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Interview: Dungeons & Dragons' Past, Present, and Future with Mike Mearls

2While crowdsourcing game testing is a long tradition in gaming, Wizards of the Coast took that to the next level with their latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the classic roleplaying game. Attracting 175,000 for their D&D Next project, the company received feedback from the community about the next edition.

Recently, with work complete the company released not only a new starter set, but a free PDF that allows anyone to download the game and get playing, a forward thinking decision that should be praised, and something you tend to not see from large corporations. This all leads up to, and gets people ready for, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline event which begins on August 14th.

To celebrate this new era, we got a chance to chat with D&D Lead Designer Mike Mearls about the past, present, and future of Dungeons & Dragons!

Graphic Policy: Before we get to the new release, it’s probably best to go back to the beginning of the process. What was the RPG and gaming market like when the idea for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons came up?

Mike Mearls: While fourth edition really worked for people who liked detailed combat in D&D, we know that play style does not appeal to everyone. On top of that, the RPG category as a whole was seeing a decline in the number of new people coming into the hobby. Overall, tabletop RPGs were in decline for the past five years.

GP: What actually prompted the idea of a revamp of the system?

MM: We felt that we had to build a version of D&D that could cater to a wider audience. On one hand, veteran players like detailed character options and the ability to change the game to cater to their taste. On the other, the game had to have an easy to learn, central starting point for new players. Those two factors drove the idea of revamping the system.

GP: For the new edition you went the crowd sourcing route, and opened up playtesting to the world, attracting 175,000 playtesters. Where did the idea to go that route come from?

MM: In reviewing how third and fourth edition had been designed, we saw a real gap in understanding what people actually did with D&D. There were assumptions and conventional wisdom built into the game. That led to the idea of doing an open public playtest with rigorous, thorough data collection and documentation. We felt working directly with the D&D community would provide the most accurate picture of what people were looking for.

1GP: Was that also the seed that would lead your decision to releasing the basic rules as a free PDF?

MM: Definitely. The basic rules are both a way to say thanks to everyone who put in the time to playtest the game, and a way we can remove the rules as a barrier to entry to playing the game. D&D is memorable when you get a chance to play it, and nothing beats free and digital for making the first step into a game as easy as possible for new players.

GP: The D&D Next playtest seems like a success, so much so that you’re going to continue to use the feedback loop for new products. What exactly do you have planned for that?

MM: We can’t cite details yet, but we have a limited number of issues we want to address via an open test. That will have to wait for 2015, though.

GP: You’ve released the basic rules as a free PDF, and have mentioned that you have a goal to expand the market. How are you doing that with the PDF?

MM: The great thing about the D&D Basic Rules is that it makes it easy for anyone to check out D&D. If you read about it in The New Yorker or at CNN.com, you can Google D&D and have the game in your hands in a matter of moments. Capitalizing on that initial moment of discovery is huge.

GP: With the advent of technology, gaming is no longer restricted to a room, as many folks are using Skype, or Google Hangouts to host roleplaying sessions. Did that factor in to the game play, and any plans on using that to help “spread the word?”

MM: It factored into the design in the sense that we wanted the game to be very flexible. Since we can’t predict where technology might go in the next few years, it was important to create a game that depended on as few physical components as possible. That lowered the barrier to entry, drove home what makes D&D unique (how many times have you heard it described as a board game that doesn’t use a board?), and brought imagination to the forefront.

Online gaming is definitely an area of growth, and we’re looking into what we can do to enable that.

wallpaper_Illo 2GP: Other than the PDF, you’re embracing digital with a project codenamed “Morningstar.” Can you give us any info on that? Maybe when we can expect an announcement or release?

MM: Sorry, no news on that front yet. We’re really excited about the digital tools they’re working on. I have them loaded on my work iPad, and they’re really easy to use. The entire Trapdoor team is putting tons of work into getting everything right, and I know that they are running a beta test of the tools right now.

GP: Beyond just the game, the D&D brand has to be on your minds. Wizkids is releasing figures as a tie-in. There’s the long talked about movie reboot. What else can we expect?

MM: We’re really looking at ways to make D&D something that you can engage with beyond the gaming table. Tabletop RPGs are awesome, but you can’t play them by yourself, or without a group, and so on. We’re partnering with companies like Wizkids and Gale Force 9 to produce tabletop accessories, but we’re also working on some digital projects that I can’t detail yet. But, the key is we’re looking at how people game these days and working to ensure that you can experience the stories of D&D however you like.

GP: For recent releases, there’s been synergistic releases in comics, books, video games, and more. Can we expect that to continue?

MM: Yes, definitely. The Tyranny of Dragons story line is a great example of this, with the TRPG featuring it as the debut campaign, the Neverwinter MMO using it to fuel their next couple of expansions, and both Gale Force 9 and Wizkids dipping into it to produce miniatures, tabletop games, and game accessories, and a new comic series launching with a Tyranny of Dragons story from IDW.

