Dungeons & Dragons fans may be impatient over the delay of the D&D movie Honor Among Thieves until March 31, 2023, since they’ve been waiting for it ever since the plot leaked in a 2021, in a filing with the U.S. copyright office. The first official look at the film didn’t come until 2022’s San Diego Comic-Con, though: Paramount screened a trailer filled with identifiable D&D elements that finally confirmed many details about the story.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves takes place in the Forgotten Realms, which has been something of a default campaign setting for the game since the 2014 launch of its 5th Edition version. The Forgotten Realms is a traditional high-fantasy setting with many iconic elements and a rich well of lore that could play into the new film. In the trailer alone, there are glimpses of the city of Neverwinter, the Harpers, the Red Wizards of Thay, and the Cult of the Dragon.
But one of the movie’s most interesting elements might be Hugh Grant’s character — both who he is and who he isn’t. According to IMDB, he’s “The Rogue.” According to promotional materials for the film, he’s Forge Fitzwilliam, the human Lord of Neverwinter. But Realms lore already has a Lord of Neverwinter, who isn’t named Forge Fitzwilliam. The Lord of Neverwinter is a character with a long, rich history. So why isn’t Hugh Grant playing Dagult Neverember?
Who is Dagult Neverember?
First, here’s what we know about Forge Fitzwilliam. He used to be a member of an adventuring party, along with the movie’s other characters, but a botched job saw his comrades sent to prison, while Forge made off with all the loot and used the wealth to install himself as Lord of the city of Neverwinter.
In established Forgotten Realms lore, the Lord Protector of Neverwinter is a human named Dagult Neverember, and he’s been a big part of the story of the Sword Coast region since he was introduced as one of a number of new characters for Dungeons & Dragons’ fourth edition, which moved the Forgotten Realms story forward a century. This time jump was intended to make the setting more accessible for new players by putting them on the same footing as experienced players when it came to knowing the lore of the setting.
At the same time, it also provided Wizards of the Coast with the opportunity to revise the setting to suit the design goals of the game’s fourth edition. Neverember was introduced in the 2008 Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide as the new Open Lord of the major city of Waterdeep — a position he was appointed to by the Masked Lords of the city, who, in contrast to the Open Lord, hide their identities from the public. In 2011, the character became part of the Neverwinter transmedia campaign, which included novels, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting game book, and the Cryptic Studios’ Neverwinter MMORPG. Much of the development of the character in this period came from Erik Scott de Bie, a Realms novelist and game designer.
So here’s what we know about Dagult Neverember from existing Forgotten Realms lore: He grew up in the city of Neverwinter and was once an adventurer, a fighter. He claimed he was descended from an illegitimate branch of Neverwinter’s royal family, which had otherwise died out. He amassed wealth as an adventurer, then married into a noble family of Waterdeep. The Masked Lords of that city chose him as Open Lord of that city because his heroic past made him “look the part.”
After securing that position, he came back to a Neverwinter devastated by the eruption of a nearby volcano. He used his wealth and power to help rebuild the city, presenting his claimed royal heritage to legitimize declaring himself Lord Protector. Over the next 20 years, he dedicated himself to restoring Neverwinter — often by appropriating funds from Waterdeep, letting one city fall into neglect in order to rebuild the other. Eventually, during the adventure The Rise of Tiamat, he was ousted as Open Lord and replaced. First, though, he embezzled a large amount of Waterdeep’s wealth and hid it away, as revealed in the adventure Dragon Heist.
Is Lord Neverember the villain in Honor Among Thieves?
Neverember’s moral ambiguity is what makes him a fascinating character. He’s been presented both as a patron for heroic adventurers looking to create stability in the Neverwinter region, and as an egocentric tyrant opposed by underground rebel groups. He can come across as altruistic or selfish, depending on what point of view he is being seen from.
None of this is inconsistent writing. Instead, it reflects that Neverember is a complex character who has been depicted with many facets. In Neverwinter, some see him as a hero who brought the city back to its former glory. Others consider him an interloper who assumed a position of power when no one asked for him. In Waterdeep, he’s remembered as a corrupt imperialist and thief who crippled city services to benefit his home city. Because he’s never been presented as a viewpoint character in a way that would give fans access to his inner thoughts, Neverember defies the easy moral categorization common in a game where creatures can be sorted into one of nine different alignments.
The city of Neverwinter glimpsed in the Honor Among Thieves trailer is instantly recognizable to anyone who has been playing in the city at any point since 2011, whether in the tabletop game or the MMO. Lord Neverember is a character who has been inextricably part of the city’s story for 11 years now. So why set the movie there, then replace one of the setting’s core characters with someone else? Especially when Fitzwilliam and Neverember are so similar: Both are former adventurers with shady pasts who amassed great wealth and used it to buy their way into positions of power. Why start from scratch when there is a character who has been familiar to players for more than a decade?
Does WOTC care about canon?
In 2021, Wizards of the Coast posted an article about Dungeons & Dragons canon on its D&D Studio Blog clarifying that Wizards does not regard material produced for the Forgotten Realms and other settings outside of fifth edition source books as canon for the game. Why do this? The answer may lie in the blog post’s comparison of D&D to Marvel. What happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t canon for the versions of the characters in Marvel Comics. They’re different expressions of the same characters. With the new D&D movie on the way, this could be Wizards’ way of saying, “Don’t expect this movie to perfectly match the books’ lore.”
With that in mind, the answer to the Forge Fitzwilliam versus Dagult Neverember question could be easy: Neverember doesn’t exist in the version of the Realms shown in the movie. Fitzwilliam has effectively replaced him.
But what if it’s not that simple?
What if Forge Fitzwilliam is Dagult Neverember?
Over the past few years, a strange trend has developed in big franchise filmmaking: pretending a character in the movie who is clearly from the canon is some new character, even when it is very obvious who they are. The filmmakers behind blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness and Spectre, among others, swore up and down that characters who were obviously Khan and Blofeld were not, in fact, Khan and Blofeld. Moments that were supposed to play as big twists in these movies felt unearned and hollow, as audiences were supposed to gasp at reveals that had been guessed months prior, and were also meaningless for the characters within the story.
As cinematic storytelling becomes increasingly dominated by creators working in established universes with heavily invested audiences, it’s become harder to create meaningful twists that hit fans and general audiences in the same way. One method that’s become common is trying to fake out audiences about what characters are even appearing in a given movie.
What if Forge Fitzwilliam not only bought his way into politics, but into a whole new identity? We know Dagult Neverember puts a lot of weight on his image, and it’s also been hinted in the past that his claimed connections to the royal line of Neverwinter are false. What if Dagult is an entirely invented identity to cover up his past as Forge? Or perhaps Dagult Neverember is his real self, and Forge Fitzwilliam was the fake. I mean, the name Forge is a little on the nose, isn’t it? Either way, this would fit Forge’s description as a con man and provide the movie with a nice little plot twist.
One problem with this theory is the timeline: Neverember was lord of his cities for decades in the game, but based on the trailer, it doesn’t seem like so much time passes between Forge’s past as an adventurer and his emergence as a politician. This could be why the filmmakers made the change: Forge may be inspired by the Neverember storyline, but changing the character lets the filmmakers change details to fit the needs of their story.
The truth of who Hugh Grant’s character really is, and how Honor Among Thieves will fit into the established lore of the Forgotten Realms, will be seen when the film is released in theaters on March 31, 2023.