PAX East 2011 Interviews: Chris Perkins of Wizards of the Coast

GGG & WotC's Chris Perkins

I’m a geek. I know it’s shocking, but it’s true. So last year, when it was announced that the east coast branch of the PAX convention would be held in Boston, I was thrilled to death. I can hop on a subway just 4.5 blocks from my house and get on a train that will have me to the convention center in less than an hour. That’s a recipe for wonder. Sadly, I only managed to wrangle a one-day pass for various reasons last year, so my memory of PAX East 2010 is a blur of gaming, a chaotic, crowded Expo Hall, and afterwards wondering if I’d missed a Dealer’s Room or something.

This year, when E asked me if I wanted to attend PAX East 2011 with a Media Pass, I said “Hells yeah!” or “Indubitably!” or something of that nature. Three days of gaming and geekery. I arranged the vacation day for the Friday for maximum exposure and waited impatiently.

As if to tease me, emails began arriving in my inbox. Gaming companies were contacting me and asking me if I wanted to arrange interviews during the con. At first I assumed they were spam, then I realized they were coming to me because of my Media pass. I said yes to a few of them…specifically to Turbine and Wizards of the Coast.

As part of a short series of articles, I’m offering the insights and previews I managed to wrangle as part of my interviews process.

Sunday – 12:00 PM – Wizards of the Coast – D&D

Because I wanted lots of time to enjoy myself at the show, I didn’t schedule a lot of other interviews. I was not going to miss a chance to get some private time with someone from Wizards of the Coast. WotC’s area was set up as a large castle, and they were running the live D&D game, replete with the medicine ball sized D20, that they ran last year.

I arrived, identified myself, and was told to hold on. To my amusement, the PR rep knocked on the wall, and it opened, revealing a small secret room. Is that perfect for D&D or what? I was let in and introduced to the folks from Wizards who would be answering my questions. I think one was named Kieran? I’m embarrassed to admit that I got a little star-struck, however, as the other one was freakin’ Chris Perkins!

I did a double-take. Chris Perkins?! I get to chat in private with Chris Perkins?! DM to the stars?!

I’m afraid after that, all memory of the names of everyone else I was introduced to evaporated from my brain. I’m very, very sorry Kieran, if that was your name. And I’m even more sorry for not remembering the name of the very nice PR person I spoke with. But please understand, both of you…Chris Perkins!

If you don’t know Chris, seek out and listen to, or watch, the D&D podcasts with Chris Perkins as DM for either the group now called Acquisitions Incorporated (Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, Scott Kurtz of PVP, and Wil Wheaton of…well…Wil Wheaton, people! What kind of geeks are you?) or the writers of Robot Chicken. Chris Perkins is a very funny, quick-witted DM, and I’ve been enjoying his work in these games for years, as well as reading about his home campaign, Iomandra and the Dragon Sea.

Star struck though I was, I was determined to be cool and ask some questions. At first, I just asked what they were excited to talk about and/or show off. They’re excited about the D&D Encounters program, a once-a-week one-hour or so game that players can enjoy at a Friendly Local Game Store on Wednesday nights. The next season of Encounters is going to tie into the Neverwinter campaign setting coming out later this year. This setting will also be tied into with comic books, video games, board games, etc.

They have a desire to build more unity in the gaming community. There’s a sense that there’s too much polarization. Gamers are divided along many lines: gaming system, edition of D&D, campaign setting (e.g. Eberron vs. Forgotten Realms), and so on. They’re very interest in showing that no matter how one gets into D&D, whether via the tabletop RPG, the MMORPG, a video game, a comic book, a board game, a movie, or what have you, all of these are permutations of the same ideas and setting. They was to build a stronger, more unified community.

When asked about future products, they told me the same products I’d been hearing about through D&D Insider (Heroes of Shadow, the Shadowfell, Heroes of the Feywild, and such.) They’ve sworn off talking about products that are too far in the future, because there’s a concern about telling people something’s coming and then deciding it’s not worthy of release and shelving it. I got the sense that WotC wants to get away from pages and pages of errata. They’d rather announce a product when they’re sure of it and have it be just right when it comes out. If that means fewer products a year, they’re prepared to deal with that.

I teased them a little bit on this subject by asking them about the Character Visualizer, a program they announced before 4th Edition was released. This program would’ve allowed a player to make a 3-D model of their character, then add this picture to their character sheets and to use it as a virtual miniature in the Virtual Tabletop system. I reminded them that its release had seemed so imminent that they’d had an article about it in Shelley Mazzanoble’s Confessions of the Full-Time Wizard column. There were some rueful chuckles and an admission that they’d bit off more than they could chew.

The Virtual Tabletop is coming, although it’s 2-D rather than 3-D. It’s in beta testing now, and it won’t be released until they’re fully satisfied that it works, that it doesn’t cause system slow-down, and that it’s useful for players of the game. “We don’t want to release anything until it’s at least as robust as the tools we’ve already released.”

“It’s all a grand experiment,” Chris said at one point. He then referred to Fortune Cards, a product that many people had condemned as a WotC money-grab before they were ever released. They’re an experiment, he told me. My group uses Fortune Cards in a limited way in our game, and I rather like them, but there’s been a lot of vitriol online about them.

I asked about the sad decision WotC had made to discontinue their pre-painted miniatures line. Chris seemed to be as sad as I was. “I love the minis,” he said, “I have thousands of the things.” To sum up what he told me, it’s all based on the economy. It’s cost-prohibitive to make the minis as they were doing, so they’re looking at various alternatives. Their big concern is to get something into the hands of players, especially those who’re just starting out. Tokens for characters and monsters were born of this need.

We talked a little about computer D&D games. Daggerdale is coming in the spring, and it looks fun. What about a D&D 4th Edition based MMORPG? Well, the next big release after Daggerdale is a new Neverwinter Nights (remember what I said about things tying into Neverwinter?) Like the previous version, online servers will be available for players to create their own game worlds and to have others join them. I remember having a lot of fun in those online server worlds, so I look forward to this.

At one point, Chris and I ended up alone. “Thank you,” I told him. “Not just for the interview. Thank you and all the developers so much for 4th Edition D&D. I’ve been playing for 32 years, and I love this version the most.”

“I love it, too,” Chris said with a smile. “But you know, back in the home offices, we play a lot of the older editions, too.”

I told him I read that, and that it had sparked a lot of online speculation about various new editions of the games, including the idea of a Master Edition that might include optional rules from all versions of the game, just in time for 2014, the 40th anniversary of the game.

Chris’ eyes twinkled. “I love speculation like that,” he said with a grin, “and I’m so glad I don’t have to confirm any of it.” So why do they play older editions of the games? Chris dropped a quote I loved: “To understand where the game is going, you need to know where it’s been.”

It was a great interview. I loved every minute of it, and I gleefully called my husband afterwards to tell him all about it. I can’t wait for next year!

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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