Onward: A sweet watch for everyone who misses D&D

As the world continues to stay locked down, Shane and I have been starting (okay, it started a long time ago) to get a bit of cabin fever. Shane especially, being much more of an introvert than I, really misses being able to go out and go places!

It’s especially bad because we currently can’t hold our Dungeons and Dragons sessions, which were weekly, hours-long socialization sessions before the pandemic hit.

One of the things we’ve been doing lately to try and help with that is planning our own home dates, where we just try to do cute things at home like we would if we went out on a date.

Last week, that took the form of a movie marathon night, where Shane—I kid you not—made me theatre-style popcorn, and we picked out a few movies to watch.

Maybe a month or so, my sister mentioned that I should watch Onward with Shane. As she explained, it was a really cute movie that Disney and Pixar had designed after Dungeons and Dragons, so she figured since we play that, we’d probably like the movie.

So of course, that was my first pick for our movie date night—and it absolutely did not disappoint.

It had all the tenets of a true Dungeons and Dragons quest.

One of the things I absolutely loved about Onward was that as we watched it, we could pick out elements of the story that we’d run into in our own D&D campaigns. You know, things like:

  • A challenge that brought together people that otherwise might not have worked together (AKA every tavern opener ever)
  • A difficult path full of danger and puzzle solving, including spike pits
  • Magic that was quite accurately level-locked based on the caster’s progress through the story
  • The poignant loss of a familiar (which my witch experienced with her little dino, Zippo)
  • And of course, mysterious creatures and a gelatinous cube

It was almost kind of funny how textbook it was, because there were times we could predict what might happen next based on our own experiences—but the story still managed to surprise.

It had a sort of Dungeons-and-Dragons-ception.

On top of being a story that followed the outline of a D&D campaign, it created that story within a world that could well have been a campaign setting, which was a neat touch in itself.

It was a world where creatures of all kinds live in settlements together, manticores run medieval-themed taverns, dragons can be your pets, your house looks like a magical toadstool, and you can have random things like wizard staffs just hanging out in your attic.

Though Disney and Pixar could well have set the movie in a realistic world, I appreciated this little touch because it gave the storytellers the unique ability to portray the world of D&D as a period of history, rather than a tale of fantasy.

If you think about it, it’s not that far off from how we look back on things like the world of King Arthur, which was likely just a very strong man with a sword and an ancient Druid friend but to our perception was a time full of magic and mystery.

The team actually worked with dungeon masters to make sure it was accurate.

Dungeons and Dragons has always been the sort of game where to tell a story really well, you have to know enough of the world’s rules beforehand. If you jump in as a DM and try to run a campaign without knowing the basics, unless you have a stellar imagination, you’re going to end up with loose strings and confused players.

As part of their research, the team for Onward actually worked with dungeon masters and fantasy experts (whom they called the Fellowship, fun fact) to learn the rules and get a sense for the game beforehand—which gave them the ability to tell a story that would resonate with players, even without the personal connection of being in the game themselves.

Quite the feat, if you ask me.

It was just plain cute.

Pixar is well known for its ability to make just about anyone cry with its beautiful stories, and this one is up there even for Pixar as far as I’m concerned.

It was a beautiful story of family before all else, and how, even without the traditional familial role models, a kid can still grow up with all the same experiences to become a strong, brave individual.

It was also a beautiful coming-of-age story that took it beyond a traditional story of the sort because instead of focusing on one character, it focused on both brothers—and even included major milestones for a few other characters, too.

And with all that, it made me miss our D&D sessions.

Because of the pandemic and various lockdowns (as well as the fact that some of our players moved far away), it’s been difficult for our table to get together for D&D sessions. I’d been looking into remote solutions, but it just wasn’t the same.

This movie, so wonderfully reminiscent of the worlds I love to immerse myself in, reminded me of all the fun there is to be had at a D&D table, and may or may not have gotten me thinking about a new build I want to try—hopefully when we can get together with our group again.

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