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Discussing Iconics
Dragon's-Eye View
Jon Schindehette



Regdar Mialee Elminster Drizzt

T hese are just a couple of names that might pop up when I have discussions about "iconics" in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I'm sure you could think of many more to add. Some iconics we love. Some iconics we hate. Some we love to hate, and some we hate to love. Today's question cuts to the chase and asks "Are iconics necessary?"


Whenever I have a conversation about iconics, I usually have to start off by answering questions such as "Why iconics?" So, let's start there.

Why iconics?

Iconics or the use of iconics as a major marketing and product push are a double-edged sword. On one side of the fence, it has been shown that folks relate well to products and brands that have a familiar or known quality to them. This is one of the reasons that many brands use mascots to serve as a face of the brand. That familiarity seems to make the brand more approachable. The flip side to this scenario is that the voice of the brand can start to get stale. When you have a limited release schedule, it isn't too onerous seeing the same folks over and over, but when you have an active release schedule, it can get old seeing the same characters all the time. Familiarity turns to apathy or flat-out hatred.

For example, when I flip on the TV and see an advertisement with a mascot once during an hour-long show, the commercial might remain somewhat entertaining. If every commercial shown during the show is just a repeat of the same commercial, by the end of the show you might want to toss the TV out the window when the shows hits a commercial break.

So, for D&D, are iconics helpful or hurtful?

Did Regdar, Mialee, and company draw you into 3rd Edition, or did you get sick to death of them? Do nonplayable characters such as Drizzt or Elminster on a cover of a product get you drooling to tear into the product, or do they just leave you flat? Did you like the understated use of iconics in 4th Edition? Simple questions, but not really simple answers, eh? I know there is a lot of gray area around this conversation. I've been told by a few folks that they liked the visual continuity of the iconics, but got sick of the fact that all the text was forced to tie in to the iconics as well. I've received a lot of positive comments about the use of the iconics in the Heroes of the Feywild book. They liked the story arcs that were created in the imagery and the recurring characters. On the flip side, I've been roasted for the very same images "because of the lack of visual variety." Different strokes. Different folks. Then there is the discussion about what an iconic character is. Is it the historical guys such as Drizzt and Elminster, the edition- or story-related folks such as Regdar and Mialee, or the gang from the Heroes of the Feywild? Is it something completely different?

Where does this leave us? Good question.

Let me digress for a bit, so that I can put out a few of my preferences on the table.

I like the idea of iconics for marketing. Master Chief creates a strong and compelling visual image for Halo marketing. You quickly recognize him and what he stands for. I like it when we can recognize a marketing piece really quickly. Whether you like the gecko in the insurance commercials or not, you instantly know who is talking to you the second you see him or hear his voice. I like that zone of comfort that is created in this way.

I'm not a big fan of iconic characters on all the D&D product faces—at least in the age groups that we typically address for D&D. If I were going to do a product for a younger age group, I'd rethink that statement. Kids, 12 and under, seem to really resonate with a single character as the face of a brand. For D&D, though, the face of the products gets too similar with iconics—too much sameness when looking at the products on a shelf. At some point, it becomes very difficult for someone to walk into a store and know what is new due to too much of the same noise.

I do enjoy having some recurring characters to use in art, though. I like being able to tell a story with a character. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to tell some stories in the Heroes of the Feywild book. I don't know if I'd do the whole book like that again, but I'd love to use the storytelling mechanic involved in the art in the book to my advantage in future products.

Speaking of stories, I really enjoy working on the comics that we produce in association with IDW. Is it just me, or am I alone in the fact that I like story arcs that have fresh characters (such as the Fell's Five in the D&D comics).


Why? Because I get to watch the personalities grow and blossom. I like to get a sense of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. I guess I'm a sucker for storytelling. Obviously, comics and novels are the ideal platforms for this type of character development, but is there some room for this type of development in the product as well? I'm not sure, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Where do you stand on the use of iconics? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you like them in specific instances? Do you feel they have a particular role to play in the product? If you like the idea of iconics, do you favor historical characters such as Drizzt and Elminster, or the creation of characters that relate to the story that is being told (Fell's Five or Feywild)? What makes for an iconic character? How many iconics do you feel D&D should have? And can iconic characters die?

 Does D&D need iconic characters?  
Yes, iconic characters should appear in various D&D products and marketing
Yes, but only in marketing images
Yes, but only in novels and/or comics
Yes, but only on product covers
Yes, but only inside the product
No, iconic characters shouldn't appear in any D&D products or marketing
Other, explain below

 How many iconics should D&D have as the face of the brand?  
0
1
1–3
1–5
5 or more

 If you had to choose a character class for an iconic character, would they be a . . .  
Fighter
Paladin
Cleric
Wizard
Rogue
Other, explain below

Last Week's Poll Results

Which owlbear do you prefer? (From last week's article)
Grizzowl 01 1354 45.2%
Screecher 03 496 16.6%
Track 2 owlbear 342 11.4%
Gorrilowl 04 262 8.8%
Tallgrizz 02 227 7.6%
Oldgrump 06 143 4.8%
Original owlbear 125 4.2%
Longbeak 05 44 1.5%
Total 2993 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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