DDXP 2011: New Product Seminar

(Editor’s Note: While the weather had other ideas for me arriving at DDXP, our very own Vanir was front and center and taking notes from the New Product Seminar. Here’s a slightly edited version of his liveblog from the show, and I added some of the bigger highlights/lowlights at the end.)

1:00pm – Chris Perkins starts the festivities, introduces Mike Mearls, and starts the show!

1:02 – WotC wants to find ways to tie their print products into their organized play programs.

“March of the Phantom Brigade” Encounters season comes out in February, ties into the D&D Essentials products.

D&D Fortune Cards tie into organized play as well.

Heroes of Shadow sourcebook allows players more options for character building.

“Lost Crown of Neverwinter” is next season’s D&D Encounters setting. Fortune cards will be tied to this.

“Beyond the Crystal Cave” is an adventure in this story arc, based on old adventure from the UK. It’s special because the players didn’t have to kill everything to win. Adventure is based in the Feywild.

1:05 – Mike Mearls expresses their desire to make D&D encounter season adventures all share a common theme. Chris Perkins asks for thoughts from audience on D&D Encounters products.

Coming up this year:

  • Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow – April
  • The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond – May
  • Monster Vault – Threats to the Nentir Vale – June
  • Neverwinter Campaign Setting – August
  • Madness at Gardmore Abbey Boxed Set – September
  • Player’s Option: Heroes of he Feywild – November

Talking about Monster Vault – it’s not just about monsters, but also about organizations too. Like bandit groups/factions/etc.

Neverwinter campaign setting has player and DM materials both, much like Dark Sun was. Also tied to an upcoming MMO by Atari/Cryptic.

Madness at Gardmore Abbey Boxed Set – September
Backstory: recovering an evil artifact that turns out to be the Deck of Many Things, which lures monsters in and warps the surroundings and dungeons in a way that also makes them replayable as well as interesting, includes complete card set for the Deck. (yessssss)

Player’s Option: Heroes of he Feywild has options for fey characters (obviously)

Book of Vile Darkness is tied to the next D&D movie coming up on Syfy. More crunch and flavor than old version. They covered up part of the cover, perhaps it was racy, they won’t say.

Boxed sets are appealing for WotC this year because they can put more poster-sized maps in them. Looking at maps from Nentir Vale. Made deliberately generic so they can be used anywhere or as intended with the sourcebooks. showing maps of a swamp and a cave complex and a dungeon. Now showing some tokens, circular cardboard, one unique creature with a bloodied side. Has optional ring that turns a large creature into a huge one.

1:16 pm Greg Bilsland takes over.

Shadowfell sourcebooks starting to be discussed.

He is most excited about the Despair Deck. Divided into 3 aspects: madness, fear, and apathy. Adds flavor and atmosphere to game, gives cards to players and they affect their players. “Jealous” “Craven” “Fearless” are examples. Used for flavor and for mechanical benefits. If they overcome those effects they become more resistant to gloom and despair present in the Shadowfell.

Talking a bit more about poster maps. One of a city called Gloomwrought and a dungeon map. Books detail a lot of creatures and factions native to Shadowfell, mid-heroic through paragon and a couple of epic tier things.

Showing Deck of Many Things. It looks awesome and I want it. Trevor Kidd asks who here has been in a campaign with the Deck in play, and also who saw someone die or get imprisoned or something else nuts. Everyone who raised their hand said yes. Now everyone is reminiscing a bit about the horrible cards. I love this place.

1:20pm – New in-store program being introduced in September. not aimed at same crowd as D&D Encounters (which is designed for new people to be introduced). This is for a single killer encounter who wants to test their mettle. Bring you own character. Name of event TBD. They’re saying there is a very good chance everyone will die. Multiple objectives, not just kill one monster. Hoping to create excitement for those wanting something more exciting and a challenge. Fortune cards can be used here, and are strongly encouraged (“any edge you can get”).

1:23 – Board Games!

  • Wrath of Ashardalon – February
  • Legend of Drizzt – October
  • Conquest of Nerath – June (more Axis & Allies sort of game than a dungeon crawl).

Wrath of Ashardalon, Castle Ravenloft, and Legend of Drizzt are compatible. You can mix them together. Neat.

Conquest of Nerath has a big ass. Chris Perkins said it. Now he redacted it.

Several factions in Conquest of Nerath. Describing elves, infernals, etc

D&D Dungeon tiles upcoming:

  • Caverns of Icewind Dale – January
  • The Witchlight Fens – June
  • Shadowghast Manor December (haunted house stuff)

1:25 D&D Novels

Forgotten Realms novels
Talking about the Abyssal Plague, describing its origins. Kind of sounds like fantasy Gamma World. A series coming out about the Abyssal Plague soon.

