Lost in Translation 439: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Tabletop roleplaying games are a niche hobby. There are a large number of publishers, most being one or two designers working out of their home. The larger publishers do have officers but outside a small core of employees, run on freelancers to create content. However, at its height, TSR Inc had full-time employees creating and playtesting. At the time, TSR was the owner and publisher of the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, Dungeons & Dragons. D&D and its related game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did what no other published game could; the game appeared on shelves not just at specialty stores but at major bookstore chains. D&D and AD&D reached beyond just the players and was known as the RPG. Other games would follow, but D&D would be the game to beat.

D&D allowed players to take on roles that would be found in fantasy novels. TSR published several settings for the game before being purchased by Wizards of the Coast due to financial problems. The core setting, which was supported through the AD&D Player’s Handbook was Greyhawk, based on D&D creator Gary Gygax’s home campaign. Greyhawk was joined next by the Forgotten Realms, created by Ed Greenwood, first as a setting for his own short stories then as his own home campaign. Dragonlance was the first setting created as such, with a planned trilogy of books and series of adventure modules instead of gazatteer entries. The three settings had different inspirations. Gygax was inspired by the works of RE Howard, specifically Conan the Barbarian, and Fritz Leier, including his works featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The Forgotten Realms was more high fantasy, with wizards, warriors, and heroes of all sort fighting against evil wherever it dared to poke up its head. Dragonlance was epic fantasy, with a band of heroes on a quest to end a war and stop the evil Queen of Dragons from taking over the world. Later published settings, like Spelljammer and Planescape, focused on other themes, including fantasy space travel.

Greenwood’s Realms first appeared to the general AD&D audience through The Dragon, TSR’s house magazine that covered a range of topics, from fiction to monster ecology to board games, and included articles about other publishers’ games. Greenwood’s articles featured snippets about the Realms, bits and pieces that hinted at a larger world. When Ggax was forced out of TSR, the Realms was brought on board to fill in for the hole the loss of Greyhawk left. Around the same time, TSR began publishing fiction, both original and D&D tie-in novels. The D&D novels featured the Realms in some manner and led to the creation of characters like Drizz’t Do’Urden. The Realms also was featured in the first four Gold Box video games from SSI and has continued since then through to the Baldur’s Gate series.

The Realms was a kitchen sink setting allowing for any style of fantasy players wanted. Need a city of intrigue along the line of the shared Thieves’ World anthology series? Waterdeep. A nation ruled by an evil priest? Zhentil Keep. Idyllic small towns and villages under threat from an invasion of evil men and their minions? The Dalelands. A nation ruled by wizards? Thay. What about one ruled by greedy merchants? Sembia, with pirates in the adjoining Sea of Fallen Stars off the Sword Coast. Would you like a lost world filled with dinosaurs? Chult. And, as suiting a game featuring dungeons and dragons, lost ruins galore waiting to be found and dragons to be slain.

Overall, Dungeons & Dragons is well known, even if various elements of the game aren’t. The only medium D&D hasn’t done well in is visual. Even there, the game has had more adaptations to TV and film than any other tabletop RPG, with a cartoon that ran three seasons, several short-run comic series through DC Comics, a large number of video games, and one well-panned movie in 2000. The potential for a decent movie adaptation still exists; D&D is about the possibilities.

In the time since the 2000 D&D movie, Wizards was bought by Hasbro, who is leveraging their properties into film adaptations. D&D provides for a large amount of intellectual property that can be used for any story that a production crew wants to tell, just like it does for its players. Thus, Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves, released April 2023 and still in theatres as of this writing. The movie stars Chris Pine as Edgin, Michelle Rodriguez as Holga, Justice Smith as Simon, Sophia Lillis as Doric, Daisy Head as Sofina, Chloe Coleman as Kira, and Hugh Grant as Forge.

The movie opens with Edgin and Holga in prison in the Icewind Dale, awaiting their annual parole hearing. Edgin has the most player character prison break possible planned, all pinned on the arrival of the aaracrocka chancellor, Jarnathan. With the Chancellor delayed by the weather, Edghin stalls by explaining the events that lead to he and Holga being imprisoned two years prior. After being disillusioned as a Harper, Edgin gathered his own team to steal from the rich and give to mainly themselves. The problem he ran into was stealing from a Red Wizard of Thay, who are as careful about their hordes as a dragon. Retribution from the Red Wizard led to the death of Edgin’s wife, though his daughter Kira was safely hidden.

When Edgin and Holga return home, he discovers that his daughter is gone. Kira had been part of the band, along with Holga, Forge, and Simon. Following up, Edgin heads to Neverwinter, where Forge is now the Lord. Meeting with Forge and his assistant, Sofina, Edgin discovers that Forge has taken care of Kira over the past two years to the point where she prefers to stay with him instead of going back with her father. Forge orders the guards to take Edgin and Holga away; Sofina changes the orders to execution. The pair manage to escape and Edgin decides that he will get his daughter back from Forge along with the Tablet of Remaking.

