The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

Alexander Macris | 16 Sep 2010 19:00
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I certainly have no vested interest in seeing RPGs die. I haven't written an entire column on the how to be a gamemaster because I want RPGs to fail. But I do have serious concerns about the future of this hobby that I love. I have not seen evidence - in the form of press releases, announced sales figures, or retail shelf space - that D&D 4th Edition is doing as well as 3rd Edition or Magic: The Gathering once did. And what I have heard from friends and colleagues who work at games retail or in game design has indicated that they do not see Fourth Edition selling as well as they'd like. That concerns me because D&D is the flagship for the entire tabletop RPG industry. If it sinks, it's likely everything will sink. So, when faced with an opportunity to sit down with the mastermind in charge of the game, of course I asked "Is it true the ship sinking? What are you doing to prevent it sinking?" Not because I want it to sink, but because I'm worried it will sink. Nothing would make me happier than for Wizards to announce that Fourth Edition is breaking all prior sales records.

And, finally, on to (a): My grinding axe. Let's have no confusion here. If you believe that the fact I'm a "grognard" who has played D&D for 29 years disqualifies me from having a valid opinion about the future of D&D, then you shouldn't read my work. I do have opinions, and in my editorial writing, I share them.

What was my opinion here? Well, the context of this interview is that Wizards of the Coast is releasing a new D&D Red Box. The release of that Red Box led us to publish an entire issue of The Escapist about the importance of the Red Box phenomenon. And that new Red Box is using the same brand name, logo design, box design, and artwork of a 1983 game. It's hard to look at the new Red Box and not conclude that it is aimed at people who liked the 1983 Red Box, telling them they'll like this too. Now, if it looks like the D&D Red Box, but isn't in any way similar to the old D&D Red Box, that would be pretty foul marketing, wouldn't it? Therefore, the central question of our interview was: "Will people who liked how the 1983 Red Box played also like this game?" Mearls' answer was affirmative: Yes, they will. In fact he seemed very happy to share how he had recaptured that classic D&D feel within the new mechanics. Which led me to ask how they had responded to criticisms that 4E was lacking characteristics of classic D&D, such as the core races being emphasized, or the different classes playing differently. And that was the majority of what we talked about. I personally found Mearls' answers uplifting. The interview led me to consider whether I should try running a Red Box campaign - that is, Mearls persuaded me. The parts of the interview I found most persuasive were the parts I included in the article. I can't write from someone else's point of view - I wrote from my own.

How much of the upset caused by this interview has been generated among people who hate classic D&D, I don't know, but certainly, if you hate classic D&D, I can see being upset at Wizards wanting to bring back some classic D&D flavor. This is why I empathize with Mike Mearls. He's in a tough situation, as the audience he needs to please is diverse and antagonistic.

And that's enough of my point of view. Here's the full interview. Go read it now. Don't make me roll for initiative ...

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