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!
I have been batting around running a Pathfinder game lately. Lots of playtesting D&D Next and playing lots of 4th Edition before that had kind of occupied a lot of the fantasy role-playing time with my regular gaming group. My group had been floundering a bit lately in our gaming. We have been playing a variety of shorter lived games for a variety of reasons. The majority of the players longed for the epic campaigns that we played when we first banded together to throw dice and consume snack foods eleven years ago.
One night a few of our members were unable to show for our game. We used the night to talk about what games we might play this year. I started writing on the whiteboard attempting to put together a little schedule of what we would be playing which weeks coming up over the next few months. My players were still itching to play a long term campaign, for some reason I am still unable to hear their pleas.
My group likes to debate each other, a bit heatedly sometimes on the finer points of rpg systems, settings, styles, builds, races, spells, equipment, color of dice, choice of beverage or pretty much anything else. My mental fortitude was worn down by what seemed to me a huge waste of time because there was no right answer for the group. Role-playing games are a group activity which lends itself to individuals with strong personality, intelligence, and problem solving abilities. This is good in a game, but in between games it will have you believing that nobody is satisfied with their favorite hobby anymore. I was still not running a long term campaign although I knew that would renew interest, I didn’t want the headache.
It is hard to run a great game when you can’t even get your players to agree on a system. We could use the D&D Next rules but they were in constant flux and we were looking for continuity in our game. A lot of our gaming sessions had been doing the Open Playtest for the last year and the group needed a break from the system for a bit. I ran some Hero Fantasy before the D&D Next, but I know a few of my players are burnt out on the Hero System because we had been playing a lot of different games using the system in the last few years a well. Mix in all the 4th Edition, and the opposition that some of my group had with 4E, and that is a few systems to run a great fantasy campaign with eliminated. Did some Dungeon Crawl Classics a few months back but that won't work for the kind of game my group needs. Savage Worlds is not in-depth enough to hold most of my players’ interest for a long campaign. It didn’t matter I wasn’t running a long term fantasy campaign for the rest of my group, even though I knew it could work wonders for our groups camaraderie. I had better uses of my role-playing time.
I found myself at first thinking to myself, then commenting in one on one situation with my players, then complaining that we did not seem to function well as a group anymore. Perhaps are play styles have changed over the years. We might not enjoy the same things in games anymore. I wanted to fix the problem but I wasn’t being a leader and that is what our group seemed to lack. We are a large group and everybody would have to give something to get a game going. That included me if I wanted to run a campaign for my long-time group again. I needed to run a campaign, an epic campaign (in scope as well as level), and inspire instead of complain.
So now I have my players interested in something because I listened to what they were looking for. If asked, most players that I have played with in three decades would say that running long term campaigns are one of my DM strengths. I just had to listen to my players and get out of my own head.
Now I have to make sure that my campaign, which is set in my homebrew world will have something to satisfy each of my players. I also have to make my players understand that not every part of every session is going to be their favorite. Role-playing is really cooperative storytelling and you have to give and take each session and trust that your DM has something for your play style and character coming up soon. I will be updating the progress of the game and what trials that my group faced to attempt to reach high levels playing by the experience point rules in a long term campaign. I would really be interested in hearing how you get a game together for your group. Do you play what the DM is running or does group input shape the next game? Should group input shape the game or should the DM run the game he wants? That is what the comments section is for so feel free to use it. Until next time, Roll Hard!
I have grown up with Dungeons & Dragons. Now three decades later I want to grow out with D&DNext, or 5th Edition, or whatever we are calling it today. What I mean by that is I want my game to grant my players the ability to deal with more situations effectively, rather than just slapping on plusses, to Armor Class, Base Attack, Damage, and Saves. I know that some gamers may enjoy that but since the threat level scales with your character I never felt all that much more powerful or competent. When a PC has the abilities to deal with a variety of encounters, challenges, and situations and not just bonuses to reflect power you will end up with longevity in your system. Perhaps if powers and feats would have been built with this in mind 4th Edition would have had more traction, and a new edition wouldn’t be on the way. I will explain what I mean by all this in greater detail now.
Receiving static bonuses across the board that add to my ability to hit and damage have rarely made my characters feel more powerful. This is probably because the monster that I was battling always had scaling hit points and defenses. This is true of D & D historically and Pathfinder as well. It probably applies to many other systems as well. I hope the designers and playtesters cure it with the 5th Edition. I always tried to think about why my higher level character never crossed paths with lower level opponents. I justified that the intelligent beings could tell just how powerful I was from the sight of me and knew better. The unintelligent beings were just lucky to have not crossed my path. I always questioned why a higher level adventurer wouldn’t just follow up on plot hooks from when they were lower level and go and loot dungeons, crypts, and abandoned keeps. Sure the gold and magic would be less but so would the threats. Just a boring way to go about things and stories of legend are rarely boring.
I felt that D&D was on to something in 4th Edition with utility powers and skill utility powers. These allowed PC’s to select from a variety of powers to help them overcome the problems in front of them. Unfortunately the really cool ones fell to the way side and the ones that affected your character in combat were the only ones selected the majority of the time. I think if you look up the skill utility City Rat and the class utility Invigorating Stride you will see how this was a good theory but did not implement as successfully as the designers would have liked. Both are encounter powers but they are not equal whatsoever. City Rat allows you to use a Streetwise check in place of a Stealth check against any enemies you have cover against at the end of a move as a free action. That is a nice little extra ability for a warlock perhaps. Invigorating Stride allows you to shift you Wisdom modifier as a move action as long as you don’t shift adjacent to an enemy and second wind at the same time. Sure Invigorating Stride is a Ranger Class Utility and not available to other classes but the other classes all have their own version of clear cut choices. Why on Oerth would you take anything else if you were a ranger?
The same sort of theory applies to feats. There are many amazing feats but some of them will keep your character alive longer than others in most circumstances. I never saw a player at first level select Camouflage in place of Weapon Focus or Expertise. I never saw any player take Camouflage. It is a +5 Stealth Bonus when you are outdoors and have any cover or concealment. This is a situational bonus as you have to be out of doors and have cover. The weapon feats on the other hand are used in nearly every round of every encounter of your characters career. Feats that stack bonuses for attacks, damages, saves, and AC build your character up but don’t necessarily make your character any more interesting. Camouflage would build your character out and Weapon Focus and Expertise feats build your character up.
The upward build with piles of crunch seem to shorten edition life. 3rd Edition D&D was the first edition to introduce true player options from the start of the edition with feats and open multi-classing. 4th Edition came closer behind third than any previous edition had come to its predecessor. 4th Edition is filled with crunch, feats, powers, backgrounds, themes, paragon paths, epic destinies, etc. The shelf life between 4E and the 5E is the shortest shelf life yet. When you build characters up instead of out you handcuff the DM to challenge the party as much. Encounters that should require some thought, cunning, and bravery to overcome become watered down into hitting the enemy as hard and as fast as you can.
I have had hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun playing 4th Edition D&D and am excited about the playtest for DDNext. We need to take the positive from each edition and polish it like a gnome jeweler and then use those mechanics, concepts, and ideas to build a new edition of the most beloved rpg of all time. If monsters and threats don’t scale then characters don’t need to scale and can grow outwards and possibly only slightly upward during a whole adventuring career. My favorite heroes could always handle any situation but not always by superior firepower and defenses. Do you like your characters to grow up or out? Let me know what you think. Until next time, Roll Hard!