GenCon 2011 Day 3: D&D New Products Seminar
August 6, 2011 in Reviews & Culture
I just left the D&D New Products seminar here at GenCon, and I took copious notes during the two-hour discussion. It was about 35 minutes of prepared remarks from Mike Mearls, James Wyatt and Brian Thompson, followed by an hour and fifteen minutes of Q&A, followed by a 10 minute section at the end where they talked about their plans to bring back minis – non-randomized.
The text below is rather unedited, but I thought time was of the essence on this one. Here you go! If you have specific questions that aren’t clear from my notes, go ahead and drop them in the comments.
D&D New Products Seminar – August 6, 2011, 10:00 AM
9:48: In the room, just met Jeff Greiner. My Marriott guest room internet doesn’t work here, so I’ll be taking notes and putting up a blog post afterward.
9:49: The WotC folks have a Dragon Collector Set on the table in front of them. I have no idea if that’s new or old since I don’t do minis; I’m guessing new.
9:49: Ah, Jeff Greiner and Tracy Hurley are here to record the Tome Show. Cool, they’ll be putting it up online afterward! If my notes are lousy, that’s okay.
9:53: The microphone that the Tome Show folks have set up for recording is very professional-looking (no surprise there). Big honking old-fashioned radio look with a THX logo on the side. Pretty!
9:56: Chatting with a nice fellow and his wife next to me. They’re here from Toronto and say that Dungeons and Dragons bailed them out at the border crossing when they were selected for extra screening. The agents asked why they were coming to the US, and they explained GenCon. An agent said, “Ah, you must play Border agents aren’t worried about people who are obviously non-threatening nerds like us!
9:59: Sitting next to Ameron from Dungeon’s Master. Awesome! I didn’t even have to try to find a blogger that I admire this time, he just happened to sit down next to me.
10:00: Matt James is on the other side of me. It’s like I’m around people I sort of know!
10:01: Doors are closed. Off we go!
10:01: Mike Mearls, James Wyatt, Brian Thompson. Mike Robles is apparently an afterthought. He’s live-tweeting.
10:03: James: Novels.
- Neverwinter in October (Salvatore)
- Charon’s Claw next year (Salvatore)
- Brimstone Angels by Erin Evans in November
- Cold Steel and Secrets by Rosemary Jones – serial e-novella starts in October or November (99 cents per installment e-book)
10:04: It’s all fun and games once someone loses an eye… a comment from James about a potential fight for the 11 bookmarks they have to give away.
10:05: Abyssal Plague novels. Ends in April 2012 with The Eye of the Chained God by Don Bassingthwaite. I honestly don’t follow these novels in the slightest, so I know nothing about them.
10:08: Eric Scott de Bie sitting behind me cheered for his own book, Shadowbane.
10:09: They’re trying to get e-books out as the same time as the physical books. Also working through their backlist at about 3 novels per week to release as e-books.
10:10: More books, too, on top of the ones already mentioned.
10:10: Rodney Thompson – board games and “tabletop” which is non-RPG games. He’s a fast talker!
10:10: Recap of Conquest of Nerath. Rodney is enthused.
10:11: “Adventure System Games” are Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt. They try to focus on interconnectivity. Peter Lee, a designer of the game, is here previewing the game at GenCon. You play heroes from the Drizzt novels. New classes like the archer. Sees this as “maturation of the system”.
10:14: Mike Mearls. Dungeon of Dread announced for December release… canceled now. They felt it wasn’t up to snuff. Tied into their desire to minimize errata.
10:15: Lords of Waterdeep. Euro-style board game coming out next year. Competitive game of intrigue set in Waterdeep. You’re a lord of Waterdeep, recruiting adventurers for quests, backstabbing / cooperating with other lords. Pretty cover art! Started on the game train last year with a conversation with Peter Lee. There are dice, cards, tiles. March of 2012 is the aim for release. Square coins and crescent coins. Old 2nd edition Forgotten Realms sourcebook used this image for Waterdhavian coins, so they made them for the game. Relies heavily on Volo’s (?) Guide to Waterdeep.
