It was a great panel. If it sounds like something you're interested in, you should go listen to it. I'm going to 'spoil' it for you. The audio of the panel is right here.
I am going to pull out the most interesting stuff and talk about it a bit.
The Approach to Steering D&D
Mike Mearls explained their approach to Dungeon & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast provides a service. They listen to what D&D players want or need, and do their best to provide it.
As far as I can tell, this approach has been phenomenally successful. I keep hearing that the Player's Handbook continues to be a very big seller. I don't think I have ever heard someone in real life say that they don't like the 5e rules. The game seems to be a critical and financial success.
Some of the other editions didn't really last all that long. 3e had 3.5 roll out a few years after 3.0. I think that D&D Essentials came out two or three years after 4e did.
In 5e, it seems like they are in it for the very long haul, releasing a 'storyline' every 6 months and a few side books each year.
How long can that last? How long do they want it to last? It feels like we're potentially in uncharted waters.
I think D&D is going to be pretty big for as long as people watch other people play games online. D&D can be phenomenally entertaining in that format if you have the right people at the table.
The Roleplaying/Combat Dilemma: At one point in the panel,they took questions from the crowd. One person asked what he should do when he has a group where half of them just want combat, and the other half don't want combat at all.
Jeremy Crawford gave what I think is the best advice I have heard in a really long time. He said that you have to monitor your players constantly. Watch their reactions. Are they having fun? Did they like this thing we just did? Give them more of what they respond to.
Jeremy says he will actually junk his plans for an entire session right there at the table if he sense that it won't go over well on that particular day.
Mike chimed in with more. He pointed out that even in combat there can be talking. You can always have roleplaying going on, even in a string of battles.
Then Chris said to think of the monsters as heroes that are on their own adventure. Groups of monsters are like dysfunctional groups of adventurers and you can play them a such. They have all of the weird relationships with each other that the characters have in their group.
Settings: I really liked this. They said that they consciously try to treat the D&D multiverse as one big campaign setting. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, Planescape, they are all connected and all part of the story.
I really get a kick out of the idea of them publishing an adventure where heroes go on a quest to a bunch of different, less-utilized settings such as Al Qadim, Birthright, Spelljammer, etc. Heck, a spelljamming vessel can take you to all those places.
You could do a Rod of Seven Parts story where each piece of the rod is in a different setting. I would love that.
Volo's Guide to Monsters
There were a number of comments about making Volo's Guide to Monsters that I thought you might find interesting.
Trolling the Forums: Mike Mearls sat down and searched all of the forums (like ENWorld and RPG.net) and he looked for every list of monsters people to seeing 5e. He used that list to help decide which monsters to put in the book.
Powerful Monsters: Mike points out that Volo's doesn't have many high level monsters because their research shows that not many groups get above 10th level. This not because people don't want to play high level games, but because they just don't make it that high due to time.
Why We'll See Lots of Hags: Jeremy Crawford always pushes for hags because he's been using them in his campaigns for decades. He mentions his home campaign a few times in this panel. Chris Perkins plays in it. I would like to hear more about this. What kind of game does the D&D rules guy run?
Everything is Linked: Mike points out that all of the fey entries in Volo's Guide to Monsters together depict the situation in the Feywild. We don't get the full picture but we get pieces. You kind of get the feeling that there might be a big Feywild thing coming up. Who knows, maybe he was just making a broader point.
Picking the Monsters: They had a ton of monsters they wanted to put in the book and didn't have space to fit all that many in. They actually sat down and did a vote, complete with a points system. After that, each person got to pick one monster to put in the book. Here's the picks:
- Chris Perkins: Nilbog.
- Chris Lindsay: Grung.
- Jeremy Crawford: Wood Woad.
- Mike Mearls: Didn't give himself a vote. He would have picked a Norker but he knew everyone else hated them.
They purposely didn't call Volo's Guide to Monsters "Monster Manual 2" because they don't want to confuse new players. Mike once met someone who tried to start playing 4th Edition with the Player's Handbook 3. Wow.
Future Trends: They want to lay a foundation so that D&D can thrive 40 years from now. They actually made a comment about being ready for what comes if/when online gaming wanes.
What would that be? I've always thought that D&D won't die until they can make video game that allow you to do anything within the context of that world. How far off is that? Many, many years, right?
New Storyline: They are a few months way from announcing the next product. I think it was January of last year that they announced Curse of Strahd so maybe it will be January again?
I know there was a D&D book online called "Labyrinth" that had people speculating. So I guess that's a clue of some sort. It could be a reference to the Mazes of the Lady of Pain. It could be a reference to the movie, Labyrinth which was very feywild-y.
Chris says that the adventure he's working on right now starts off sandbox-y, becomes more focused and old school.
He says that Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time was a consultant. Consultants come in to talk before the adventure is written. Chris tried to put Pendleton Ward into the book - as in, his style and sensibility.
Remakes: The general approach to revisiting old concepts is to try to put a fresh spin on stuff.. it's like the temple of elemental evil, but it's not. Curse of Strahd isn't a straight conversion of the original Ravenloft adventure, it's a new version.
Clues: They really hammer one point home again and again. There are loads of clues to future stories are in the main books, including Volo's Guide to Monsters.
Chris Perkins: Chris was running his Iomandra campaign, which he wrote about often in his DM Experience columns.= during the 4e era. His group sacrificed themselves to kill Vecna. They created a huge explosion that destroyed Vecna, knowing it would destroy him, too.
Mike Mearls: This was in an Eberron campaign, One player was running a warforged artificer, Group was facing an undead warforged that lived on an island that was one giant construct (good god that sounds awesome). The warforged PC "uploaded" himself into the psyche of the island and took partial control of the island. By doing so, he could open doors and remove hazards for the group but his spirit had been permanently removed from his body.
Jeremy Crawford: He was running a Ravenloft campaign. Patrina kept telling the heroes throughout the campaign that Strahd was just misunderstood. He thought the group knew she was just trying to mess with them.
They get to the final battle with Strahd. Strahd pops up and the ranger says they should help him. They pause. Strahd drops one hero in the first round. The cleric flees! The ranger still just wants to talk to him. It's a total bloodbath. One hero became a vampire, everyone else but the cleric died. The cleric spent the rest of his days gibbering naked in the woods.
I don't know how long these good times of D&D will last. It seems like they're really aiming for a continuous ascent and what's crazy is that it really does feel like it's working. Their approach to the game seems to be working wonders, so let's keep our fingers crossed that D&D is big for years to come.