06 April 2023
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves role-player review and ramblings
We invited local writer and Dungeons and Dragons fan, Gary Oberg to write all about the new D&D film, playing at the Hippodrome from 7th - 19th April. Gary has won several writing competitions including the Falkirk Writing Rammy, and his short stories have been featured in publications such as Alight Here: An Anthology of Writing (edited by Alan Bissett) and Edinburgh Dungeon horror stories anthologies.
My name is Gary. I live in Grangemouth, just five miles from the Hippodrome. I work at Syngenta but in my free time I love to write and watch films. I’m not a master film critic, but I do have forty years’ experience of being a Dungeon Master (DM), which is why the team at the Hippodrome invited me to write this blog post about the new movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves screening there this April
I drafted my first hand-written Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) adventure in a school jotter in 1983. I could never have dreamt back then that I would still be creating traps and trials for my loyal players four decades, and five game generations later. D&D is in my DNA. Indeed, I may well be the longest serving gamer named Gary since the passing of the game’s creator - Saint Gary Gygax - himself. May Pelor (see note 1) rest his blessed soul!
I have long since abandoned all my other youthful pursuits, but – despite my best efforts - I cannot break the charm spell D&D has cast on me. Alas I am as hooked as a hook horror’s…erm…hooks! So I have crafted hundreds of adventures and constructed countless campaigns with thousands of locations and hordes of NPCs (Non-Player Characters) whose preposterous names contain more ‘x’ and ‘z’ letters than Aztec Scrabble tiles.
We gamers have eagerly consumed the few celluloid scraps that Hollywood and the Sci-fi Channel has tossed to us. These disappointing offerings included a trio of less than stellar D&D movies with ropier effects than a roper’s tendrils, woefully ba(r)d acting, and weaker plots than the worst first edition modules..
It was with some trepidation then, as a grizzled veteran of many disastrous campaigns, that I prepared to watch Dungeon & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves. My expectations were low, but I confess that I was pleasantly surprised when ten minutes into the movie I realised I was really enjoying it. The setup is as simple as any basic game module but the action is character not plot driven, and the movie is all the better for it.
The story - set in the Forgotten Realms campaign world - follows the exploits of a party of adventurers led by the wise-cracking bard Edgin (played with impeccable comic timing by Chris Pine). The bard’s relationship with Holga the Barbarian (a scene stealing Michelle Rodriguez) is the emotional core of the movie. The roguish schemer Edgin is the brains of the party, and the brawny Holga provides the muscle for their escapades.
The duo are joined on their quest by an insecure half-elf sorcerer named Simon (played by the affable Justice Smith) and the fourth party member is Doric, a devil-horned Tiefling (see note 2) druid. Sophia Lillis’s shape-shifting druid is a visual delight as she transforms into a variety of beasts to evade and engage her foes including taking the form of a vicious owlbear in several fight scenes. There are other classic D&D monsters strewn liberally through the movie – such as Pokemon-like baby rust monsters - and there are many other “Easter-Eggs” (see note 3) for gamers to unearth on repeat viewings.
The mismatched heroes band together to find the magical MacGuffin (see note 4) they need to defeat an evil force intent on destroying their homeland, but the bard has a more personal – and emotionally engaging - motivation for joining the quest. The adventurers are opposed by a Fiend Folio of classic D&D monsters including displacer beasts, undead warriors and a decidedly rotund red dragon. The main antagonists are an evil wizard – played by a grim-eyed Daisy Head - and Hugh Grant in caddish top form as a treacherous rogue.
The movie does not take itself too seriously and many of the jokes in Honour Among Thieves scored critical d20 (see note 5) hits for me. The Talking Dead battlefield scene and the accosted Aarakocra jests were particularly amusing and Rege-Jean Page’s warrior Xenk is an excellent straight-laced foil for Pine’s amoral bard. The banter between this mismatched duo ably bookends a set-piece battle in a dragon’s lair that sees a corpulent cousin of Smaug attempting to crush intruders beneath its bouncing bulk.
There are a few miss-rolls on the ol’ d20 though. Not all of the jokes land, the action lags a little in the second act and the sorcerer’s magical staff is a blatant plot contrivance. The villain’s nefarious plot quickly fizzles out in the third act, before the fire is finally rekindled during an epic final battle. These flaws are minor though and Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves pleasingly honours the source material whilst being enjoyable for everyone not familiar with the game… You don’t need to be a D&D nerd to enjoy it!
There are satisfying encounters in the movie but I enjoyed the interaction between the characters best of all. Pine’s schemes often fall apart – just like players’ plans in D&D sessions – and though the party bicker and bluster they ultimately work together to use their unique skills and abilities to win the day. The final act of the movie captures this, the best moment of role-playing sessions where -when all seems lost - players dig deep to drag victory out of the dragon-like jaws of seemingly certain defeat.
The movie deserves to be successful, and I would happily watch this adventuring party embark on another quest. The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game has surged in popularity these last few years and even famous actors are now willing to out themselves as gamers. I hope other filmmakers champion my noble hobby and, who knows, maybe one day I will see a fantasy-horror movie of The Tomb of Horrors, complete with adventurers suffering suitably grisly fates in Gygax’s most unwinnable of adventures.
Well a DM can dream After all, the most important component of every Dungeon Master’s arsenal is a vivid imagination.
By Gary Oberg
- Pelor - in D&D, the god of the Sun, Light, Strength, and Healing. He is known as the Shining One, and the Sun Father. He is known as the creator of much that is good.
- Tieflings – in D&D, a race whose human ancestors made a bargain with devils to increase their power.
- Easter Eggs - hidden references, inside jokes or clues placed in movies, television programmes and video games. Like secret love letters written by the show's creators to their eagle-eyed fans, the messages aren't usually obvious and sometimes it can take a die-hard fan to spot them.
- MacGuffin - object, device or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant or irrelevant in itself.
- D20 – twenty-sided dice used in D&D.