Monday, May 28, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Wonders How He Missed Mike Mearls Interview at the Escapist'

Really, how the f' did I miss this?  How did my fans miss this (as they often send me messages directing The Grumpy Dwarf to an article they feel will entertain).  So, lets more on to yet another Mike Mearls The Man, The Manager and The Next.

You can read the original article here

The public playtest for the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons begins today, May 24th. (well, it began that day - if you could get past WotC's borked servers.) Mike Mearls is the head of the development team tasked with recreating the rules for the most iconic tabletop fantasy roleplaying game after the 4th edition unfortunately led to a fracturing of the game's core audience (and that was a surprise HOW exactly?) That's no easy feat, and the goal is to attempt to appeal to as many gamers as possible through a lengthy public playtesting period. You'll have the chance to play a version of D&D Next - as Mearls and company still call this new edition - and offer suggestions on how to improve the rules. (you really don't want Grumpy to make suggestions on how to improve D&D.  Really, you don't!)

This week, I (Greg Tito, not The Grumpy Dwarf) got Mearls to divulge his strategy for rolling out the playtest (bork the servers that send out the second email, and the crash the servers that link to the playtest documents themselves.  oh, and add restrictions to the D&D Next Playtest FAQ that weren't in the agreement you signed off on - everyone following so far?), what new rule he's most nervous about, and why he chose to write rules which concentrate on how your character behaves (because kids misbehave all of the time - shit, wrong set of rules) rather than how much damage he or she can deal.
Greg Tito: What are your goals for digital distribution of the Playtest Rules? How often will we see updates?

Mike Mearls: We want to get the playtest out to as many people as possible, so having a digital method of distribution allows us to do that (but since we dont want it being released too quickly - our lawyers say the internet is too fast - we plan on making it so that only one person can download the documents at a time, on good old solid dial up speeds.  We're using AOL to help with distribution). Plus, it helps make updates to the materials much easier. Once the playtest has begun, we will be balancing between taking in feedback, revising content and, of course, working on new content. (add salt and pepper and let simmer for one angry year) You can probably expect to see new material come through over a matter of weeks, but it all depends on how smoothly our process goes (smooth is not the word I would use for the process that went down on thursday.  like coarse sandpaper over a newly circumcised adult male's private member is about how the experience went down. which does mean it can only improve)

Greg Tito: How will you be shown the data from the playtest feedback? Will it be based more on hard numbers or anecdotal evidence? Which will you rely on more?

Mike Mearls: We'll use surveys as our primary method to collect quantitative feedback (I swear on the dark gods of the gully dwarves that mike has never read one of Wizards' surveys) and help us to make some of our larger decisions and revisions. We'll also be relying heavily on Live Chats, forum discussions and playtesting at key events, though, to gather more of the qualitative feedback. It's important to us to give players as many outlets as we can to tell us their thoughts and visions for the game.

Greg Tito: Why has it taken so long to implement the modularity or diversity of play that was a part of your initial design goals?  (holy shit!  someone is actually tossing mike a hard question!)

Mike Mearls: Most of our time has been dedicated to analyzing the initial player feedback and building a robust, core game (in other words, we aint there yet). It's all well and good to have a modular game, but if the game changes in ways that are irrelevant to players and DMs, then it's simply useless noise (huh?). It's important that we get a lot of feedback from players, because that will help us figure out where to focus our modularity.  (i'm glad to see it hasn't been chucked completely.  the problem is the core of the playtesters are 4e players - Hey, it's MY problem, ok!.  4e style playtesters will want 4e type changes)

Going back to Hit Dice and the mechanical change it represents (did I miss something?), that's precisely the kind of area where we can introduce options for DMs to use, rather than dictate a canonical model of play. (start up the Gregorian Chants...)

On top of that, it's critical that our core system functioned smoothly and with complete clarity. If the core game is hard to untangle or has lots of moving parts, it will be hard both for designers and DMs to figure out how to modify those things and what those changes might actually do. We've put a lot of work into the core game, and our initial playtest focuses on that. (fair enough)

Greg Tito: What part of the D&D Next rules are you the most nervous about receiving a bad reaction from fans?

Mike Mearls: The Hit Dice rules really stand out, because they touch on an area of the game where people have very different opinions (i'm not even going to touch on the mechanic - it's piss poor nomenclature). In the current rules, Hit Dice represent your character's ability to recover from injury through mundane means. Between fights, you can spend them to heal provided that you have bandages and similar gear. 