10:18: They want to expand their board games into all sorts of areas.
10:18: Mike Mearls. Roleplaying games – here are their next six months or so.
10:19: Neverwinter – released here at the convention. Campaign setting book. Character themes are written to tie to story hooks in the DM book. Try to integrate character creation and campaign creation. Game day is today, of course. They’re focusing on integration – things fitting together.
10:21: Madness at Gardmore Abbey super-adventure. Poster maps, monster tokens, Deck of Many Things. James prefers the term “deluxe adventure”. 32 pages more text than the folio adventures. Covers 3 levels of play. Extra book adds tons of story – quests, patrons, villains with agendas. Open-ended adventure. Tried to create options other than combat for encounters (don’t have to, you know, slaughter the nymphs).
10:22: Mearls says they’re listening to feedback, trying to be less railroady with their adventures.
10:23: The Deck of Many Things is scattered at the start of the adventure. Villains who have cards might have extra power from there. Encounters that have cards in them have extra random effects going on.
10:23: 4 32 page books. 2 battlemaps. Comes with Dungeon Tiles, too. 24 card Deck of Many Things. Treasure cards…?
10:24: Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – the back-from-the-dead book. Greg Bilsland runs playtesters internally and externally. It’s a “core exclusive” only available at game stores. Items are attached to the rarity system. Character options for flails. Mundane armor. Followers and henchmen rules. So, not just magic items – a book of “anything you could buy”.
10:26: Lair Assault launches in September. Forge of the Dawn Titan. 5th level characters. DM apparently gets some control over the encounters – where to place the bad guys. It’s for powergamers (Mearls’s words). December: Talon of Umberleaf is the second adventure.
10:27: First adventure is fiery dungeon. Second is a pirate theme, finding an artifact on derelict ships. DM gets some control of changing things up in each run-through. Third Lair Assault is Attack of the Tyrant Claw by Matt James. Tower defense game – dinosaurs rush your camp. Matt, shockingly, is enthusiastic. It’s more puzzly.
10:29: Limited edition dragon set. 5 chromatic dragons. New sculpts for White and Green. Comes out in October. Similar to the beholders from last year.
10:29: Encounters. Neverwinter next, then the Feywild – Player’s Option Heroes of the Feywild. Encounter based on UK1 Crystal Cave adventure – Beyond the Crystal Cave. Fortune Cards – Fury of the Feywild. There will be a PC race that can fly from 1st level. New barbarian build is a dual-role class. Defender when not raging, striker when he is.
10:31: Fortune cards will help characters with fey origins or backgrounds.
10:31: December and March – new Dungeon Tiles. Shadowghast Manor (haunted house) then Cathedral of Chaos (including diagonal cards Mearls described as allowing Gygaxian chambers). Since the Essentials box sets are kept in print now, these can be more specialized.
10:32: Map packs starting in January. Some from previous adventures. 2 new. Priced at $11.95
10:33: Book of Vile Darkness – December. By Robert Schwalb. Allows for playing evil campaigns. DM advice for making an interesting campaign with evil PCs. 32 page facsimile of the Book of Vile Darkness itself. 96 pages of player/DM info, double-sided poster map.
10:34: February Encounters – The Elder Elemental Eye. Player’s Option: Power of the Plane Below. Fortune Cards: Spiral of Tharizdun. Essentialized Sorcerer (Mearls’ words). Monk option of some sort. Tharizdun-based conspiracy. More investigation – not like Call of Cthulhu where you just die from your investigation. Tied to Eye of the Chained Gods novels in April.
10:35: Undermountain Adventure. Yawning Portal tavern map is all they can show. 80 encounter areas in Undermountain. The adventures then talk about how the PCs might get involved in these things. Little hooks. Random dungeon generator to use. Poster map of first level is on reverse side of Yawning Portal. Comes out in April.
Question: Elemental Sorcerer. It will go alongside existing builds, like Slayer, not a Class Compendium replacement. Monk is just a new build.
