D&D — Finally A Movie That Captures the Game’s Spirit

The lone sound of a blacksmith’s hammer rings out at dusk as it settles on the hamlet you’ve entered. You walk the main street, people hurriedly slam doors even though it’s a sweltering summer. You notice children peeking at you through their windows before being snatched away and upbraided by adults. In the air, hangs the stench of fear and mistrust.

Thus started another D&D adventure long ago back in the 1980s with my friends. I can still see their faces sitting around the old oak living room table. My brother the Dungeon Master, Steve, a fighter, Rob a wizard. Me, I was playing my new thief character, which I believe today are called rogues. There wasn’t much in this town. Mostly one-story buildings with thatched roofs, but there was an inn and tavern so that’s where adventurers went to find out things.

I’m bringing this up because I saw Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves with my son recently and I loved it. I think it’s a good fantasy movie overall and even if you just like fantasy movies and not D&D, I think, you’ll enjoy it. But the movie I did something extraordinary, it captured the fun and the somewhat randomness of the game.

I’d be surprised if you don’t know what D&D is, but just in case I’ll give a quick overview. It’s a roll playing game where you create characters and form a party of players. You could be a fighter, a thief, a wizard, cleric or ranger, all with a variety of skills, strengths and weaknesses. You could be a human, dwarf, halfling or elf. Besides the players, there was an all-powerful Dungeon Master, who oversaw the adventure, played the roles of the bad guys, set the scene, provided narration and information to the players and also kept things from them. The twenty-sided dice determined your fate. The DM would roll it from time to time and then something would happen unexpectedly. Sometimes he would have a character roll it to see if they detected something, like a movement in the woods or shadows. And then, when the goblins or orcs attacked, you would have to roll it to see if you hit your opponents.

(I swear I’m going to actually give a review of the movie. I will get there, just stick with me.)

Anyway, on this particular adventure, my character was named The Green Robber. So when we went to a tavern to find out if there was any adventures we could undertake we introduced ourselves around. My friend Rob said, “wait, is that really your name? The Green Robber?” Not thinking anything of it, I said “yes.”

By brother, the DM, took notice of Rob’s comment and rolled a dice and in a turn or so, the town’s watch came in and arrested me and threw me in jail. So I sat out the rest of the tavern stuff while my friends found out what the adventure was and eventually had me released to go with them in the morning. D&D was like that. Do something silly and you’ll learn a lesson. Out of stubbornness, I kept the character’s name.

We went on the adventure into a deep labyrinth of caves where we were promptly killed by a band of orcs. Yes, it was day two. Game over, or so we thought. Then my brother sighed and rolled the dice and, “low and behold, Fred the Friendly Cleric,” an all powerful holy man who liked to wander caves and areas of adventure hoping to heal people like us, found our bodies. Clerics who were advanced could learn resurrection spells, and this one was so far advanced he could do it at will. So he resurrected us and healed us and off we went to complete the adventure. Fred would make other appearances through the years.

Anyway, for me, the best part of D&D was seeing how inventive your friends could be. How each of us would throw out ideas on how to solve a problem. How clever my brother was at moving the adventure along and putting some twists in. You had to also act your character. See, each character’s traits were determined randomly with di. You had scores for intelligence, strength, constitution, wisdom, dexterity. And so if you had a character that was really smart, but weak he had to act that way. If you had a character that was really strong but lacked wisdom, attacking foes might be your first and only option you’d present when faced with choices of what to do. For me that was the fun part to see how everyone adjusted to their characters’ traits and we laughed a lot, though there could be some drama over who got what treasure or got to decide how to do something. But it was an appropriate amount of tension I think.

And that’s what Honor Among Thieves gives you, a lot of laughs, with an appropriate amount of drama . It has a great cast. Chris Pine is fantastic as the fallen do-gooder bard, turned thief, Elgin Darvis. He’s he plan maker, so in D&D world, he’d have the highest intelligence. Michelle Rodriguez is brilliant playing the somewhat dim barbarian and fighter Holga Kilgore. She did a wonderful job of playing someone who, while not really dumb, is blunt and extremely straight forward. Her character definitely had high scores in strength, constitution and dexterity and I liked the chemistry between her and Pine.

Rege-Jean Page captured perfectly the self-righteousness and yet self-sacrificing character of a paladin.

Sophia Lillis, who I think is just wonderful in everything she does, was great as Doric, a tiefling druid with the power to shape shift. Think of a tiefling as sort of an elf. Lillis captures the character beautifully as someone caught between hanging on to the beauty of innocence while also being savvy enough to understand there are some real bastards out there.

Justice Smith is great as the wizard without confidence and has some of the best comedic scenes.

Daisy Head is scary as a the villain. How wonderful for her to get to play this powerful and evil wizard.

And of course Hugh Grant is his usual British self, playing Forge, a rogue turned lord who will betray just about everyone, but does so with just enough charm to not get killed when it goes wrong.

The story itself is a good one. Elgin and Holga get caught during an attempt to rob a keep and then bust out of jail. They are looking for Elgin’s daughter and a talisman that will resurrect Elgin’s wife. Hugh Grant, aka Forge, is now the lord of a keep and has the talisman but there’s a twist. Daisy Head’s character, a red wizard, has plans to turn the population of the area into a fighting undead army. Anyway, on the way to get the talisman and save Elgin’s daughter, they have to level up their abilities.

Throughout the movie, there are these little scenes where it seems like the camera pauses just a bit at a crucial moment, as if the success or failure of what will happen is going to be determined by a dice throw. It’s not a huge pause, but enough of a one that it gives you that feeling of randomness and luck that imbues the actual game of D&D.

There are other touches to this movie that we loved. The pudgy dragon was a great idea. I like that someone gave some thought to what would happen to a dragon over time and this one apparently got really fat. Possible one of the best chase and fight scenes in movie history. You gotta see it to believe it.

Oh, and for anyone that remembers the CBS cartoon Dungeons & Dragons that ran between 1983 and 1985, there’s a cameo by those characters in the movie. I totally did the Leonardo DiCaprio meme at that point.

Anyway, Honor Among Thieves — good story, good visual effects and direction and a fantastic cast. Go see it. It’s a lot of fun.


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