Dungeons & Dragons continues to grow on the digital domains of places such as Twitch and Steam, two of the most trafficked destinations for gamers in the online world. And now these personalities from games such as Critical Role and Dice, Camera, Action (two of the leading D&D online shows) are getting their digital counterparts in video games.
Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms‘ latest character is Strix, the Tiefling Sorcerer that cosplayer Holly Conrad portrays on Dice, Camera, Action. Idle Champions is a clicker game, one where you send a party of adventurers out on quests and kill-click the hell out of hobgoblins, gnolls, and other foes.
The addition shows the impact D&D‘s streaming presence is having across the long-lived role-playing game. Characters such as actor Joe Manganiello’s Arkhan (a Dragonborn Barbarian/Paladin) have appeared in Idle Champions before, and heck, even D&D lead story designer Chris Perkins is essentially playing himself in the online RPG Neverwinter’s Portobello’s Campaign.
Idle Champions studio Codename Entertainment has been teasing Strix’s addition for a couple of weeks now. When the Canadian group approaches adding a new character from a show like Dice, Camera, Action, it’s found that it’s working not just with the license holder, Wizards of the Coast, but the actor, too.
“[It] was an interesting thing to work with Wizards, us, and then—there’s this whole vibrant community of people who are playing tabletop D&D, creating characters that people get really invested in, including someone like Holly, who deeply loves Strix,” said Eric Jordan, the head of Codename Entertainment. “Chatting with them and saying we’d love to put Strix into our next event.”
Strix — and her actor, Conrad — has become a beloved member of the D&D community, a bit of a mascot at this point. She’s embracing becoming the first person from Dice, Camera, Action to be in a video game.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s funny they bring me in first; I’m a self-proclaimed trash witch. That’s her title,” Conrad said.
I had to ask: Why do you call your character a … trash witch?
“She collects things, her robes, lived in the city of Sigil in The Hive. She just picks up anything she can find,” Conrad said, noting how Strix’s costume has little pieces of this and that she’s picked up from living in the slums near the heart of the multiverse. “One of her items is pile of garbage.”
“Strix is definitely certain aspects of Holly personified in a way that I think players really respond to and build a relationship to. We thought it was really exciting,” Jordan said. “When we’re adding characters we have this complex spreadsheet. We want gender balance. We really strive to have 50 percent male, 50 percent female at all points.”
Turns out this gender parity goal comes from Wizards of the Coast.
“When we launched, we launched with 12 characters. It was absolutely 50/50. That was very much—Wizards was very clear: ‘Thou shalt launch this way.’ And we thought that was great, so it wasn’t an issue between us. But both parties felt very committed to that,” Jordan said. “And we’re also looking for balances across classes, what those roles for those classes will be, and then the different races in D&D. There’s a whole bunch of permutations to what we’re looking for.
“Our lead designer, Justin [Stocks] was like, OK, I want to have a woman Tiefling Sorcerer. And I’d been working on this idea of working with external influencers and having their characters come into the game, but there are a bunch of pieces to work through with Wizards about that. And I’m like, oh, Holly would be perfect, Strix would be a perfect character. We teased it yesterday. I’m not quite sure where in the broadcast today they’ll do it. Tuesdays is Dice, Camera, Action day.”
Turns out that bringing in a character from the streaming world isn’t the same as adapting someone from D&D‘s four decades of lore.
“It’s different. It’s very different, I guess I would say? The folks at Wizards that are responsible for D&D and hence the people we interact with around Bruenor or Drizzt or someone like that, they deeply love D&D. And so there’s absolutely a reverence with it. But none of them are Bruenor,” Jordan said. “When we’re chatting with Holly, that character is really personal to Holly. And Holly comes from being a cosplayer, and so as I was mentioning earlier, we have like six slots of gear. We’re working with Holly to figure out what items, of all the gear the character has, we’re going to use for those six slots. We worked through and chatted with Holly about that. And then once we had it, she said–as a cosplay person, she had built every one of those pieces of character sheet items as physical items in her costume, which she then gave us reference art for, for our artists to then do our digital takes on those pieces.
“There’s a level of specificity—and obviously Holly and Strix are not the same thing, but there’s a level of connection where it’s almost as if you’re talking to Strix.”
Conrad said it took three iterations of creative people to bring Strix and her collection of … garbage … to life. As a cosplayer, she had a costume for Codename’s artists to look over. She made it for the Acquisitions, Inc., stage show (another D&D stream from Penny Arcade) at Pax West in 2017.
I asked if this bond is like an actor’s connection with a character.
“I think it’s more personal. Just because of the nature of what D&D is. It’s structured improv, right?” said Jordan. “Holly or anyone who’s playing … you know the connection you get with your character. It’s deeply personal. How would I respond here? How would I respond there? I’m not a professional actor, and I have limited visibility into that world, but it seems somewhat different from someone handing you a script and being like, your character is now going to do this jerky thing. Within D&D you have complete autonomy, within the rule set and what the DM says, to build that character. It’s a very personal relationship.”
Shows such as Critical Role and Dice, Camera, Action are helping bring legions of new players to D&D, and some might argue it’s even more popular and successful now than in its 1980s heyday. And Conrad’s proud to be part of it.
“I think it’s awesome, all the new people, all of them introduced to D&D by watching streamers,” she said. “I think that’s amazing.”
And soon they’ll be able to click on her little trash witch and watch as her baubles, tiny owlbear doll, and other doodads come to life in Idle Champions.