“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” will never be better than an actual game—and that's a good thing
Warning: very mild spoilers ahead.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves follows a party of adventurers who get up to some criminal hijinks while saving the world in the process. Edgin Darviss (Chris Pine) and Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez) are respectively Bard and Barbarian ex-convicts who seek to retrieve a magic item through questionable means—because every D&D campaign needs a plot macguffin! Along the way, they assemble a ragtag team of miscreants: the Wild Magic Sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), the Druid and shapeshifting protector of the forest Doric (Sophia Lillis), and the straight-laced paladin in shining armor Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page).
As you might have guessed, there’s a divide between the way D&D players will experience Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and the way non-D&D players will experience the film. It’s not big though. I’m going to do what Dungeon Masters do best, and paint a picture for you. We’re going to imagine this together.
Imagine, if you will, a group of friends getting together to play Dungeons & Dragons cracking jokes, vanquishing evildoers; basically just kicking it at a friend’s house while having an adventure. Now imagine that adventure being adapted into a movie. That’s what Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves feels like.
And that’s to its benefit, too. You won’t see literal dice being rolled, but it’s fun to imagine which events and actions in the film were high rolls or critical failures. Speaking as a Dungeon Master, I had the most fun imagining the hypothetical table’s dynamic, identifying spells and figuring out which rules were followed and which rules were tastefully broken for the Rule of Cool to triumph.
D&D is often marketed as a game where ordinary people can role-play and roll dice to be heroes, but the truth is, the average D&D party will spend a lot of time trying to pull off so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas while saving the world in the process. That’s just what happens when friends get together, imagine themselves as knights or wizards, and don’t take things too seriously. It’s a game after all! D&D: HAT captures that feeling really well, and if the film took itself too seriously, it would suffer.
Side note: I think it’s a triumph that they could have given the central character of the movie any class—Wizard, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, what have you—and they chose to make him a Bard. A Bard! The Bard is rarely ever the most formidable warrior or the most powerful spellcaster, but the Bard is almost always the one having the most fun in the action. They were absolutely right to make the Bard the “face” of the movie.
Detractors of the film might call the film Guardians of the Galaxy-esque, bloated with quips and smirks; I disagree! Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is effective partly because it doesn’t try too hard with its jokes—it doesn’t need to, considering how much chemistry there is between the actors. Ewan McGregor as Forge Fritzwilliam is especially charismatic in this movie as a villain, and Chris Pine is just naturally charming wherever he is. I was especially taken by Justice Smith—it’s not easy to play an insecure character while also being naturally funny.
And do you know what the best thing about Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves? It is not nearly as entertaining as an actual game. Get the right people together to roll some dice, and you’ll get up to crazier shenanigans than any other conclave or faction in the Forgotten Realms. It’s also not as entertaining as the myriad of actual play shows out there—shows where you get to watch parties and DM’s play Dungeons & Dragons for real! There’s Critical Role (whose previous campaign has been adapted into the ongoing Vox Machina television series); we’ve written about Dropout TV and Dimension 20 before, and a personal favorite of mine, Belkinus: Necrohunt by JoCat, just to name a few!
All bubbles burst eventually, and there will come a time when D&D will be unseated as the TTRPG game to play, and other TTRPG’s like Pathfinder, DIE, and City of Mists will get to shine. But now’s as good a time as any to ride the wave. If there’s one thing I can promise you, it’s that your first D&D adventure—as in actually playing the game—is going to be a hundred times more fun than watching this movie. And the movie’s already a blast and a half, so, what’s stopping you from grabbing your friends and a fistful of dice?
Words Jam Pascual
Art James Francisco