Anna Prosser Robinson and Holly Conrad

Holly Conrad and Anna Prosser Robinson on Dice, Camera, Action’s third season and the Dungeons & Dragons livestream experience

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Apr 15, 2018

Every Tuesday on the official Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel, you can watch an epic adventure unfold in the livestreamed campaign Dice, Camera, Action. The campaign features Wizards of the Coast’s Chris Perkins as dungeon master for a story that just might surprise you in how much it might make you laugh and sometimes maybe even cry. The central characters in this unique tale are played by Jared Knabenbauer, Nathan Sharp, Anna Prosser Robinson, and Holly Conrad, who together form the party known as the Waffle Crew.

Half of the Waffle Crew, Robinson and Conrad, were at PAX East this month ready to talk about their adventures and meet fans, or the #wafflefam, as they’re called on social media. Robinson plays the former human now construct paladin Evelyn, while Conrad plays tiefling sorcerer Strix. While quite different, the two characters are extremely fun to watch as they tackle what happens in the campaign and grow as a result. The interactions between the two are also priceless, as the characters’ friendship has grown through the episodes to become a cornerstone of the game.

SYFY WIRE sat down with Robinson and Conrad to discuss how they joined Dice, Camera, Action, what they’re excited and scared for as the current season draws to a close, their experience as women livestreaming D&D, and more.

For those readers who only know you from Dice, Camera, Action, can you tell us what you do outside of Dungeons & Dragons?

Anna Prosser Robinson: I started getting into the online streaming space through esports, and I still do a lot of hosting and freelancing type work as a host in geek and gaming culture and esports. I started streaming Dungeons & Dragons as part of a collaborative Twitch channel called Misscliks that was built to kind of try to create some more visibility and representation for women in the space. My first game of Dungeons & Dragons was a second-edition game that we started on Misscliks about five years ago, and we’re still playing every week at the same time.

I actually never played D&D off stream ever for the first two years that I played it, and I never played with real dice for the first couple years either. I was always playing virtually online. Now I work full-time for Twitch as the lead producer for Twitch Studios and I focus a lot on making Twitch content and elevating Twitch broadcasters. This fits very nicely into my day to day, because luckily the people I work with understand why I need to take half the day off on Tuesday to play Dungeons & Dragons.

Holly Conrad: I got into this space through cosplay, which is a weird roundabout thing, because in college I was a medieval studies major and I was like, “I’m never going to use this,” and now I’m just playing D&D. I started doing a lot of cosplay with BioWare. I did a lot of Mass Effect cosplay. I cosplayed Commander Shepard for a long time. I did a lot of special effects kind of stuff. I worked in special effects for a few years too, so I did a lot of fun cool creatures and stuff like that. I ended up putting a video online on YouTube. That’s how my YouTube career started. I just put cosplay up and it took off, because we sculpted and created this whole big animatronic Grunt head.

After that, it ended up taking off, so after realizing people want to watch my stuff on YouTube I did that for a while, and over the years I worked as a community manager. I did a bunch of other stuff and eventually I decided I’m just going to do YouTube full-time, so I did that. I just kept doing it, and now they let me on stage to play D&D. D&D games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights were how I got into D&D. When I was in high school and middle school, I loved playing RPGs. I played King’s Quest. I played all those PC games, and it was weird, because I got into tabletop through playing PC games. In high school when I was playing Baldur's Gate, I fell in love with the Forgotten Realms and I ended up reading all the books and falling in love with that whole world, and so I’ve been a big fan of D&D for a really long time. It’s amazing that I actually get to do stuff with them now. When I was a kid I was like, “I just love Minsc,” and now Strix is next to Minsc in a video game.

How did you get involved with Dice, Camera, Action?

Robinson: For me, the reason Dungeons & Dragons kept coming back into my life was because originally I wanted to be an actress and singer. I put that aside for more pragmatic career choices, but D&D let me combine my love of gaming, performing, acting, and storytelling and all of these things together, and I kept pushing it on Twitch and live-streaming. When Wizards of the Coast decided they wanted to try putting together their own Dungeons & Dragons show, I was one of the ones that they came to, saying we’ve seen you streaming D&D for a long time, can you help us and give us advice and would you like to play? Which is really cool, because the other people that got to play were like really famous.

