I sometimes just get a stroke of luck that allows me to do something cool simply because I like to talk about games, and keep a positive attitude. So I had another opportunity to ask Mike Mearls of Wizards of the Coast a few questions about the future of Dungeons & Dragons on the eve of GenCon. Once again, Mike was open and direct with his responses and showed not only his appreciation for the history of the game but genuine care about the future. See for yourself.
- When I started playing D&D there was no internet, or splat books, or character builders. If you wanted something new to use in your game then Dragon Magazine was the place to get it. Are there plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?
Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point.
With that in mind, we have a robust online presence through our website and social media. I’m on Twitter as @mikemearls, and I answer as many questions as possible that are tweeted to me.
2. Everybody knows that Forgotten Realms will be supported right out of the gate, are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next? If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?
We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.
Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school.
- You’ve mentioned how the design goal was to create a basic system with modular pieces that can add more complexity and option to the game. What are some modular pieces that we might see next and when might we see them?
Most of the optional systems will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They focus on options that people can use to more closely mimic a specific edition or optional rules that people like having available. For instance, stuff like detailed rules for combat, gestalt characters, lingering wounds, and so forth. It feels kind of like a mash up of Unearthed Arcana for 3e and a traditional DMG.
- New to this edition of the game is Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and of course Inspiration. What would you say was the inspiration for adding what equates to role-playing rewards to the game? Will we see any suggestions for using Inspiration in other ways besides advantage?
I believe that the DMG has some variants for using Inspiration. The basic concept was driven by the overall trends we’ve seen in RPGs over the past few years. Roleplaying is at the heart of D&D, but the game has not typically included mechanics to reward it. Looking around, we saw a number of games that provided benefits for good role play and decided to put a D&D spin on things.
In some ways, it’s simply D&D getting more in tune with the times. It’s one of those things that I think many DMs have wanted in the game for a while, if reactions to the mechanics so far are anything to go by.
- There is a definite feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the new edition. Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition? If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?
We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.
My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it.
- Now that we have breached the subject of adventures, what influence do adventure paths have upon your thinking of creating future content for fifth edition?
It has definitely influenced how we think about creating more character options. We want to avoid simply creating new options for the sake of creating another book of new material. I think it’s easy to overwhelm players and DMs by releasing a torrent of new material every month. Instead, we want to carefully curate new stuff that we put out, ensuring that it is of the highest quality and is as useful as possible to your game.
An adventure path comes into the picture when you think about providing context for character options. Creating new options for a specific adventure path is very intriguing to me. It lets you zero in on what makes a campaign interesting, and then ensure that characters made with the new options tie into the campaign’s unique elements.
For instance, imagine an Adventure Path set in a tropical archipelago teeming with lost cities, dinosaurs, and deadly sea monsters. The sea elf might be a new character race for that campaign. If you create backgrounds that tie sea elf characters to the specific factions in the campaign, you have an easy way to foster player buy-in and create organic, compelling hooks for a player.
A DM who wants to homebrew or kitbash a campaign can use the sea elf stats, but if you want to run the Adventure Path you have a really nice synthesis between the player and DM sides of the screen.
A better example might be a classic adventure like Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine a player’s book that served as a companion to it. It might have backgrounds that tie characters to Hommlett or the battle against the original temple. There might a druid class option that is an enemy of evil elementals, a ranger option that lets you join an order that watches for the temple’s rise (and includes has Elmo and Otis as allies or contacts), and so on. When the players sit down for the campaign, their characters are already integrated into the game and ready to go. When you meet Elmo, most of the players might think he’s a dope, but the guy playing the ranger recognizes him as an ally. Stuff like that really brings campaigns to life.
- From reading boards, talking to gamers, and personal experience, it would seem a player character crafting magic items seems to have had a hiccup or two in nearly every edition. A few examples are requiring a point of Constitution from a wizard, requiring XP from the crafting character, requiring a series of feats that detracted from the overall toughness of the crafting character unless that character stuck to crafting items only for themselves. Why this might not upset every gamer it has created grumblings from some. When will we see magic item creation, what will it look like, and what steps have been taken to balance it out?
