I was impressed. A normal movie will have one protagonist and all the others around that protagonist get relegated to supporting characters. That’s not how it is in DnD. It’s very hard to get the concept of “the party” right. It’s not one person’s story. It’s everyone at the table. While they didn’t have time to explore everyone’s story, the point is everyone had a story. And they all intersected. Darvis wants his wife back. Holga wants to find something she lost. Doric wants to protect the ones that took her in, and Simon wants to be useful. All of those fit perfectly. And just like in DnD storytelling, it’s a journey. Go to the place to find the thing that leads to the other thing and another place. And eventually all the best laid plans of Tieflings and Dwarves go awry. Another common trope in D&D is the idea of layered villains. Because it’s never one person. The baddie will inevitably be working for the worse baddie. And that baddie will lead to the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) Forge betrayed the party and he was working for Safina. Safina is a Red Wizard and her loyalties are to Szass Tam. Of course Szass Tam works for the evil god Cyric. If we are lucky enough to get sequels, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see more of these baddies.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Dungeons and Dragons movie to critique, and we had to wait an even longer for a good Dungeons and Dragons movie. The less said about Jeremy Irons and Bruce Payne the better. The truth is, there are a lot of reasons why there hasn’t been a good live action DnD movie until now. It wasn’t perfect but it certainly was enjoyable and got plenty of things right.