Q: Book of Vile Darkness – will it be as “adult themed”? A: Not really. No “adult only” sticker, standard art.
Q: Emporium – any rituals? Q: Don’t think so. Mearls: People aren’t using rituals at low level, and at high level they’re too cheap. Mearls would like to introduce scaling rituals (more money, more power). Also faster to cast rituals (1-5 minutes – still outside of battle).
Q: E-books format? 3 formats – Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader. Not in Apple iBooks yet (James).
Q: Price point on e-books? A: Same MSRP as paperback/hardcover. E-book retailers discount this typically. Re-releases? $7.99 MSRP, discounted by retailers to around $6.39
Q: What are the class builds in Heroes of Feywild? A: Rodney was lead designer. Barbarian dual-role. New bard build focused on wandering storyteller. Druid build. Several themes – agent of Unseeley Fey, Sidhe Lord, etc. Want options for being from the Feywild or living near a fey crossing. Sidhe Lord theme gives you a permanent companion character – guard of noble house.
Q: Next year’s campaign setting? A: Mearls – not yet ready to talk about it. They’ve intentionally pulled back their timeline a little. Don’t like announcing stuff before it’s really ready and then canceling it. Don’t want to create expectations they can’t meet or create confusion. Essentials – they don’t think that was handled great in this respect. There WILL be another campaign-style book next August, similar to Neverwinter this year. Undermountain is 100% go – in final editing. Slated for April.
Q: DDI, Virtual Table. A: Mearls. Digital team is completely separate from these guys. Don’t want to get ahead of themselves. It’s complex. There was a DDI seminar on Thursday. Mostly talking about articles, though, not tools. They’re looking at feedback online and delivering it via DDI (strength cleric, adventures for epic). Fast turnaround for digital – 3 months start to finish. Physical is slower. They want physical products to be more luxurious and solid. They see 32 page adventures as being less likely to be purchased in physical form.
10:47 Q: Game products to use Abyssal Plague elements? A: There have been DDI articles on this. Stats for demons were in Monster Vault Threats to the Nentir Vale. Mike Shea wrote more on DDI. Encounters season for next spring will tie into this.
10:48 Q: More tokens are in products; have they considered releasing tokens for previously printed monsters? A: They’re doing that with Monster Vault. Asked audience about selling a set of just tokens – surprised by the positive response. $10-$12 probable price point if they did it.
10:49 Q: I’m the guy who wants to play the Runepriest – should I commission content from Mearls directly? A: There’s a new build coming out in October (Kanji? What?) It’s already announced.
10:50 Q: Same question on Seeker. A: They look at what people are playing in DDI. If people aren’t playing a class they want to be careful about how they support it – not just releasing more powers. Want to tie it into flavor or story or something to make it more appealing. Human Fighters are most popular. Also, under-played classes might not get a lot of submissions to DDI. Might get 100 warlock articles but only 5 seeker articles. For popular classes, they tend to wait and see what comes in via submissions.
10:52 Q: From Trevor – different kinds of classes – what’s up with Barbarian / Monk. A: They use AEDU but with “twists”. The first new version of the Monk came in “essentialized” and they decided they preferred it to use the same power structure as PHB3 monk. Ex: With Seeker, they wouldn’t “essentialize” it. (Is this about Monk or Bard or… I’m confused)
10:54 Q: Neverwinter – why a book rather than a box set if it has both player and DM content? A: They like to do a single book for Encounters season (ed: um, but what about Shadowfell?). BoVD is a little different. If they see it getting a lot of use at the table, they tend to go hardcover.
10:56 Q: Confusion over class progression starting with Essentials, going into Vampire… are there resources that might explain to people how to translate? A: Everything is explained in the text. If there’s no table of class features by tier, it works as AEDU. If there’s no table in the class writeup, then go to PH1.
10:57 Q: For next August’s setting, any hints and when will it be announced? A: It’s not Dragonlance. Well, it does have dragons. Tease: “It’s not just a setting, but it’s a way to play. Something that D&D hasn’t tried before.” “Twist” is a good word (James)
10:58 Q: Racial options from Feywild? A: Hamadryad, Satyr, Pixie. The Pixie is the race that can fly, of course. And support for a variety of races tied to the Feywild.