The DMG will talk a bit about it. Our approach is to give DMs options to how they want to handle it. Some DMs are comfortable with simply charging a PC time and money to craft an item. Others can use it as an excuse to send the party on a quest. An item might require specific ingredients or reagents found only in specific, dangerous locations. The idea is to frame how the DM wants to use item creation in the campaign. Does it eat up the characters’ gold? Is it a way to drive forward the campaign?
- Are there any plans to include prestige classes, paragon paths, or anything of the sort that a lot of players have come to expect over the last couple of editions? If so how will those be presented to the players?
We’ve talked about prestige classes and paragon paths, but we don’t yet have plans on what to do with them. They filled a very specific role in past editions, but it’s not yet clear that we need them in fifth. As the game develops, we’ll take the attitude of introducing them if we see the need, rather than trying to create a need or find an excuse to add them into the campaign.
That said, I think the concept has some strengths. You can see concepts like a Purple Dragon Knight of Cormyr, which in theory could apply to multiple classes (paladin and fighter in this case). I think that prestige classes could fill that role, the concept that rests between multiple classes.
With that said, it might be possible that a Purple Dragon Knight should simply be a paladin option. We’re going to let the lore of the game and a design approach that’s focused on simplicity and ease of use guide our decisions.
What do you think about what Mike had to say? Let us know in that comment section. I am personally really excited but what I have seen so far and how easy it is not only to learn but to be a DM with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I plan on lots of blogs about it in the future. You can also find this interview and a lot more discussion over on EnWorld Until next time, Roll Hard!
Is the D&D Starter Set everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game? It is according to the box. The box which gets you hooked with a picture of a dragon and a fighter engaged in a furious battle. I plan on using this to introduce two new players with no rpg experience to the hobby and I will talk about how that goes in the future. For now we will stick with just my first impressions.
The D&D Starter Set Rulebook is 32 color pages stapled like a comic book. Inside those pages are several cool pieces of artwork, which is something that the Dungeons & Dragons brand has always done well. If you are an experienced player these may inspire you. If you are a beginner or novice these might help you visualize your character and get a feel for the game. The artwork on the front of the booklet expands on the scene from the front of the box, revealing two more characters, both casters of some sort.
The rulebook immediately jumps in to explaining how to play, get started, and what the dice are used for. I bet most experienced players skip right over these sections although if you read it you might just learn a new way to look at the cooperative storytelling game you love so much. Then a quick explanation of the abilities, ability checks, the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, and saving throws follow. That’s chapter one in a nutshell.
Chapter Two is about combat. One of the core components to any D&D game and probably the part most players look forward to, whether they admit it or not. The rulebook does a fine job of quickly explaining the different actions available in combat, initiative, terrain, movement, and position. Most of what you would need in combat is covered and not covering every possible situation in detail is something as a Dungeon Master makes me happy. Needing to make a rules oriented decision on the fly once in awhile helps make better DMs, which is what the hobby needs.
The damage and healing section is pretty straight forward and easy to grasp and makes me wonder how I ever learned to play D&D with the 1st Edition books. This is so much easier to understand for the beginning gamer. Hit points, critical hits, damage resistance, healing, and dropping below zero hit points only need a page and half to explain how it all works. It even covers knocking an opponent out instead of killing them. I am glad there isn’t a penalty for doing this so perhaps it comes up a bit more in game.
Chapter 3 covers Adventuring. Travel and special forms of movement are explained here. The different types of resting are covered in this section as well. An experience point chart is pictured here for the first five levels and the proficiency bonus a character gets for each level. Weapons and gear are also covered in the Adventuring section. A bit of description about the terms used to define the weapons and equipment will help the inexperienced player.