Conrad: Please!

Robinson: So, I was like yes! They came to us and said, "Would you help us put a show together and be in it?"

Conrad: I got into it because I knew Jared. We’ve been friends for a long time before the show, and we were probably the best friends on the show, and then I knew Nate. I’d done karaoke with him, which is ironic at the time, since he’s our bard. I didn’t do any, he sang and I just sat there, but Jared asked me because he knew I loved D&D and we’d done some videos on my channel playing Baldur’s Gate and stuff like that. He knew I would want to play.

How did your characters come about?

Conrad: I’ve been playing a tiefling sorcerer as long as I can remember. Anytime I can be a tiefling I would be a tiefling, and I would always be a sorcerer because I didn’t want to read about magic. I wanted to know how to do magic already. I knew I wanted to be a tielfing sorcerer. The idea of Strix came out of how I wanted a Planescape character, because I love Planescape. That’s my favorite setting, and I wanted a character that embodied my anxiety. I always take something of myself and put them into the character, so Strix is very anxious. She’s like the embodiment of my anxiety. I was like, okay, what would this look like?

I used [Tony] DiTerlizzi’s illustrations of the Dustmen in the Planescape guides to inspire her. That was her original inspiration, was that she was a collector in Sigil. A body collector to make money so that she could survive and ended up escaping, and then Chris gave me the idea to make her tied to Baba Yaga, and that gave me the idea of making her like a witch, because Chris sort of, when I was making her, was like, "Her backstory should somehow tie to Baba Yaga," and I was like, "Yes. I love this. Chicken feet on a house. I love this legend. I’m all in." She’s developed over time as we’ve played as characters, and we’ve all influenced each other.

Robinson: Much in the way that Holly said, you always start with a characteristic that you want to explore or something that you either are or aren’t or want to be. The morsel that Evelyn came from was like a caretaker mothering thing. I wanted to make her this sickeningly sweet, I will do anything for you, take care of you, kind of character, and I wanted to play a paladin, and I finally rolled some stats that were good enough for a paladin. I played her in a Misscliks campaign that was second edition, and it was based around a zombie outbreak called Misscliks D&D Outbreak. Ultimately she lasted very few episodes. Our DM killed us off very quickly with a zombie horde. She was sacrificing herself as she does, and we all died, but I really liked her and she stuck with me as one gone before her time. When Dice, Camera, Action came around, I wanted to try her again. I changed a lot of things about her. She’s not the exact same character, but her accent, her attitude, the way she looks, a lot of stuff about her family was all directly from that campaign, and we just pretended that was not canon.

Anna Prosser Robinson as Evelyn from Dice, Camera, Action

Photo credit: Mindfall Media

You’ve both have experience working on the Internet and streaming, but what has it been like with streaming Dice, Camera, Action weekly? How is it different or challenging?

Robinson: I stream every week and have for a long time, so the cadence wasn’t something that was new to me. I knew what to expect, but when they asked me to start Dice, Camera, Action it’s directly before my other game that I play every Tuesday, so I knew it was going to be a marathon every Tuesday, and I knew I was going to be tired, but wanted to do it so badly that I was like, "Well, I’ll just do it for a while and see if I can hack it and if not, I’ll tell them I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore." The amount of energy I get from Dice, Camera, Action is so great that I look forward to every Tuesday. I never feel too tired.

Conrad: We legit look forward to it every Tuesday or dread and look forward. It’s a mixed bag. It’s very emotional.

Robinson: And there’s some streams and some groups of people that just have this lightning in a bottle quality that the right time, the right place, the right people just click, and the community that’s grown out of Dice, Camera, Action is one that’s indescribable. It’s something I’ve never experienced before so the amount of creativity that comes out of them that then inspires creativity in us. Like I said, I always wanted to pursue more creative things that I put aside, and I have done more writing and singing and acting and other things just for the sake of doing them because I’m more inspired by Dice, Camera, Action and its community over the last two years than over the last many years. So how has it been streaming every week? It’s been like my bright spot. My therapy, my inspiration. I’ve done many streams that have had very good impacts on my life, but Dice, Camera, Action because of that I think has helped me learn so much about myself and improve myself in ways I didn’t expect.

