DDXP 2012 Report: The First Glimpses at the New Edition of Dungeons & Dragons

Thanks be to Thor and whatever other gods are controlling the weather; we made it to Ft. Wayne this year! It’s 12:33 am and since I haven’t gone to bed yet, I’m going to say it’s Thursday. (It’s technically Friday.) I wanted to be sure to get the news out to all the folks who don’t follow me on Twitter, so here’s the excitement of the first full day of DDXP and the introduction of the new edition of D&D.

Seminar:  Charting the Course: An Edition for All Editions

Loads of folks turned out for this! Of course, everyone is excited/interested about the new edition, but part of the good attendance also is because the seminars were nicely nestled in the time slot between game slots, so you didn’t have to choose between seminar or a game. Sweet!

The panel was moderated by Greg Bilsland and featured Monte Cook, Mike Mearls, and Jeremy Crawford of Wizards of the Coast. We were told we could blog everything except if someone took of their shirt. (Nobody did. Darn.)

Goals for the New Edition

The first thing they spoke about was what they were hoping to achieve with the new edition:

Monte wants to distill down what’s best about all the editions of D&D. He also mentioned the importance of the DM/player relationship; it’s a core part of the game that the player and DM should be able to communicate and be creative together. Also, fireballs.

Mike mentioned the importance of offering a wide variety of options for players to explore the world the way they want to explore. The shared language of D&D is also vital; keeping the culture and stories of D&D alive so that everyone can understand the story of the dread gazebo.

Jeremy wants the new game to be a toolbox for creating worlds and stories and hopes to see a rebalancing of the game between story & mechanics.

How It Will Work

Regarding how the game will be designed, Monte said that they are creating an underlying foundation or core game, which is D&D distilled to its essence. The core game can be played by itself, or you can build your own game using the different modules.

If you like a tactical game with lots of maps, miniatures, attacks of opportunity and the like, you can use modules to have that game.

If you want extensive skills and ways to customize your character, you can have that game.

If you want BOTH, you can have that game.

Modules & Balance

Achieving balance in a game that is so modular and flexible is a challenge, but Jeremy said that their vision is that the core game has seeds for each module. Using the modules just builds on that seed.

Monte’s example was of a fighter.

In the core game, a fighter does more damage and takes more damage than any other class. (As a fighter tends to do!)

If you prefer the fighter of 4e, where you have different fighting powers that allow you to move monsters around, push them, etc, there will be a module that will allow you to build that kind of fighter and play him at the same table as the core fighter. And they’d be balanced.

Monte also pointed out that as a DM, you could say up front, “I’m running X kind of game,” where X is tactical or X is political intrigue or X is exploration, and your players will then be able to create characters that will interact well with the world you want to build.

3 Pillars of D&D

Mike mentioned that they see the three pillars of D&D as Roleplay/Interaction, Combat, and Exploration. That covers about 90% of what goes on in D&D, minus the rules lawyering (that last one was pointed out by someone during Q&A at the end). They think a lot about how they can incorporate all the things that people want to do at the table, without making a rule for everything.

Monte recognized that some PCs will be good at exploration and not so good at combat, and vice versa. But it’s important to have a firm role for each class. If you have a player who just wants to kick ass, you can help that person create that PC.

Continuing on the classes discussion, Mike added that you can be a stabby rogue (more combat-heavy) or a sneaky rogue (more exploration heavy). Monte added that bards can still kick ass.

High / Epic Level Play

High level play was the next subject and Monte spoke about how fans of D&D often say that the game breaks at a certain level. That level depends on the edition and whether or not the game actually breaks or just becomes drastically different is up for debate. He said that 4e did a good job of making epic level play a different experience.

After admitting they haven’t done much work yet on high level play, Monte said they want to keep the game manageable at high levels. Maybe swap a bunch of abilities from low levels for a single, high-level ability and make things a little less complex. (As someone who hates having pages and pages and pages of character sheet, I can appreciate this.)

Of course, Monte added, there are things you want to do at high levels. You want to build your own castle, you want to have followers, you want to mix with royalty. These are things they hope to include. Mike added that you can still keep going into dungeons and killing monsters, or maybe gods.