10:59 Q: Wizard that uses elements? A: Themes provide the tie-in to elements. Sorcerer structurally tied to elements. For Wizard, it’s more powers like the Pyromancer – you can use the options, but don’t get locked in. There’s a Shair (?) build for the PH1 Wizard. Al Qadim setting – wizard that has a genie familiar that gets the spells for him. Al Qadim is the kind of thing they would want to do in Dragon/Dungeon first to see how people like it.
11:01 Q: Where are the Legends and Lore articles heading? A: Mearls: I’m just a manager, I don’t actually design stuff anymore (unless something has gone wrong). Mearls has visions of Runepriest players gathering outside theWotC building with protest signs (James – “Both of them!”). Mearls is the guy on top of the mountain – what’s the big picture? They’re a research and development department – where COULD they go? Their job is to look at the other paths they haven’t taken yet, but on the other hand you can’t just push people into the new path – they might hate that. There’s something else to talk about before the session ends (not 5th Edition or anything like that). They need to look at what people want and what will excite them in D&D. We can either say “Here’s what we hear you want.” Or “Here’s something we think you’ll like – surprise!” Doing plastic surgery on a 6 month old you’re babysitting will get a bad reaction; doing their laundry or cleaning the house will get a better reaction as a surprise. With Legends and Lore, he reads the feedback. He re-read every 1 star review of PH1 and also every 5 star review. Acknowledges Pathfinder, that some people could possibly be excited about D&D, but they’re over there in a different room. 2nd Edition didn’t speak to how Mearls played D&D – he liked dungeon crawls. He liked 3rd Edition. He worries that they lectured people with 4th Edition and said, “Here’s how it is now and you’re going to like it.” D&D has to serve the “creators” (us), and if they’re missing on it we won’t just passively consume it. We expect more because we’re creators – we’re much more intellectually engaged with our game than most people are with their games. They can’t dictate to us – they need a dialogue. They need to get back to that trust. If players hate what WotC publishes we’ll stop buying it. Gygax: “Make sure the DMs don’t figure out that they don’t need us.” Yep. With Legends and Lore, they’re trying to get that trust back. Let us know they’re listening.
11:09 Q: Any plans for digital distribution of physical books? A: We’re looking at it, but nothing to announce yet. They know this was problematic.
11:10 Q: Conqest of Nerath board game – any additional start scenarios? A: They want to look hard at how they do expansions because it’s a big investment of $80. No solid plans yet. There’s some great fan stuff on BoardGameGeek and the Wizards forums.
11:11 Q: Any thought of using Conquest of Nerath rules for mass battle rules in the RPG? A: Well, we like the system, but I don’t think we’d use those exact mechanics in the RPG. We’re also looking at ways to do a mass battle game.
11:12 Q: More support for other eras like Sci Fi, Modern? A: Not right now. We’re focused on fantasy. Want to focus on getting back to basics of what we do and improve there.
11:12 Q: Heroes of Shadow tied to shadow source, what about Feywild? A: The power source is a mix. Lots of arcane, but also a strong primal tie.
11:13 Q: Runepriest and Assassin; not a lot of feat support and abilities, but there’s SO much for fighter and wizard when it comes to builds. Little feat support, and what’s there kind of sucks. A: Feats in Essentials are designed to work with that on-ramp. They look at power spectrum but can’t just pay attention to one end. Need balance. Do they need to just power up the “weak” classes? Well, it’s not off the table, but they’re not actively doing anything on it. They do have that concern, though – don’t want entire classes getting pushed out of use. Submissions are a piece of this. Q: What about feats in particular? A: Steve Winter started a thread of “what isn’t working in the game” earlier this year. That’s their to-do list, in some order.
11:17 Q: How much play testing goes into the new books? Has it changed over time? A: Yes, they do more. They have a set of play testers (100 people with NDAs). Doing fewer books on the schedule now, largely so they can have better quality.