Conrad: And Chris is so good at that. At finding what we react to. Finding what emotional things we’ll react to, and sometimes he’ll say things and it’s just like, “How did he know that?” It’s like a weird therapy session. You feel really called out, and you’re just like, “Oh no. How did you know?”

Robinson: Seriously, we’ll talk behind the scenes as we throw ideas back and forth or talk about how our week is going, and we’ll talk about things like, "I’m really dealing with this personally, and it’s a hard thing."

Conrad: And not tell Chris. He doesn’t know.

Robinson: And then just in the game, some NPC comes up and gives us a nice little sermon on that topic.

Conrad: Literally that happens, and we’re just like wee woo!

Robinson: So either he’s a magical being we can’t understand, but we’re thankful for him.

Conrad: And it’s different than streaming. I feel like when we play that game it’s just us. Just the five of us, and we will talk in chat and stuff, but it’s the five of us and a bunch of other people who have been through this journey with us, so it’s almost like family. They’re in chat, but they know what we’ve been through. It’s this weird camaraderie in trauma.

Robinson: Common ground that we share with so many people. When something really emotional happens in Dice, Camera, Action, I can feel a sense of having a community around me as I process those emotions, because everybody online is experiencing it too, which is really strange, because it’s a story. It’s a fantasy, but ...

Conrad: But they’re real emotions. The fear is real, 100 percent. At least for me.

That community has grown a lot with the subreddit and fan art you can see online.

Conrad: I love the fan art so much.

What was it like the first time you saw fan art coming out of all your characters?

Robinson: It’s surreal. I feel like a broken record, because I keep trying to express to someone every time they make fan art how honored and grateful I feel. I created a character, and they created back something that inspires me in return. Just as a fan of humanity, I think that’s so cool, you know what I mean? I feel very thankful, because a lot of the things I’ve learned about Evelyn or a lot of how much I love her is based in people doing that creation back. They know her just as well as I do in a lot of ways.

Conrad: Yeah, or like when I see people cosplaying Strix, that’s the pinnacle. I’m like, “Wow, someone made a costume of my character. That’s the coolest thing, and they can lay on the ground and cry if they want. That’s great.”

Robindon: We secretly have a group chat where we send all the fan art back and forth to make sure everybody sees it all, and we just love it so much.

So then, what is it like when you bring the game to conventions? You’ve played live a few times. What has it been like with the fans right there reacting?

Conrad: It’s amazing. One of our favorite games was PAX Unplugged. That was so good. We were all in costume, and that was when Chris first brought out some of the Planescape stuff. It was awesome. We’ve never played together with all of us in person ever, because Nate’s always busy touring, so we’re like, “Come on, man. I know you’re the bard, but you know.” One of these days we’ll all get together. It’s different, but the impact of the game is what happens, and how Chris weaves the story. It doesn’t even matter if we’re in person. The impact is the same.

Robinson: We get to bond in cool ways whenever we get to play a live game, too, because it’s like actually sitting next to Strix. I get to hang out with Holly, but then I also legitimately in real life get to hang out with Strix, which is really cool, and then discussing the game after that is really cool. It’s also a different experience just mechanically, and a lot of people think it’s better in person. I don’t think it’s better. It’s just really different gamewise, because when I’m playing on stream I can see everybody’s facial reactions all at once and react to those and collaborate to tell the story that way, but when you’re in real life it’s more like a human experience where I might not be looking at Diath [Jared’s character] when he reacts to something. I’m looking at Strix or I give a meaningful look to someone and they know I’m looking at them as opposed to everyone.

Conrad: That is a lot better where you can actually make eye contact with someone. That’s something that’s hard to do on stream.

Robinson: It’s interesting as a storyteller to learn how we use those pieces of communication.

Dungeons & Dragons has become a lot more popular in the last few years. What do you think of the rise of tabletop games?