Chapter 4 is all about Spellcasting and has a pretty decent selection of low level spells for players to choose from. This is the biggest section of the book by far. All components of spell casting are expained, including components.
The Starter Set Rulebook is only necessary for the most inexperienced of gamers because what is covered in the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is far more extensive and free. That is where you will find rules for character generation; the D&D starter set only includes five pregenerated characters and no rules for character generation. That is fine as the Starter Set is meant to introduce the player to the rules and theme of D&D, and the Basic Rules are free. There is still more in the Starter Set box to talk about, like an adventure.
The meat of the D&D Starter Set is the 1st level adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver. Although it is presented in the same stapled booklet format as the rules book, it is twice as thick. The adventure is designed to take the characters all the way to 5th level. The inexperienced player should have enough exposure by then to make their own characters. If you have already downloaded the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons, you can feel free to create your own characters to use in the adventure. The adventure is also an introduction to the Forgotten Realms.
The artwork and maps in Lost Mine of Phandelver are excellent, as is the insets with extra tidbits of information to help out the DM. The cover art further expands the image on the front of the box and the Starter Set Rulebook, which is kind of cool. This is a substantial adventure with excellent descriptions, Appendixes for Magic Items and Monsters, and a handy Rules Index on the back cover of the adventure.
From quickly looking through I see plot rewards like getting to join an order or two, just a story element that smacks of early edition D&D. The DM is free to come up with any mechanical advantage if she wants. Which Forgotten Realms orders are represented I will not divulge. I don’t want spoilers or to harp too much about the subject.
Inside the box is also a set of dice. I always love getting new dice and a matching sets especially. It is the small things that make me happy and not having to color in the numbers like I did when I opened my first D&D box set so long ago is fine with me. At $19.99 retail I think the D&D Starter Set is a good purchase for those wanting to get a look at the hobby. The size of the Lost Mine of Phandelver makes it the tastiest part of the box set and since there is a lot of artwork that is not included in the free Basic Rules download it is worth checking out, especially since adventures are at a premium with any new rules set.
I will jump into this box set in a couple days with some players with no experience and one or two with years and years of experience and let you know how it goes. Until next time, Roll Hard!
The final D&D Next open playtest packet was released a little over a week ago and I poured over it and made some notes. Then I took to the message boards at EN World and Wizards of the Coast and a few others and read the communities thoughts on the material. Knee jerk reaction is always kind of amusing for me and you get to see a lot of it on forums. It's almost as funny as a review of a new gaming system the evening it came out. Now that I had some time to absorb the open playtest packet, compare it to what I've seen before, read reactions from the internet, and get some feedback from my players, I feel like I can accurately weigh in with my thoughts and impressions. This post is about what I didn't like in the final packet, next week will be all things I did like. The likes definitely outweigh the dislikes and I think a lot of what I have to say about what I didn't like is based on my personal tastes and gaming style.
First I'd like to say that this packet feels more like a game that is ready to play, respecting previous editions of D&D while at the same time being its own game. With that said there are a few things that didn’t sit well with me either. The biggest issue I have would be with multiclassing and the spell levels for casters of multiple classes. A cleric wizard seems to have the ability to cast spells of a higher level than they would know. The document says you don’t know any spells of a higher level but in the Classes document the mage says you might gain higher level spells to add to your spell book from adventuring. Now you know higher level spells.
Sure the DM could make sure you don’t find any spells of higher level until you are the appropriate level to cast them but does the DM really need the extra work? This also requires a lot of timing with leveling to ensure that a mage can get an extra spell or two in their book when they reach the appropriate level to cast them. It's not an overwhelming thing but just doesn’t seem to work perfectly as it now stands.
