Since its release in 2008, Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition has come under a lot of fire from seasoned D&D players who dislike many of the changes the new edition has made to the three-decades-old rules set. Yet others have defended D&D 4e as a necessary re-invention to keep an old game up to pace with current times, and one of the designers has claimed D&D 4e is better for classic gaming than its immediate predecessor, D&D 3.5. The Escapist was excited to sit down with Andy Collins and Liz Schuh from Wizards of the Coast to talk about the real strategy behind Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Andy Collins manages the design and development of 4th edition and was also on the team for 3.5, while Liz Schuh is WoTC’s brand director and oversees all D&D products from novels to games and miniatures.
On The Escapist side of the table is Publisher and old-school D&D aficionado Alexander Macris, along with Games Editor Greg Tito.
Here follows Part Two of our Exclusive Interview, wherein we discover what’s in 4th edition for old school gamers and what Wizards’ really thinks about Pathfinder. For Part One of our interview, click here.
GT: A lot of old school players have a really strong affinity for the world of Greyhawk. Can you talk a little about the decision to move from Greyhawk to living Forgotten Realms?
AC: We wanted to try something new. The living Greyhawk, there’s nothing wrong with it, it had a great run, it was a very successful program. But we felt it was a good time to showcase a different part of the D&D portfolio, to give people a little different experience rather than continuing to run people through same-old-same-old. Dungeons and Dragons has an awful lot of compelling worlds out there. We can feature all of them, fully, at the same time so instead we think it’s more advantageous for us to pick and choose the time for those. Greyhawk isn’t in circulation right now but it’s not gone anywhere, we’ve still got it.
AM: There’s been this return to classic D&D in the blogosphere. Do you guys see the old school renaissance as a good or bad thing for 4th edition D&D?
AC: I think anything that has people thinking about D&D, talking about D&D, playing D&D is a good thing. There are an awful lot of those old school experiments that lead to, “Well how would I do this with the new rule set? Or how would I use the new character archetypes in these older adventures?” I know that I ran a whole 4th edition playtest that lasted 6 or 8 months with my home group and all I did was pillage 1st and 2nd edition adventures.
AM: I pillage old adventures all the time.
AC: Great stories are great stories no matter what the names of the classes of the characters are that are adventuring or what rules are supporting them. Tomb of Horrors doesn’t suddenly become a bad adventure just because the basic rule set has changed around. It’s still a compelling story – at least for the DM, some of the players may differ.
AM: So it sounds like you are planning some products aimed at the old school gamer.
AC: We’ve got a Tomb of Horrors superadventure coming out this summer as well, last year when we kicked off the DM rewards programs through the RPGA, the first product we sent out to everyone who signed up was a revamp of the Village of Hommlet. We are those people, too, so we get that those are immortal stories. They remind us of when D&D was all we thought about, and then that changed for some of us.
AM: Why not toss some of those classic products back into print, or do an on-demand? It strikes a lot of us as kind of odd that people are paying for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizards when with one swoop you could capture that money just by selling D&D Mentzer.
LS: You know, I think that things like print-on-demand are really coming into their own and it’s certainly something that we’re exploring and looking at. We don’t have any specific plans that we’re announcing yet, but it’s certainly something that we’re looking at.
AC: We’re not unaware. We do move slowly at times, but I like to think that the end result is that we’re happier with the decisions we make.
AM: The stereotype of the 3rd edition buyer was the teenager from the 1st and 2nd edition who returned with money to spend and just bought a ton of books. Who is the 4th edition buyer? Who do people think the 4th edition buyer is and who is he actually?
LS: I think we see a pretty wide range of buyers. We see some of the people who you’re describing, who have aged through the editions, but we are also seeing new players coming to the game, a lot of them from MMOGs. We see some of that conversion from digital gamers who run through what MMOGs have to offer and they’re looking for something more.
But we’ve also got a new line of what we’re calling Dungeons and Dragons Essentials coming out this fall. Those products are really geared towards the new player. They’re a series of smaller books, soft cover, lower price point, and boxed products, because we really want to give people an easier entry point to the game and complete experiences in a single box. The Red Box actually kicks off those Essentials. The Red Box, being true to the original Red Box, is a complete game experience in a single purchase. That’s going to be $19.99, and that’s a great way to get a group going and to experience D&D for the first time.
But after that, in that first game, a sorting process occurs where people kind of determine, “I either want to be a player, or I want to be the Dungeon Master.” And we’ve got products for each of those halves. For players we have two Players Essentials books, which really give the most iconic races and classes and all of the skills and feats and play a great character. If you want to be a DM, if you want to run the game, we have something called a Dungeon Master’s Kit, and that’s everything the DM needs to run the game. And we’ve never put everything you need to run a game in a single box before, so it’s a great way for the new DM to really get going and have everything that he or she needs.
