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Thursday, November 24, 2016

The State of Dungeons & Dragons Today

Today we're going to talk a little about the state of Dungeons & Dragons through the lens of a panel discussion from Gamehole 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin with Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins and Jeremy Crawford - the people who run D&D as we know it.

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 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.
The Decision-Making Process

Why There Are Few "Splatbooks": They feel like player options done poorly can ruin a game, so they are being extremely cautious about introducing new stuff, including spells. They also don't want to confuse people trying to get into the game. They want everyone to know that the Player's Handbook and the Starter Set are what is needed..

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?

Future Products

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.

Character Death

I found these to be extremely amusing so I figured I'd put them in here. Someone asked them to talk about their favorite death/retirement story in a campaign.

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.


Benji said...

So, one clue no one seems to be mentioning is that all the Tabaxi are leaving matizca. It's a box ' n the players part that seems very enigmatic.

Jason R said...

It's good for the hobby that 5e is bringing in more new people and generating a lot of excitement. As one that has a much longer history going back to 1e, I find it much less "revolutionary" than some might. In terms of adventure material, there is so much out there from past editions, other fantasy RPG's, Dungeon mag, etc, that the big adventures WotC have put out for 5e haven't really been on my DM radar. The rule set seems to be the big thing for many. I may get with the program at some point, if I really find my current rule set of choice becomes burdensome. Until then, I'll continue along as is and look forward to any new stuff coming out from all of my favourite publishers.

Sean said...

Benji: That is weird! I just looked at it. Maztica is one of those settings way off on a duty shelf, it didn't seem like a lot of people played it. Thanks!

Jason Raabis: You don't use 5e rules? What do you use?

Jason R said...

When I came back to the hobby after a *long* hiatus (1996-2014), D&D Next was coming but the finalists were 4e and Pathfinder. I went with Pathfinder and since then I haven't felt the need to switch. I figure if all the players are responsible for accurate number crunching for their respective characters, I can handle the crunchiness of the bad guys. In addition, there was a lot of great content Paizo had that then didn't require conversion.

That said, many veteran Pathfinder groups have switched to 5e and love it. I'm sure I'll take a closer look at it at some point. I'm generally not one that follows the herd like that, but if it adds significant value to my gaming experience, I'd consider switching. We'll see :)

Whatever system I use, I revamp the magic system to preserve the flavour of wonder and awe, so I certainly like the direction DCC went with it in that regard.

Sean said...

Jason Raabis: Paizo is awesome. They make great stuff. I get worried that people will stop buying their products, so I'm glad people keep playing Pathfinder/3e.

hvg3 said...

>> I don't think I have ever heard someone in real life say that they don't like the 5e rules.

I know this isn't quite "real life", but I don't like the 5e rules. I did try them, I went along with the playtest, I ran a short adventure once it was out completely, but ultimately, I'm back at 4e (with a bit of houseruling from 13th Age).

I'm happy that it's doing well, and that others enjoy it, but my group and I all much prefer 4e (and I'm still waiting for them to 'open up' the 4e compendium, like they said they would a few years ago ;) )

I did grab the Curse of Strahd game (and have thoroughly enjoyed your guides / recaps of the game), but have converted it to 4e rather than play it in 5e.

Sean said...

hvg3: I loved 4e too. That's very interesting, converting Curse of Strahd. I think Strahd's stats are in Open Grave? The castle might be really difficult to run in 4e. That's a lot of rooms. I guess you could take whole sections and make them one encounter, like the flooded prison and the crypt. Thanks!

hvg3 said...

Yeah, it's definitely interesting having a great imbalance of encounters :)
And, by that, I mean we have some encounters that are quite easy, and there are definitely areas where they should head straight away. Other times (eg the Winery), the 'multiple encounters that merge into one' lead to a tougher challenge than each encounter on its own.

It's working well so far! :)