Kat Kruger

In the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trailer when says Edgin the Bard (played by Chris Pine) says, “We didn't mean to unleash the greatest evil the world has ever known,” there are a lot of baddies he could be talking about. However, the question of who the movie’s main villain could be is answered when the Red Wizards of Thay make multiple appearances in the previews. And that spells very bad news for the heroes of the movie.

Even those who aren’t up to speed on every aspect of D&D lore have probably heard of the Red Wizards. They are steeped in the history of the Forgotten Realms and can be found in many published adventures, novels, and videos games. Their fingerprints are all over many of the terrible things that befall the citizens of Faerûn. Take, for example, that time in Tyranny of Dragons when a splinter group of Red Wizards formed an alliance with dragon cultists to try unleashing Tiamat, the five-headed queen and mother of evil dragons. Or that time in Tomb of Annihilation when Szass Tam, the most powerful lich among the Red Wizards, sent operatives to Chult to steal a necromantic device called the Soulmonger — the name of which alone spells bad times for everyone.

It's safe to say that when it comes to the Red Wizards most people in the Realms have trust issues. In fact, they’re pretty much universally reviled unless you’re into evil. Thankfully, these ne’er-do-wells can be spotted easily on account of their crimson robes and arcane sigils tattooed onto their shaved heads. In public spaces where their appearance could put them at risk, Red Wizards do the equivalent of putting on sunglasses and a ballcap by concealing their faces with scarves or under the shadow of deep hoods.

So, what is their deal? As their name suggests, the Red Wizards hail from Thay, a region over two thousand miles east of the Sword Coast. The lich Szass Tam rules supreme over the lands and has appointed undead zulkirs oversee the eight schools of magic. Alongside him are undead zulkirs (an appointed council of advisers) who are powerful liches themselves. Thay is also defended by an army of undead warriors. The running theme here is that everyone of consequence in Thay is, well, unalive and the Red Wizards would like it very much if everyone could just work on being their best undead selves.

However, not all is well in the state of Thay. There’s some internal strife and many of the mortal Red Wizards have risen against Szass Tam and his undead agents. Whether this will come into play in the movie has yet to be seen. What has been revealed are a few of the baddies including Szass Tam who can be seen standing in crimson robes looking very ominous. We also see Dralas (played by Jason Wong), who's an assassin sent to kill Xenk the Paladin and the adventuring party. In the clip, he casts green-flame blade, a popular cantrip made even more so by actual play shows like Acquisitions Inc and Critical Role. Meanwhile, Francis Daley, one of the writer-directors of the film, has stated that Xenk is illuminated by divine radiance which is a 3.5E ability and inflicts damage to undead. That’s a big hint that there may be a bit of mix-and-match in terms of which edition of the world’s greatest roleplaying game is being used and allows for some surprises.

Speaking of which, another Red Wizard who has been featured prominently in the trailers is Sofina (played by Daisy Head) who is seen holding a mysterious red horn and fighting the party. At one point she casts mage hand, only the script notes must have said something along the lines of “make it gross and meaty.” Usually, this cantrip takes the form of a spectral, floating hand. Canonically, there are times when spells can be altered, as in Curse of Strahd where there are a list of cosmetic spell modifications. In that setting, the summoned hand is skeletal. Sofina’s modification of a knotted flesh mage hand is even more fitting for a necromancer who is bent on turning the living toward undeath. 

Back to the mysterious horn she holds in the trailer: Daley called the item a MacGuffin that comes into play very prominently in the film. If it’s merely a plot device to trigger the unfolding of the plot, there are bound to be more interesting (and dangerous) magic items to appear. The heroes of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves certainly have their work cut out for them if they’re to fix the problem they unleashed upon the Realms.