Comparing the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves to tabletop D&D
D&D fans will know a Druid can't shapeshift into an Owlbear, but the movie does it anyway.
When the first Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trailer came out, D&D fans were treated to the spectacle of a Druid Wildshaping into an Owlbear...
Except that, you know, Druids can't do that in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5th Edition.
It still looked pretty cool on screen though, and it was our first introduction to Doric (Sophia Lillis), the nature lass of the party.
A subsequent storm in a teacup ensued, but then, the movie never said which edition of Dungeons & Dragons it was following — although the titles bear the most similarity to the logo design for D&D 5th edition.
With that in mind, and the film's upcoming release, just how rules accurate is it?
Could you actually play through a campaign as Edgin Darvis the Bard (Chris Pine), Holga Kilgore the Barbarian (Michelle Rodriguez), Xenk Yedar the Paladin (Regé-Jean Page), Simon Aumar the Sorcerer (Justice Smith), Forge Fitzwilliam the Rogue (Hugh Grant), or Sofina the Wizard (Daisy Head) and pull off everything that happened in the film using the D&D 5th Edition rules?
We take a closer look at how some of the set pieces would have played out with a Dungeon Master (DM) and his crew. Fair warning, this piece might go a bit deep on the D&D, so strap yourself in.
Also, this piece will touch on spoilers in the movie, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't wish to know more, keep this bookmarked and check back after you've had your fix of Honor Among Thieves, releasing on Thursday (30 March) in Singapore.
The Owlbear Issue
The aforementioned mentioned Owlbear issue was hotly debated.
After all, a key ability of the Druid class is to be able to Wildshape into any animal... but an Owlbear is classified as a monstrosity, not an animal.
So going by the rules as written (RAW) — no, a Druid can't Wildshape into an Owlbear.
But what does publisher Wizards of the Coast say about it?
Although they acknowledged that a Druid can't Wildshape into an Owlbear, they've also disclaimed that "the owlbear has similar stats to beasts with the same challenge rating. So, a Dungeon Master may allow a druid to turn into an owlbear without necessarily breaking game balance".
It's an endorsement of sorts, without actually breaking any rules. Nice one there, Wizards!
In addition, you could argue that Doric was casting a Shapechange spell rather than Wildshaping — and it's perfectly within the bounds of that 9th-level spell to transform into an Owlbear.
However, Doric would have to be a 17th-level Druid to cast that, and she didn't quite exhibit the other powers of a 17th-level Druid in the movie... nor does her official stat block list that as one of the spells she can cast.
We do see another 9th-level spell being explicitly cast in the film — Time Stop (so yes, the party kind of battles a 17th-level magic-user in the movie).
Spoilers aside, the way Time Stop was depicted allowed for one last action to be taken (namely, tossing an item) before it took effect.
But there's no saving throw listed for the spell, so it wouldn't have been possible for any of the targets to still move once it was cast.
However, it does have a casting time of 1 action, so I guess if a target had readied an action to throw something if Time Stop were cast, it would trigger that readied action.
Still, it is a really specific situation to have readied an action for... although it's not completely unfeasible.
In the film, the party negates the spellcasting abilities of a character without their knowledge (Deception check #1).
Said character casts a spell later but doesn't realise it hasn't taken effect, and the party deceives the spellcaster into thinking that the spell took effect anyway (Deception check #2).
Those are some pretty tough Deception checks to make, and the party (because all of them have to make the Deception check, lest they are discovered) makes them twice in a row.
Possible? Yes. Probable? Not really.., unless everyone rolled two natural 20s in a row. And if you've never rolled a D20 (a twenty-sided die), trust us, that kind of luck could probably win you the lottery.
Magic Item Attunement
Of course, the film features some pretty powerful magic items — a Helmet of Disjunction, to be precise.
The task of attuning to the item (so that its magical powers can be used) falls to the Sorcerer, Simon... who takes a really long time to attune to it.
According to the rules, attunement can be done with just a short rest, but it takes days for Simon to finally be attuned to it. What gives?
Well, there is another caveat. We don't know the properties of the Helmet of Disjunction, so there may be other requirements that Simon didn't fulfill.
Perhaps those requirements were what prevented him from attuning to it.
The Gelatinous Cube
One of the daring escapades that the party gets up to is this — they escape a harrowing situation by hiding inside a Gelatinous Cube.
Given the duration of the scene, it's safe to say they hide in the cube for at least two rounds.
That means that each character inside takes 2 x 6d6 damage, which is 12d6 damage (for an average of 42 damage).
They shrug it off when they exit the Gelatinous Cube, and 42 damage seems to leave nothing more than a minor stinging sensation on their skin.
For reference, a Fireball spell does 8d6 damage, so each character has tanked more damage than a Fireball, and come out relatively unscathed.
Still, the official stats for the party do show that each of them has more than 42 hp, so it's not inconceivable that they could endure a Gelatinous Cube for 2 rounds...
All that aside, the film does do a good job of depicting D&D 5th Edition's rules, and there are many subtle nods to how the characters' abilities work — Holga's sudden bursts of strength when she Rages, Simon's use of his spell focus when casting spells and even Xenk's lay on hands ability (called cleansing touch in his official stat block).
That, plus the mention of virtually every major Forgotten Realms faction in the movie makes Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a wonderful live-action foray of that campaign setting on the big screen.
Wonder if they'll issue an adventure module based on the movie next?
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for "Lion Mums", "Crimewatch", "Police & Thief", and "Incredible Tales". He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.