Mike Mearls speaks! (Tome Show interview)

The Tome Show has a fascinating interview with Mike Mearls at GenCon.

My interpretation of the highlights follows, although I may have misinterpreted some things:

* The release of two full levels 1-15 adventure paths within the first year of the new edition is very new for Wizards. (Previously, only a few adventures would be released in the first year).

* Sword Coast Legends is the big release for Wizards coming up.

* The slow release schedule is driven by Wizards’ desire to learn what the players want and are using. If Wizards do something with D&D, it’s driven by player feedback. They’re starting smaller, because they’ve consistently seen that players weren’t able to absorb the volume of information that was released in a short space of time.

* One of the effects of this is that DMs aren’t being overwhelmed trying to stay on top of player options, although the PHB does support a lot of character types, with the subclass allowing a lot of unique mechanics; for instance, the mechanical difference between the Evoker and the Illusionist means both have something unique no-one else has.

* “Do fewer mechanics, but each of those mechanics having a much bigger effect on a character.” “Make fewer but bigger decisions.” There’s a lot more variety within character classes.

* The game can become unmanageable with too many options; Organised Play has the idea of only one expansion book allowed per season, which is somewhat analogous to Magic: the Gathering set rotation. The designers will try to make things compatible, but “one expansion book per campaign” is likely to be a better way of balancing things and guarding against unforeseen combinations.

* They’ve seen a huge influx of brand new players. Mike thinks a lot of that is because, at launch, you could buy the Tyranny of Dragons campaign and just start playing.

* The feedback they’ve got from reading reviews on Amazon or on blogs is that instead of people just playing one or two sessions (as in the 3rd or 4th edition launch), Wizards are more consistently seeing that they’re still playing Tyranny 3 months later. The utility of running the published campaigns is huge for people in their 40s with kids who don’t have enough time to prep their homebrew games. So more people are playing, more people are playing more often, and because the accessibility is higher, they’re getting a greater numbers of younger people playing the game.

* There will be more generic options not tied to campaigns or settings. (Mike gave Psionics as an example). They’re building the foundation for the game; getting a backlist that is very accessible, then later becoming more adventurous. They want to make sure a new player has the material they need before they expand the options too much.

* The way things get announced and the role of conventions has changed. They noticed that if they gave a seminar at PAX they’d get a much bigger turnout than at GenCon, so they’re moving to announce things and give seminars at PAX, while GenCon is becoming a more gaming-based convention (the gaming is much less at PAX). So GenCon has (for example) the DDAL Epics… It’s based very much on what people are actually doing at these conventions.

* Unfortunately, the D&D release schedule doesn’t correspond very well with GenCon, especially when GenCon moves around so much in the month. And they don’t have a booth selling product at GenCon because their emphasis is on game stores.

* They’re paying a lot of attention to what people want – one advantage of the slower release schedule is they can do more analysis and more playtesting.

* There’s more liking for sandbox than narrative adventures, but not by that much (55/45).

* Wizards won’t use errata while Mike is there to fix something that is otherwise fine; only if something is horribly broken will they alter it. The idea is not to fix with errata, but give new alternatives instead.

* Mike’s biggest regret is the fighter: the subclasses don’t have the identity that the subclasses of other classes have. What’s a battlemaster or a champion? They were so involved in the mechanics (for simple and complex fighters), that the names don’t mean anything.

* The ranger (beastmaster) has issues – over 50% like the ranger, but the subclass has problems. The ranger lost its identity in 3E, because all its stuff could be done by other classes. (2E had a good identity). There may be a new version of the ranger in UA, but they encountered problems during the playtest with changing the flavour of a class (warlock, sorcerer – people liked the classes, but they didn’t fit what they though the classes were, based on previous versions).

* The Player’s Handbook might change, but only based on a lot of player feedback, because a revised version was popular.

* D&D Movie still has legal issues. Mike actively stays away from legal matters if he can do so!

* Hasbro has been really great; allowed the 2-year playtest of D&D. The CEO of Hasbro came to visit Wizards, and was very happy with what Wizards are doing with D&D, especially all the fan feedback/playtesting they’ve been getting. No other company could have gone two years without product to do the playtest. Hasbro’s experience with Transformers has really shown them how a product can enter the mainstream. Hasbro are very hands-off with the decisions regarding D&D.

* D&D is a very stable business – a lot of fan speculation magnifies small events beyond what they warrant.

* Mike wouldn’t talk about the reduction in staff.

* Wizards collaborate with their partners on the products. If you like or don’t like a product, Wizards had a hand in it.

* Studio partnerships evolved out of the freelancer system. Instead of going to a disparate number of freelancers, going to an established team of writers and editors.

* This also meant all material could be submitted at the same time, rather than just waiting on freelancers to finish their bit. So, they saw all of the player material at once for the SCAG; they also could make changes based on Player’s Handbook feedback and then communicate them back to the studio. It’s not without problems, due to the extra layer of communication, but it’s been working well so far. It’s one of a number of approaches they can use; it’s not the only one. (The early adventures were worked on when they were still doing the core books, so it made more sense to have a studio handle them).

* The license for Fantasy Grounds is not exclusive, so potentially other platforms can license the content from Wizards.

* The 3rd party license: The plans are big and complex. Mike is excited about it, but it’s not ready yet. It’s probably not what people are thinking of. One of the things they really wanted was for people to be very familiar with the rules before doing more material. (If someone tries to sell you something that ignores the concentration rule, they haven’t played the game enough to be familiar with what the rule does, as it’s a very important balancing tool.)

There’s a bit more, but that’s the bulk of it!

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