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GenCon 2012 – Dungeons & Dragons Next Keynote Liveblog

Thursday, August 16th, 2012 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Waiting for the D&D Next keynote to begin at GenCon 2012. Check it out on the big screen!

Waiting for the D&D Next keynote to begin at GenCon 2012. Check it out on the big screen!

For the first time in GenCon history, the week began with a keynote event on Thursday evening. And who gave the keynote? None other than the folks behind Dungeons & Dragons.

For the last several months, Dungeons & Dragons has been undergoing a transformation into their Dungeons & Dragons Next format (which they are loathe to officially call 5th edition).

The event was delayed a bit due to rain and venue change, but once things are moving, I’ll be liveblogging about the event. I know I won’t catch everything, but I’m sure there’ll be a link to video of the event online shortly and I’ll post it (and other background links) in an update over the next day or so, when I have more stable net access.

The Event Begins

7:25 pm – Peter Adkison, founder of Wizards of the Coast, runs onstage and discusses how this inaugural keynote came into being. Basically, Adkison strong-armed Greg Leeds (current CEO of Wizards of the Coast) into doing it, and made it clear that he expected Greg himself to get on stage and start the event off. So, with that ….

7:29 pm – Greg Leeds takes the stage. “Dungeons and Dragons has an illustrious history.” Gets drowned out by applause at the mention of Gary Gygax.

Cool “President of Wizards of the Coast” graphic based on the “what people think I do” meme, as he discusses his goal of running Wizards of the Coast. Emphasizes that their goal is to help turn Dungeons & Dragons into the game that [is worthy of all of the creative players that have devoted time to it over the years (or something like that).]

[Edited: Sorry for the dropped sentence above. That's what you get when you liveblog by tethering your laptop into your phone's 3G and keep trying to re-submit over and over ... and lose the tether repeatedly during the process.]

7:32 pm – Kevin Kulp takes the stage as Master of Ceremonies. Kulp helps run EnWorld.com (he’s a video game designer by trade). Even if you’ve never heard of EN World, you’ve probably heard a bit about them … because they are the source of the ENNIES awards.

7:35 pm – Introduces the developers:

  • Mike “Dark Omen” Mearls
  • John Schindehette
  • Ed Greenwood

Each person entered with a custom stat sheet shown on the screen. Schindehette mentioned that he also made one for Greg Leeds. He was a paladin with a size category “Gargantuan Ego.”

Mike Mearls begins discussing Dungeons and Dragons as a storytelling experience, rather than just a combat game. “The game is funny, it’s tense, it’s exciting. It’s the thrill of victory and the agony of a natural 1.”

None of the storytelling aspects, the important aspects of the game, come from the rules of the game. There is no board, no boundaries, to what can be done in the game. We can form an alliance with giants, become kings … or even gods.

For the longest time, “they” have put the developer in charge of D&D. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. D&D is the only game to tell you right in the rulebook that the rules are meant to be broken. They’re guidelines. [AZJ note: Actually, lots of modern RPG's have this caveat listed in the rulebook, but D&D did start it off.]

7:42 pm – Kevin Kulp asks “So what about this point made you want to rethink your approach to D&D?”

Mearls reply: The goal is to get feedback from a wide range of fans during the development process, rather than R&D creating the game and then telling you what the proper way to play is. “It’s basically giving the fans the final say on what D&D is, rather than just a bunch of game designers in Seattle.”

7:47 – John is asked about the D&D look and artwork. Lots of exploration of the legends and lore. They decided to bring together a group of experts to decide where they really wanted to go with the look of the game. A couple of months ago, John began his Dragon Eye view articles (archived here), discussing the creative part of the world.

A montage of Owlbear conceptual artwork comes up on the projection screen. It’s not just the monsters, though, but all of the races as well. The goal is to really make it seem as vibrant as they feel it should be.

7:52 – Ed Greenwood discusses that this reconceptualization is all across the D&D product line, in a way that’s never been done before. Mike discusses that the goal is to give one deep, rich world, rather than splitting their attention across a half-dozen different worlds. They want to make the Realms be as rich and vibrant as possible, bringing out all of the color in the setting.

The Realms will be great, but they do have other great settings developed by TSR and Wizards over the years. Mearls announces that in early 2013, they will release the first wave of D&D backlist products in electronic format again!

No matter which game or setting you enjoy, you will have access to it. (Not all at once, but they do have a schedule for this.)

Ed Greenwood discusses how he created the Forgotten Realms, based on the fantasy setting that he used to tell stories years before he’d ever even heard of Dungeons & Dragons. The Forgotten Realms was created as his personal sandbox, and over the years all manner of people – both professional authors and those who tell stories around their gaming tables – have driven the Forgotten Realms with their stories.

