Dungeons & Dragons, the granddaddy of all role-playing games redefined the idea of adventure for a generation and struck a special chord with the fantasy-inclined, including future filmmakers Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley, both of whom grew up as avid D&D players. Now, the writing-directing partners are shepherding the venerable franchise to the big screen with the epic fantasy adventure Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
The board-game/improv storytelling hybrid Dungeons & Dragon was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and sent groups of friends on colorful journeys dreamed up by a dungeon master, or DM. Players would adopt alter-egos of varying species and abilities and face down untold dangers in campaigns that could take hours, days, weeks. Not every character made it out alive. It was thrilling, exciting and accessible to anyone with a boundless imagination and a collection of many-sided plastic dice.
Although channeling nearly 50 years of lore into a rousing blockbuster film would be a challenge for any writer-director, Goldstein and Daley were uniquely suited to the task. Not only did they know the game well, but Goldstein and Daley also have repeatedly demonstrated a facility for both uproarious comedy and stirring heroics with films like Horrible Bosses and its sequel, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Game Night.
When it came time for them to pen the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves screenplay, from a story by Chris McKay and Michael Gilio, they drew on their passion for the game as well as their own unique gift for inventing unforgettable characters, surprising predicaments, and hilarious yet heartfelt dialogue. The pressure to get the script just right was immense.
Now published through Seattle, Wash.-based company Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro, Dungeons & Dragons has reached a level of mainstream popularity that would have seemed unimaginable in the days when it was mostly an underground sensation—meaning that audiences across every demographic are likely to have some familiarity with, and affinity for, D&D. “It’s one of the greatest, most enduring pieces of American pop culture, and being able to tell a story in that world is a real privilege,” says producer Jeremy Latcham, p.g.a. “To take on something that’s so revered around the world, it’s a huge responsibility.”
A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers undertake an epic heist to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves brings the rich world and playful spirit of the legendary roleplaying game to the big screen in a hilarious and action-packed adventure.
Latcham had the utmost confidence that Goldstein and Daley were storytellers capable of speaking directly to a passionate fan base.
After all, producer Jeremy Latcham had hired the duo to write the Spiderman: Homecoming script during his 13-year tenure at Marvel Studios. “Spider-Man is a similarly hugely iconic character that people really have a deep love for, and I knew that these guys had it in them to bring this to life,” Latcham says.
Although the mood of the new film is unquestionably exciting and upbeat, the stakes of the story are a matter of life and (un)death. When the movie opens, unfailingly optimistic bard Edgin and his best friend and confidant, the barbarian fighter Holga, are locked away in the notorious prison Revel’s End. Although the duo had once been the leaders of a merry band of well-meaning thieves, their circumstances changed, dramatically, after a heist gone wrong. The pair was betrayed by the nefarious Forge Fitzwilliam, who allied himself with a powerful wizard, Sofina. He took Edgin’s beloved daughter Kira to live as his ward in the great metropolis of Neverwinter, where, with Sofina’s help, Forge installed himself as ruler.
But if there’s one thing Edgin excels at, it’s coming up with a plan. So, as he whiles away the days knitting mittens for Kira and leading his fellow inmates in song, he also cooks up a clever jail break, with the hopes of reclaiming what has been lost to him and taking revenge on Forge. Escaping, though, turns out to be the easy part. Once Edgin and Holga gain their freedom, they set off on the journey of a lifetime, eventually joined in their quest by insecure sorcerer Simon Aumar, devoted paladin Xenk Yendar and deadpan Doric.
As the adventurers form tenuous bonds of true friendship, their mission grows ever more dangerous, putting them on a collision course not only with Forge, but also with the dangerous Red Wizards, who wish to control the continent of Faerûn. Craving ultimate power, the corrupt sorcerers seek to create an army of undead slaves, sowing chaos and misery throughout the kingdom of Neverwinter.
“The first time I read the script, I was filled with so much joy,” says Latcham. “It’s the joy of characters coming together, of a family being born, the joy of gigantic spectacle and action, and then laugh-out-loud humor that Jonathan and John are just perfect at.”
As the filmmakers put the finishing touches on the screenplay, they knew that striking the right balance between action-adventure and moments of character-driven comedy and drama was critical, as was remaining absolutely true to the Dungeons & Dragons rulebook. At the same time, the film’s creators also designed the movie to appeal to viewers who had never rolled a d20 by crafting a thoroughly original, highly entertaining fantasy adventure with echoes of some of the most beloved films and television series of all-time.
“For me, being an ’80s baby, it reminds me of all the great wonderful qualities of ‘80s films,” says star and executive producer Chris Pine. “It has a bit of The Princess Bride. It has a bit of The Goonies. It has a bit of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s got a bit of Game of Thrones. It manages to wrap up all of these different tones and colors into one really joyful film. It’s a classic hero’s journey about a bunch of misfits that are trying to do better and be better.”