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

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

The Escapist goes deep on the realities and secrets behind the launch of the new Dungeons & Dragons.

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Thanks for the interview, Jon; it definitely gave me some things to think about.

1. Part of the thing with setting the PHB in stone, then moving on to other things, is that it leaves one wondering about how things will be divided. In their given example, I'd imagine that they would want to set how invisibility works in stone, then decide, "OK, so this class and that class can have access to the spell, and this creature and that one can use it as well, because we know how the spell works. Meanwhile, we know X and Y need another ability that allows them to stay hidden, but also attack while maintaining that concealment, so we need something else for them."

2.

. 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.

I wish you'd pressed him harder on this section about the MM, Jon. They promise a lot about providing the 'iconic monsters', but they always rattle off the same list of 'Beholder, Mind Flayer, Dragon'. What do they mean by that? Will there just be rules for one dragon in the basic set, will they do all the chromatics and save the metallics for the MM? Will the Mind Flayers be presented alongside the Aboleth, Elder Brains, and other 'iconic' abberations, or will they be all alone in the basic set (which leaves them both without part of their society, and sticking out if they are the only ones using psionic powers)?

Similarly, I remember an interesting post they made months back about how 'legendary monsters' would be tied with their lair; I think a black dragon was the example. Will the basic rules cover these situations, as I assume there will be at least one legendary monster incorporated there if they are going with the Tyranny of Dragons theme, or will there be a cut-rate dragon to which I'll have to add the legendary template to once I have the MM?

3.

We have a lot of information to draw from. Its been fourteen years since 3rd Edition came out.

And 7 Years since 4th Edition came out, but I guess we're keeping that locked in the attic. No discussion value here, but given how much effort they put into courting new players with 4th, I'm insulted they prefer to skip over what brought them in and act like nothing has happened in a decade and a half.

4.

Mearls: I don't want to go into too much detail because a lot of things are up in the air, but I will say that when 3rd Edition launched in 2000 there was this land rush mentality, and I think it makes sense from a business perspective. If you're a third party publisher you want to make sure you're the first to the market. Well, in their rush, you end up with people designing their adventure without the DMG. I was one of those guys. We want all the resources available, we want all the materials available, we want people to have been playing the game. We also want the audience to be informed.

Then why not make it available? Mearls clearly knows that delaying the DMG won't stop people from writing their own rules and adventures; instead, they'll do it with an incomplete knowledge of the game. WotC is fighting an uphill battle already against RPG players who love to mod things, powered by an internet culture that makes sharing trivial. If they want to reap profits from people and companies, they need something out there NOW; even a basic disclaimer like Apocalypse World has, where it encourages people to hack it for free, but to include the source they are hacking, and instructions to call Lumpley if they want to monetize.

In 6 months to a year, when WotC finishes their 'assessment', there will already be enough mods and adventures being shared and probably sold that no one will give a damn about the regulations (and there will undoubtedly be modules for mass combat and other things in the DMG that people prefer to the official versions, because they had to write them while waiting for WotC's version), and WotC will seem like the bad guys coming in to ruin their fun with their dumb restrictions.

5.

Mearls: We can't say anything there yet. But I will say that whenever there's an example in the DMG we used The Realms, and there's enough information there if people want to get started with a Realms campaign.

NOPE. Please tell me that WotC uses more than one example in that case. What's the point of having 30 years of history and half a dozen settings if all you tell new players about is the Realms, while the experienced players see nothing relating to the other settings and decide it's not worth it to play 5E when they aren't worth a nod in the fricken' DMG, and still have all the previous edition stuff for the non-Realms settings?

Honestly, as Mearls says, the Realms is a melting pot of everything from every corner of D&D, a choice that as far as I can tell was done solely to cram as much as possible into one setting. This leads to a weird beige effect, where nothing stands out; armies of magic golems from Renaissance-esque cities on the Sword Coast meet faux-medieval Egyptian and pseudo-Bronze Age Celts and nobody bats an eye. TELL THE PLAYERS about why warforged are a big deal in Eberron, or what the difference is between Realms vampires and Strahd in Ravenloft. The Realms is not so iconic that people will be happy with it alone, and not mentioning the other settings in the basic books (Mearls dodged the question about other setting books, so I assume they are at least a year out) will be seen as a slight.

I am cautiously hopeful, yet the "factions" thing smacks to me of Alliance and Horde in WoW, and I am really not into that. Even if it's, say, Harpers/Zhentarim or whatever, it feels tacked on. Why have factions at all? It feels... limiting to me. Maybe my character is faction-averse and just wants to be on her own.

LadyRhian:
I am cautiously hopeful, yet the "factions" thing smacks to me of Alliance and Horde in WoW, and I am really not into that. Even if it's, say, Harpers/Zhentarim or whatever, it feels tacked on. Why have factions at all? It feels... limiting to me. Maybe my character is faction-averse and just wants to be on her own.

If she wants to be on her own, then the organized play system probably isn't for that character. As far as I can tell, the players are going to be acting as agents of higher powers (probably F&*^ing Elminster is one of them) to thwart Tiamat. If you want a game where your character does all of it by themselves, that's a home game. If you want to be part of organized play, the character you bring to that has to have some reason to work with people other than her immediate party.