Greenwood announces the 6 authors of a new series of stories that will “right the realms,” called The Sundering:

  • First book, The Companions, will be by R.A. Salvatore
  • Paul S. Kemp will write the second book, The Godborn
  • The Adversary by Erin M. Evans
  • The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers
  • The Sentinel by Troy Denning
  • The Herald by Ed Greenwood

Kulp: “I know you don’t want to give us spoilers from the novels.”

Greenwood: “Yes I do!”

8:05 – A video sequence on the authors discussing The Sundering development and creative process.

8:08 – Back to Ed Greenwood, who discusses the various cover graphics and characters that are highlighted as being featured in the various books. While this is cool, Kulp brings up the idea that such major characters and events seem to run against the idea of players running their own realms.

Mearls acknowledges that there is a contradiction, which is why the Wizards novels are going to focus on very personal stories about the events of the series. The major characters of the world will continue to have their adventures, but in the new era, it will be the characters played around gaming tables who will determine the unfolding tapestry of the world setting.

John demonstrates some graphics of the setting, as well. This went really quick, but he did say that he’s working not just on monsters, but even characters like “random pillagers” to create a coherent look to the world.

Kulp: How will this “unfolding tapestry” be guided by the players?

Mearls: There will be 2 adventures released in the next year. As players and DM, you will be able to return the results to Wizards of the Coast, and those results will establish the canonical history of the realm.

8:16 – Facebook video contest of fan involvement. Showed a female ranger. As she was about to shoot at a knight in armor, she fell off the branch. Cut to the girl sitting at a gaming table. Zoom in on a natural 1 on her die. Cut to credits in mid-swear word.

8:18 – Mike begins discussing the public playtest. Some interesting findings:

  • The Cleric has been modified to allow for some more combat proficiency.
  • The Fighter has been modified to incorporate “expertise” dice, representing the ability to size up an enemy, adding some diversity to what they can do.
  • The pre-made Rogue in the playtest had a low Wisdom, which meant they couldn’t find traps well. Occurred to them that the Rogue, being a skill-based class, will have some abilities to still do well at things, despite having a poor natural proficiency in the underlying stat.
  • The Wizard of course highlights some concerns about the magic system, so they’re trying to figure out the best way to run the magic system. Have decided to allow Wizards, Warlocks, & Sorcerer classes, so that players and DM’s can decide the magic system they’d most like to utilize. This is part of their big emphasis on modularity and letting the players decide how they want to run things.

A long way to go. Anticipating that it will be a 2-year process at the current rate. “We’re very committed to doing this right.” Round of applause from the room.

8:29 – Event ends…

11 Comments »

  1. The more I hear about D&D Next the less confidence I have in it…

    I would like to hear more about releasing old stuff in electronic versions.

    Comment by TW - August 16, 2012 10:54 pm

  2. Haven’t played D&D, or really any proprietary system, for 20 years. Our group graduated very quickly to designing our own systems to match the ethos and style of the campaign (magic, experience and combat systems all differently handled depending on the game emphasis), and we never looked back. Every time I look at D&D I just shudder; the complexity of mismatched element is all but incomprehensible to me and, as someone who sat down in 1976 to play my first game, I would not even know how to generate a character nowadays.

    Comment by tchernabyelo - August 17, 2012 12:02 pm

  3. > [Greg] Emphasizes that their goal is to help turn Dungeons & Dragons into the game that

    Into what?? You’re killin’ me. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - August 17, 2012 1:44 pm

  4. I’m just happy they’re moving away from this whole spell plague thing. It really ruined most over their FR novel line.

    Comment by Glenn - August 18, 2012 8:20 am

  5. My dream is that someday their entire product line will be available in physical print-on-demand format. Which I realize would be tricky when you’re talking about the maps &c., but as I said: My dream.

    Comment by Joe H. - August 18, 2012 9:36 am

  6. [...] GenCon 2012 – Dungeons & Dragons Keynote Liveblog Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Guide and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook,Twitter, and even Google+. [...]

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  9. [...] last reported on D&D Next when our intrepid man-on-the-scene Andrew Zimmerman Jones live-blogged the Dungeons & Dragons Next Keynote at GenCon last August. This week Wizards of the Coast [...]

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  11. [...] lay it out here: Dungeons & Dragons is going through some massive shake-ups. Last year, I liveblogged from their keynote address, where the Powers-That-Be formally announced their intention to tie the D&D Next transformation [...]

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