A Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons & Dragons

The filmmakers behind “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” help explain the characters, monsters and spells that make up their new film.

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By Calum Marsh

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” a comedy-fantasy movie from the directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, is a loose adaptation of the tabletop role-playing game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, more commonly known among fans as D&D. A social game of chance, strategy and a kind of improvisational storytelling, D&D is hugely complex and deeply immersive, demanding of its players an almost scholarly commitment to learning its history, its rules and its mythology — all of it chronicled in a series of exhaustive, encyclopedic official rule books that are the foundation of the game.

With so much advanced knowledge and folklore out there, it might seem daunting to approach this “Dungeons & Dragons” film (now in theaters) as a newcomer to D&D. But the movie has in fact been made with novices in mind.

“The intention was for nothing in the film to have to be explained prior to seeing it,” said Daley, who co-wrote the screenplay with Goldstein and Michael Gilio, in a recent video interview. “We knew that was of the utmost importance, so that we’re not alienating an audience that doesn’t know D&D.” Although the film contains more than enough Easter eggs and references to satisfy die-hard fans, “none of that is a requirement,” said Goldstein. “You don’t have to know how to fly an F-18 to enjoy ‘Top Gun.’”

To help answer any lingering D&D questions you might still have going into “Honor Among Thieves,” Daley and Goldstein explained some of the movie’s more arcane nods and allusions.

Who are the good guys and the bad guys?

Broadly speaking, the film features two competing factions: the Harpers and the Red Wizards of Thay. (For much of the running time, our heroes are caught in the battle between them.) The Harpers are “a benevolent faction of essentially spies, who work in conjunction with good-aligned characters and places to help root out evil entities,” Daley said. One of their primary adversaries is Szass Tam, the leader of the Red Wizards, who rules as a dictator of the nation of Thay.

What’s a class, and what classes are our heroes?

One of the first steps in a game of “Dungeons & Dragons” is the choosing of a character class: It defines your identity based upon set skills and abilities, and limits what you can and can’t do in the game. Standard classes include monks, fighters, wizards and warlocks.

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