Inside the Launch of the New Dungeons & Dragons With Designer Mike Mearls

Jonathan Bolding | 3 Jun 2014 01:30
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Player's Handbook

Bolding: Will that first adventure book be intended to teach everyone how to play the new game, and how a campaign should be structured? Or will that be more for the basic set?

Mearls: I think it's more in the basic set and the DMG. One of the challenges we had with Tyranny of Dragons - and this is why it was great to work with Kobold Press - is that there were areas where we leaned on their [Kobold Press'] ability to build the adventures for the system as we were designing it. Tyranny has a structure that I think is great. It doesn't quite have the same level of tie-in content as, say, the starter set. It'll be for slightly more advanced players. They're buying this adventure to kick off their campaign, they're a little more experienced and don't need as much hand-holding.

Bolding: We know that the four core classes and four core races will be in Basic D&D, what else will end up being in the Player's Handbook?

Mearls: For classes, I think everything that showed up in the public playtest at one point or another. We've got the four core [Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard], the Monk, Ranger, Paladin, Barbarian, then we have Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, and the... now I'm forgetting one, and I always forget one. Oh, the Druid!

For races, it's basically 3rd Edition plus 4th Edition. Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling from the basic set. Then Half-Orc, Half-Elf, Gnome, Tiefling, and Dragonborn. And for Elves, since in the game when you pick a race you also pick a subtype, there's also Drow in the Player's Handbook.

Bolding: How many variants on each of those is presented in the Player's Handbook?

Mearls: I think most of the races have two choices, and then the classes it's a bigger range. We designed ones that felt like the most iconic characters, but say Cleric and Wizard have a lot more. Wizard for example is driven by the schools of magic. Fighter is a funny one because there are three or four options, but one opens up a huge set of maneuvers you can choose from, so it's only one fighter option but from within it you can build lots of different fighters.

Bolding: So in that way building a fighter is going to feel a lot like 3rd Edition where you're looking at being able to expand in a lot of directions?

Mearls: That's driven by the option you take, because there's also each class with a fairly simple track designed for Basic D&D.

Bolding: Will the core classes from Basic D&D be present exactly the same in the Player's Handbook?

Mearls: Yes.

Bolding: So those are very approachable for new players?

Mearls: Exactly. They're the ones where if you've heard about D&D or played another fantasy game they fit the stereotype of the class. The cleric is the healer archetype, the wizard is the blasting wizard, stuff like that.

Monster Manual

Bolding: Let's talk about the Monster Manual. I know it's not necessarily in final development right now because it's the second of the three. We know what you're looking at doing in the basic set, but what range of monsters can we expect in the Monster Manual? Are you looking at a low to mid range like in Third and Fourth [Edition] and then presenting more higher level monsters in later books?

Mearls: The spread probably looks a lot like what we had in the past during the 3rd or 4th Edition Monster Manuals. One of the nice things we tried to design the game around is that you don't have to use only monsters that are comparable in power to the characters. So things like Orcs and Ogres are still viable threats at higher levels: You just fight more of them. So we didn't have to go and invent higher level monsters. We just had to go and provide the iconic list. And most people play D&D at low levels, and there aren't as many iconic D&D monsters at higher levels. The real focus was also on getting the classic critters - the Beholder, the Mind Flayer. So it's focused on the low levels, but the higher level monsters are the classic critters.

Bolding: Is it going to be purely a monster book, or will there be sets of rules in it? For example, in 3rd Edition there were lots of rules in the Monster Manual that simply didn't ever apply to players. Is more of that information going to be naturally incorporated into stat blocks?

Mearls: It's a mix. So you have things like legendary monsters, which are a special category of creature that is very powerful - their rules show up in the Monster Manual. The idea was that we wanted to make sure that if you didn't own the DMG you could use everything in the Monster Manual. Because with Basic D&D we kind expect you might not own all three core rulebooks.

So in the [Monster Manual] there aren't too many hard and fast general rules. There's stuff like legendary monsters that are general concepts that creatures use, and we wouldn't want to add that to every stat block because it's either big or once you've learned it once you're just using it again and again. We tried whenever possible that within the stat block we give you everything you need to run the monster. So when you're referring to it you don't have to do much flipping back and forth. There are some spells for monsters, but we tried to make those fairly straightforward spells like fireball that you wouldn't necessarily have to check the Player's Handbook or basic D&D to use.

Whenever possible though we tried to give creatures unique abilities. When you look back at 3rd Edition it tried to default to spells. I don't want to say we're doing the opposite, but when it's a unique ability it's faster for us to say "This creature can hurl an area attack that is a burst of fire" instead of saying "This creature can cast fireball." So for instance the Beholder has eye rays, and it says "Here's what happens when when it zots you with its eye rays now make a save" instead of referring to a spell. We tried to use spells only when it's clear that the monster is a spellcaster - like here's an NPC Wizard. There's an appendix on quick-building NPCs. Those creatures will typically use spells. There's a sample acolyte - a divine spellcaster - with a few quick spells.

Bolding: That feels like more of an 80s Basic D&D approach, with each creature having its own special abilities.

Mearls: Yeah. We also want to make sure that we're not using spells as something abstract. If something is casting fireball we want to be clear that it's actually casting the spell fireball.

Bolding: But if it throws blasts of hellfire that's going to be something different?

Mearls: Yeah.

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