When the first trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves dropped late last July, a friend of mine almost immediately DMed me to ask, “Is there any lore about the fat dragon?” Dragons whose body types differ from those slim, snaky models in the D&D Monster Manual are pretty rare, which made this chonky boy stand out.
I had a theory, but it wasn’t confirmed until the toys for the movie were solicited — the red dragon in Honor Among Thieves is Themberchaud, who has a pretty significant history in the Dungeons & Dragons game. That made me feel pretty good about the chances that the movie was really going to dig into D&D lore. If writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were willing to go all-in on a deep-cut character like Themberchaud, what else from the sourcebooks could I expect them to dig into?
The movie itself doesn’t get into the dragon’s backstory, but here’s what we know about the Underdark’s weighty menace.
Who’s the fat dragon in the Dungeons & Dragons movie?
Themberchaud is a red dragon who dwells in Gracklstugh, a city of duergar in the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. If that’s too many fantasy nouns for you in one sentence, we can break that down. The Forgotten Realms is the most popular campaign world for the Dungeons & Dragons RPG, and the Underdark is a massive subterranean cave system below the surface that’s home to all kinds of monsters and subterranean species, including the ever-popular drow, or dark elves. The duergar, also called gray dwarves, are like the drow of dwarves: Cold, grim, and work-obsessed, they have all the crafting skill of the more familiar fantasy dwarf archetype, with none of the boisterous fun.
Themberchaud the dragon first appeared in Drizzt Do’Urden’s Guide to the Underdark, an accessory for 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, published in 1999 by TSR. In this early source, the dragon is given a fascinating role in the city of Gracklstugh. As a young dragon just under the age of 100, he is described as the Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh, and a descendant of previous dragons in the same role. His fiery breath lights the forges and tempers the steel produced by the city, and his every whim is attended to by the monastic Keepers of the Flame.
The dragon’s next mentions were in a pair of accessories for Dungeons & Dragons’ 3rd edition from Wizards of the Coast: Underdark in 2003, and Dragons of Faerûn in 2006. These sources largely reiterated the 2nd edition information, updating Themberchaud’s age to over 100 and explaining that he is kept happy not only by the duergar adding to his treasure hoard, but also by being fed a steady diet of unruly slaves.
A monster backstory going back decades
Themberchaud’s story was significantly enlarged, pun intended, for the Rage of Demons storyline from Wizards of the Coast for 5th edition D&D. He appeared in the tabletop adventure Out of the Abyss and the computer RPG Sword Coast Legends in 2015, and the Endless Quest gamebook Escape the Underdark in 2018. In this storyline, the dragon’s appearance, personality, and backstory were all given far greater attention.
Concept artist Richard Whitters designed Themberchaud’s new appearance, giving him the unique feature of being overweight. The expanded backstory for Themberchaud in Rage of Demons drew on the lore of previous editions, as well as an online lore article from 3rd edition about incorporating psionics in the Forgotten Realms, posted by Wizards in 2007.
Excellent job! Here’s more sketches :) pic.twitter.com/8YdwBhltvb— Richard Whitters (@WhittersRichard) July 24, 2022
Each Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh is hatched from an egg by the Keepers of the Flame and raised to fill the role of keeping the forges of the city going. These dragons are highly pampered, to the point where Themberchaud often has no need to leave his chambers, which contributes to his bulky size. Hatched and raised entirely underground in the city, Themberchaud has never been outdoors. He barely flies, and has known no other existence than serving the duergar. Escape the Underdark even makes it clear that he has become too big to ever leave Gracklstugh:
“And now I am far too large to ever leave. Even if I tore the entire place down around me, I could not claw my way to the surface from here. Instead, I remain buried in a prison of my parents’ making, far beneath a sky I’ve never seen.”
What the dragon doesn’t know is that ultimately, the Keepers of the Flame plan on killing him before he becomes too powerful to control and seeks to dominate the city, as red dragons naturally tend toward tyranny as they age. The Keepers have always followed that pattern, slaying a Wyrmsmith once it reaches a certain age, then replacing it with a newly hatched wyrmling. But the red dragon egg meant to become Themberchaud’s successor was stolen by the Gray Ghosts, Gracklstugh’s thieves guild. That set off a war between the psionicists and the thieves, and left Themberchaud increasingly paranoid and distrustful of his lifelong keepers.
Out of the Abyss players can journey to Gracklstugh as they explore the Underdark, where they may be persuaded to become agents of the Keepers of the Flame, the Gray Ghosts, or Themberchaud himself, as the three power factions vie for control of the Wyrmsmith’s fate. Meanwhile, the king of Gracklstugh has lost his mind, a storyline that connects to Sword Coast Legends.
In this poorly regarded CRPG, which now stands as a notable piece of abandonware in the 5th edition D&D catalog, players journey to Gracklstugh in source of the Moontear, the magical McGuffin of the game’s single-player campaign. They find that the city has been taken over by a mind flayer, which took advantage of the king’s mental illness. The same mind flayer has also invaded Themberchaud’s brain. The players must defeat the mind flayer to save the king and the dragon, who kindly rewards the heroes by refraining from eating them.
The Themberchaud of the Rage of Demons storyline is vain and proud, like most red dragons. He’s described as pampered and restless. In Sword Coast Legends, he has the deep and booming voice you’d expect from such a massive monster. Like all dragons in D&D, he can speak, and is a character who can be interacted with, rather than just a monster to fight and kill.
While the dragon’s bulk makes him memorable, it also makes him tragic. He’s a victim of manipulation and abuse from his evil gray dwarf keepers. Unfortunately, he’s evil himself, and the consequence of freeing Themberchaud from the Keepers of the Flame, or saving him from being replaced by a new Wyrmsmith, would likely be the subjugation of the entire city under the dragon’s rule. But such are the dilemmas of choice faced by TTRPG players.
Why is the Underdark deserted?
Once it was confirmed that Themberchaud would be featured in Honor Among Thieves, a lot of elements from the trailers began to fall in line. The bald-headed statues, the caves, the Underdark, the relics covered in runes — the movie must be going to Gracklstugh! So it was a great surprise to discover that the movie removes the dragon from his longtime home, which has always defined him and his story.
Instead, the movie’s heroes find Themberchaud in Dolblunde, another Underdark settlement. This one was once the home of gnomes, who abandoned it centuries ago. In the lore of previous editions of D&D, Dolblunde was the home of Daurgothoth, a black greatwyrm dracolich of immense power. But “the Creeping Doom” hasn’t been mentioned in an official product since the 4th edition supplement Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that the dracolich had too high of a challenge rating for the movie’s heroes?
But while I love seeing Themberchaud brought to life, his presence does raise questions. How could he finally free himself of Gracklstugh, and why — assuming any of the existing lore pertains in the movie — is he hanging out in the lair of another, much more powerful dragon? Unfortunately, the dragon himself doesn’t reveal any clues — like many Hollywood dragons, Themberchaud only roars and makes other animalistic noises in the movie, depriving audiences of his unique character and personality.
During the movie, the heroes do comment that Themberchaud seems to have found a new lair, suggesting that his arrival in Dolblunde is recent. And the movie does appear to take place a number of years after the Rage of Demons storyline. So perhaps Wizards of the Coast — which is demonstrably experimenting with new rules and adding elements to the game’s canon based on the movie — will eventually tell the story of how the Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh finally escaped his prison. It certainly sounds like a great idea for an epic campaign.