Conrad: It’s interesting, because I grew up trying to play D&D everywhere, like in college, and it wasn’t as welcoming as it is now. It wasn’t as easy to find a group as it is now, especially with the rise of Roll20 and streaming and stuff like that. So many people come up to us and say they started playing because of your stream. I think that’s what’s making it more accessible. People can watch our streams and see people from all different walks of life. Everyone, anyone can play it. It’s not just one certain group of people. It’s accessible to everyone.

Robinson: And I think the D&D online streaming community specifically is the best, most welcoming online community I’ve ever been a part of.

Conrad: Yea, someone apologized to you on Twitter once.

Robinson: Yeah, someone was being kind of exclusionary about D&D on Twitter, and usually I’m all positive on Twitter, but when it comes to D&D I’m like, “Hold my dice, hold on.” So I said to them, "You can’t talk like that in this community. We need to be more welcoming." And expected them to go berserk on me, as someone does on Twitter, and say mean things, but they actually said, “Huh, I see. Now that I’ve considered it, I understand that was the wrong thing to say, and I’ll try to do better in the future. Thank you so much.” I was like, “What?”

It’s given me this ray of hope. Most of the people who are in online gaming streaming are very concerned with inclusivity and wanting to make sure everyone is welcome, because that’s why they came to D&D, to find that welcoming place to express themselves. When a community is built on that bedrock of "everyone is welcome." No one is allowed to be unwelcoming; it can develop into something that is self-policing and has these good norms. Of course, that’s not 100 percent. There are still going to be bad situations or outliers, but I feel like I feel very safe in that online community, which is a rarity and something special.

Conrad: It’s a hobby that builds empathy, and the community reflects that.

Robinson: Totally. That’s why they use D&D for therapy for a lot of kids right now too. I think we’re all finding that therapy in self-expression. The other thing I would add to that is kind of academic, in that as someone who is interested in entertainment, live-streaming, and collaborative media basically, where we’re in this strange transition between here’s traditional television, here’s live stream television on demand, and here’s media that allows you to directly interact in real time with the people you’re watching. D&D is almost another step beyond that, where not only can you live interact with these people, but you can participate in creating your favorite show, because the access that you have to the players can also inspire them and you can ask them questions about it and things like that, and sometimes even talking in chat can change the direction of the way the game is going.

Conrad: They’ll tell us sometimes, “Hey, those hit points are wrong” or something, and you’re still alive, and I’m like, “Oh sweet. I’m still alive!”

Robinson: It’s our favorite show, too, so it’s cool to think all the writers and producers and fans all get together every week to create the show in the moment and you never know how it’s going to go, which to me academically is like, "What a cool art form."

In the past in gaming and geek culture there hasn’t been a lot of representation for women and there are those stereotypes of “Oh, are you really into this?” It sounds like this community is really positive, but what has your experience been like as women streaming and playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Robinson: For me, one of the reasons why we started Misscliks D&D was because the goal was as soon as people stop coming in the chat and saying “lol girls play D&D??” then we’ll know we’ve achieved our goal. We’re almost there. We get that a lot less frequently than we did back then, and I think especially again specifically the online streaming community has helped with that. There has been some deserved criticism that there are very few women DMs.

Conrad: That’s what I’m doing in Trapped in the Birdcage. I DMed in college and it was real bad, but I’m better now.

Robinson: And there was this explosion a couple of weeks ago where a lot of us had kind of just had it, and Holly started DMing her show, and she had DMed before. I started DMing a show because I’ve been saying I wanted to for years and never had. Rachel Seeley started DMing. Satine Phoenix has been DMing forever. A whole bunch of us kind of joined Satine on the D&D channel and started doing our own shows just a couple weeks ago, because it is important to have that representation. A lot of people think being a DM is the position of power, or if there are no women DMs it shows there are no women who are good enough at D&D to be DMs or something like that. I don’t think that’s true at all. The DM is not a more important player than the players. They’re just a different role. I think it is important to show more representation of that, and I think the community has been doing a good job at that, but I also reject the criticism that has anything to do with what women should want to do with D&D.

