Walked my darn feet off, but very glad I came this year. There’s a heck of a lot going on.
I made it to a panel titled “D&D Digital Discussion” and while they talked about what they’re doing with DDO and the upcoming iteration of Neverwinter Nights (an MMO that, yes, also includes player-created content), the highlight of the panel was chatting with Jon Schindehette. He’s largely responsible for the move away from the, um, unpleasant style of art direction that dominated 4e previous, especially the covers. He talked about how they’ve opened things up for a wider range of art, expanding the possibilities so that the art better reflects the content of the book. So a work with a more humorous topic might have more cartoony art. I couldn’t help but think of the cover Gabe of Penny Arcade did for the Player’s Strategy Guide, which seemed a good fit since the book appeared to gather together all sorts of advice and strategies that had been floating around on the ‘net. (And if you haven't been following his blog, The ArtOrder, do so. Lots of great art to see there.)
After that was “D&D Next: Creating the Core”. Not a whole lot here that was new and earth-shattering. They’re taking the playtesting process seriously, they’re working slowly, and they’re willing to scrap an idea and start from scratch if it doesn’t appear to be working (as they’ve already done with the fighter). They’re still wedded to their simple-core-plus-modules idea. Alas, my attempts to get Shields Shall be Splintered as part of the official rules were rebuffed. Curses! I may have to fall back on my crack team of troll ninjas after all...
That evening, they had “The Future of D&D” at the Rooftop Ballroom of Indiana. The venue was perfect: a large open room with pro lighting, video, and audio facilities, and a Spanish town-square motif. Cut-out heroes, halflings, and an owlbear lurked in windows and open spaces. The smoke machines were probably a bit much, though.
They warmed up the crowd with tunes from The Sword (Austin represent!), Ozzie, and Led Zeppelin. The audience waited patiently, since the show wasn’t at its originally scheduled location and it was raining. By the time things got rolling, they had a full house.
Somewhat surprisingly, things started off with Peter Adkinson. Apparently, this was the first GenCon keynote address, and he clearly hopes to make it a regular thing. He introduced Greg Leeds, President of WotC, and he introduced Kevin Kulp before leaving the stage. Kulp introduced Mike Mearls, Jon Schindehette (whose official title is, I think, Creative Director for D&D), and Ed Greenwood.
What followed was both entertaining and mildly uncomfortable. Part of that, I think, was the fact that D&Ds fans have, to a lesser or greater extent, a mildly adversarial relationship with WotC. More, I think, was due to the crowd simply not understanding the rhythms of events like this, or being invested in any way in its success. Obvious applause lines were passed over in silence, while Leeds was clearly taken by surprise by some spontaneous applause for Gygax and Arneson. In any event, the crowd was ready to be less than impressed by the scripted marketing dog-and-pony show they knew they were getting, but also willing to give props where they were due.
There was a lot of talk about how “the fans control the brand” of D&D and how trying to have the designers tell people how to play D&D was the wrong tack to take. (This could be seen as a repudiation of 4e’s design philosophy and, quite frankly, this was among the most anti-4e language I’d yet seen from WotC, though they refrained from naming names.) Mearls waxed greatly about allowing people to make the game their own at the table. (For instance, should magic-users use Vancian magic, spell points, or some combination of the two? Their answer was, “Yes,” and so we get a wizard class, a sorcerer class, and a warlock class.)
That seemed to contrast sharply with Schindehette’s talk about building “the biggest bible ever for the setting of D&D.” Things started making more sense when Greenwood started speaking about the Forgotten Realms in 5e and how it’s going to be transformed in a set of six novels. Apparently, the Realms are going to be the first official setting released for 5e, and while they never used the phrase “default setting” that’s the general vibe I got from them.
One bit of surprise news was the estimate that the playtest might last two years. Mearls insisted they were not in a hurry to end the playtest, and in the “D&D Next: Creating the Core” he also hit on the notion that they want to get it right the first time, and they’re willing to invest the time and effort necessary to do that. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, but with Magic doing so well right now, perhaps they can afford to take things slowly.
Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to attend the following panels: “The Art of the Art of RPGs”, “The Art of Pathfinder”, and “Fund Your Game Project with Kickstarter”. I’m also hoping to get some more time in the dealer hall; I barely scratched the surface on that one today. If you’re at GenCon and you’d like to get together over a brew or a meal, please drop me an email or a comment here. And if there’s something you’d like to hear more about, let me know.
First bit of art from Cryptic Studios. The photos were generously provided by Elizabeth and Greg M.