Cartoons have long been a part of Dungeons & Dragons, from the black-and-white illos inside the 1st Edition rulebooks, to Larry Elmore's SnarfQuest and Dave Trampier's Wormy in the back of Dragon, and of course Aaron Williams' Nodwick which graced the pages of Dungeon. The D&D website has also run periodic cartoons in recent times (including our animated interviews, as well as Jared von Hindman’s work from headinjurytheater.com), but starting this month—coinciding with Dragon #400—you'll start seeing a new set of cartoons appearing more frequently on the site.
In this Design & Development column, Bart Carroll (Editor-in-Chief, for D&D website free content) looks at these cartoons in general… and at one cartoon series in particular.
As I've long felt, the Dungeons & Dragons website has a number of goals: informing you about the game and about events, providing you with new options, connecting you with online tools and the community, and helping celebrate the gaming lifestyle. This last goal might sound fairly nebulous, but it's an important one. As part of achieving it, I believe the website should also host content that's entertaining for its own sake—and what better captures that idea than cartoons?
Several months back, I sat down with Chris Youngs (former Editor-in-Chief for Dragon and Dungeon), Jon Schindehette (Senior Creative Director for D&D), and Laura Tommervik (Brand Manager for D&D) to discuss website cartoons. It helped that we all knew that we wanted them—as mentioned, they’ve long been a part of the magazines in the past, and could make a compelling part of website content moving forward.
So the question became, what cartoons would we publish? Should they be aimed at our very invested audience, with a great deal of in-jokes? Would they better serve a more general audience, with broader humor?
Ultimately, we decided on a mixed approach. Our current plan is to start things off Mondays and Wednesdays with a new series from Aaron Williams ("Epic Campain"). On Fridays, we're adding to this series by running cartoons from a variety of artists in a variety of styles. The first of these Friday cartoons will be drawn by Drew Sheneman (from his bio):
… a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for the past fifteen years, Drew has worked at The Detroit News, Oakland Press, and The Star-Ledger of New Jersey where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize winning staff in 2005. Drew’s work has been featured in such publications as Sport Illustrated, Business Week, The New York Times, and Playboy. His work is syndicated to more than 100 papers by Tribune Media Services. He maintains an online portfolio and blog.
Correction: Drew's cartoons have been reserved for a later date, as we've decided to include them with a pertinent article. The first of the Friday cartoons was actually Alignments, by O and Dern -- which you can read right here.
As we've been telling these artists, we're publishing cartoons as something of an experiment. (D&D is all about mad experiments—after all, how else would the owlbear have come about?) First, we want to make sure that you're even interested in having cartoons on the website. Second, we're trying to find the artists, subjects, and cartoons that best resonate with you.
With Epic Campain (yes, the misspelling is intentional), we wanted to balance the diversity of cartoons with a series that would provide some continuity for our readers. Jon Schindehette approached Aaron Williams to contribute such a series—and to our great delight, Aaron accepted the project.
After a few conversations, regarding tone and possible topics, Aaron came back to us with a “pitch book”—which presented an overall theme for the series as well as potential characters and their relationships.
Epic Campain is (usually, but not always) the tale of one Krozat the Mighty, as he strives for his place among the heroes of legend. The only problem is, he’s dead. Those who carry on his name (as well as carry around his bones) find their destinies entwined with his… even if he’s not fully around to appreciate it.
As for the heroes, you’ll meet:
Krozat is rumored to be among the most powerful, skilled, and deadly people on the planet. Unfortunately, he’s dead, reduced to a sack of bones carried around by his former party members and often used to hold open doors, frighten children, etc.
Wortimer "Wort" Rustnot is the formerly faithful dwarven sidekick of Krozat, now the guy who hauls around Krozat’s bones. He’s not bad in a fight, but his true talent lies in assembling clever objects and items out of his former master’s remains (ladders, clubs, musical instruments). It was his thieving from his master’s treasure hauls that resulted in not being able to afford Krozat’s resurrection, so he found Drog in a tavern and struck out to (in theory) find the cash to bring his master back to life… eventually.
Drog is a half-orc who looks as if he’s three-quarters orc and used his INT as a dump stat (if Drog isn’t murdering or destroying something, he might as well be furniture). He does appear to have a few motivations (food, smashing things, getting more effective weapons), but other than the occasional utterance in the third person, he’s pretty much a force of nature.
And then there’s Steve. Originally, Steve was set to be the same character in a host of different bodies—which either kept getting killed or otherwise abandoned by Steve’s unseen player. At Jon’s suggestion, Steve instead became a shape-shifting changeling… and a most literally one, at that.
And with them, our heroic party was formed. There are also Epic Campain’s villains, but I think we’ll wait for the actual series to meet them (but who include Lura, the over-sensitive eladrin, and her band of merry mooques).
From Script to Strip
With the premise and characters down, Aaron worked up a series of scripts for review. With a little back-and-forth between sides, we settled on an 8-strip arc, introducing the main characters and sending them on their first adventure:
[In a tavern. Steve and Wort are at a table. In the background, a figure is seen having just entered the establishment.]
STEVE: I think our contact just came in.
WORT: Good. The payout for this job’ll go a long way to having Krozat resurrected.
STEVE: Yeah. Too bad this guy thinks he’s hiring Krozat.
Aaron then supplied sample background art, as well as a sketch of the incoming strips for review. And with everything set, we prepared to launch the first Epic Campain strip this Monday, June 6th! Our thanks to Aaron Williams, of course—and, as mentioned, be sure to look for comics from additional artists to appear on Fridays.
Visiting the cartoons themselves is one thing, but beyond the cold, hard numbers of web traffic analytics, we also want to hear from you directly—in the comments field on each cartoon, on the boards, by email, on Facebook—however you prefer to reach us. You can always send a message directly to my community profile, as well. We want to know what about these cartoons works for you, what you might want to see continue, and what other voices or styles you'd also like to see brought to the site. As with the columns, we're most interested in helping further the conversation between us here in RPG R&D and you, the player community.
So once the cartoons start running, please let us know what you think!
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll).