A Chat With Mike Mearls: Magazines, Settings, and More!

Mike Mearls was kind enough to talk to Christopher Hackler just before Gen Con. This interview touches on magazines, settings, prestige classes/paragon paths, and more! Thanks to Christopher for obtaining this interview on behalf of EN World!

When I started playing D&D there was no internet, or splat books, or character builders. If you wanted something new to use in your game then Dragon Magazine was the place to get it. Are the plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?

[dnd]x[/dnd]Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point.

With that in mind, we have a robust online presence through our website and social media. I’m on Twitter as @mikemearls, and I answer as many questions as possible that are tweeted to me.

Everybody knows that Forgotten Realms will be supported right out of the gate, are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next? If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?

We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.

Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school.

You’ve mentioned how the design goal was to create a basic system with modular pieces that can add more complexity and option to the game. What are some modular pieces that we might see next and when might we see them?

Most of the optional systems will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They focus on options that people can use to more closely mimic a specific edition or optional rules that people like having available. For instance, stuff like detailed rules for combat, gestalt characters, lingering wounds, and so forth. It feels kind of like a mash up of Unearthed Arcana for 3e and a traditional DMG.

New to this edition of the game is Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and of course Inspiration. What would you say was the inspiration for adding what equates to role-playing rewards to the game? Will we see any suggestions for using Inspiration in other ways besides advantage?

I believe that the DMG has some variants for using Inspiration. The basic concept was driven by the overall trends we’ve seen in RPGs over the past few years. Roleplaying is at the heart of D&D, but the game has not typically included mechanics to reward it. Looking around, we saw a number of games that provided benefits for good role play and decided to put a D&D spin on things.

In some ways, it’s simply D&D getting more in tune with the times. It’s one of those things that I think many DMs have wanted in the game for a while, if reactions to the mechanics so far are anything to go by.

There is a definite feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the new edition. Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition? If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?

We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.
My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it.

Now that we have breached the subject of adventures, what influence do adventure paths have upon your thinking of creating future content for fifth edition?

It has definitely influenced how we think about creating more character options. We want to avoid simply creating new options for the sake of creating another book of new material. I think it’s easy to overwhelm players and DMs by releasing a torrent of new material every month. Instead, we want to carefully curate new stuff that we put out, ensuring that it is of the highest quality and is as useful as possible to your game.

An adventure path comes into the picture when you think about providing context for character options. Creating new options for a specific adventure path is very intriguing to me. It lets you zero in on what makes a campaign interesting, and then ensure that characters made with the new options tie into the campaign’s unique elements.

For instance, imagine an Adventure Path set in a tropical archipelago teeming with lost cities, dinosaurs, and deadly sea monsters. The sea elf might be a new character race for that campaign. If you create backgrounds that tie sea elf characters to the specific factions in the campaign, you have an easy way to foster player buy-in and create organic, compelling hooks for a player.

A DM who wants to homebrew or kitbash a campaign can use the sea elf stats, but if you want to run the Adventure Path you have a really nice synthesis between the player and DM sides of the screen.

A better example might be a classic adventure like Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine a player’s book that served as a companion to it. It might have backgrounds that tie characters to Hommlett or the battle against the original temple. There might a druid class option that is an enemy of evil elementals, a ranger option that lets you join an order that watches for the temple’s rise (and includes has Elmo and Otis as allies or contacts), and so on. When the players sit down for the campaign, their characters are already integrated into the game and ready to go. When you meet Elmo, most of the players might think he’s a dope, but the guy playing the ranger recognizes him as an ally. Stuff like that really brings campaigns to life.

From reading boards, talking to gamers, and personal experience, it would seem a player character crafting magic items seems to have had a hiccup or two in nearly every edition. A few examples are requiring a point of Constitution from a wizard, requiring XP from the crafting character, requiring a series of feats that detracted from the overall toughness of the crafting character unless that character stuck to crafting items only for themselves. Why this might not upset every gamer it has created grumblings from some. When will we see magic item creation, what will it look like, and what steps have been taken to balance it out?

The DMG will talk a bit about it. Our approach is to give DMs options to how they want to handle it. Some DMs are comfortable with simply charging a PC time and money to craft an item. Others can use it as an excuse to send the party on a quest. An item might require specific ingredients or reagents found only in specific, dangerous locations. The idea is to frame how the DM wants to use item creation in the campaign. Does it eat up the characters’ gold? Is it a way to drive forward the campaign?

Are there any plans to include prestige classes, paragon paths, or anything of the sort that a lot of players have come to expect over the last couple of editions? If so how will those be presented to the players?

We’ve talked about prestige classes and paragon paths, but we don’t yet have plans on what to do with them. They filled a very specific role in past editions, but it’s not yet clear that we need them in fifth. As the game develops, we’ll take the attitude of introducing them if we see the need, rather than trying to create a need or find an excuse to add them into the campaign.

That said, I think the concept has some strengths. You can see concepts like a Purple Dragon Knight of Cormyr, which in theory could apply to multiple classes (paladin and fighter in this case). I think that prestige classes could fill that role, the concept that rests between multiple classes.

With that said, it might be possible that a Purple Dragon Knight should simply be a paladin option. We’re going to let the lore of the game and a design approach that’s focused on simplicity and ease of use guide our decisions.

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Jan van Leyden

Mike Mearls said:
My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it."

Yes Sir, go for it! Redoing the UK series would be a dream for me. And, by the way, what might mean "deluxe" in this context?

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