Monsters

On to monsters! A lot about monsters ties in to player advancement. Monte said they’d like to keep the iconic monsters like orcs, goblins, kobolds and the like in the game for a long time. But they don’t want a level 1 orc, level 2 orc, level 3 orc. They want a group of orcs to be really scary at level 1 but still significant at level 8, albeit in larger numbers.

So instead of the fighter’s attack bonus going up, up, up every level, maybe it goes up every few levels and he gets other things at the other levels. So you can go back to that orc and know that this is the same exact orc that nearly slaughtered you at level 1. It gives you a bar to see your character advance.

One of the big pushes for the new edition of D&D is putting out an amazing DungeonMaster’s Guide. Mike had the best quip on this (it may be a paraphrase, live-tweeting is hard!): “We don’t need rules for everything. We need good DM advice.”  The DM plays such a huge role in how the game is shaped and if the system supports the DM with advice, it empowers the DM and makes the game better without adding more rules.

Playtesting & Your Feedback

Jeremy spoke a bit about playtesting, which has been going on for about 9 months. One thing that has come up again and again is how diverse people’s tastes are about D&D. Clearly, D&D players love their game, but everyone has a different idea about what the optimal D&D game is. This is something that’s gone all the way back to 1st edition.

When playtest feedback comes back, two people at the same table might have opposite opinions. Player A wants more combat while Player B wanted more interaction.

Monte said that because of these factors they’ve been focusing on the story of D&D. What is a fighter? What is a wizard? What makes the D&D wizard different from say, Gandalf or a spellcaster in Skyrim? Figuring out whether you get a +2 or +3 is the easy part, he said. Making a D&D ranger that feels like a D&D ranger is harder. Is that class more Aragorn or more Drizzt?

Monte said that the most important feedback you can give if you’re able to playtest the new edition is “Does this feel like D&D to you?” and “Does your class feel like it should?”

What’s Your Game?

The final question before moving into the audience Q&A portion was “What kind of campaign would you play in the new D&D?”

Monte said he’d use minis, but without the super tactical stuff, mostly just to visualize where things are when needed. There’d be lots of social interaction and exploration that relies on the ingenuity of the players, not die rolls. Players should think about where to search in a room, rather than just rolling a die for Search. He likes to reward his players for being smart.

Mike would start with the core game and then introduce modules later, adding them on a session by session basis. For example, if there was a large scale war, there’d be a module to help run that particular gaming session (or series of sessions). Mike doesn’t want a lot of rules, so he’d move modules in and out depending on what was happening for that particular game.

Jeremy agreed that he’d be the same as Mike. He doesn’t want to pick one game and stick with it. One night he’d do no minis, no die rolls, all talking. The next game might be the full on tactical game with the grid, minis, and tons of dice.

Audience Q&A

Q: To what degree will multiclassing be available? Or will that be mainly about skills/feats/etc?

A (Monte): We want both to be an option. So you could be a fighter that is okay at interaction. Or you could make a bigger commitment to multiclass.

A (Mike): The rogue could learn some stuff about Arcane Lore, but he wouldn’t be able to cast spells unless he multiclassed into Wizard.

Q: How does the new edition appeal to the new player who has no attachments to a previous edition?

A (Mike): The core will be simple enough for a newbie to try out because it focuses on the story first and interacting with the DM.

(E’s note: I started with D&D 3.5 and for me, looking at stat blocks and all the numbers intimidated the crap out of me. Coming into D&D with a more streamlined system – even say, Essentials – would have been easier. Of course, that’s me. Everybody is different!)

Q: What steps are being taken to give creativity back to the players?

A (Monte): Players can be empowered to have more answers to the DM’s question: “What are you going to do?” There are limitless answers and everything is very open now. Fewer rules means that the DM is empowered to handle imaginative players, too.

Q (ChattyDM): Will there be random charts and tables to help the DM?

A (Monte): Yes, for the DM who likes the chaotic nature of rolling to see what is living in the Temperate Swamp, you’ll be able to roll to find out. We don’t need tables for everyone, but the DM who wants them will have them.

Q: Say everyone shows up to the DM’s place and they want to kill shit, but the DM had planned a RP-heavy session… is it easy to switch up?