I can see the validity of the complaint (after all, freedom of action is the main draw of RPGs), but it's more of a logistical thing for WotC to keep all the various groups connected to one another. I don't know if you've done organized play before, but it's much easier to have benchmarks (OK, survey says most groups allied with faction X, killed person Y and negotiated Z, which means that is now canon for the next module) then to try and wrangle a few hundred different interpretations. To me, it's the same as telling the players "OK, this is a political mystery sort of game, so bring characters who are interested in that." Thog the half-orc barbarian, who only cares about ale, whores, and the mythical ale-whore, just isn't right for that campaign, no matter how fun he is to play; that's a character that needs to be benched for the good of the table.

Thunderous Cacophony:

2.

. 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.

I wish you'd pressed him harder on this section about the MM, Jon.

I pushed for as much as I could on the monster manual, but didn't get what I wanted. I will try to get answers to your questions here - but probably not until Gen Con when we've seen the PHB/Basic D&D/Starter Set.

Thunderous Cacophony:

3.

We have a lot of information to draw from. Its been fourteen years since 3rd Edition came out.

And 7 Years since 4th Edition came out, but I guess we're keeping that locked in the attic. No discussion value here, but given how much effort they put into courting new players with 4th, I'm insulted they prefer to skip over what brought them in and act like nothing has happened in a decade and a half.

I feel you've taken that a bit out of context. The way Mike said this was with much more emphasis on the sheer length of time Wizards of the Coast has been in charge of D&D and keeping record of player feedback and desires. That includes the 4th Edition period.

Thunderous Cacophony:

LadyRhian:
I am cautiously hopeful, yet the "factions" thing smacks to me of Alliance and Horde in WoW, and I am really not into that. Even if it's, say, Harpers/Zhentarim or whatever, it feels tacked on. Why have factions at all? It feels... limiting to me. Maybe my character is faction-averse and just wants to be on her own.

If she wants to be on her own, then the organized play system probably isn't for that character. As far as I can tell, the players are going to be acting as agents of higher powers (probably F&*^ing Elminster is one of them) to thwart Tiamat. If you want a game where your character does all of it by themselves, that's a home game. If you want to be part of organized play, the character you bring to that has to have some reason to work with people other than her immediate party.

I can see the validity of the complaint (after all, freedom of action is the main draw of RPGs), but it's more of a logistical thing for WotC to keep all the various groups connected to one another. I don't know if you've done organized play before, but it's much easier to have benchmarks (OK, survey says most groups allied with faction X, killed person Y and negotiated Z, which means that is now canon for the next module) then to try and wrangle a few hundred different interpretations. To me, it's the same as telling the players "OK, this is a political mystery sort of game, so bring characters who are interested in that." Thog the half-orc barbarian, who only cares about ale, whores, and the mythical ale-whore, just isn't right for that campaign, no matter how fun he is to play; that's a character that needs to be benched for the good of the table.

All I can say is that D&D is becoming the pen and paper version of an MMO, or so it seems. And that just feels... not right.

Great info here Jon, thank you!

I am excited for the revised Organized Play system as one of a team of Encounters DMs for a group of about 30 players. Factions should be interesting to integrate, though I don't believe they are mandatory.

Harpers, Lord's Alliance, Emerald Enclave, Zhents, and Order of the Gauntlet will be the Factions.

All of these groups are aligning to square off against the Cult of the Dragon and a faction of the Red Wizards.

I do not foresee much PvP due to Factions (unlike the past season of D&D Encounters where all the PCs were playing Evil Drow or Drow minions) though I am very interested to see how each is positioned relative to the other.

Jon, you got some great info on OP that I hadn't heard yet, very helpful info!

JonB:
I pushed for as much as I could on the monster manual, but didn't get what I wanted. I will try to get answers to your questions here - but probably not until Gen Con when we've seen the PHB/Basic D&D/Starter Set.

Thank you for that, I know that WotC has become very good at saying much and meaning little, but I'm really enjoying the increased tabletop content on the Escapist, and I hope you do get the opportunity to follow up.

I feel you've taken that a bit out of context. The way Mike said this was with much more emphasis on the sheer length of time Wizards of the Coast has been in charge of D&D and keeping record of player feedback and desires. That includes the 4th Edition period.

Yeah, in hindsight that was probably unfair of me to say. Too much time on the Wizards boards getting my panties in a twist.

LadyRhian:

All I can say is that D&D is becoming the pen and paper version of an MMO, or so it seems. And that just feels... not right.

Is this because of the Factions in Tyranny of Dragons? Because that's something TSR-era D&D did way back in 2nd edition with the Planescape modules.

As long as D&D is run by a human DM who is capable of independent thought and common sense, the game will never, ever, ever become a pen & paper MMO.

Thunderous Cacophony:

JonB:
I pushed for as much as I could on the monster manual, but didn't get what I wanted. I will try to get answers to your questions here - but probably not until Gen Con when we've seen the PHB/Basic D&D/Starter Set.

Thank you for that, I know that WotC has become very good at saying much and meaning little, but I'm really enjoying the increased tabletop content on the Escapist, and I hope you do get the opportunity to follow up.

I feel you've taken that a bit out of context. The way Mike said this was with much more emphasis on the sheer length of time Wizards of the Coast has been in charge of D&D and keeping record of player feedback and desires. That includes the 4th Edition period.

Yeah, in hindsight that was probably unfair of me to say. Too much time on the Wizards boards getting my panties in a twist.

I appreciate your reading it and commenting! It means a lot to me that people care.

And the Wizards boards are a den of madness, enough to drive the stoutest of men mad.

 

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