Conrad: Yeah, we should be able to do whatever we want. I’ve been trying to join gaming groups since I was a kid. In high school, we tried to make a D&D club and it didn’t work out because our city was very conservative, and the principal called my friend into his office and asked if we would be using real blood. It was very satanic panic where I grew up, so it’s changed a lot since that. Even in college, it was kind of weird and exclusionary. I tried to join a game there and people were like, “Oh, do you have the character sheet memorized?” I was like “no” and I just went back to my room and played Neverwinter Nights like, "Oh well, I’ll just play online."

I think that’s the thing, though. With the rise of online communities and all of that, there’s more representation, because you can find people like you online that are like you and also play the game, and everyone realizes we were never alone. We got intimidated and went back to our rooms and played Neverwinter Nights instead of staying in the gaming club. Now that’s not the case anymore, because we can stream and we can do all of that, and we’re just trying to make people feel safe. I think that’s what our show does too, because we’re really emotionally vulnerable on our show and I feel like it’s us showing people this game has such an impact on you and it’s okay to be yourself on the internet.

Holly Conrad as Strix Dice, Camera, Action

Holly Conrad as Strix

What advice would you give, then, to someone who has wanted to play D&D and hasn’t yet or wants to start streaming D&D?

Robinson: There are a lot of places you can go for people who are looking for groups to play D&D. Roll20’s a really good one. Also on places like even the Dice, Camera, Action Discord.

Conrad: There are always groups playing on our Discord.

Robinson: And the other streaming shows’ Discords and subreddits as well. There’s almost always someone who if you put yourself out there and raise your hand and say, "I want to try playing, can I join a game?", most people will bring you in. I think one of the biggest challenges in modern day is getting enough people together on a regular basis in person to play D&D, and coming from someone who didn’t play in person for two and a half years, just be assured you can use technology to play and have it be a fulfilling experience. I recommend it. Then also if people are interested in playing but don’t have a DM or want to try DMing themselves, I just started using the fifth edition D&D starter set, their adventure that’s prewritten, because I wanted to see, if I’m a baby DM, where do I start and can I do this on my own, and that has been really fun, so there are even materials and prewritten adventures for people who want to just learn as they go.

Conrad: Just don’t be afraid. It’s just like any other creative endeavor. The first time's going to be hard, but every time after it’s going to get easier.

Robinson: If you can access that part of you that when you were a kid was just able to play make-believe, say you want to do cool things and see if the DM will let you, that’s all Dungeons & Dragons is. I didn’t know the rules at all when I started, and I just wanted to play make-believe and pretend and ask lots of questions, and that’s what D&D is about.

Conrad: I did a little short series on my YouTube channel about finding your table and stuff. I called it the Friendly Table, and I was like, "If you find a group and don’t mesh well with them, find another group." You need to be comfortable where you are, because, again, this is you putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is you making yourself vulnerable to people around you, and it’s awesome and it’s amazing, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do that, so you just need to find a group of people that are kind and accepting, and nowadays that’s like everyone. Everyone’s there to help you learn. Even us on Twitter, if you tweet at us and ask, "How do you play?" I’ll be like, "Here’s some resources." We want people to experience it and have fun and enjoy themselves. I don’t want people to have to be like me in college and go to the gaming club and be asked, "Is this memorized?" and just go home and play my game alone. We want people to enjoy it now, and I think they are.

Robinson: And I think if you have an experience with someone that isn’t positive or someone who is exclusionary, a lot of people feel that represents the whole community and "I shouldn’t try this anymore, I’m going to give up." We’re talking about the community in a way that’s super welcoming, and I know there are people who maybe aren’t, so if you have encountered that exclusion or feeling like you’re not welcome, just know that’s not everyone, and don’t give up.

Conrad: If you want to play, just do it.

You’re nearing the end of your third season for Dice Camera, Action. What are you looking forward to as you near the end, or what are you scared Chris is going to throw at you?

(Warning: Potential spoilers for Dice, Camera, Action ahead!)

Conrad: I’m always scared, you know that. I’m always scared. Strix is always scared. We’re just scared people.

