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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Mike Mearls: That's definitely part of it. In any area, you're influenced by what you've done before and I definitely started with the J. Eric Holmes box set.

The Escapist: The old light blue book.

Mike Mearls: It really influenced how I look at the game, because that set was really all about the pastiche quality of D&D. There's one passage where he talks about how your hero might say things in character like "by Crom to Great Cthulhu", just some of the ideas you've always had of this fantasy mash-up, everything from Lord of the Rings to H.P. Lovecraft to Robert Howard to more modern influences as they come in. That's always been part of D&D.

From my personal design aesthetic, I really think it's important to have the core of D&D as the foundation that people walk into. That's why in the Red Box there's elves, dwarves, halflings, it's the classic classes, the classic races. In some ways, there's a definite influence there that says "what is the core of D&D and why did people like it in the original?" - when you first encountered it, whether it was five years ago or 20 years ago.

I think you have to keep that in mind when you're moving forward, because it's easy to look at your own personal interactions with D&D - because obviously the way I play now has changed over the years - you always have to remember why people got into the game in the first place. You can't get so caught up in everything that has happened over the past 30 something years. Let that drive the entry point into the front end of the game. You can do the weirder stuff, but I think you need to do that for the experienced players, especially for beginning players, or players who just like that core D&D. If you look at the Fighter and the way he works in Essentials, we removed the Daily power skills to get more of a sense that "look, fighters and wizards should look really different," because that's how D&D originally approached it. I remember playing the Wizard way back in basic D&D, you had one spell and you had four hit points if you were lucky and you needed the Fighter to protect you. That's a much different playing experience than when you are playing the Fighter, where you're in the front line, you're taking all the risks, you're charging into combat. The game you played was different. You were playing the same game, but within that game, you had a much different experience.

The way I like to design things - especially in RPGs - is all about that feeling of - I kind of want to say it's like the interface. When you approach the game, you're approaching it the way your character would. You're thinking like a Fighter, you're thinking like a Wizard. There's subtle differences there, but they're very important for a game to come to life in someone's mind. It's an analog game, it's a tabletop game. If you just feel like "well, this just feels like I'm pushing a figure around a battle mat," you missed a very important element of D&D, that immersive quality of feeling like "I am in the Temple of Elemental Evil," on some level, I understand the environment, I understand what's going on, I'm immersed in this world. It's like going through the wardrobe to Narnia. Even if it's just in your mind, you're still there.

The Escapist: That's a really interesting point, and it seems a little bit different from the design philosophy from last time when I chatted with Andy Collins, just prior to the release of - maybe a year ago - so it was prior to the time you guys started working on the Red Box. At the time, I was like "Why the focus on Tiefling and Dragonborn and why do all the character classes play the same?" As an old school player, that was one of the biggest shocks to me, I felt like when I played a Fighter and I played a Wizard in 4E, they felt much more similar than they used to. Is Red Box going to be - is that the beginning of a change and trend - is Essentials going to follow through with that and it's going to be more of a focus on the Classic feel, or is it just because it's focused on new players and once you get more into the Essentials line, the classes will start to feel more similar and it will have that more esoteric feel.

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