Updated on May 26, 2000

Interview with
Ryan Dancey of Wizards of the Coast

an Interview by Eric Noah

Interview with Ryan Dancey, VP of Wizards of the Coast

We're 10 months into the year-long stretch between last August's "Big Announcement" and this August's "Big Event," the release of the D&D 3rd Edition Player's Handbook. Ryan Dancey takes questions on 3E, Open Gaming, the Star Wars RPG, the Charcter Generator software, and reflects on the successes of the past year.

From your point of view, what are the highlights of the past ten months?

The success of "The Big Announcement" at GenCon was very gratifying. Up until that point, we had no way of really knowing how the fans would react to the idea of a 3rd Edition becoming a reality. I had nightmares about sitting up on that stage as the fans booed and demonstrated against 3e! Obviously, their response was 100% the opposite - instead of boos, we got cheers and a standing ovation!

Since last August, I've had the chance to correspond with hundreds of people via email, and meet hundreds more in person at various Cons around the country. The interest in 3e has been nearly universally positive. But almost everyone has had a comment, a question, or some feedback in addition to pass along, and all of that input has had a positive effect on the game. Its the sense that the two way dialog is finally open between the fans and the D&D team that I find most rewarding.

Were there any big surprises?

Someone sold a 3e T-Shirt from TBA on eBay hours after the event for a couple of hundred dollars. I found that surprising.

I was also suprised, and incredibly pleased, that
nobody who had a 3e playtest document posted it to the web (at least, nobody that I know about). We put a lot of trust in the playtesters and it has been amply rewarded.

Have there been some disappointments?

I'm not happy with the response some fans have had to the art. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about art of course, but I think many of the comments have gone over the line from expressing an opinion about taste to being insulting or denigrating to the artists involved on the project.

It would bother me more, but the feedback we're getting off the "public" 'net has been so overwhelmingly positive that I simply choose to believe that the nay sayers don't reflect the common consensus.

What are the biggest changes in the mechanics or rules of the D&D game as it has developed and changed over the past ten months?

The prestige class concept has solved an incredible number of design problems and given us a whole new tool in the toolbox for game design.

The XP system has been extensively reworked. I expect it will be the source of an incredible amount of internet and Dragon Magazine traffic in the coming years as people explore it and test its robustness.

Assassins got moved out of the PHB and into the DMG as a Prestige Class.

The work on the Monster Manual crystallized a lot of work that had been done "behind the scenes" in preparation for 3e. Some of the cool new things presented in the Monster Manual have been "in progress" for a long time, but seeing them all laid out and cohesively presented was a revelation to me.

What is the current state of the game? Where are the PHB, DMG and MM in terms of the creation / production cycle?

The PHB is being printed right now. The DMG is in galleys being proofread. The MM is working through final edit and will go to typesetting next month. If I'm lucky, I'll start to get a peek at DMG and MM art soon!

The Sunless Citadel (first 3e Adventure) is completed and is either in final edit or typesetting, as is the D&D Adventure Game (the basic starter box).

Can you give us an update as to the status of the Open Gaming License, the release of the d20 System Reference Document, and the d20 System Licences Agreement?

One of the reasons for going public with this concept was to get feedback on the proposed licenses. That proved very effective; and after receiving a massive volume of mail, I made the decision to "simplify" the Open Gaming License. The first public draft was written in very precise legal terms and was pretty thick for the average reader.

The new version, the "Simplified" license tries to state things in clear, simple English. This creates a trade-off between absolute precision and ease of understanding, but I think we've hit a good balance.

We're working on a schedule for releasing the D20 System Reference Document right now, and the D20 System Trademark license is floating around the legal department waiting for other unrelated matters to get finished prior to an extensive review.

We're behind my original schedule; there's no doubt. But then again, we are proposing to release the heart of the most successful RPG ever in an Open Game condition, and I shouldn't be surprised that things are taking longer than expected. If we have D20 stuff available for consumers in August, we'll have gone from closed to Open in eight months; and given the size of WotC and now Hasbro, I will consider that a success.

Have there been any substantial changes to the original Open Gaming concept?

Not really. Luckily, I don't have to invent this wheel all by myself. The folks in the Open Source movement have already blazed a pretty wide trail. Richard Stallman (author of the GNU General Public License and founder of the Free Software Foundation) provided excellent feedback to help with the initial effort.

The biggest change was to separate the D20 licensing issues into a separate contract. My original stab at the Open Gaming License combined Open Gaming with licensing for the D20 Trademarks. That made the license too system dependent, and way to complex. It also "contaminated" the Open Game content with restrictions that I feel are incompatible with the general theory of the "Open" concept.

Splitting the two issues into separate licenses solved all those problems. Again; as a result of excellent feedback from people interested in the process, the end result was dramatically improved.

From where I sit, it would appear to me that WotC has a couple of major milestones ahead -- the Origins convention, where the PHB will be displayed, and GenCon itself. Are there other, more immediate milestones that we would be interested in?

Starting in Mid July, we're going to start dealing logistically with the PHBs. We're committed to a general national release date (Thursday, August 10th). To get to that date in some sort of order, product is going to have to start flowing through our distribution center out to the book trade, the hobby game stores and into the WotC Direct to Retail system. Ideally, stores will have the product with time to set up displays and plan for the crush of Third Edition Thursday. Right now, Keith Strohm and his team are spending a lot of time ensuring that everyone will have a level playing field and that nobody will be intentionally left without product or put product on sale early.

What is the current state of the Character Generator software?

The version that will appear in the PHB is done and is being mastered. We're also working on a first patch to add material that couldn't be ready in time for the production cycle, and we're going to fix a few bugs. But the software you'll get with Dragon (and the PHB) is excellent and works great. It looks nothing like the Core Rules interface -- I think people are going to be blown away by how cool it is.

WotC's 3E site is quite informative. On the other hand, I don't believe WotC yet has a page set up for the forthcoming d20-based Star Wars RPG. Are there plans to add such a site in the near future?

Yes. Lisa Stevens (Star Wars brand manager) has been laying all the groundwork for full and complete support of the Star Wars line. When we go live with the Star Wars site, Lisa intends for it to become "the" hub for Star Wars RPG activity on-line.

Is there anything you wish the fans knew about 3E, WotC or the D&D designers?

I want the fans to know that we're always interested in hearing what they have to say. They should feel free to contact me, Keith, Lisa, Dragon, WotC customer service (custserv@wizards.com) or anyone else at the company any time they have concerns, ideas, or simply want to pass along some comments or feedback. We're always trying to be better listeners!

Dungeons & Dragons, D&D 3E and AD&D are all property of Wizards of the Coast.