Do you have to know anything about ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ to enjoy ‘Honor Among Thieves?’

Image via Paramount Pictures

Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has been generating a lot of buzz on social media ever since the trailer was first shown at Comic-Con. The concept of shows and movies based on the popular roleplaying game has been attempted previously. However, they have had mixed success, with most never getting beyond cult-classic status. But that might change with Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, as it has a big-budget Hollywood sheen that will surely draw people to the cinema.

But many are wondering if you need to know anything about Dungeons and Dragons to enjoy the upcoming movie. And this question has a fascinating answer.

How is Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trying to appeal to D&D Fans? 

When the trailer landed, Dungeons And Dragons fans picked through it frame by frame, and they quickly discovered loads of Easter Eggs that call back to classic D&D concepts and visuals. 

One of the most obvious nods to the game is that each character shown in the trailer fits one of the classic D&D class archetypes. Chris Pine’s Edgin is clearly a bard. Holga, played by Michelle Rodriguez is clearly the barbarian due to her love of combat. Regé-Jean Page’s Xenk’s general demeanor and armor style marks them as a Paladin. Justice Smith’s magic use shows that Simon is meant to be the sorcerer. And, most obviously, Sophia Lillis’s Doric is a Druid, as she uses the legendary Wild Shape ability, letting her transform into a monster on command. 

The trailer is also full of legendary and iconic D&D monsters. During the trailer, viewers are treated to glimpses of a Gelatinous Cube, which contains a body floating within it, like most depictions of the creature in the Monster Manuals and other merchandise. There is also a quick glimpse of a Displacer Beast, which looks like a giant dog with tentacles. There is also a Mimic, the legendary living treasure chest that famously torments adventurers who get too greedy and open it without checking. 

However, the most noticeable shout-out to long-term players came from Doric. In the trailer, she uses her Wild Shape ability to turn into an Owlbear, and the creature is referred to by name by one of the other characters. As the name suggests, The Owlbear is a fusion of an owl and bear, first introduced in 1975’s Greyhawk supplement. Owlbears are one of the most famous and frequently-referenced creatures in the D&D community. Making it an essential reference for any D&D project. 

And it isn’t just creatures. Several location shots suggest the movie will visit some of D&D’s most iconic adventure destinations. During the trailer, one shot of an icy region heavily resembles Icewind Dale, complete with the Revel’s End prison from the recent Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden adventure module. Another wide shot features a castle and skyline that looks like the city of Waterdeep, the setting found in 2018’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure module. 

One of the most breathtaking shots seems to show a sprawling underground city, leading many fans to theorize that this might be the Underdark, the legendary Forgotten Realms campaign setting. 

How is Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trying to appeal to non-D&D Fans? 

While the trailer is packed full of references to classic D&D lore, the trailer shows that the producers are also trying to attract non-D&D fans. 

The references, while plentiful, are not deep cuts, and knowing about them isn’t crucial to understanding the story the trailer is trying to convey. In fact, the story laid out by the trailer is a pretty universal fantasy film storyline about a group of rag-tag heroes trying to fix a mess they’ve made while also trying to take down a big villain. Even if you have no exposure to D&D, you wouldn’t feel alienated by this trailer. 

This is made clear by the fact that, when the Owlbear appears, Chris Pine’s character asks: “What is that again?” Only for Justice Smith’s character to remind him it’s an Owlbear. Showing that the film won’t leave newcomers in the dark and will happily explain the D&D references when they’re crucial to viewers’ understanding of the story. 

Because of this, it is likely newcomers won’t need to know anything about Dungeons And Dragons to enjoy the movie. However, there may be some references that will go over their head. 

Is This Blend A Good Thing?

The fact that the D&D movie looks like a mainstream fantasy movie inspired by the games rather than a totally accurate adaption of the game’s material and lore has sparked debate within the D&D community, especially as the trailers don’t seem to touch on the game element of D&D at all. 

However, it is hard to argue against this decision. While the studio could have attempted a meta-narrative that touched on the game elements of D&D or some of the community’s long-running tropes, it would have been hard to pull this off in an enjoyable way. There is a reason why The Gamers was never a massive financial success despite being a cult classic. Because including this element, even if you pull it off flawlessly, will alienate many viewers. 

While D&D is super-popular and has a massive fanbase, this fanbase likely isn’t big enough to support a modern mainstream Hollywood production where budgets easily cross the hundred million dollar mark. The movie paid $11.5 million to get Chris Pine on board, and that’s before you account for the other costs, which the studio needs to make back. They need to appeal to as many people as possible, including people who enjoy fantasy but don’t know about D&D as a gameIt is simply the reality of the modern movie industry. 

And this makes sense when you look at the modern state of the D&D fandom. Actual Play podcasts like Critical Role are increasingly becoming people’s gateway to the game. However, they don’t draw viewers in with detailed talk about mechanics. Instead, they wow audiences with fun characters and engaging storylines. In fact, Critical Role has skipped over or messed up rules in the past. Because the focus is on keeping the narrative moving, as that is what pulls the audience in.

Also, D&D lore isn’t static. It is constantly evolving and changing. There is still new official content coming out for the 5th edition, and this content adds new rules and settings. Some of this content also presents new takes on beloved older material, updating it for the new rules and bringing it in line with the community’s current wants. Also, things change from table to table, with each group making its own storylines and locations. Some may adapt published adventure modules, while others might create their own original settings.

So trying to tie the movie directly into the game’s current lore and mechanics is a recipe for disaster as it could quickly become outdated, which would not only hamper fans’ enjoyment of the movie but also confuse people who try the game because of the film. 

It is easy to see why Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is going for this more mainstream approach to adapting the legendary game series. By capturing the feel of a D&D adventure, it will work better as a movie and attract a wider audience. And this audience will include general moviegoers and the already established D&D fanbase. And, if the creators pull it off, that first group might quickly become part of the second.