By focusing on the story, we make it much easier for D&D players to move between different categories. Even better, it means we do our story work early enough to let our partners work in a much more coordinated manner. The Wizkids miniatures match up to the Tyranny of Dragons campaign produced by Kobold Press, as do the Gale Force 9 accessories.

GP: Overall, there seems to be a resurgence of board games, and roleplaying games in recent years. What do you think is fueling that?

MM: I think that face-to-face gaming is a natural next step for many video game players. When you look at the explosive growth of PAX, ComicCon, and so forth, you see that people really like getting together and socializing. Games are a great way to do that. RPGs are some of the best face to face games around. They encourage creativity and bring people together in a really unique, compelling way.

In many ways, the Internet is an awesome tool for discovering and building communities of like-minded gamers and fans, but at the end of the day people still want to get together. Before the Internet, you had to rely on random luck to find other D&D players. These days, it’s so much easier to find like-minded people.

GP: Any hints what we can expect at Gen Con?

MM: We have a lot of fun stuff planned. The Tyranny of Dragons story line kicks off in the Adventurers League, the official D&D organized play program. We’re running plenty of games and a big event on Saturday night to launch things. We’ll have special panels on creating characters and getting started with fifth edition and all sorts of surprises.

The real highlight is on Friday night, when we take over the Georgia Street Pavilion right outside the convention center for a big street party to officially kick off the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. There’s going to be mystery, intrigue, food, drink, and maybe a dragon or five.

GP: D&D has been kept alive and seeing its next step guided by the fans. What have they meant to Dungeons & Dragons through the years?

MM: D&D isn’t a game. It’s a culture. Without people playing the game, spreading it, and keeping it vital, we’d have nothing. Unlike many other games, D&D is uniquely social. It can vary from hilarious to tense to tragic in a heartbeat. I think it’s unique in its ability to bring people together. When you think about it, every D&D session is unique. Each session is shaped by the vagaries of die rolls and the creativity that people bring together. Add in the DM’s ability to make anything happen, and you have a game that’s still going strong after 40 years.

Without the fans, and the great stories they tell around the table, the game would’ve faded away decades ago.

Gen Con Keynote Talks the Future of Dungeons & Dragons

Appropriately the first ever keynote address at Gen Con will be a look into the future of Dungeons & Dragons, including the evolution of the game, the re-birth of a fantasy setting and the next generation of art.  Wizards of the Coast is hosting this first-ever keynote address on Thursday, August 16th  to share with D&D fans what is in store for the game. Speakers include President and CEO of Wizards Greg Leeds, Senior Manager for D&D Research and Design Mike Mearls, and some of the greatest creative minds in the industry.

The keynote begins at 7:00 PM in the 500 Ballroom of the Indianapolis Convention Center and will be live-streamed at DungeonsandDragons.com/events.

Gen Con 2011 – D&D Comes to Facebook on August 15th

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Wizards of the Coast is getting into Facebook games, with one based off of Dungeons & Dragons.  The game will be released in beta on August 15th allows you to perform dungeon crawls and use your friend’s characters, allowing them to gain experience.  After you reach level 10, you’ll also be able to create your own dungeons for others to quest in.  Expect the usual micro-transactions that are popular with those types of games.

Check out the video below for what the game looks like.

Having had the chance to get some hands on time at Gen Con, the game looks pretty solid allowing a wide variety of characters and much of what you’d expect for D&D.  The dungeon building particularly sounds very interesting and a great use of social marketing, word of mouth and online interaction.

Dungeons & Dragons launches new campaign: Neverwinter

Official Press Release

Dungeons & Dragons Returns to the Legendary City of Neverwinter; Fans Vie for Glory in the City of a Thousand Fates

Exciting, New Suite of Neverwinter Offerings Unveiled at Gen Con Indy 2011

AUGUST 2, 2011 – INDIANAPOLIS Wizards of the Coast today announced that its iconic roleplaying game of fantasy and imagination, Dungeons & Dragons®, will return to one of the most well-known and fascinating cities within D&D lore and the Forgotten Realms novels – the city of Neverwinter.  Along with the new D&D Neverwinter Campaign Setting comes an extensive suite of products and in-store play offerings, including a new comic mini-series, a board game, organized play sessions, and a new novel from New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore.  Wizards of the Coast will showcase new Neverwinter product offerings at Gen Con Indy 2011 on August 4-7 at Booth #2031, and fans can also get in on the adventure at www.ExploreNeverwinter.com.

“The Neverwinter suite of products and programs offer something for all players and fans, both new and seasoned,” said Liz Schuh, Dungeons & Dragons Brand Director, Wizards of the Coast.

