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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The Escapist: This is where I was going with by asking if Fallen Lands is going to be a setting, because they later expanded Karameikos into the Mystara Known World campaign setting. I was wondering if you guys were going to start building on the Nentir Vale and turn it into its own world. I really like the notion of an implied setting that you can plug and play anywhere.

Mike Mearls: There's a board game we have coming out next year - it's sort of an Axis & Allies wargame that's set in that world. With that world, we'll keep using it as a background world and we'll judge if there's interest there and if people want to see more. It's like how Mystara involved from Karameikos, where we saw people were asking us about this world and we could probably expand it out more.

The Escapist: Let's say I'm a third party and I want to work with Wizards to support Essentials. From what I've talked to, there've been some challenges because so much of the game has had this online technology element to it of creating characters and things that it is hard to integrate with. Reaching out to the game developers, because we have a lot that read The Escapist, how could they best support 4th Edition Essentials?

Mike Mearls: If I was thinking "well, what do I want to do as a third party publisher?" I think I'd look at adventures. Right now, with the online tools, it's very hard to get traction with a new Feat or a new character class because the tools are so easy, they're so convenient, it just becomes the default for the hardcore player. The trick is - if you're a third party trying to sell at a game store, you're really looking for a hardcore player, someone who's a little bit more invested. One thing you see is, with Adventures, I think there's space out there for people to start doing really interesting things.

The advice I'd give is to really look a different type of experience. If you look at some of the classic D&D adventures - an adventure like Ravenloft had this very different atmosphere and a very different feel to it. Or even just something with the scope of the old DG series and Against the Giants, which is this really grand campaign and it was epic.

One of the things I like is what Paizo does with Pathfinder, is they have these adventures about Path that are very identifiable. You can say "Okay, this is the adventure path where...." and it's almost like a Hollywood pitch, you get it right off the top of the bat, you immediately know what is interesting about this adventure series. I think that's something that we had early on in 3rd Edition with d20 when you look back at the Freeport series with Green Ronin. That had a very distinct feel to it, like pirates and this Cthulhu feel - it had a very distinctive feel that people latched onto and even today people still play in that setting. That's really the challenge.

If you look at what happened with d20 as time went on - I was talking about this just a couple days ago with Monte - when he did Arcana Unearthed, he basically took the core D&D rules and added a new set of races and a new set of classes and a setting that went along with it. That really took off. I worked with Monte, so I knew the sales, though I can't say them directly, but that proved really popular. I kept waiting for other people to step in and do something like that and it never happened. You never really saw someone try to copy that formula. Obviously, like you said, with the character builder, it's a hard sell to make new characters, new races and new powers, but I still think you could build a really interesting setting, like the Iron Kingdoms that Privateer Press had, that had a very distinct feel. It was very vivid. That's what the third party area is missing right now. You don't see that distinct, new, exciting setting.

The Escapist: If someone did come to you guys with something like that, would you open up some of the online tools for third parties to interface with?

Mike Mearls: It's really tricky. I can't say for sure. There's a digital division. I think the issue is just once you bring someone from outside, I'm sure there's all sorts of complications for how it's coded and how long does it take. One of the things we do internally - if we have a book that has new feats in it, they just have to make sure the programming side, that it's all interacting correctly with everything else. It's a case where there is overhead there, so it isn't just as simple as saying "hey, here's our book. Scan it and sell it as a pdf." It would have to be an investment on our end, and that's where things get tricky. And we already have a backlog of work that we're doing just integrating our own material.

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