As usual, speculation was rampant on what Wizards of the Coast would announce at Gen Con. Given the departure of some high-profile names and based on statements made via the D&D website, the default prediction seemed to be the announcement of D&D 5th edition, or some kind of Basic/Advanced split forked off the current edition of D&D. As it turned out, none of that happened. Sources told me that while that certainly can’t be ruled out for the future (of course), any kind of announcement of that scope will have plenty of advance warning and won’t be conducted in secret (i.e., avoiding the way that D&D 4e was announced.)
That said, there was a major announcement at the end of the D&D New Products Seminar at Gen Con, and it’s one that gamers have been asking for a LONG time. In fact, it’s one that has implications beyond just D&D and to a number of roleplaying games. But will get to that- here’s some of the highlights.
The panel was run by Mike Mearls (announced officially as the head of D&D R&D, or El Jefe), James Wyatt, and Rodney Thompson.
James Wyatt spoke about all the upcoming D&D novels. A variety of tie-ins are happening with Neverwinter, including the actual book Neverwinter starring Drizzt, followed up by Charon’s Claw. There’s also Brimstone Angels coming in November as an additional tie-in.
The Abyssal Plague cross-world crossover continues as well, with the two origin stories already published, three stories rolling out now as the plague strikes, and then three more stories coming to represent the plague spreading.
Experiments are also happening in the D&D novel publishing arm, including Shadowbane, an ebook only novel packed with what was described as “bonus features.” As well, three classic backlist D&D novels are being released every week, meaning the extensive library of D&D novels are entering the ebook era.
Conquest of Nerath was discussed, with the possibility left open of other games using the same game system (maybe this would be the return of Birthright? That’s pure speculation on my part.)
The three adventure system games (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, and Legend of Drizzt) were discussed as well, with Legend of Drizzt representing the version that is the most finely tuned of all the games in the system. No word on any more games in that system.
The Dungeon of Dread board game that appeared in the Wizards of the Coast catalog was canceled, primarily because it did not meet the quality standards they set. This was discussed more in today’s Rule of Three, but Mike Mearls likened it to all the errata in 4e: evidence that they released products not up to quality standards, and they’re going to try and stop that from happening again.
However, a new game was announced by Rodney Thompson: Lords of Waterdeep, a “euro-style” game set in the famous Forgotten Realms city. Recruit adventurers, put plans into motion, and backstab the other lords on the way to victory. They delved into 2e Forgotten Realms materials for inspiration, including making some of the pieces actually resemble the money of Waterdeep.
The Neverwinter Campaign Setting was available at the show (in fact, I have a copy) and they discussed what they were trying with it beyond the previous campaign settings. While the book is divided into player and DM sections, the two are designed to work together. So what themes the characters pick (and other character creation options) influences how the campaign plays out, while providing plenty of story hooks for the DM to use.
Madness of Gardmore Abbey is the upcoming “deluxe” adventure, a set containing poster maps, a sheet of dungeon tiles, tokens for all the monsters, and a Deck of Many Things. Also new to the format, Madness will contain 4 books of text, with a book never before seen in the folio-style adventures that only contains story hooks, locations, and NPCs. Since the adventure is designed to be open-ended, this book contains plenty of material to fill in any of the gaps between the major events. Many of the encounters were designed specifically to have non-combat resolutions, or in fact, actively discourage combat.
Mordenkainen’s Magical Emporium is back on the schedule as previously discussed, and will be released only through hobby stores (it will still be available online, however, just through those kinds of channels.) As part of the new focus on releasing quality products, it was originally pulled so it could undergo more playtesting so they could get it right the first time out. The book will contain more items under the rarity system, as well as character options, rules for followers and henchmen, new armor types, and basically, anything that you could buy in D&D goes into the book.
D&D Lair Assault organized play program launches in September with Forge of the Dawn Titan. The program focuses more on the combat/puzzle-oriented type of player, whereas Encounters (especially going forward) are more story-focused. Lair Assault is “unabashedly” aimed at power gamers who want to go up against a DM. For DMs, they receive a menu of options to populate a dungeon to make sure that the experience isn’t the same each time and gives the DM his own aspect of encounter design to use.
