Updated on May 27, 2000

Interview with
Scott Mathews, Fluid Entertainment

an Interview by Eric Noah

Scott Mathews, President of Fluid Entertainment,
Talks about the D&D Character Generator and Master Tools

The 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook will ship with a Character Generator program on CD-ROM. That same program will accompany the August 2000 issue of Dragon Magazine as well. The Character Generator (or CharGen) is, in turn, a demo for a much more comprehensive D&D "rules-and-tools" program called Master Tools. I had a chance to ask some questions of Scott Mathews, president of Fluid Entertainment, the makers of the CharGen and the Master Tools.
  • Update (5/27/2000): WotC's Jim Bishop answered further questions about Master Tools. I've posted his responses at the end of the page.

About Fluid Entertainment

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about Fluid -- its history, where it's located, what other products you've worked on, that sort of thing?

Fluid is located in Mill Valley, CA. A few years back I called up a good friend - Andrew Howat -and we kicked around the idea of starting a company. We've both been in the industry for quite some time, and we saw the same mistakes being made in development. I guess you might say our vision was to build a company that took all the good things of a game development house - the fun and the camaraderie and the creativity - and add in those those things that were missing - delivering product on time, delivering solid code, and creating content that's a pleasure to use and play with over and over again.

We've worked with Berkeley, Lucas, and Wizards, to name the recent few. The last product we shipped was Pokemon Play It! for the PC. It allows a user to learn the rules of the Pokemon TCG, and then play against a computer opponent named Julie.

Q: How did Fluid get hooked up with WotC?

We were just finishing up a project for another publisher at about this time last year when I ran into Dugan (Bill Dugan - VP of electronic publishing over at WotC) at a convention. Bill and I have worked together before. He asked us if we wanted to build Pokemon for him and his team. After I met Liz (Liz Katz - WotC producer on Pokemon), I knew it would be a good project to take on board. It's been a great relationship - WotC cares a great deal about their intellectual properties.

Q: How come we've never heard of you? ;)

I guess because we're just too darned busy. :) You've probably heard of some of the titles we've been associated with through other companies though. Scott Rodenhizer - my lead art guy - was lead on Fallout 2 over at Interplay. (Remember the cool 3D heads and characters you met through the game? That's his work). Andrew did the VR version of Castle Wolfenstein back in the days. Paul is my main audio guy and he's been a part of anything from Lode Runner for Sierra to Carmen San Diego for Broderbund. So even though the average gamer hasn't heard of Fluid, chances are they've run across bits and pieces of our work.

The Character Generator (Free Demo)

Q: What are some of the features of the Char Gen program?

Ah! I should let Jim Bishop, our producer over at WotC, field this one. I guess what is safe for me to say is that it's really cool and I think you and your audience will be really, pleasantly surprised. ;)

Q: What kinds of items are available to equip characters with? Does it include magic items?

All the items that are listed in the 3E PH. No magic items, but those will be added in for the Master Tools.

Q: What are the limitations of the free demo?

You can make any character from 1st to 20th level. Any race, any alignment, any class. Multiclass and ex-class characters are supported. All rules in the PH are supported as closely as possible. You can save or print your character to a character sheet. It's a pretty awesome (and free!) utility that WotC is packing in with the PH. It's really cool and time-saving to build a character now.

Q: Will the Char Gen allow the random creation of NPCs?

Eventually, yes. But not with the version that ships with the PH.

Q: What is the character output like?

Working closely with WotC, we created a custom character sheet. It covers a couple of pages, depending on your amount of equipment and level. We received good feedback on it from the playtesters and in-house group of players.

The Master Tools

Q: What are some of the unique features of the Master Tools program?

It's still early in development, but I promise you will be floored with how much you'll be able to do with this thing. You've got a team of hardcore gamers building the Master Tools, and it will look, feel and perform as well as any high-end game out there. Any more info than that I leave up to the man (that'd be our tireless producer, Jim) :)

Q: Will Master Tools include the full text of the core rulebooks ala CR2? Will it include anything other than the PHB, MM and DMG? In what format will the rules be available (HTML, Help, PDF, etc.)?

I am pretty sure that the full-text rulebooks will not be included with Master Tools. It's up to WotC of course, but that was the last word I heard. There will be an extensive, context-sensitive help system built into the Master Tools however, which is more helpful in my opinion anyway.

Q: It's been hinted that there will be a tighter link between D&D electronic products (such as Master Tools) and online D&D gaming. Can you talk about that at all? Is this an accurate description?

Oooh! Deep secrets that will get me killed if I make mention. But, you bet. It's a natural course for things to take. As I sit here in California, I certainly want to play D&D with my friend in Chicago. I bet others want to do the same sort of thing, too.

Q: Master Tools is obviously geared toward core 3E. How will it help someone who's really into a certain campaign setting, say the Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance? Will there be "setting specific" options?

Another pregunta for Jim. Were concentrating on 3E, as that is the rules system WotC is going forward with, but if they want us to support other campaigns, it shouldn't be too tough. Personally, I want to go all the way back to Judges Guild.

Q: How customizable will the output be? I'm thinking particularly of character sheets, but also other features as well (adventure/encounter info, spell lists, etc.)