They just called R.A. Salvatore “Bob Salvatore” Haven’t heard that before. He has another Drizzt series coming out, about him meeting Thayan monks.


  • Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell
  • Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium
  • Hero Builder’s Handbook

Talking about doing research on how we use their content. They say these 3 didn’t fit into their master plan, and not putting out a book for its own sake. “We could put out Arcane Power II and you might only use 2% of it. We’re challenging our own plans. Is this good for the players, will it actually be used by the players in this format?” Books have been pulled off the schedule. They have the content, now how do they use it? So at least they’ll probably make it in eventually (especially the magic items, Mike Mearls says).

Audience member expresses desire for encyclopedia of magic items. They acknowledge him and that they know people want this. Mike Mearls stresses the need to make these things high quality.

1:33- D&D Insider

They will be looking at the content to make sure it’s as high-quality as what appears in the book. Process changes to how they make it internally are coming, particularly in how errata is handled (they were only doing them in the compilations of articles, but those didn’t have the errata applied, which will change so both have it now).

A lot of time is going into the compendiums right now, they are looking into changing their workflows to focus on the regular magazine more.

Ultimate agenda: deliver best content in the way we want, and they need us to tell them how they’re screwing up. Best way to tell them: “that’s why we’re here”. So if you are here, get your complaints on.

“Last-updated” stamp on articles being discussed.

Want to focus on site being more easily navigated. Want to keep people engaged in the game.

1:41 – looking at art of a Hezru demon carrying Lolth from an unannounced product

Floor just opened up to questions:

Any plans on making more plastic miniatures?
“We’re having issues with the global economy.” D&D minis were produced in China, less cost-effective to do it now, so they discontinued Minis (per se) but they will still produce plastic minis for some of their existing products (like Legend of Drizzt boardgame etc). They’re taking a “wait-and-see” stance.

Any plans to do item cards, as in a card you can hand a player with stats on it and say “you get this”
They actually have already designed a treasure card template and may appear in future products. They are working on printing the item cards you can generate from CB and making them less ugly.

One audience member is pleased by Unearthed Arcana series in Dragon (wacky stuff, branded “house rules” so they don’t include them in digital tools).

Only product they sell en masse (like not in a FLGS) is Red Box. May put other products into Walmart, Target etc if they take off really big. They think stuff like Castle Ravenloft is more likely to do this. Stores have strict specifications on what they’ll take, and apparently some WotC products have trouble meeting these due to various factors.

D&D Minis license to be released to other companies so they can carry the torch?
They’ve talked about it, but they can’t really discuss anything like licensing. Wow there are a lot of factors involved in making minis, most of them involving the costs of plastic. Discussing advantages of being owned by Hasbro in these matters and piggybacking their efforts, but even that hasn’t been enough to compensate with the situation in China. They know there is demand for it, and Chris and Mike still want to play it. Chris has a “coffin” full of Minis. Awesome.

One audience members sponsors gaming group at a university, brings in tons of players and DMs, is upset that he doesn’t get any support like FLGSs do.
Chris and Mike discuss the difficulties in this sort of thing (stuff ending up on eBay) but they offer to discuss this guy’s situation. Stores are more easily accountable than organizations to WotC. Would like to find a metric to measure organizations’ ability to bring in new people. This has been a topic of discussion at WotC for some time. Apparently this guy’s group is too big for his FLGS to support (!) Talked about hooking the guy up with Encounters materials. Apparently Encounters on Wednesday nights interferes with church for several audience members. “We are concerned about this. There are things we can’t do, but within these systems there are things we can do that are appropriate.”

Heroes of Sword and Spell is bridge between PHB and Essentials… is Essentials is new format going forward, is it compatible with old stuff, when do we find this out?
They don’t have a timetable, it’s tied up in business planning, but they want to get it taken care of.

What about Ravenloft the campaign setting?
They shelved it, they don’t think it’s ready yet. (ARG). They’re being very experimental. They don’t want to give people the same thing they had before. Strahd is very unamused. “I wouldn’t expect it to show up soon.”

Will there be options books coming out for the Essentials classes?
Players Option: Heroes of Shadow should make your Hexblade very happy”. They want books now to be “something for everybody”.With CB being web-based, they have info about who is playing what. They know what most popular classes are now. They can prioritize things to support things people play most. Talking about ability to change unpopular classes if they figure out WHY people don’t play them.

Most popular races: Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Eladrin.

Most popular class: Fighter
Least: Runepriest.

