few years ago, there was a corporate buzzword that was lighting up boardrooms across the world: transmedia. While you don't hear the word as much as you used to, it's still a very important concept for a contemporary brand. Transmedia is a technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple forms of media and product categories. Big surprise: D&D is ideally suited for the transmedia experience!
Every day we, and you, are telling tons of stories in the D&D multiverse. In fact, the whole basis of D&D is one of cooperative storytelling. So would you be surprised when you could see a story running across multiple expressions of the brand? That is, in fact, one of my biggest dreams when I seek out entertainment experiences—to tap into a story line and have it carry across all the experiences I have with a brand.
In August, we have a number of ways you can jump into this transmedia storytelling and have a little fun in the world of D&D. For this example, I'd like to talk about a few of the brand expressions that don't often get a lot of coverage in my articles. As part of the larger upcoming Sundering story arc, R.A. Salvatore penned an awesome new Drizzt novel, The Companions, that shows the events of the Sundering from the point of view of D&D's most famous drow. At the same time, the folks over at GaleForce 9 have pulled out the stops and created a premium miniature of Drizzt and Guenhwyvar as well. Do you see where I'm going with this? If you are a fan of R.A. Salvatore's bad boy of the drow race, then you can get a double-shot of drow goodness in August!
Now, whether we are talking about Drizzt, Elminster, or even D&D's newest hero, Isteval, I have the same challenge when dealing with a brand that stretches across multiple medias. It's one thing to ask every partner and media to depict Drizzt exactly the same way, and it's completely another matter when you are dealing with the constraints inherent within each of those mediums. A lot of work goes into finding those core visual beats that are required to make sure he stays true to the spirit of the character—whether you are dealing with a comic, a stylized T-shirt image, a realistic 3-D render, a larger than life sculpt, a miniature, or maybe even a Kreon! A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some examples of what I've been talking about.
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As you can see, the look of Drizzt doesn't vary all that much. You can recognize him almost instantly. The fun part of the equation for me is to distill down those visual clues that make him identifiable and use them to form the basis of a visual guide for him. After we have the details sorted out and defined, it's a lot easier for our partners to "stay on model" with characters that are key to D&D.
When we are talking about Drizzt, his visual appearance has shifted and morphed through the years, but he has really solidified over the past ten or so years under the hand of Todd Lockwood, who has single-handedly cemented the current vision of Drizzt into the minds of most D&D fans. It's no wonder that I receive tons of emails from irate fans when they see a dark-skinned elf, wielding two scimitars, his white hair and cape flowing in the wind, on a brand other than D&D.
And this causes me to ask the following question: How much can you play with an iconic character without losing that iconic vision? We see it all the time when the comic folks decide to "reskin" the superheroes from our youth. It's amazing to watch the screaming and teeth gnashing that erupts on the Internet after the unveiling of a new costume. Sure, we might argue about whether we like the new version, but the first question my creative director mind throws out is this: Can I still tell what hero this person is supposed to be?
Let's tackle both questions now. At some point, if you change too many of the visual cues, the identity is lost. For instance, I bet I could keep Drizzt's armor exactly the same except for the color and you'd still be able to point at him and say, "That's Drizzt over there in that puce armor." Now you might have lots to say about my choice of fashion sense, but he would still be Drizzt, right? What if I changed his skin color to a deep red, similar to that of a tiefling? What would you say when you look at him? Maybe: "Wow, Drizzt got himself a serious sunburn!" Or would you go all deer-in-the-headlights on me?
I hope that you're starting to see the importance of maintaining a consistent look across the entire brand experience and how that might be a pretty big task. D&D isn't just one single character, after all. It has hundreds of characters, tons of races and monsters, and loads of iconic locations—each of which requires the same loving care across all media and all brand experiences.
In case you would rather just enjoy Drizzt in all his goodness: Get on out there and choose the brand experience that you want to get hooked into—or choose them all! To help you out, here's one place you can jump to right now: Learn more about The Companions.
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.