The Char Gen demo has one, fixed output option available. But the full version will allow the user to customize the output pretty extensively. Actually, this is an area I'd love to hear about from your readers. What do they want?

Q: Will there be campaign-level management tools? Can I group together several PCs and apply a change to all at once (say, split a chunk of XP between the characters who are designated as part of "Campaign X")?

You bet. I like the idea of splitting XP.

Q: Will there be any kind of campaign world generation tools? Things like world calendars, weather patterns, random landform drawing/map making, etc. would be extremely cool.

We're concentrating on adventure-based tools in the first round. We want to be as thorough and as complete as possible. Once we get that out of our system, will go forward on campaign-oriented tools.

Q: I've heard that the PHB and the other core books are going to contain diagrams to illustrate certain rules -- diagrams that show a fireball's area of effect, or that of a breath weapon, that sort of thing. Will Master Tools include any kind of aids of this nature? It would be pretty nifty to be able to add a "fireball exploding" animation onto a map you'd created...

Oh yeah!! Just wait and see. Remember that this is being built by game developers - not some web dudes or some database/Silicon Valley geeks. The cool factor is going to be up there. And we won't compromise the usability of the thing in so doing - that's got to remain first priority.

Q: Early word was that Master Tools was going to be cross-platform. Is that still the plan?

The whole team totally wants to do it. But as far as I've heard, we first need to check in on PC sales and what the Mac market looks like at the time we ship. Hopefully a Mac version will follow up on the heels of the PC version....

In Conclusion

Q: Is there someplace we can go to get more information, or to pass along suggestions to you?

You bet. Fluid's website is currently down, but you and your readers will be able to get up-to-date info there soon. And follow a weekly plan file. You will also be able to go to www.wizards.com/mastertools, but that specific URL won't be live until Gen Con 2000 (last I heard). At the Wizards site, you'll be able to post comments and questions - and we are completely committed to listening to what our audience has to say (who wants to build something no one will use?).

Q: Do you have a schedule for releasing further information, screenshots, system specs, that sort of thing?

Jim and I sit down next week actually to figure out this very thing. Rest assured that Fluid and WotC are VERY aware of the importance of letting the community know what's going on. We want everyone in on the progress.

Jim Bishop on Master Tools (added 5/27/2000): WotC's Jim Bishop was kind enough to answer some of the specific questions that Scott was unable to tackle.

Q: What are some of the unique features of the Master Tools program? In other words, can you wow us with some features that CR2 doesn't possess? :)

Comparing CR2 and Master Tools is like comparing apples and oranges, because the mechanics for each depend on totally different rules sets. The AD&D rules don't allow you to add levels of ranger to a gnoll, for instance, or to easily balance an encounter against a party's level. D&D allows you to do so much more than AD&D ever did, so the Master Tools will take advantage of that flexibility and robustness.

At one level, the Master Tools is "just" a rules-and-tools program. You can generate NPCs and encounters, get context-specific rules help, create magic items and maps, and customize the rules to a certain degree to fit your home campaign. What makes it so exciting isn't a specific new tool, but the way all the tools will be integrated.

It's still early in the process, but we're envisioning the Master Tools as a program that makes adventures. All the sub-tools will be built around the creation of ready-to-play D&D adventure modules. You'll be able to map an area, embed objects (anything that can be created in the other tools: characters, monsters, encounters, treasure, traps and hazards, etc.) in the area, embed explanatory text (like the "read-aloud" text in published adventures), link it to any other module or mapped area, and print the module in playable form. Or save it out in a single file, which can be easily posted to the web.

Q: What kinds of tools will be available for authoring encounters, adventures and campaigns?

The DMG is an incredible tool for making and balancing encounters, so our only challenge there besides living up to the written rules is making the process easy and fun. I've already talked a little about building adventures, but it's safe to say that we will add many bells and whistles as development progresses. Campaigns are an interesting problem--at their simplest level a campaign is a series of adventures, each of which is a series of encounters. As we envision the Master Tools, you'll be able to link adventures together into a string to echo this kind of progression. Supporting campaign worlds, with unique rules and settings, is an issue we're still exploring.

Q: What kinds of mapping tools will be available?

The mapping component will be 2D isometric and tile-based, so the finished product (on the screen) will have the same perspective and level of detail as Baldur's Gate or Torment. It will allow a top-down perspective, and maps can also be built in this simpler, B/W view. Maps will print to scale with 28mm miniatures, and use the map key that will be standard for all 3E adventures. As a side note, Scott is determined to make the mapping tool fun and very easy to use, "like sitting on the floor surrounded by thousands of Legos."

Q: To what degree will customization of character classes, races, spells, magic items, treasures, and monsters be possible? How does Master Tools deal with house rules?

These are important issues to most DMs, so naturally they are high on our list of priorities. We could support user-modification of the rules on several levels, from releasing portions of the code to building a sort of "instrument panel", like a preferences dialog, that would only allow a certain amount of customization. I have a feeling that 90% of house rules are made to deal with 10% of the rules, so I'd like to get some fan feedback before we begin that design. I can't tell you what solution we'll go with, but we will allow user-modification on some level.

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