Honor Among Thieves owes a lot to this classic D&D adventure
The new D&D movie’s baddies and setting of Neverwinter pay a debt to an underrated Fourth Edition module.
When looking at the inspirations for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, as with any typical D&D campaign, it is an amalgam of styles and influences from various sources. The writers and cast have referenced Monty Python, Game of Thrones, The Goonies and The Princess Bride, as well as their own past experiences playing the fantasy RPG.
The D&D movie benefits from all these source materials, but the bare bones of the plot share a striking similarity with a vastly underrated Fourth Edition module which clearly inspired some of the plot of the film: Gates of Neverdeath.
In recent months, I’ve been a player in this module, and noticed the various similarities to the trailers as they came out. Upon seeing the film, many of these suspicions were confirmed.
The setup is simple enough: you are asked to escort a mysterious item to Neverwinter, the classic Forgotten Realms campaign setting.
The module opens just short of Neverwinter, where you are attacked by a group of undead who rise up and attack the party on their ship shortly before arrival. These undead are later revealed to be reanimated servants of the Red Wizards of Thay, a group of necromantic wizards who rule the nation of Thay.
The Red Wizards of Thay's creepy influence from the shadows and necromantic tendencies could be ripped straight from module to screen.
These creepy wizards wear red robes, love to animate the dead to carry out their bidding and are seemingly exclusively bald with tattooed heads for some reason. (So much so that my D&D character in Gates of Neverdeath fights every bald character on sight, regardless of information suggesting they aren’t an enemy.)
Similarly, the Red Wizards of Thay are a key antagonist in Honor Among Thieves. Without spoiling too much of the movie, their creepy influence from the shadows and necromantic tendencies could be ripped straight from module to screen.
There are even similarities in the backstory shown in the film and the accepted lore that can be unveiled by a few nat-20 History checks that force your DM to furiously flick through Neverdeath.
Part of that backstory features the terrible necromancer and lich Szass Tam. In both module and film, he is a background influencing force - with an apprentice being sent to carry out his bidding. Whilst the name changes - Tolivast in Neverdeath, Sofina in the movie - their roles bear clear and obvious similarities.
Just as the sequels to the module, such as Lost Crown of Neverwinter, feature Szass Tam taking a more front-and-centre role, a possible sequel to Honor Among Thieves seems perfectly set up to do the same.
Various classic D&D settings are mentioned in Honor Among Thieves, from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate. A large and key part of the plot, however, takes place in the city of Neverwinter. The city is the setting of the entire module (bar one fight against skeletons and zombies on a boat about 100 yards short of Neverwinter).
Interestingly, however, Neverwinter is a setting that went fairly untouched in the Fifth Edition of D&D. After featuring as a core campaign setting of 4E, and even the focus of a video game MMORPG, there were exactly zero modules created in D&D 5E within the setting.
Just as the module's sequels feature Szass Tam taking a more front-and-centre role, a possible sequel to Honor Among Thieves seems perfectly set up to do the same.
In the movie, however, mainline Dungeons & Dragons has returned to Neverwinter.
While there are a few differences from the module, a large amount remains - including a core political conflict involving the lost ruling family of Neverwinter, the Neverembers. This later forms the basis of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter, and plays a role in a certain character’s rise to power in the film.
Ah, the greatest D&D trope of all. The random magical object that will solve all problems in the character’s backstory which the antagonising forces of the game happen to want just as much as our intrepid PCs.
This carries over to Honor Among Thieves, with the central magic item being different from the Crown of Neverwinter but playing a similar role to the Crown in the module.
The specifics of the magic item in Honor Among Thieves are changed to fit in a bit more neatly with the backstory of the main cast, but the swapping out of one MacGuffin for another is clear.
Similarly, it is stolen from Edgin the Bard and his party by a Red Wizard, just as the Crown of Neverwinter is stolen from the party at the beginning of Gates of Neverdeath.
The specifics of the magic item in Honor Among Thieves are changed to fit in a bit more neatly with the backstory of the main cast, as well as preventing the movie having to do a lore dump on the history of politics in Neverwinter. That said, the swapping out of one MacGuffin for another is clear.
Honor Among Thieves is a Dungeons & Dragons movie through and through. Sorcerers fire off spells like Magic Missile and Bigby’s Hand, lore-accurate dragonborn and aarakocra tower over human counterparts, and it even features a reference to the D&D cartoon from the ‘80s. This is before you even get to the themes and backstories that are as classic D&D as they come.
At its core though, Honor Among Thieves owes so much to Gates of Neverdeath. The setting is a clear inspiration, the villains are almost one-to-one and ultimately it has my favourite core message from the module: never trust a bald mage.