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The D&D Designers Answer Your Questions 211

Posted by Zonk
from the all-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder dept.
In January we had the chance to ask the designers of Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition a few questions about the new version of the classic tabletop game. The Wizards of the Coast Community Manager, Mike "Gamer_Zer0" Lescault put our questions to members of the development team, including: Andrew Collins, Chris Perkins, Scott Rouse, and Sara Girard. Some of the questions weren't quite answered in as much detail as I would have liked. That said, they've given us a great opportunity to follow up on their responses. If you have a follow-up question, put it in a comment below (one question per comment please). We'll pass on five of the best, and the designers will answer your question on-camera at the Dungeons and Dragons Experience at the end of this month. We'll post the video to the site early in March. This is a great chance to put a face to some legendary designer names, and get your unanswered issues resolved. Get asking.
Why 4th Edition? by DrMrLordX:
3.5E had so many non-core sourcebooks that you could have easily respun and/or rebalanced the material into a new set of books if you had any need to sell more material (which you presumably do, as would anyone else in the same business). Based on what has been released and what I've read, 4E will be a radical departure of standards set back in 3E which were, in turn, meant to improve the game drastically. Don't you think more work could have, and should have, been done to improve 3.5E? It seems like you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Wizards of the Coast:
The design team had play-tested Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 extensively and it was clear that the game needed to evolve. Since there were things we wanted to do digitally, like the Digital Game Table and the Character builder, it became clear that we should create a new, fully integrated system, with rules that would support our online applications. There were so many system improvements that the team really felt that the time had come to revamp the game. I don't imagine that our customers would have been satisfied with a version 3.75.

How long will this edition last? by Erwos:
It upset quite a few folks when D&D 3.0E transitioned to 3.5E relatively soon after release, and made some people's investments in D&D become basically worthless overnight. While I appreciate that it's sometimes time to spawn a new edition that's incompatible with the old, it felt like 3.5E should have been an errata to 3.0E, rather than a totally new set of books. I understand that WotC can't commit itself to any firm "we will not release another edition for X years" guarantee, but it would be nice to hear some sort of assurance that we won't see a repeat of the 3.0E->3.5E debacle. What's the plan? What lessons have you learned?

WotC:
I don't think it would be unreasonable to argue that the transition from 3.0 to 3.5 happened a little too soon. Would Wizards of the Coast have released 3.5 if we knew at the time that 4th Edition was coming? My guess is probably not. We would like to have 4th Edition last 8 to 10 years just like previous editions.

Player's Online Component? by Zonk
I know this component is still 'in the works', but I have to ask: what are you planning for the online pricing for players vs. DMs? You've said that accessing D&D Insider and the 'online tabletop' will cost between $10 and $15, but is that for everyone? I just can't see telling my players they *each* need to pay $12/month to play online, let alone shelling out $30/month for myself and my wife. Also, will I need to have a paid subscription in order to access PDFs of the 4th edition books that I buy?

WotC:
We will be announcing pricing and subscription details at the D&D Experience convention in two weeks.

Open Gaming License by egg_green:
With D&D 3rd Edition, we were introduced to the D20 System and the Open Gaming License, which allowed third party publishers to produce supplements for the game. Will there be something akin to this for 4th Edition? What form will it take, and will it be more or less restrictive?

WotC:
The initial 4th Edition plans for allowing third-party publication of compatible supplements have been announced, and we're currently working with a number of independent publishers to iron out the details and get them started. Our goal is to allow 3rd party publishers, both large and small, the opportunity to publish products compatible with Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.

Will combat be more streamlined? by DeafDumbBlind:
At higher levels in D&D 3.5, a fight between the party and a group of enemies can easily last a couple of hours. How has combat been streamlined?

WotC:
Two significant changes to gameplay that accelerate and streamline high-level combat are the reduction in the number of dice rolls required on each turn, and the drastic simplification of monsters. No more "full attack actions" requiring handfuls of d20s. No more monster powers hiding in feats, or that require you to look somewhere else to understand what they do--monster powers are self-contained, specialized abilities appropriate to that monster's role, its tactics in a battle, and its identity in the world.

Magic Item Requirement by Blackeagle_Falcon:
One of the things I dislike about 3rd edition is that at medium and high levels magic items are such a big part of a character's power. A PC has to be decorated like a Christmas tree with various magical doodads in order to be effective. Running a campaign in a world where magic items are rare or nonexistant required a lot of house rules and adjustment on the part of the DM. Will it be easier to run a low or no magic item campaign in 4e?

