D&D Next: Interview with Mike Mearls

By June 11, 2012

Recently, Wizards of the Coast released a D&D Next Playtest Packet that provides a glimpse of what the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons may look like.  Here are some of the details:

  • It is a rule set designed to emulate what is best from all the previous editions but not actually make them 100% compatible with one another.
  • Characters won’t scale the same way as they have in previous editions. An orc will still represent a threat at level 1 or level 10, unlike the old days when an orc might threaten low-level characters but bore characters that have grown more powerful.
  • Players can choose the level of complexity. I don’t really think complexity was missing from the game but more of a problem in the way information got presented.
  • Skills are getting boiled down to ability checks.
  • Game developers are looking at something similar to 3rd Edition’s OGL, but the GSL is similar and no one likes it.
  • A huge emphasis on rules customization (or “modules”) is probably the best news, considering that what makes tabletop gaming stand out from video games is that when you’re the  Dungeon Master (DM), you can change any aspect of it you want. You can’t reprogram World of Warcraft to suit your house rules.

Mike Mearls, the man taking the lead on the new edition’s development, talked to me  about D&D Next.

Nick Langley: What are some elements from 4th edition that worked and others the may have missed the mark?

Mike Mearls: I think 4th edition’s core rules work fairly well. They’re focused on what happens at the table and they try to streamline things as much as possible. I like the clarity of using a move action to move, plus the approach to monsters makes things much easier for the DM.

With that said, I think that the game has a lot of embedded complexity. There are a lot of rules to understand the subtle differences between powers, and I think the classes overlapped both in what they can do and how they acquire abilities.

Nick: How much development time will D&D Next take you?

Mearls: We’ll dedicate as much time as we need to process and incorporate the feedback that comes out of playtesting. We have some ideas of when we’d like to release the game and anticipate having more information about an official release later this year.

Nick: One of the advantages of tabletop gaming is that it can be house-ruled, so will D&D Next takes steps to embrace this kind of customizability?

Mearls: Yes. House rules are a big part of tabletop RPGs. They’re a way for DMs to express creativity and create unique elements for their games. In some ways, the modular approach to design makes house rules easier to implement.

Nick: There was nearly a decade in between the release of 3rd and 4th edition D&D. Why is D&D moving into its next reiteration so much faster than before?

Mearls: We saw an audience that had been divided by differences in editions and play styles, and wanted to design a version of D&D that all players could experience and enjoy.

Nick: Will Vancian spellcasting (3rd Edition D&D’s spellcasting system) return? 

Mearls: Daily spells are a part of 4e, so they’ve never really left the game. As part of the classic conception of D&D magic, you can expect that players who want fire and forget spells can prepare and cast them.

Nick: What is the plan for playtesting D&D Next? PDF version of an entire book or releases of individual classes and concepts? Alpha and beta testing?

Mearls: Our plan right now is to release a “draft 0” so to speak at the D&D Experience convention, and use feedback from the show to shape the first true draft. We’ll then move into open playtesting in the spring. We want to make sure that as many players and DMs have a chance to give their input into this next iteration of D&D to make sure that it achieves its goals. More information about playtesting will be available on dungeonsandragons.com in the coming weeks.

Nick: Will there be any kind of return to the d20 system open game license (OGL)?

Mearls: I can’t comment on that at this time, though we are looking at the possibilities.

Nick: Will D&D Next remain a pen & paper game, or can we expect it to become a type of card/boardgame with many expansions?

Mearls: The next iteration of the game will 100% be a tabletop roleplaying game. We’re looking at how to manage digital support, but this is an unabashed RPG. When it comes to D&D board and card games, we’ll simply design new games that speak to that style of design and the D&D fans who want something in that area.

While the next system is in development, what would the D&D players among you like to tell the developers?

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