11:18 Q: Encounter seasons. Is there any plan to have a break between seasons for things like DDXP, GenCon, Thanksgiving? A: Maybe do character creation between seasons? Chris Tulach knows more, but they’re aware of the problem around holidays and such. They’re looking at it.
11:20 Q: Minis? A: We’ll get to that. “Oooh!”
11:20 Q: Investigative component is a theme of Elder Elemental Eye; is that writing examples of writing skill challenges or actual new mechanics? A: For Encounters they want to keep it simple with established mechanics. For new mechanics it would be in something like Dungeon magazine. If they wanted to do the Inqiusitives from Eberron, it might be in something like Unearthed Arcana.
11:22 Q: Asian or swashbuckler classes? A: Likely to do something like that more with a theme than new classes. More classes will probably lead to unhappy players at this point because of the ongoing support thing. Like the elemental power build for the monk – it’s support, not a new class.
11:23 Q: Races with little support. Some have gotten more support with the update. A: Don’t want to do new races just for the sake of doing new races. Feywild – those three made sense. Elemental book – no new races (he’s pretty sure).
11:24 Q: Digital distribution – opening the vault for novels, what about older editions of the RPG? A: Can’t give specifics (don’t want to say anything until they’re ready to go)… it’s like a band when you like the first 3 albums and when the 4th comes out they destroy the old ones. Not great. They do use the older editions as sources and inspiration for the current edition. 2nd edition had great setting support, for instance. James: If your party is a Wilden Seeker and Shardmind Psion and no dwarf fighter, is it still D&D?
11:27 Q: Can’t buy Mordenkainen’s online? And with PDFs, it’s not that I can’t afford to pay full price, but it’s irking that they charge it. A: Have to keep stores happy – it’s where they get new players. It’s an awkward balance. What about full price for novels? If they want a book store to charge full price for the physical, how can they sell for 2 bucks? They have to keep authors happy (royalties). Also, there’s some pride – you don’t want to tell creators that their work isn’t worth much money. It’s the broad publishing problem. Mearls buys PDFs from RPG Now, too; not gonna pay $50 for a PDF. They’re really grappling with this. Authors are often nervous about changing their contracts.
11:30 Q: Why not Mordenkainen’s online? A: Some hobby stores do sell online, and they’ll be allowed to sell this. Amazon will be able to order from WotC… (ed: what does this mean?) They want to keep the industry healthy – complex ecosystem.
11:31 Q: Game stores are where new players come – what makes you think that? I never see new players in my store? A: When we see a store that’s having Encounters, they sell more player’s handbooks, etc. Q: What about options outside stores? A: LFR for instance is free. Encounters is special for stores – level of trust with WotC and the stores.
11:33 Q: Two years ago on this panel there was discussion of products for parents playing with kids. Was that Red Box? What about more discussion of having a 9 year old DMing for dad? A: More support may come online – they’re talking about it.
11:33 Q: How about hybrid digital distribution approach – if you own the physical book you can get the electronic version? A: Can’t tell you what exactly this might look like, but there are plans they’re looking at.
11:34 Q: More details on Madness at Gardmore Abbey? A: $39.95, comes out in September. Set in Nentir Vale. Built by order of knights of Bahamut. Dark secrets in its cellars. 3 major patrons – Lord Padriag of Winterhaven, Paladin, Fey lord – they’re the quest givers. There’s some randomization with the deck of many things – which cards come up first might determine which patrons are evil. For levels 6-8? 7-9?
11:36 Q: Eberron themes? A: Nothing announced yet. They’re talking to Keith Baker.
11:37 Q: Generic themes? A: They do some of both. Did some of these in Dragon magazine a couple of months ago (12-16 themes).
11:38 Q: What does “finding a way to support all editions” mean? A: If you’re a fan of D&D, they want you to be a fan of what they’re doing, whatever edition. Why don’t fans like WotC or what they’re doing?