WotC:
We're definitely reducing the number of magic items that a typical character will carry around. Magic items aren't going away--they're a great way for characters to specialize their tactics, shore up weaknesses, and otherwise differentiate themselves from other characters--but they'll be a smaller overall portion of a character's array of special abilities. In addition, we're being clearer to the players and DM what mechanical benefits we expect all characters to derive from their array of items, which makes it easier for a DM running a "low-magic" campaign to know what his characters are missing (so that he can either take that into account by reducing monster stats, or provide the missing benefits via other methods).

D&D and WOW by halivar:
It appears (to me, at least), that many of the new rules-changes mirror popular MMO's like WOW. How much influence do the designers derive from video games; and, to the extent that D&D 4th resembles WOW, is this a conscious effort to reach the MMO-generation of gamers with table-top role-play?

WotC:
Just as the design teams of most computer games draw on their experiences with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games, we look to other games for inspiration and innovation. Many of us in RPG R&D play or have played MMOs and other computer games. Some of the lessons we learned about gameplay on those platforms have helped us craft a better tabletop RPG, both for current D&D players and for potential new players who either haven't yet tried D&D or haven't found previous iterations of the game to their liking.

The balance between easy and good by Mongoose Disciple:
How do you feel you've struck a balance between a desire to simplify/streamline rules to speed play and make the game more accessible, and a desire to preserve the strategy and general goodness of the game as it exists today? Details about proposed changes that were a tough call either way would be interesting.

WotC:
The struggle between playability and tactical depth is a constant one for any game designer, and D&D is no different. We're always wrestling with the right balance between providing streamlined, intuitive play and giving players all the options they want. For example, by giving more characters customizable options for their actions in combat, we've added a dramatic level of depth (both strategic, in building your character, and tactical, in employing those options during a fight), but at the cost of increasing complexity for some characters. We think that's a net positive effect, because the lack of tactical and strategic options for fighters, rogues, and many other characters had become a glaring weakness in the game. The key is to ensure that players of different sensibilities can still find a rewarding play experience within the game's framework. A player who prefers simple options can select those and still feel like he's creating an effective character, while his buddy who thrives on complexity can load up on interesting combos without grinding the game to a halt.

New content for old Settings? by andphi:
I know that some of the old settings (Ravenloft, Spelljammers, Dark Sun, Planescape) have been transitioned to other companies or have been quietly kept alive by their fans with knowledge bases and efforts at rules translations between old rulesets and 3.5. Will any of these old, orphaned settings being making a comeback in 4.0? (Planescape. Please, Planescape!) If not, are the 4.0 rules being written to make these on-going translation efforts easier?

WotC:
We appreciate the devoted fans who have continued to run campaigns in our older campaign settings. For a variety of reasons, we can't give every setting an equal amount of support, but we certainly expect to revisit older settings from time to time on D&D Insider. We constantly re-evaluate the role of older settings in our business plans and product schedules, and it's entirely possible that some of those settings may well stage a full-fledged return at some point in the future. For now, though, we're focusing on relaunching the Forgotten Realms campaign setting in August of 2008, with the Eberron campaign setting following in 2009. When we firm up any other plans, we'll certainly share those.

Negative Press by eldavojohn:
Short intro, I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi. Play a lot of computer games. Enjoy reading up on lore and the like. But I never got into D&D. I had friends that played it but I was never into it. I tried playing it a few times and had some fun experiences. But there's always been a sort of negative stigma associated with it among ... well, the general populace. What are you doing to break free of this? Or do you embrace it? What are your thoughts & opinions on this strange negative publicity that popular movies push onto D&D players? Do you ever try to break free of that?

WotC:
(Note from Gamer_Zer0: Sorry Zonk, I tried my best to get this question answered for you, but apparently the Sci-Fi channel was having an original Battlestar Galactica marathon and the entire D&D team was no where to be found!)

Complexity vs. other gaming systems by Mechagodzilla:
Has there been any thoughts or discussions on reducing the amount of books needed to play? Donating a bookshelf to every new edition is getting a little ridiculous for the casual gamer. I have 40+ books from first and second edition. I bought the Player's Handbook from the third edition, read the first thirty pages and went "bleh". I know it goes against the business model, but can you actually make a game that can be played with less than four books?

