Friday, August 17, 2012

D&D Keynote -- A Focus on Vision Rather than Hype

In prior years, the Gen Con presentations by Wizards of the Coast have focused on selling consumers on an upcoming product. The staff of wizards would present the upcoming year's product line up, or try to sell the audience that the latest edition or product line was the best invention since the dawn of role playing. This tendency hit its peak with the launch of 4th Edition in 2008. The prior year's presentation was filled with advertising buzzwords and alienated some gamers.
This year, Wizards of the Coast decided to try an entirely different tactic. They still provided presentations about product lines that gave gamers a look at what was coming out in the near future, but they also sponsored their first Keynote Address. During the address, Wizards of the Coast CEO Greg Leeds discussed the company's vision as it faced the challenge of providing consumers with "D&D Next." That vision was to ensure that Wizards worked with the most talented designers possible, and to make sure that the D&D brand was controlled by the most important individuals. Who are the most important individuals to D&D and the brand? The fans. The vision of D&D Next and the Future of D&D is to let the fans make D&D the game they want it to be.

Leeds' comments were brief and to the point.  He wasn't selling a line of products or attempting to build hype for D&D Next.  In fact, his portion of the presentation was very low key.  He was focusing on the vision of the "Future of D&D."

After his initial presentation, Kevin Kulp of EN World came onto the stage to talk with three people heavily involved with the production of what will be the next edition of D&D, an edition that according to Mike Mearls still faces 2 years of playtesting.  Mike Mearls -- the head of the design team -- was joined by Ed Greenwood and Jon Schindehette who are involved with the creative side of the development of the next edition of the game.  Ed is working on the literary elements and Jon on the visual elements, and both are working with the design team to ensure that the next edition will work for a broader number of fans than the last edition.

As can be discerned from the above commentary, the focus of Wizards' vision is on fan involvement.  This includes more than having the fans participate in a two and a half year open playtest, it also involves letting the fans influence the direction that future content evolves.

Mearls described D&D as "more than a game, it is a shared experience.  It is about drama, the table, the thrill of victory, and the agony of a natural one."  He also stressed that the point of D&D is the people, the DM and the Players.  D&D -- at least in earlier editions -- is the one game where the rulebook tells you to break the rules.  D&D Next will be about putting the rules behind us and letting the players tell the stories they want to tell.

As an example, the Forgotten Realms will be the first setting released for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and like in previous edition changes there will be a major event that shakes the world -- an event called "The Sundering."

The highlight of the event will be a series of six books by many of the big Realms authors:

R.A. Salvatore will write the first book in the series, THE COMPANIONS
Paul Kemp will write THE GODBORN
Erin M. Evans writes THE ADVERSARY
Richard Lee Byers writes THE REAVER
Troy Denning writes THE SENTINEL
Ed Greenwood writes THE HERALD

These books will give points of view of the events that make up "The Sundering," but unlike in  previous editions, the players and the results of the adventures they play in the Realms will now shape the future of the setting.

You read that correctly, no longer will the "Giants of the Realms" like Elminster, Drizzt, Khelben Blackstaff be the ones who shape the world.  Instead the campaigns that people play in -- at least those who use published adventures -- will shape the future of the official world.  Let's hope that Wizards is able to use the skills they gained from the old Living City experience, as well as by watching the development of Legend of the Five Rings, to make this work fluidly.

Additionally, and most excitingly, Wizards will be rolling out their full back catalog of D&D products in digital form.  Starting early next year, Wizards will release the first wave of digital products.  They are using the lessons they learned from producing the collector's editions of the AD&D books to inform the production of these digital offerings.  Good news indeed, as the old scans often seemed rushed.  Wizards won't release all the products in one lump sum, rather they will release them in waves.  This ensures quality and means that Wizards will officially be supporting all editions of D&D.  They will truly be supporting all fans, even those who won't play D&D Next.

I for one am excited about the "Future of D&D."

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