It’s weird when your niche interests and hobbies have their moment. In some ways, it’s quite validating for other people to discover and love what you love. On the other hand, this thing that was once your special thing is now just popular culture. You were there before it was cool, and you hopefully don’t become a gatekeeper.
D&D is having its moment, but is it actually a generally popular phenomena or still a niche? And then the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves came out with 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. And then I’m talking about the movie with friends who have never played D&D, and it seems like it’s happening.
Below are a variety of thoughts about the movie that should be spoiler-free.
Honor Among Thieves is a heist movie, like Ocean’s Eleven, and the format works really well to combine the game with a movie. Chris Pine is the leader who has to assemble a ragtag band of scoundrels to get a job done. Each member contributes a unique skill as well as their own baggage for character growth.
The movie is set in the Forgotten Realms, which is the most popular fictional world. To those in the know, the movie feels like fan service with back-to-back references to familiar places, people, spells, and monsters. To the uninitiated, the plot-relevant points and the jokes are explained well-enough to keep it going.
Having run D&D games for awhile (and watched movies for longer), I always felt that the formats lend themselves to different types of stories. Typical structures for a movie are different from those for an adventure,
And yet, I think they managed to strike the right balance with the movie.
The movie largely adheres to movie structure and tropes. There’s dramatic irony that probably would be hard to play out at a table. The fights have the frenetic energy to get excited about.
However, it also uses actual spells from the game. The goofy moments feel like a player rolled a natural one. The challenges could be cooked up by a DM, and the characters deal with them in the same way.
Another interesting aspect is that it’s very clear which characters are players and which are non-player characters. The player characters change, grow, and have setbacks, where the NPCs show up to deliver information and are quite one-dimensional.
The movie, at times, felt somewhat obvious to me. The plot (and even the twists) felt like they were coming. The jokes also come exactly as they should. And yet, I laughed at most jokes and felt satisfied with how the story went. In short, it worked how it should.
And the vibe felt right for a D&D game. Even in very serious D&D games, it’s still a bunch of friends sitting around a table playing a game, so there are plenty of jokes and goofy moments mixed into the action.
I’m not sure how well Wizards of the Coast timed their big push with D&D. The game feels popular right now, and they have video games, TV tie-ins, movies, new rulebooks, and more on the way. However, they also have had some recent controversy around the game license.
Of course, we won’t know if the timing is right until we look back and see where D&D peaks. Right now, though, it feels like it can’t come too soon, and I’m curious how the movie affects popularity going forward.