Robinson: I’ll say I have no idea what state Evelyn is in right now, or what state she will be in at the close of the season, and having had many moments with Chris where he will take Evelyn and just throw her in a completely different direction than I thought or make her into something that I never thought she was, I’m sure he’s going to do that to me again, and I have no idea. You said what are you excited for and what are you terrified for? It’s exactly the same thing. I’m excited and terrified to find out what Strix is going to do with reuniting Evelyn with the party or not.

Conrad: Oh, Strix is going to do it. All right, that’s news to me! That’s fine. The loose ends are what scare me. Every time after the show, we’ll be like, “Haha, we thought Strahd was bad” and Chris will be like, “Oh he’s still bad,” and we’re like, “What?” You don’t see these subtle things at the end of the episode when we go offline and we’re like, "Wait, what?" I know we have a lot of loose ends to tie up, and the whole thing I’m always concerned with is the mercy killer thing, because I love Planecsape, but that’s going to come and bite us in the ass. I’m just waiting for that to come and ruin our lives, and Evelyn’s dead, so we don’t have any way of fighting anything at all.

The one thing that Chris does which is always scary is he’ll do things to make our destinies out of our control with our characters. For example, Evelyn becoming a construct or Strix having this family. I let him run with that, and so it’s like we have no control over these destinies of our characters, and I know he’s such an amazing storyteller that it’s going to blow my mind when he comes up with whatever is going to happen.

Robinson: I also have no idea how Evelyn is going to deal with what she’s being presented with right now. The fact that she is now in heaven. This has been her life goal to get there and be in the presence of Lathander, and that’s all she’s ever wanted, but she’s also being told that’s not all you have to want. Do you want anything else? I usually know how Evelyn’s going to react to any given situation, but she’s changing right now, and this is a huge milestone in her life, in her personal emotional development, and so I have no idea.

Conrad: The saint asked, "What do you want?" and she didn’t know.

Robinson: I know.

Conrad: That’s a hard question.

Robinson: I’m trying to figure out whether she has undergone a huge change in her personality or whether she will stay constant and whether that’s a choice or a failing. I think I’m really confused in a really cool way, and that’s always exciting, like Holly said, where Chris is such a good storyteller that I know he’ll give me opportunities to figure that out live in real time. Sometimes I spend tons of time writing and figuring out Evelyn’s thoughts. Right now, I’m not doing much of that, because I can’t wait to find out what Evelyn thinks when I’m there live.

Conrad: And how Strix will react too. I’ll think a lot about what she’s going to do, but sometimes she’ll do the total opposite of what Holly thinks Strix is going to do in the moment, and it’s interesting. It will be totally different. I feel like we also challenge each other as characters, too, because Strix, I feel like, is nervous, because Paultin [Nate’s character] has shown this magical ability that he’s very good at casting and being almost more powerful than Strix. Strix is feeling really insecure about that, because she wanted to protect her party, and she let Evelyn die, and so she thinks that’s her fault, and Paultin saved the day and killed the monster. She’s in this state right now like she ruins everything, everyone dies, and she’s not even good at magic anymore. So that’s going to be an interesting next season or at the end of this season, how she’s going to think of that, and how Evelyn comes back, if she comes back at all.

Robinson: It’s really funny to talk about our characters, because we talk about them as if they’re real people that we’re just kind of hearing from, and that’s kind of how we’ve come to perceive them. When we’re in game a lot of the times, like Holly said, they make decisions we didn’t expect, like I don’t know why Evelyn’s doing this, but she’s about to do it, and people kind of, maybe if they haven’t played D&D that sounds really weird.

Conrad: But it’s not. It’s what you experience.

Robinson: And especially having that huge community around us that help bring them to life as well, I think they’ve become very real to us. I will also say as far as what we’re excited for the next season, we know we’re going to a new place that’s unlike where we’ve been before, and some of the themes I think will be new and exciting.

Conrad: It’s going to be different, and I’m very excited. I don’t think Strix is going to be very good at it at all. It’s going to be very fish-out-of-water for Strix.

The season three finale of Dice, Camera, Action will air on the Dungeons & Dragons Twitch channel Tuesday at 4 p.m. PT.