Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Brings DND to Life on Screen

Jade Baxendale, Editor-in-Chief

Dungeons and Dragons has proven time and time again to be one of the most difficult games to adapt to the screen. Various film adaptations have been attempted of the fantasy game, but none have captivated audiences or brought the game to life.

Honor Among Thieves has been years in the making, and this DND movie has captured the heart of the game for the first time. The creators of the movie spent the time and effort ensuring the game would follow the classic rules while still making necessary alterations to the plot and pacing.

Honor Among Thieves was released on March 3, 2023, with a star-filled cast. Chris Pine leads the movie as a charismatic bard named Edgin, who despite his failing to be a strong fighter, brings personality and planning to the party. He is joined by Holga the Barbarian, played by Michelle Rodriguez, Doric the Tiefling Druid Shapeshifter (aka Wild Shape), played by Sophia Lillis, and Simon the so-so half-Elf Wizard, played by Justice Smith. While these four make up the core party, aka the actual players of the game as if this was a real-life DND campaign, there are many actors playing integral non-player characters (NPC) such as the righteous Paladin, Xenk, played by Regé-Jean Page, and the selfish Rogue, Forge, played by Hugh Grant.

For those unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, the game is a role-playing tabletop game that allows for more flexibility than a video game would. In order to play, you must form a campaign complete with a dungeon master and a group of players called a party. The campaign is the storyline created by the dungeon master for the players to play through. The players then create characters by choosing a race (ex. human, elf, dwarf), a class (ex. rogue, ranger, cleric), alignments (chaotic, neutral, or lawful paired with good, neutral, or evil), and many other aspects of what makes the character who they are.

They are also defined by traits that are partially luck of the dice and partially player choice including: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. The modifier for these traits (ex. +1, -2, 0) can determine whether a character succeeds or fails in an action that requires one of these skills.

Overall, Dungeons and Dragons is a very complicated game with many rules to make it work as a video game would work, but by creating your own storylines (and having flexibility with which rules you choose to follow) you have unlimited freedom to play out whatever story you want.

The complexity of this game is part of what made it so difficult to adapt. Filmmakers had to decide which rules to follow in order to stay true to the game and which rules needed to be discarded out of necessity. In Honor Among Thieves, they stayed extremely true to the game rules while protecting the flow of the story. The main difference between the movie and the game was the wait times between actions. Many spells and actions can only be taken a certain amount of times before a character needs a rest time to cast the spell or take the action again. However, in order to maintain proper pacing, this was often done away with. This minor change was absolutely necessary to allow for a quick-paced storyline and action that added to the chaos of a true DND campaign.

Part of what made this movie so significant was the clarity of the player roles. Edgin, Holga, Doric, and Simon are clearly the core party of players, while all the other characters are NPCs played by the dungeon master. The best example of one of these NPCs is Xenk who played the part of the NPC that exists only to propel part of the story forward. He cannot join them on their quest because he is overpowered and would defeat the challenge of the game.

Even better, the actual stats of the characters showed through in the movie. The creators used character sheets for the important characters in the movie and these strengths and weaknesses were apparent in every action carried out by a character. You could even tell when a dice role was made by a character. These stats were later released by the creators of the movie and are available online.

In our modern world of heavily used CGI, this movie was surprisingly practical. Many of the amazing creatures and sets were made practically (not CGI)- something most movie studios don’t bother with much anymore. It’s refreshing to see non-CGI scenes that situate the actors and characters within the actual world.

A look at the behind-the-scenes footage shows that the set really did transform into the world of DND. One great example is the Aarakocra Jarnathan, a giant birdman. The actor’s costume was entirely practical and therefore an actual Aarakocra could be seen walking around the set. One of the benefits of practical sets is that it allows the actors to be immersed in the world of their movie–allowing them to act with more emotion than if they were just staring at dots and green screens.

Each of these aspects of the film allowed for a hilariously chaotic storyline. The characters made decisions and concocted plans that only a dysfunctional DND party could attempt. However, by the luck of the dice, many of these delusional plans succeeded, and simplistic tasks fell apart. There was no boring moment in the film.

Overall, this movie was action-packed, hilariously funny, and stayed true to the source material. They could have easily created a fantasy movie with a team of heroes and called it a DND movie or taken away from the fantastical and epic moments by placing a group of players around the table playing the game. Instead, they found a beautiful middle ground placing us in the world of DND.

Honor Among Thieves has been a hit with audiences and now viewers around the world can only hope for a sequel.