WotC:
The only book any player needs to play the game is the Player's Handbook. In addition, the DM will want a copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual (to help him craft encounters, build adventures, and run an entertaining game). Players won't need the Dungeon Master's Guide to equip their higher-level characters, because the PH will have plenty of magic items for all levels. Players won't need the Monster Manual to adjudicate shapechanging or summoning effects, because those effects will be self-contained within the classes or powers that grant them. That said, a large number of D&D players want more options than the core rulebooks provide--so we publish additional supplements and sourcebooks to meet that desire--but the game's fully functional without them. Of course, with the new online tools provided by D&D Insider (including a full rules database), it'll be easier than ever to carry around even your whole collection of D&D books wherever you play--just log on and there they are!

DRM? by MykeBNY:
Many people are acting as if a new edition will not only obsolete their old books, it will actually prevent them from accessing the ruleset at all. Level-headed people of course regard that as silly, nobody's going to sneak into your house and burn your old books! However, with more and more importance being placed on digital content (not specifically Wizards of the Coast, but in general) ... Is the issue of whether to DRM or not, and why and how being treated very seriously within the company?

WotC:
There is still a fair amount of non-rules content in the 3.x books that is still usable with 4th Edition. The rules themselves are changing and the old rules content will be obsolete. We plan to sell digital versions of our books for use online. Our DRM philosophy is to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Character sheets like by coppro:
We know that you are providing a tool for editing character sheets on your computer, although you have not specified anything else. An editable PDF sheet seems likely. However, there have been many popular tools (e.g. PCGen) that can update many aspects of data automatically based on game events, rather than numbers. Will the suite of digital tools released with 4th Edition include a tool that can maintain a character sheet that can be updated based on effects and modifications, rather than simple numeric input? If so, will it be extensible with published supplements/user-provided data?

WotC:
Our character builder application let's you build characters of any 4E class and level. It will also let you populate the sheets with content from the D&D database, and to update your characters as they grow.

Arcane/Divine Balance? by Rydia:
In 3.5 and even basic 3d ed, Priests were far and away more useful than wizards and sorcers. They had damage spells, could use better weapons out of the box and had a serious of buffs, combined with their armor, that made them powerful and extremely difficult to kill. At very high levels, a powerful wizard can deal great damage with delayed blast fireball and whatnot, but at that point a good cleric can throw down greater aspect of the diety, divine power and a load of other spells and turn themselves into a combat machine, plus the ability to heal and a few good damage spells. How are you going to balance the two main spellcasting types in 4th ed? Or are you going to leave things generally as they are?

WotC:
One of the most significant design goals of 4th Edition was to clarify the roles filled by each of the character classes in the game. Not only does this help prevent one class from being good at too many things--such as the cleric--but it also prevents classes from being unable to accomplish any role effectively (such as the bard or monk). For example, clerics in 4th Edition occupy the "leader" role (sometimes also known as the "healer" or "party buffer" role). Their damage output is decent, but far behind that of the wizard or rogue, and they don't have the defenses or melee-control abilities of the fighter.

Who are you trying to please? by HikingStick:
I started playing D&D (the basic boxed set) and AD&D ages ago--first on 1st Ed. rules and eventually ponying up for 2nd Ed. My friends and I liked the game because it was easy and simple (regarding game mechanics) in the first edition, and we did enjoy some of the changes going into 2nd E. With the arrival of the 3rd Ed. rules, you lost me as a regular player, along with many of my peers. I had no desire to relearn a gaming system that, for the most part, had its rules embedded in my head. My question is this: who are you trying to please? Are you attracting any younger gamers to the fold? If not, what's the point in publishing release after release after release? The question I'm asking beneath the surface is, "Why should I care at all?"

WotC:
The "beneath the surface" answer is, "Because this edition is the most exciting and playable version of D&D that has ever been published." In order for Dungeons & Dragons to continue to thrive, it needs to retain current players while also attracting new players to the fold. Third Edition D&D succeeded wildly on both counts, and also brought thousands of lapsed D&D players back into the game (in some cases after years away from the tabletop). We have every expectation that Fourth Edition will repeat that success.

The fact that the Player's Handbook continues to be a strong-selling book years after its publication tells us that new players still enter the game every month. We also know from our RPGA programs that the game environment is full of diehard veterans from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as new players trying out their first characters. But in order for us to continue to please existing players (whose preferences in gaming continue to evolve) and also attract new players (whose needs may be quite different from veteran gamers), the game must keep pace with an enormously volatile and variable marketplace.

D&D has always been a tabletop-based game, and Fourth Edition won't change that. However, we recognize that people think about games, information storage, and even social gatherings differently now than they did in 1974, and we want the new D&D to recognize and embrace those differences rather than risk becoming obsolete. So now you'll be able to access your rulebooks online via the Rules Database, craft the perfect look for your PC with the Character Visualizer, and even game with players across town or across the globe on the Digital Game Table.

