Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley knew they had a huge task in front of them when they started working on the Dungeons & Dragons script that had been floating around Hollywood for a few years (the Honor Among Thieves subtitle wouldn’t come until later in the process). In a new interview with Variety, the directors broke down some of their inspirations and explained how they used an open-sandbox game to help steer their story.
When asked about their first times playing D&D, Daley, who is in his 30s, said that he was first introduced to the game on the set of Freaks and Geeks, but he got into a long term game before the pandemic that lasted four and a half years. Goldstein said, “I came to it pretty young, and it was really my older brother who was leading the charge. This is probably ’82. I was like 12. I was fascinated by the idea that you made your own game. I had never seen anything like that before.”
They also mentioned that the previous iterations of the movie’s script tended to take the material too seriously—more Game of Thrones than your average game night. Instead, they tried to strike a balance between the purposefully funny bits of D&D lore and the emotional payoffs that come from its dramatic moments. They stayed true to the spirit of the rules, with D&D experts advising them during production. “On set, we had advisers who said, ‘Well, she has to say something if she’s going to do the spell, because the spell has a verbal component’,” Goldstein said.
Additionally, Goldstein was excited about the fact that despite Honor Among Thieves being a franchise film, leeway was given with a lot of its aspects. “The good thing about working with D&D specifically is it’s not like we’re bound by the characters or preexisting stories. We made up almost all the characters that are in here.”
They deeply considered the kind of gamers at the table. Daley explained that “each character represents a different player and how they go about playing the game. Xenk,”—a paladin—“played by Regé-Jean Page, is very much the nerdy player that doesn’t make jokes and adheres strictly to the rulebook. Whereas Edgin, Chris Pine’s character, is the more casual player. He doesn’t bother to learn about the Bardic spells and would prefer to just hit people over the head with his lute.”
Goldstein chimes in, “The movie is almost like the dungeon master. The plot twists that we throw at our characters are what a DM would do at the table, just to screw with you and make it more fun. It was our way of capturing what goes on when you’re playing D&D, without breaking the fourth wall or becoming meta with it.”
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves premieres in theaters March 31.
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