The D and D Diaries: Wizards of the Coast Employees Share Their Thoughts on the Iconic RPG - Part V

Dungeons & Dragons basic rules pamphlets, circa 1981. Image by Jennie Ivins

Over the course of the past four weeks, we've been chatting with the men behind Dungeons & Dragons: Mike Mearls, Rodney Thompson, Bruce Cordell, James Wyatt, and Chris Perkins, to discuss their history with the  franchise. If you missed the first few installments, go read about the group's favorite settings, favorite play experiences, favorite all-around products, and proudest accomplishments while working at Wizards of the Coast. Today, we'll conclude this series with a look towards the future, asking each of our interviewees about their expectations for the future of Dungeons & Dragons: D&D Next. 

But they're not going to get off easy. D&D Next is being billed as a massive unifying effort, bringing together all roleplayers no matter which D&D edition they hold dear, and convincing them to drop the edition-speak entirely. Since a modular ruleset should allow players to combine their favorite aspects of past editions, we asked our panel exactly that: which two features of D&D's past they look forward to merging in future games of D&D Next. 

Mike Mearls: This is an easy one for me. I can’t wait to use basic D&D’s speed and ease of character creation with 4e’s adventure design guidelines.

Back when I lived in Boston, I used to run a lot of pickup D&D games. It got to the point where I spent a day creating a set of eight player characters for my friends to pick from. If we wanted to just play D&D, it took an hour to make 1 st-level characters, or much longer to make a 3rd or 4th level one. By the same token, as a DM I had to either write up stuff ahead of time or draw from a set of adventures I had read beforehand.

I like that the 4e rules make creating a short adventure fast and easy. In Next I want to make it even easier by introducing the option to use

random tables for monsters and treasure that are built on a system like 4e’s.

Rodney Thompson: I really, really like how easy it is to DM 4th Edition. I like that I can spend a lot of my prep time on things like story and setting design, and don't have to spend a lot of time putting all the pieces together for things like populating a dungeon with monsters or designing a new NPC. I want to keep designing adventures like that.

During game play, though, I want my players more concerned with what their characters are doing in-world than with the mechanical pieces they are dealing with. Something that I really like about AD&D is that character actions rest heavily upon the player descriptions of what's happening in the game world, simply as a result of players having fewer concrete mechanics at their disposal. I want my players to say, "I go search the drawer for a false bottom," instead of "I make a Perception check."

Of course, since I want to keep the ease of DMing from 4E, I want to make sure the rest of the rules are clear, and that the guidelines are in place for the DM to make translating player-described actions into game mechanics with speed and ease.

Bruce Cordell: I am having a fantastic time using elements from all the previous editions during the 2 and often 3 playtests for D&D Next I have each week. For example (brace yourself), I love using the feats (a 3rd edition advance) from my theme (a D&D Next framing structure) with narrative play where the DM controls the story (as was true in 1st edition games) instead of overly-intrusive rules. And, when necessary for particularly delicate situations, I like breaking out my skills (a 2nd edition advance, in the form of non-weapon proficiencies) from backgrounds (another D&D Next framing structure).

James Wyatt: That long-running Roman campaign began under second edition AD&D, and we've only played a couple of times since the launch of 3rd Edition in 2000. I closely associate my experience with 2nd Edition with that campaign, and so I think of 2nd Edition as very story-driven, both in the adventures we played and in the way the game allowed us to customize the rules to fit the setting.

We created priests of specific deities of the Roman world, we made kits to reflect a variety of social backgrounds, and we created new races to model our vision of a Roman fantasy world. But we also rolled our eyes at the sometimes dramatic imbalances in kits between different sourcebooks, we suffered through the efforts of inexperienced DMs to create encounters that were challenging but not fatal, and we once made a short-lived attempt to play out combat on a grid (with different dice representing the characters and monsters). The third and fourth editions of D&D were much more robust and balanced rules systems, especially where combat is concerned, but I didn't find quite as much flexibility in tweaking those rules to fit my settings.

Third edition offered prestige classes as a customization tool, but by definition those only came into play later in a character's career. Same thing with paragon paths and epic destinies in fourth edition. So I'm excited about playing a game that makes it easy for me to run those story-heavy adventures, customize characters (through themes and backgrounds) to fit the world they're in, and feel confident that the game is going to hang together mechanically at the same time.

Chris Perkins: I'm intrigued by the possibility of returning to the game's early spellcasting system, with its Vancian roots, while preserving the idea of "at-will spells" introduced in 4th Edition.