At the end of the day however, we really just want to please the fantasy gamer inside all of us and feed that insatiable desire to keep the adventure fresh and exciting!
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The D&D Designers Answer Your Questions

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:03AM (#22475526)

    GURPS, BTW, has published their most recent edition. They *do* keep to such long periods between publications, and there's a rather large amount of compatibility between their 3rd and 4th (most recent) editions, allowing those who invested in 3rd edition's many supplements to maintain the value of their investments.


    While I do realize that material things (books, computer, cars) have value, the term "investment" as applied to D&D is a joke. That's like talking about a sizable investment in Magic: The Gathering cards. They are a hobby. People spend money in hobbies because they enjoy the hobby. It's not about investment, other than an investment of time in an activity for personal enrichment or fulfillment.

    As has been said before, nobody will sneak into your house and burn your current books and collection. If you don't want to spend money on the new version, if you want to protect your "investment", then don't upgrade. The old books aren't going to suddenly stop working, and if you're currently playing with a group of friends or are in the middle of a campaign, then it makes sense to stick with what is already working. Being on the cutting edge of anything (computers, home electronics, art, ham radio) costs money and old things give way to new things. That is the nature of life. If you derive pleasure, geek cred, or a sense of security from playing the latest version of D&D, that's your business, but others may play as a way to explore and enjoy with friends. The rules might be secondary to the social interaction for us.

    The return on "investment" here is the good times you have, the friends you make, and the worlds you explore. Not monetary.
  • Computer Gaming (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bugnuts (94678) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:29AM (#22475852) Journal
    How does the Open Gaming License affect WotC's view on computer programs? Does Wizards consider the actual rules, the type of map, the genre, the number of d20's, etc to be their IP?

    In other words, if some enterprising hotshot programmer wrote a program that might somehow compete with Wizards or silently incorporated some of the D&D rules, should he expect retaliation and C&D letters, or would Wizards consider it free marketing for them?
  • by bigdavex (155746) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:30AM (#22475860)

    I'm not sure why you're concentrating on the time between releases. 3.5 has been out a few years, and nobody is forcing anyone to change. There's a plethora of material out for 3.5, so if you don't want to change your rules... don't.

    That's certainly true to an extent; I just started a campaign with the basic & expert box sets.

    The problem is the network effect. It's the same way people feel compelled to upgrade to a new version of MS Word. It's not because they care about the new features; it's because they want to be compatible with everybody else's documents. So while it generates short-term revenue for the company, the upgrades don't really create any new value for the customers.

  • Re:Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sckeener (137243) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:52AM (#22476198)
    About the only information I got was this...
    We will be announcing pricing and subscription details at the D&D Experience convention in two weeks.

    So far I've been unimpressed with their stewardship of Dragon and Dungeon...but they are free now, so I can't complain too much....except that I was getting more gaming material when Dragon and Dungeon were produced by Paizo.....heck the WotC site was publishing more material when Paizo was running Dragon & Dungeon...

    Of course I'm willing to bet their pricing for D&D Insider will be nice at first....and then like Comcast, WotC will raise their rates....or maybe we can expect WotC to make D&D more CCG...and we'll be addicted to paying them more...

    whatever...color me underwhelmed by their response too...

  • by morcego (260031) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @01:57PM (#22478142)

    That's like talking about a sizable investment in Magic: The Gathering cards.


    Humm. Considering the ROI I've got for those cards was 4 years, and netted a 80% profit, I could say you are wrong in there.

    But, as with any other investments, you have to know when to buy, when to sell and all that.

    I have have some investments on comic magazines I plan on cashing next year for something like 900% profit. However, the ROI was longer (10 years).
  • by itsownreward (688406) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @05:44PM (#22481434)
    To each their own. Everyone's ideal play style is their own preference, so there is really no game that is better or more flawed than any other. Rather, there are just some that support different play styles better.

    Personally, the idea of an "interactive storytelling experience" of the White Wolf variety makes me want to dry heave, so I would never even consider rules of that vein. The whole notion gives me visions of emo and goth kids trying to one-up each other on calling things "lame."

    However, exploring a dungeon complex, killing monsters and taking their stuff around a table with my friends chucking dice and moving minis sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening, just like we did back in the eighties and nineties. BFRPG captures that style of game wonderfully!

    I guess people will always look for the One True Roleplaying System, but I don't think they'll ever find it because there are way too many play styles out there. I personally laud AD&D and GURPS for meeting their goals quite well, and BFRPG continues in the old-style D&D vein, which keeps the old-skool crowd like me happy.

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

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