Knowing he and Holga wouldn’t be able to get at Forge’s treasure vault by themselves, Edgin starts looking for teammates. He finds Simon working at a tavern, doing minor magic tricks while stealing valuables. Getting in will take more than Simon’s minor magics, so the sorcerer suggests Doric, a druid who is already helping the people of Neverwinter Wood stand up against Forge.

With his team assembled, Edgin begins his work against Forge. His plans keep changing as complications arise, including needing the Helm of Disjunction to break into Forge’s vault, and getting help from Xenk (Regé-Jean Page), a former Thayan turned paladin and Harper. The journey is not just one of gathering artifacts, but also one of self-discovery. In the end, the heroes gain experience and reach their goals.

Not exactly an in-depth description of the film, but, as mentioned above, the movie is still in theatres and nobody likes spoilers without warning. Suffice to say, there are thrills and adventure, with the characters behaving like PCs. The movie does go deep and takes a hard look at how much Edgin and Holga have screwed up their own lives. Edgin lost his daughter and his wife. Holga lost not only her home for falling in love with someone from outside, but she also lost her lover because she was always out. A key quote, “If you stop failing, you’ve failed,” resonates. It’s effectively the theme of the film.

The characters are very much recognizable by character class without the film telling the audience. Edgin is a bard; Holga is a barbarian, Sofina is a wizard, and Forge is a thief. Simon is called a sorcerer, but using phrases like, “destined to be a great sorcerer.” Xenk is called a paladin, but even if he wasn’t called one, he carries himself as one. Charisma is a difficult stat in the game to portray; it’s more than just looks. Edgin, though, demonstrates he has it by convincing his friends to go along with his plans. Xenk has a calmness around him that brings in people who would follow him to Hell and back, and he would make sure that the followers would return. Forge, while somewhat charismatic, is smarmy in a way only Hugh Grant can bring to the screen. People are willing to listen to him, which is great for a con man, but extended exposure leads to annoyance even from allies.

The writers plumbed the lore of the Realms. They didn’t just use maps of Faerûn, but also the history. Szass Tam, the lich necromancer ruler of Thay, is the reason for the plot. Themberchaud, the “pudgy” dragon in the film, is a red dragon with a history in the Realms. The Underdark is suitably eerie, with dangers lurking. Some details might not be correct, like Themberchaud’s weight – he’s overweight, not necessarily round – but that didn’t diminish the threat he represented.

Spells used by the spellcasters were recognizable. Instead of generic bolts of eldritch energy, the spells came from the Player’s Handbook. Sofina used time stop and one of Bigby’s hand spells. Simon’s spells ranged from prestidigitation to telekinesis and had a wild magic effect at an awkward point. As suiting for the Realms, magic was all around instead of being rare like in the Lord of the Rings films. High fantasy leads to magic.

High fantasy also means beings around that aren’t found in reality. While elves and dwarves cane be expected, several D&D specific races appeared, including dragonborn and aaracockra. Faerûn’s halflings were well represented, and were visually different from LoTR‘s hobbits, being thin and wearing shoes. Of the main characters, Simon is a half-elf, with the slightly pointed ears typical of half-elves. Doric is a tiefling, with horns and tail signifying her infernal heritage. The inherent abilities of the races weren’t exploited, but with everything going on in the film, the abilities would get lost or muddied.

The cast is strong. Science fiction and fantasy films require more from their casts due to the special effects. Honor Among Thieves does use practical when practical, but some CGI is needed. The key to a D&D movie is to have the characters behave believably, to have chemistry and quirks. The characters behave like they’ve worked together for far too long. Edgin and Holga are siblings despite not sharing the same set of parents and are parent figures to several of their band. Simon’s lack of self-esteem comes out strong, making his moment of discovery more meaningful.

The monsters featured are very much D&D. The gelatinous cube was included in the D&D white box in 1975. The displacer beast, the black panther-like monster with two Venus fly-trap tentacles, and the owlbear were created by Gary Gygax and published in 1975. The intellect devourer and the axe beak both first appeared in the Monster Manual for first edition AD&D. All appear in the film as they do in the artwork for the game.

There were liberties taken, mostly to keep the story flowing. Evard’s black tentacles normally can’t be used like they were, but a three-hundred-year-old Red Wizard may have abilities to tweak spells. The druid`s wild shape only allows for natural animals, not monstrosities like the owlbear, but druids do get the spell polymorph, with no restriction on casting the spell on themselves. Given that every character has a background and has spent time adventuring, Doric being of a level to cast polymorph makes sense, considering the band needs to fight a Red Wizard with far more powerful spells.

In short, Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves displays what can be expected from a group of players who have been campaigning together for several years. The movie itself would keep a gaming group busy for several months of gameplay. Honor Among Thieves is also a fun movie. It may not win awards, but it is worth a watch. This is the movie D&D fans have been waiting for.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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