At least one guy will weep tears of joy if they “fix Runepriests”. Mike said they only make content for Fighters from now on.

Champions of the Heroic Tier will not be released but its content will, some of it already in the Hero Builders’ book.

One guy wants a Bard in Essentials.

How much fluff/crunch do you intend to do from here on?
Mike wants to see where they are, do updates, and wrap up from there. He doesn’t want to flood the market with mechanical content and have everyone baffled.

Have you ever considered something so simple as doing a product survey?
They are writing articles covering topics dealing with fan/customer communication, and then asking for comments on those posts. No fair, blogging is our job.

New organized play programs will allow stores to run games whenever works best, as opposed to on a particular day.

“How people play is how the game is.”

Talking about rituals in Character Builder, and the lack of anything but 1 line of text. Also, about CB crashing.
Trevor says there was a giant CB bug patch, covering over 300 bugs. Says he knows not everything is fixed and they’re still working on it. Wants to add in customizability too.

Release past Encounters products so people can play them at home on their own time?
They’re talking about it, no decisions have been made but they like they idea. Also talking about using Dungeon magazine to pick up where the Encounters adventures/characters left off.

Is there a target date on Virtual Table?
“No. We’re release it when it’s done.” Coming out with Monster Builder soon so you can use that content in VT and they want things to integrate properly. They’re not satisfied with the UI and want to refine things a lot. Trevor promises to give people the best timelines he can. “Now with 30% less suck!”

Will the Monster Builder have all monsters in it, or just new ones?
There’s some overlap. In the current version (alpha stuff, very early). If there were multiple versions, Trevor only saw the new one. If there’s a replacement, it appears. For instance if you want a black dragon, you get the Monster Vault version, not the Monster Manual version. You can sort and filter by the source the monster came from too.

Any plans to do more 3-d terrain tilesets like Athas?
No distinct plans but they like it and want to do more of it. Discussion of how to pre-make a tiled setup and have them not shift around during transport or play? Mike Mearls uses toolbox liners, but that doesn’t work when you stack things on top. Some people use sticky tack. Some use scotch tape. I wish Bob Vila played D&D.

Still discussing ways to use paper maps. I liked the suggestion to use a cheap poster frame and turn into into dry-erase too.

Audience member wants something in organized play to let their characters they’ve leveled up play outside Encounters. Their home characters are higher level and she wants them to be able to play at a convention.
Mike has been thinking about this, and wants a means of letting everybody play “in the same sandbox” but without allowing cheating, etc. Living Forgotten Realms has been suggested for this, but just to pare down stuff from the character that wouldn’t be legal in that setting. Tough to reconcile DM freedom to create anything with common campaign used in OP. Mike: “you can recreate the spirit of those characters”.

(That’s the end of the seminar. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear much that we hadn’t already heard in the past few weeks. Heroes of the Feywild was confirmed, and a new Book of Vile Darkness announced. On the downside, not much to replace the three dropped books with no updates on what will happen to them, and a big minus, we lost the Ravenloft campaign setting. More details of the previously announced products came out, and they do sound great, but it seems like a pretty light year for 4e releases so far. –Dave, EIC)


  1. Yeah, I have to say I’m of mixed feelings on this, with the balance towards pessimism.

    I’d really hoped that we’d see a 4e Star Frontiers set ala Gamma World, and that we’d get confirmation that we’d see the Mordenkainen stuff soon in DDI. On the other hand apparently the Madness adventure isn’t a super-adventure per-se but a ‘deluxe adventure’. I also love the idea of the Despair Deck (which is more like what I was hoping the Fortune Decks would be like).

    Then again, I think we’re in the maintenance phase now for 4e…we don’t need a lot of crunch anymore.

  2. There are two contradictory pieces of information in the presentation:

    “1:27 – MISSING IN ACTION!!

    * Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell
    * Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium
    * Hero Builder’s Handbook”

    No Hero Builder Handbook according to this answer, but…

    “Champions of the Heroic Tier will not be released but its content will, some of it already in the Hero Builders’ book.”

    According to this some information we want is in that book?

    So… is there a Hero Builder type book coming out or not?

  3. IIRC, the cancelled Heroes of Spell and Sword was supposed to finally contain rules for multiclassing Essentials characters and specifically how to mix powers of Essentials classes and non-Essentials classes. Any idea on whether this information is going to show up? I’ve been insanely curious to see if they finally figured out how to make multiclassing nicer with Essentials…

  4. Azanhour Axebearer says:

    I wish Bob Vila played D&D! I can’t stop laughing! That has the makings of a great spook video.


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