11:39 Q: Newer books have more crunch, which is good, but I need fluff, such as from DDI articles… no way to easily find things like a bunch of Forgotten Realms articles in one place. A: They know that the organization system on their web site is a problem and they’re thinking about it.
11:40 Q: I live 53.7 miles from Encounters store… any thought of making the adventures available something like a year later. A: Ideally we’d do a series in Dungeon that supplies the content. They want to deliver new content. [ed: Seems like a bad dodge to me]
11:42 Q: Big push with video games continuing? A: License with Atari – they’re working on more stuff.
11:42 Q: Could they put in a ranged basic that uses your highest ability score for the Prescient Bard? A: We’ll put it on the list
11:43 Q: Steam releases video games occasionally with a big sale – buy all of the games in this bucket for a good price. If you sell the old novels, might you ever do this kind of thing? A: We did this with an Eberron bookshelf access thing – pay a fee for a year and get access to all of the Eberron stuff. Uh, James – that wasn’t announced yet. (Hilarity ensues.)
11:44 Q: Kara tur – will that be classes or ongoing support or what? A: It’s a one-time thing. Build for Runepriest. Believe there are themes. Setting material. Adventure. Honor system article. They like that they can get good feedback in the forums this way – people are already online and more likely to comment.
11:46 Q: Any chance of, as with Red Box, getting things more widely available in places like Target or Wal Mart? A: Well, we have to design the product specifically for them with packaging sizes and so on. If we do it, you’ll hear about it ahead of time. Maybe with board games.
11:47 Q: Modular character sheet in Builder? A: It’s on the list, but we don’t personally work on that.
11:47 Q: Demogorgon, Lolth, Orcus are cool… when will we see more support for devils? A: We’ll think about it for DDI.
11:48 Q: Do you monitor use of Character Builder options? A: Yes. We don’t just look at the classes and races, we can look a little deeper, but we don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole where we ONLY support what’s popular. Vampire jumped way up in popularity (number 8?) when Heroes of Shadow came out.
11:49: One More Thing…
11:50: Miniatures. They started in 2003. Interest eventually faded. 9 months ago they decided to stop doing what they were doing. RPGers don’t like randomized miniatures. A random model makes it cheaper per miniatures – some kobolds, goblins, spider… early on people bought a bunch of random stuff. But later, when you already have a lot of stuff, you don’t want to pay to get more stuff that you already have to get a little of what you don’t have.
11:51: Next year they’re going to release non-collectible miniatures in themes (drow, goblins) in sets of 12, including some large. Also a miniatures game on top of this. A board game using these war bands of miniatures. Helps retailers who don’t want to get stuck with the “out” stuff this month.
11:52: Rodney re: the game. The big difference with this new game is that it’s a diceless game. It’s a tactical game where skill is really important. Action cards are the commands you give your units that drive them around the battlefield. Luck comes from cards, but you make more informed decisions after you draw them. Focused on more skill than luck. Made tile placement at the start of the game an important part of the decision-making. Each set comes with miniatures and creature cards for the set, but also some command cards. Sounds like there’s a CCG aspect to it with these command cards.
11:54: Rodney. There will be a public, open play test well in advance, starting in the next couple of months. You can print out the cards online, use your own minis, playtest, and provide feedback. They want us to help them make it a better game.
11:55: The open playtest is a new thing for them. If they’re going to do a big, new thing, they’re going to get our input.
11:56: Playtest is not DDI-only. Information will hopefully be in mid-September on web site. There’s some testing under NDA here at the con. Tiles are 8 by 8, can be used with D&D.
11:57: Will minis be limited edition? Goblins, for instance, should always be available in some form.
11:58: Maybe include stat-block cards D&D style? Don’t want to drive up the cost too much with stuff that’s not miniatures.
11:58: New sculpts? Packs for PC races that haven’t been released yet? Some new sculpts, yes. Going to be hard to do this for fringe stuff.
And that’s it! Afterward I got meet Tracy Hurley, so I’m doing great at meeting the rest of the D&D blogging community so far. Thanks for reading!