A (Mike): On the fly, it’s pretty easy to slide in a module to change things. Use minis, don’t use minis, big fight, little fight, no fight.

Q: How are you addressing the needs of organized play?

A (Mike): We’ll have an agreed-upon standard so folks know what they’re getting into for each session. There aren’t any specifics yet, though.

Q: Will one player really have fun with the stripped down rules while another one has a more complex character if they’re at the same table?

A (Monte): I ran a game for two 4e guys, two 3e guys, and one who hadn’t played since 1982. The 1e guy didn’t want a complex character sheet; he liked it simple. He wanted to know which orc to hit and then he hit it and had fun. With this system, if that guy eventually wanted a more complex character, we could change it for him and build one.

A (Jeremy): If you have two fighters, for example, one fighter might prefer to just do a lot of damage while the other might want to do less damage but be able to slide monsters around the grid.

Q: At higher levels, won’t the complex characters take way more time to do their turn?

A (Monte): We really want to keep combat moving quickly, so it will prevent that guy from spending 10 minutes on his turn.

Q: Do you think D&D will start to take itself too seriously?

A (Mike): I think D&D needs chaos in it, whether it’s a funny moment, something totally silly, or something very serious.

A (Jeremy): Art in the new edition will have a more grounded approach and PCs that appear real, not like superheroes. We have some halflings that look like they ate a few too many muffins and adventurers that barely survived their last battle. Very diverse art.

Q: How will the 3 pillars compete in this edition?

A (Mike): Balancing each class is important. We want to be sure that everyone at the table feels useful in some way and has something to contribute to the party.

The Playtest

Immediately after the seminar, I went to my mustering station and was assigned a table for the WotC Secret Special adventure, which was a playtest of the new edition core rules. I didn’t know anybody at my table (at least until Mike of SlyFlourish sat down!) but we were all excited to try the new iteration of D&D.

While waiting on our DM to arrive, I was scrolling through my Twitter stream and saw a tweet from Baldman Games that if any table yelled “THE BALDMAN RULES” they’d get Monte Cook as their DM. Since I hadn’t heard any tables yelling, I showed the tweet to my table and we all sounded the chorus. Sure enough, Monte himself came to our table to run our game!

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed my silence for the next few hours. Here’s why:

  1. Monte Cook. Srsly, do I need more reasons?
  2. I couldn’t publish any crunchy details about the game, including any pics that might show character sheets. (Sorry!)
  3. Our game was pretty freakin’ awesome.

Now, you don’t need your very own Monte Cook to make the new D&D great. Of course, having an awesome DM helps, but that’s true for pretty much every game out there.

Here are some of the things that struck me about this game:

There was a LOT of talk at the table. In character at times! I’ve never been at a D&D table where players were more invested in figuring out their next move.

On that topic, your next move isn’t on your character sheet. You don’t go paging through all your stuff thinking, “Well, I could Bluff this guy.” Nope. We were doing what we thought our characters should do, even if that involved our very NOT charismatic half-orc fighter trying to be a charismatic leader of a band of skeptical savage orcs.  Multiple times. In other games, it’s “Okay, who has the highest Charisma? You? Okay, you go talk to those orcs and get them to help us.”

Everything was fun and fast and fluid. I didn’t feel like the game got bogged down at any time during our session, even when we had a few rules questions for Monte. Things just happened and they flowed with the story and the story was awesome because we made it that way.

Thanks again for an awesome game Monte & friends!

…and thank you, intrepid Reader, for making it to the end of this marathon post.

Before you comment, understand this: This is my house and we play by my rules here. If you have negative things to say, they won’t make it past moderation. If you’d like to be a dick, please go do it elsewhere. :-)

 

 

About e

Since 2008, E. Foley of Geek’s Dream Girl has been helping geeks from around the world find love. She writes amazing online dating profiles for her fellow geeks and guides them through the perilous waters of the dating scene and out the other side. She's totally proud to report that she's even caused a couple geek weddings! She lives in Maryland with DaveTheGame, her adorable cats, Mr. Peanut & Don Juan, and Titania, Queen of the Cocker Spaniels. (Email e, or follow @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.)

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