‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,’ the struggle of adapting IP for the big screen

The popularity of Dungeons & Dragons has increased substantially since its release in 1974. More than 50 million individuals have played it, making it no longer a niche game. Abigail Byington | Sun News Daily

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When adapting a well-established property for film or television, it can be tremendously difficult to hit the sweet-spot in terms of accessibility for all audiences while also catering towards the fans.

So how does “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” fare in terms of adapting the source material and making a solid film?

D&D is an interesting property due to the more hands-on nature of its main attraction, which is table-top gaming.

Most D&D campaigns are done through what is called the theater of the mind. This means that the one in charge of guiding the story, the dungeon master, paints a picture using only their words and sometimes a prop or two. It’s up to the players to imagine themselves in the scenarios the dungeon master creates.

Which leads to the first obstacle in creating a film off of such a property. Everyone imagines and interprets things in different ways. If someone said “I bought some fruit at the grocery store,” some may imagine apples and bananas, while others would imagine strawberries and raspberries. By putting such an interpretation onto the screen, it often results in a difference in opinion.

One way around this would be to integrate some common tropes one would find in an average D&D campaign. In the case of “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” many common tropes are used.

For example, when building a character in D&D, it’s quite common to build their backstory off of a traumatic event. In the film’s case, the protagonist, portrayed by Chris Pine, used to be an honorable person looking to do good in the world. He then falls off the righteous path due to his wife being murdered at the hands of an enemy he made while serving the greater good, and leaving him to take care of his daughter by himself while stealing to survive. It’s pretty common to find a story similar to Pine’s character in a D&D campaign.

Izak Heaton is a dungeon master for hire who lent me his expertise in identifying such tropes, and to see if the film benefits from using such elements.

“Generic is really hard to say in D&D,” said Heaton. “There are so many different styles of play, but the film does seem pretty generic in its elements. A lot of people don’t recognize how large of a media footprint D&D has outside of just the TTRPG. There are books, like a lot of books describing The Forgotten Realms, which is where the film takes place.”

So does “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” manage to be accessible to anyone, even if it’s drawing source material from beyond the game? Heaton believes it does.

“The movie was shorter than a lot of sessions that I’ve run,” said Heaton. “It had to get through a short campaigns worth of material, and so they had to accentuate and do all that stuff with it. They did a really great job of making each character feel unique and valuable.”

Heaton said that while not all of the main characters of the film were perfectly translated from the rules of the game, it manages to give each and every one of them an important role throughout the course of the film.

The example Heaton used was Pine’s character, who is a bard. Bards in D&D are much more versatile in terms of magical capability and skill than what Pine’s character displayed in the movie. Pine’s character doesn’t have any magic whatsoever, but it’s thanks to that lack of magical experience that Justice Smith’s character, who is a sorcerer, gets to contribute so much in terms of a skillset.

Decisions like these may sound like the writers of the film are disobeying the source material, but it goes back to striking a sweet spot. Balance between fan service and accessibility is crucial when adapting such a beloved property for the big screen, and according to both critics and audience members alike, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” rolled very high on its performance check.