Stranger Things transformed Dungeons & Dragons – now it's Hollywood's turn
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves has a huge opportunity in front of it.
Arguably the world's biggest fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) with more than 50 million players worldwide, Dungeons & Dragons wasn't always as well received as it is today.
However, thanks to the rise of the RPG in hugely popular live-streaming shows, TV and films such as Stranger Things, Critical Role and the upcoming big-screen adaptation, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Amongst Thieves, the RPG is certainly undergoing an incredible resurgence.
First published in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has long since been part of popular culture. And yet - as documented in Eddie Munson's arc in season 4 of Netflix's Stranger Things - the game was once linked to the "satanic panic" controversy of the 1980s, with religious groups demonising the game, accusing the makers of encouraging satanism and stating players were being corrupted by the game.
Flash forward 40 years and thanks in part to Eddie and co, Dungeons & Dragons rose in popularity as a search term by 20% according to Google Trends. The Hellfire Club's adventures in the Upside Down, battling D&D villains such as Demogorgons, Mind Flayers and Vecna, has inspired a whole new generation to take up the game. Publishers Wizards of the Coast even released a tie-in Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons starter set for budding adventurers interested in the RPG.
Even actors such as Joe Manganiello, Drew Barrymore, Vin Diesel and Deborah Ann Woll have shared their love for the game - with Manganiello featuring in Critical Role’s first campaign and Woll often DMing celebrity live streams.
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This increased portrayal in mainstream media has certainly helped shift the stereotypes surrounding the RPG from a game purely for nerdy guys in basements (a la The Big Bang Theory) to a positive social game for any and all - with a marked increase in female players thanks in part to Laura Bailey, Marisha Ray, Ashley Johnson and Woll. In fact, around 40% of D&D players are reportedly now female, according to a 2020 study from Wizards of the Coast.
"When I was young, D&D still felt like an exclusive club - like you had to know the password before you could play," Woll previously told D&D Beyond.
Voice actor and Critical Role star Laura Bailey also believes this change has had a positive impact on the RPG's demographics. "I think having this kind of visibility of seeing a game with a diverse cast with men and women and seeing the different aspects of the game that we bring to it makes a huge difference," she told Game Informer.
It’s this marked change to a much more accessible and welcoming game - spearheaded by the wonderfully talented Critical Role women and Woll (later joined by Priah Ferguson’s fantastic turn as Erica’s knife-wielding D&D persona, Lady Applejack) - that first inspired me to try out the game.
Admittedly, being an introvert who squirms at the thought of speaking aloud in front of a group of people - let alone role-playing - I was pretty nervous at the beginning of my first campaign. But there’s a real freedom and escapism afforded to players to truly immerse themselves in magical new realms, daring dungeon crawls and even galaxies far, far away.
With numerous character races and species, classes, alignments, backstories and factions to delve into and explore, D&D allows you the arena to be anyone you’d like to be. Whether that’s an eco-warrior druid who can shapeshift into powerful creatures, a heroic paladin who harnesses the divine to wield magic or an extroverted bard who charms with their songs, the possibilities are endless.
The RPG is also both sociable and a transportive outlet, providing a safe space for creative thinking, to problem-solve, improve team collaboration and also overcome fear of failure. It’s certainly helped build my confidence and undoubtedly countless others. In fact, some are even using the game as a therapeutic outlet or to help with social anxiety.
Following the Stranger Things/Critical Role effect and the pandemic-era boom in remote playing, Hollywood’s live-action Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves movie starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant and Regé-Jean Page is set to follow in the footsteps and potentially lure even more fans to the RPG following its release later this month.
While there has been a recent renaissance for big-budget fantasy, it’s primarily on the small screen with shows such as The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, The Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon. However, Honour Among Thieves certainly has the potential to reignite the mainstream blockbuster fantasy, a genre which has certainly been lacking on the big screen since the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
With such a star-studded cast, rave critic reviews and the exposure of a big-budget Hollywood movie, the film could certainly influence people in a new way that Critical Role and Stranger Things might not - particularly with more of a family-friendly focus leaning into the adventure and escapism of '80s classics such as Willow, Labyrinth and The Princess Bride.
Unlike the po-faced and stereotype-ridden Dungeons & Dragons (2000), Honour Among Thieves needs to strike that balance of heart and humour. However, with a whole host of charming characters, a fun central quest and plenty of magical monsters, it certainly looks like the blockbuster has the potential to be a critical hit and subsequently launch a new big-screen franchise.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves will premiere in UK cinemas on Friday 31st March 2023.