November brings Heroes of the Feywild, with plenty of options for fey characters. New class builds include a bard based on a wandering skald archetype, new druid build, and a dual-role barbarian that starts as a defender but when he rages turns into a striker. New races include the hamadryad, the satyr, and the pixie (which will be a flying race right from the start.) An Encounters season based on the old Beyond the Crystal Cave modules will accompany its release.
In December, just in time for Christmas, the Book of Vile Darkness. New options for evil characters, but most importantly, plenty of campaign advice on how to get evil and just plain antihero/not-so-good characters work together in an adventuring party.
Next year comes Player’s Option: Power of the Plane Below (previously seen named in releases as Heroes of the Elemental Chaos). It will contain an elemental-using monk build, an “Essentialized” version of the sorcerer, a Sha’ir wizard build, and plenty of options for any character that wants to tap into elemental power. There will be no new races in this book. An encounters season based around the Elder Elemental Eye will accompany its release that will focus strongly on investigation (a first for Encounters). While Mike Mearls said that it won’t quite be to the level of a Call of Cthulhu game, it’s definitely different than previous Encounters seasons.
Also next year is an Undermountain “product” (i.e. not sure if it’s a single book, a boxed set, or what) which will contain poster maps, plenty of encounter areas, adventures, and the setting. It will also contain a random dungeon generator for when the PCs go off the map, because mapping all of Undermountain is something of a futile effort and this way provides infinite places to explore.
Jumping forward a bit, the big product announcement I alluded to earlier was this: the return of miniatures produced by Wizards of the Coast… and this time, no random packaging. For all those gamers who said things like “I just want to be able to buy a box of orcs for my game,” this is for you.
Wizards will be releasing themed boxes of miniatures (like orcs, drow, goblins, elves, etc.) with non-random contents, providing a variety of miniatures in each box. Not only that, but the minis will be useable in a new skirmish game to be developed around the new minis. Each box will contain the stats you need to play with the box you buy, and interlocking terrain used to build the battlefield in interesting ways for each match (that is also fully useable in the RPG.) Additionally, after a few sets are out, you’ll be able to mix and match them in order to build your own armies, not being constrained by what you buy in each box.
The new miniatures skirmish game is notable in two aspects: first, it won’t use any dice. It is designed to be more strategic and less reliant on luck (though there will still be some) and is powered by some kind of action card system. Second, the skirmish game itself will be built on a completely open mass playtest that will appear on the D&D website starting in September. That way, the game will get plenty of testing and come out the best it can be.
- This year, the amount of products was purposely pulled back in a bit to focus on putting out only quality books instead of trying to keep up to some schedule.
- A new campaign-style (whatever that means) book will be released next August, but they’re not ready to discuss it yet. It’s not Dragonlance (though it sounded like they have ideas for that as well) and the new setting, while not answering if it’s an existing setting or something totally new, will have some kind of twist never before seen in D&D.
- Virtual Table is still in beta and still being tested. Again, they don’t want to release it until it’s perfect.
- DDI is being used to explore concepts quicker, and more niche. Kara-Tur is coming as a DDI theme in October, and the Runepriest (the least played class in the game) will get a new build there with Kara-Tur flavor. Al Qadim is another possibility for an upcoming DDI theme.
- In supporting classes, they don’t just want to put out more powers (there are too many of them already), they want to release new options that fit with a story.
- On Mike’s Legends and Lore columns: he’s examining the history of D&D, and looking on ways to bring D&D fans back to the fold by starting conversations instead of trying to push things on them. He’s examining the game from all its angles by playing all versions, and when he got his job, he read all the 1 star reviews of the PHB he could find as well as all the 5 star reviews.
- Conquest of Nerath might get another game in its system, but it’s not going to be a mass-battle simulator for D&D. However, they are looking at some options for that.
- Electronic versions of D&D books (new and old): not ready to announce anything yet, but they really are working hard to make it happen. A panelist did let it slip that some kind of subscription was coming that would be a yearly fee that allowed access to the entirety of the Eberron library.
- Atari is working on more D&D video games, and there will be more chances for RPG tie-ins. Neverwinter is a good example of this.
If you’d like to listen to the seminar in its entirety, the Tome Show has the full recording.