I know that some players really like extra healing so that they can keep adventuring without worry about resting too often. Other players feel that such resources are too unrealistic and don't fit in with the feel of D&D. (yep, many in the Old School corner of play feel that way.  That being said, if it was a Swords & Sorcery type fo game that lacked magical healing, i could see a version of this working.  See?  I can be flexible at times!)

In this case, we've taken care to isolate the Hit Die mechanic (again, poor naming). It exists on its own and would be trivial for us (or an enterprising DM) to remove. It's something we'll watch in our surveys and feedback to get a sense on whether D&D players see it as a step forward or a step back. (let me guess Mike - this is the first "modular" part added to the system ;)

Greg Tito: What is an example of a rule you've changed based solely on player feedback so far?

Mike Mearls: Funny enough, we added Hit Dice precisely because we had a lot of people frustrated with the lack of healing in the initial draft. We weren't planning on using such a mechanic, so it will be very interesting to see where it goes. (I played in the earlier {not earliest} drafts and this was already included, but it wasn't called Hit Dice)

Greg Tito: At the risk of alienating the fans who haven't yet read the rules, let's get into the nitty-gritty of why you made some design decisions with D&D Next. The rules introduce themes like "noble" or "pub crawler" (dude!  "Pub Crawler"  They named something after The Crazy Dwarf!) that define your character in more ways than just your class like fighter or wizard. The themes have been my favorite addition because of how they inform roleplay more than mechanics. (themes are actually pretty cool.  see, something I like.  So go screw if you think I gotta be negative all the time) Was that intentional? How have they played out in the playtest so far?

Mike Mearls: It was very intentional that themes, and backgrounds, inform how you portray your character. We felt that too many of the character customization options in D&D exist only as mechanics. (especially in 3e and 4e) They don't say anything about who your character is or what he/she has done in the past. We wanted an easy way for a player to connect the dots between what's on a character sheet and what's going on at the table.

Greg Tito: I've found that players are frustrated when Javelin of Flame (a Wizard at-will spell) or Charm doesn't work as often as they'd like because of failing against a high roll the DM makes. Why were opposed rolls made more frequent in the game? Has that slowed down play for you or made players feel bad? 

Mike Mearls: We've actually removed that rule, for precisely the reasons you cite. Some people liked it, but most players felt it slowed things down. Making the game move faster, while still keeping it fun and interesting, is one of our big goals. (i just don't fuckin' understand opposed rolls.  it's like rolling to hit againts a random number from 1 to 20)

Greg Tito: In D&D Next, your starting hit point total is the same as your Constitution score. Why was Constitution made the standard for hit point totals, when a Goblin with a con of 10 has 3 HP? (hey, is this the same Greg Tito that was one of the guys behind ACKS?  I ask because he is asking "game designer" type questions.) Dissociated mechanics didn't go well in 4th, why was this change made?

Mike Mearls: Hit points are probably the biggest issue in the game right now. As I mentioned above, we got a lot of feedback on healing and are trying the Hit Die mechanic to solve that. On top of that, we decided to err in the early going on the side of giving out more hit points rather than fewer. (i'll go along with this decision - for now ;) At this stage, if characters have it too easy people are at least playing a lot and giving us feedback on the core rules. We already have plans to roll back hit point totals, but we'll also see how the playtests go before making a final decision.

Chances are, you'll see hit points and damage both go down, so the game's overall lethality might not change much but the math is simpler and damage expressions simpler. (that actually makes sense.  see, i believe in less is more)

Greg Tito: What's more important for this new iteration: selling more books or protecting the legacy of D&D? (heh!  nice one greg!  like he's going to give the true answer over the correct one ;)

Mike Mearls: Without the legacy of D&D, you can't sell books. In many ways, it's an organic process (making compost is also an organic process - it's how things rot and break down). If the game feels like D&D, preserves what makes RPGs and D&D unique, and does that in a way that people can pick up, I think you end up doing both.

One thing I think we learned over the past 10 years is that adding lots of mechanics to the game is a bad idea over the long run (what!?!  mike actually said this?  holy shit!). The game doesn't really need new spells, new feats, and so on.


  1. Wow! That last sentence produced the first twinge of excitement I have felt for Next. If they can stick to that I might just be interested.

  2. How the hell does that last sentence mesh with the marketing philosophy they have used for the last 12 years?


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