To a lesser degree but also in multiclassing, I don’t really like the way the extra attack is calculated for certain classes. Barbarian, paladin, and ranger all receive an extra attack at fifth level but if you combine any two of these classes you must wait until eighthlevel for your character to receive their extra attack. Bard and druid receive their extra attack at eight level but if you multiclass one or both of them they add in the same as the barbarian, paladin, and ranger for receiving the extra attack. I understand that this is probably done for balance but the ability prerequisites are there to establish balance so I don’t think this is the way to go. Levels in barbarian, paladin, and ranger should weigh heavier in the equation than levels of bard and druid.
Before I continue I would like to say that I'm not a fan of the quick dip into another class so I'm probably too sensitive to the problems of multiclass. It drove me crazy in 3E/3.5 when I was running a game. Part of the allure of the quick dip is obviously the power game. The other part is that a lot of the classic fantasy archetypes are not well represented in the basic classes. The lightly armored fighter, the spell slinging bladesinger, the devotee of the god of magic who can access a variety of spells from different magical sources. Sometimes it is a better deal for the fighter to take a level of rogue to get stealth, backstab, and a whole bunch of skills, than it is to spend a feat on a single skill to be stealthy.
Racial weapon training has never really sat right with me in any edition. It does not provide any benefit to a martial class in most cases and doesn’t get used by spell casting classes most of the time. The backgrounds and skills document allows for a player to select a different skill proficiency if their character would receive the same skill from two different sources. Instead of receiving nothing for receiving proficiency from two different sources perhaps they could select a different proficiency, perhaps tool proficiency instead. I hate to see a player receive less for playing an iconic character like a dwarf fighter than the rarer dwarf bard.
A few of the new, Unusual races do not seem as well thought out as the already established based races. That's to be expected though, because they have had less playtest, although some are right on. The dragonborn is solid, although I find some of the breath weapons a bit boring. There was no DC’s included for the breath weapons either. I think the white dragon and silver dragon cold could have perhaps slowed those caught up in the cone. This would simulate freezing a little better than just damage like all the other breath weapons. I am sure we will see options like this develop over the course of time, it is excellent crunch material. It is a minor thing. Drow, gnome, half-elf, and half-orc were pretty solid.
Kender was right in line with what I would expect, although the Kender Pockets power was lacking an extra sentence or two to bring it in check. The way it currently reads a kinder could pull barding, plate mail, a ballista, or any amount of nonsense out of the pack. I know that the realm of common sense says whatever they pull out of their pack would have to fit in the pack, but the racial power should have clearly stated that limitation. This is one of those things that is an easy fix but should have been caught and clarified before the document was released.
Warforged are pretty solid although they have the same trance ability of drow and elves, instead of sleeping, but lack the ability to not be put to sleep by any type of magic. It's a small thing that of course could potentially be explained away, but seems a bit inconsistent.
I'm disappointed that spells saving against a variety of abilities in the earlier packets seems to have just went back to Wisdom, Dexterity, and Constitution. This takes away from needing an ability array and will probably end up with most fighters being absolutely stupid and uncharismatic, and mages not just being average strength but weak and uncharismatic. Essentially full dump stats in any non-relevant ability unless the character plans on multiclassing. Thunderwave and perhaps Ray of Enfeeblement should save against Strength since that's what it's attempting to affect. Charm Person should save against Charisma since that ability represents your force of personality. Those are just a couple of examples but there are many more. This is a huge step backwards.
Well as you can see except for the multiclassing a lot of what I didn't like is really cosmetic and easy enough to adjust in my own game to what my players and I prefer. There is really nothing that is broken or not easily tweaked. That's one of the great things about not having a rule to define every little thing in the game is that it is easy enough to interrupt and adjust. Advantage and Disadvantage work well to deal with situations that come up, but we'll talk about all of that soon enough. I'm pleased that Mike Mearls and the rest of the design team have obviously made great efforts to include the fans in the design process, and I thank them for that. D&D Next has a lot of promise and I'm excited to hear what you think and have to say about what you see. Use that comments section to tell me what you think about the last playtest packet, or if you think my dislikes are way off, and until next time, Roll Hard!