AM: Throughout D&D 3rd edition, Wizards operated under the Open Gaming License which allowed third party to re-purpose and re-design your rules, with little limitation. Do you think the OGL was a good or a bad thing for Wizards and for D&D?
AC: I think it was a little of both. I think it’s hard to describe anything as one or the other. I think it was ultimately very good for acceptance of the game early on because it meant that content could be created very quickly, more quickly than we could. It got a lot of very smart people thinking about, “How would I do this in D&D?” We learned from that, heck, we hired some of those people. The current D&D lead designer, Mike Mearls, cut his teeth doing D&D products for other companies. That’s where he figured out how to write good stuff and we noticed it and said, “Hey, why don’t you come work for us.”
So it very quickly built a large and strong following of D&D players who were speaking the same language as each other – what had been a pretty fragmented audience. At the end of 2nd edition, even ignoring the fact that the game and TSR as a company were atrophying pretty badly, you couldn’t have lined up five different people who were playing the game and… they weren’t even playing the same game anymore. There were so many house rules built on top of the game, so many different styles of play that people had adapted, that even two different D&D players weren’t playing the same game anymore. I think the OGL for 3rd edition helped bring people back together under one tent.
AM: What was the bad? In other words, why not stick with OGL for 4th edition? Because obviously when the Game System License was announced for 4th edition, it was fraught with controversy. Why did you make the changes you made?
LS: With the new edition we felt it was time to revise the license as well, so that’s why we decided to go forward with the revised license.
AM: Is that a polite way of saying you don’t want to get into this?
AC: The times changes, legal opinions change, legal staffs change, the realities of doing business – the world in 2000 was different than the world in 2008. As you pointed out, digital piracy is a bigger issue, protection of intellectual property and trademarks has gotten trickier. We wanted to make sure we were making a decision that was good for gamers, but was also good for Wizards of the Coast and good for the long term survival of Dungeons and Dragons. We’re in this for the long haul, we don’t want to just make a few bucks and retire to an island somewhere, because none of us make that much money. We’re doing it because we love it.
GT: Did you feel that the OGL allowed too much profit to be made by 3rd parties?
AM: Or that fragmentation was resulting? Because initially it seems like it got everyone onto the same page, but then it started to fragment into, “Oh well I play True20. Oh, that’s totally different, I play Swords and Sorcery.”
AC: No, that didn’t really enter into it at all. Ultimately, those audiences were small enough that they didn’t really have an impact on our decision making.
GT: Many gamers are happy with D&D 3.5 and have stated that they’re sticking with Paizo’s continuation of that system. What do you think about Pathfinder?
AC: It’s based on a tremendously well-designed game. [Laughs all around] Obviously, we know all those guys, we worked side-by-side with many of them in years past. It doesn’t surprise me that there are companies out there that are looking to continue to support the third edition of the game. I remember somebody came up to me at one of the last couple Gen-Cons, sort of apologetic that they liked 3.5 better than 4th, and I had to remind them, “You know, I worked on both of those. It doesn’t make me feel bad that you like one game I helped design better than another game I helped design.”
I think they’re both great games, and if they were more similar the hobby would be worse for it. I think it’s better to have games that are more distinct from one another that gives people clear choices. “Well this is the style of game I want to play, or this other one is the style of game I want to play.” Nothing wrong with that. I think the 4th edition has a much greater growth potential than previous iterations of the game, I think it’s friendlier to the audience, I think it’s a little more cognizant of what new generations of gamers are looking for in an experience.
GT: Do you feel the guys at Paizo have you blessing? Do you feel okay with what they’re doing and what they’re advancing?
AC: I would say we focus on what we’re doing.
GT: The 4th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide explained how to dungeon master better than any other piece of literature I’d seen.
AC: If I had to point to one place where I think the new edition succeeded more than anywhere else, it made dungeon mastering more accessible, more fun, than ever before. And I say that being primarily a DM – that’s my role in my group. That’s a place where I have no compunctions anywhere saying we hit it out of the park.
AM: Do you have any statistics on what percentage of players will dungeon master and what are only players? I’ve often thought that the choke point in the growth of tabletop gaming is an insufficient number of people motivated, or skilled, or trained to rabble-rouse a group of six friends, or four friends, and run a game.
AC: Dungeon Masters are our lifeblood, no question about it. When you’re talking about the tabletop game experience, we depend on them. As customers, they’re our best evangelists. D&D has been, and I think always will be, a game driven primarily by player-to-player interactions. You learn D&D – for the most part – because somebody teaches you how to play. And that somebody is usually a Dungeon Master. So we’re continuing to look for ways we can help them, and certainly 4th edition makes a big strike there. The DM Rewards program we rolled out last year, again, is an effort to identify and thank those people who are keeping our game vibrant.
For Part One of The Escapist‘s Exclusive Interview with Wizards of the Coast, click here.