“With so many different ways to engage with the city, players will be immersed in the storyline and find themselves vying for glory alongside their fellow adventurers no matter how they choose to play.”

Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter offerings include:

  • Neverwinter Mass Adventure at Gen Con 2011 – Show attendees of Gen Con Indy 2011 will have the opportunity to participate in a Neverwinter adventure using a series of QR codes to guide attendees to different Wizards of the Coast sponsored special events and locations. Attendees will be challenged along the way to choose between a quest for glory, a quest for power, or a quest for riches with hints provided by D&D on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Neverwinter Game Day – On August 6, join D&D players around the world for an epic day of Dungeons & Dragons.  This year, D&D Neverwinter Game Day spotlights an exclusive adventure entitled Gates of Neverdeath, in which characters are introduced to the intrigues and dangers that await in the city of Neverwinter.  For the first time, players will create their own D&D characters at the event and play in a prelude adventure to the upcoming D&D Encounters season!  Visit the Store and Event Locator to find participating retailers.
  • D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter & Fortune Cards Beginning August 10, players both young and old will gather on Wednesday evenings in local game stores around the world to experience the D&D Encounters Lost Crown of Neverwinter season.  D&D Encounters is the first D&D Organized Play program designed exclusively for weekly play at retail locations worldwide – and this summer, adventuring parties will be hot on the trail of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter.  D&D Neverwinter Fortune Cards, which launched this summer, enhance D&D Encounters game play by adding an element of unpredictability as each card provides a game effect that enhances attacks, defenses, or other benefits to characters.
  • Neverwinter Campaign Setting – The Neverwinter Campaign Setting is the ultimate encyclopedia on the inner workings of the city of Neverwinter, containing everything from history and geography to character themes.  It is the first-ever RPG book focused solely on one city and conveniently presents Neverwinter content in a single hardcover format containing information for both players and DMs.
  • D&D Lair Assault Beginning this September, devoted Dungeons & Dragons players worldwide will have the opportunity to gather at their local participating game stores as part of a new, highly tactical D&D Organized Play program named D&D Lair Assault.  The first challenge, Forge of the Dawn Titan, will feature thrilling “convention-style” play that players and spectators alike are drawn to, challenging players on two levels – character building and tactical knowledge. 
  • The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales Comic Mini-series For a lighter story, fans can pick up the new 5-part mini-series The Legend of Drizzt: Neverwinter Tales comic mini-series this summer.  Published by IDW and co-written by R.A. Salvatore and Geno Salvatore, the comic mini-series delves into the characters that inhabit Neverwinter as the city teeters on the brink of chaos.
  • D&D Heroes of Neverwinter Facebook game – For lighter digital game play, fans can also take part in the D&D Heroes of Neverwinter game on Facebook, a turn-based strategy game launching this summer with pre-fabricated or user-generated dungeons, gifting and more.  
  • Neverwinter, The Neverwinter Saga Book II by R.A. Salvatore – With a fascinating cast of new secondary characters, Neverwinter launches on October 4 and takes the dual-scimitar wielding dark elf Drizzt and brings him to an area of the Realms he’s never adventured in – Neverwinter.  With the last of his trusted companions having fallen, Drizzt is alone—and free—for the first time in almost a hundred years.  Forced to see the dark deeds of common men, Drizzt begins to find himself on the wrong side of the law in an effort to protect those the law has failed.  The paperback release of Gauntlgrym, The Neverwinter Saga Book I by R.A. Salvatore that lays the groundwork for all of the Neverwinter product offerings this fall, just released on July 5th
  • The Legend of Drizzt Board Game – Launching October 18, this thrilling board game is based on the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden, as told in the New York Times best-selling Forgotten Realms novels by R.A. Salvatore. Players take on the role of the legendary drow ranger or one of his famous adventuring companions, battle fearsome foes, and win treasure and glory.

Dungeons & Dragons is the iconic roleplaying game of fantasy and imagination that is part storytelling, part social interaction and part chance.  Visit DungeonsandDragons.com for more details on the Dungeons & Dragons follow D&D on Facebook and Twitter.

About Wizards of the Coast
Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. (NASDAQ:HAS), is the leader in entertaining the lifestyle gamer. The company holds an exclusive patent on trading card games (TCGs) and their method of play and produces the premier trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, among many other trading card games and family card and board games. Wizards is also a leading publisher of roleplaying games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, and publisher of fantasy series fiction with numerous New York Times best-sellers. For more information, visit the Wizards of the Coast Web site at www.wizards.com.

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Wizards of the Coast, its logo, Dungeons & Dragons, D&D, D&D Encounters, Forgotten Realms, Heroes of Neverwinter, Neverwinter, The Legend of Drizzt, and their respective logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. ©2011 Wizards. Other trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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