How to Get Into Dungeons & Dragons If You Loved Honor Among Thieves
At last, the perfect way to introduce your friends to D&D is here.
We begin with a newcomer sitting next to you at the living room table. The scent of fresh pencil markings waft from their printed character sheet as you scoop for them a spare set of dice from your collection. As they listen to Cody the Dungeon Master, you see them struggle to make sense of five-dollar phrases like “constitution check” and “saving throw.” What do you do?
Take them to see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a big, splashy movie wholly designed to welcome all audiences — and it may be the windfall players need to bring more friends into the fold. Over 20 years after a disastrous first attempt, D&D is back in theaters with a fresh reboot from Game Night’s Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the latter a huge D&D fan themselves after their time on the teen comedy Freaks and Geeks.
The stroke of genius of Honor Among Thieves is that it’s less an adaptation of any one D&D story than a demonstration of what a typical game of D&D feels like: fun, unbridled chaos.
The Ideal Introduction to Dungeons & Dragons
Aside from the movie’s most quintessential Hollywood elements at work, including its ridiculously handsome cast (led by Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez), Thieves dispels all notions that D&D is a dense and complicated nerd hobby only the hardcore can fathom.
On paper, the movie should feel alienating. The movie is teeming with hyper-specific references that only D&D fans recognize but sound like nonsense to normal people. Unless you’re steeped in the game, you might miss the distinct features of the monsters, or how fitting it is that Regé-Jean Page’s character, a paladin, is totally boring.
Under different hands, a movie overstuffed with niche references would leave moviegoers in the cold. But there’s an organic implementation of D&D’s unique iconography, all in a universally-appealing story that demands no homework to grasp. This combination of things makes Honor Among Thieves downright impressive in how it appeals to the faithful while still easing in the uninitiated.
Honor Among Thieves isn’t a tutorial on how to play the game. Above all, it’s a movie that happens to use D&D to tell a broader story about family, past mistakes, betrayal, and companionship. But given the most basic functions of the source material — as a game that practically invites players to imagine and share their own stories — you could do worse than Honor Among Thieves. But you can’t do much better ... unless you dive fully into playing D&D yourself. Or, at least, watch others play.
I want to play D&D! What do I watch next?
If you’ve seen Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and want to see the game in action but don’t know where to start, there’s a perfect compromise: actual-play shows.
Whether made by amateurs over Zoom or professionally produced in a studio, actual-play shows feature people playing games like D&D with all the improv comedy and dice rolls shaping the story, instead of scripts. Like watching sports, watching people play D&D goes a long way to understanding the joy the hobby promises. Best of all: They’re all on YouTube.
Here are the best ones to watch to get into D&D.
Fans will tell you to watch Critical Role or Dimension 20 (we’ll get to them in a second), but Geek & Sundry’s limited series Starter Kit is more realistic about what you can expect as a first-timer. Dungeon Master Jason Charles Miller recruits a cast of people who, like you, have never played D&D and feel their way through D&D’s starting adventure, Lost Mines of Phandelver.
While other shows on this list star professional actors with years of experience, Starter Kit has D&D virgins who spend more time asking questions about what they can (and can’t) do in the game, with Miller explaining why. This really is the best starting point for everyone, and plus, it’s still very fun.
Easily the biggest show in the tabletop space, Critical Role is famously made up of animation and video game voice actors who play D&D. Since it started on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel in 2015, Critical Role has expanded into a multimedia empire with spinoff and live shows, books, merchandise, and even an animated series on Amazon.
Critical Role is big for a reason: The cast is lovely, and Matthew Mercer is undeniably an incredible DM. It might feel like too much to watch episodes that are three to six hours long, but the stars of Critical Role are very good at making the time slip away.
CollegeHumor’s Dimension 20 is the cooler, indie alternative to Critical Role, with the dynamic Brennan Lee Mulligan as its main DM. It started in 2018 with the campaign Fantasy High, which centered on a pretty normal high school in the middle of an epic fantasy world. Subsequent campaigns did similar remixes of the genre, such as The Unsleeping City (set in a modern day New York City) and A Crown of Candy (basically Candy Land meets Game of Thrones).
To promote his movie The Last Witch Hunter in 2015, actor and D&D superfan Vin Diesel played a one-shot adventure with Geek & Sundry and Nerdist personalities, including Matthew Mercer as DM.
It’s Vin Diesel playing D&D. How are you not watching this right now? (Fun fact: The homebrew class that Diesel plays in this special was later refined by Matthew Mercer to become the Blood Hunter class.)
Stephen Colbert’s D&D Adventure
Matt Mercer, again, plays DM for a celebrity. This time, it’s Stephen Colbert, another unabashed fantasy nerd who is probably more hardcore about D&D than anyone alive. In 2019 for Red Nose Day, Colbert participated in a one-on-one session with Mercer. Watch Colbert’s eyes light up as he rediscovers D&D like an old flame.
For Red Nose Day 2022, Colbert returned for a longer session with Critical Role’s other stars.
Relics and Rarities
Conceived by celebrity D&D superfan Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil, True Blood), Relics and Rarities changes pace from a typical D&D actual play by avoiding sword-wielding heroes for a gothic mystery centered around mystical trinkets. Guests like Matthew Lillard, Kevin Smith, and Daredevil himself, Charlie Cox, join Woll’s table. First-timers can learn much from Relics and Rarities simply by realizing Dungeons & Dragons is not always about, well, dungeons and dragons.