Celebrities! Sometimes, they’re just like us. They get jury duty, they endure long waits at the dentist, and they enjoy off-beat hobbies. Actor Joe Manganiello, best known for his roles on HBO’s True Blood and the Magic Mike films, is a well-known fiend for Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop roleplaying fantasy game published by Wizards of the Coast.
In the new adventure Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, out in stores September 17, Manganiello’s character Arkhan the Cruel — a dragonborn paladin he made famous on D&D shows like Critical Role and Force Grey — appears as a non-playable character in Descent Into Avernus. Players have the freedom of teaming up with (or fighting) Arkhan, based on wherever their imaginations for the campaign takes them.
Dungeons & Dragons Writer and Game Designer, Adam Lee, tells Inverse that there was “good reason” for including Manganiello’s Arkhan the Cruel.
“Every now and then in the community, something will catch fire,” Lee says. “We’re always looking for things that bring delight to fans. In this case, it was Joe, who had created this character. This dragonborn, oathbreaker paladin.”
But including a celebrity’s D&D character into something players can interact with isn’t a gimmick for Descent Into Avernus. Lee explains that Arkhan’s inclusion to the adventure is justified for story reasons.
“The story worked,” Lee says, “If there wasn’t a reason Arkhan wouldn’t be in the story, then we wouldn’t do it. But there was a good reason for him to be in this thing. His character serves a purpose to the story that makes sense and is believable, exciting, and cool. We don’t do it for the heck of it.”
“To get to collaborate and tell a story in this medium that was instrumental in my development as a storyteller, to be able to moonlight just for a brief period of time the job I wish I had was amazing,” Manganiello told Inverse earlier this summer at D&D Live. “I put everything I had in it.”
Manganiello, who credits D&D with fostering his creativity at an early age, created Arkhan purely for himself for his own private games of Dungeons & Dragons. But when Matthew Mercer, host and Dungeon Master for Critical Role, invited Manganiello to appear on the livestream in 2017, the actor brought Arkhan with him. Arkhan made his public D&D debut played by Manganiello in Critical Role Episode 113.
“That character existed before we thought of this book. And when I had this idea, we do this descent into hell, it [came] naturally. It’s Avernus, Arkhan is in Avernus. Why not put him in there?”
Fan creations becoming official canon isn’t new to Dungeons & Dragons. As far back as the game’s earliest days, creator Gary Gygax implemented many of his close friends’ ideas, often naming official game spells and other elements after their characters.
Manganiello also contributed other ideas to Descent Into Avernus, including two other major characters who appear with Arkhan: Krull, a lawful evil cleric and Tortle (humanoid turtle), and Torogar Steelfist, a minotaur whom Manganiello also created and played for the 2018 livestream event, Stream of Many Eyes.
Lee says the inclusion of Arkhan is a “thank you” for super fans like Manganiello, whose ceaseless hype for Dungeons & Dragons on social media and late-night TV is almost a sight to behold.
“When we have super fans like Joe, we like to say, hey, thanks for all your creative input. Thanks for being passionate. It was this nexus of all things coming together. It was fun working with Joe. He loves characters and he loves to create stories. It all worked out.”
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus will be released on September 17.