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5E Kate Welch on Leaving WotC

Kate Welch left Wizards of the Coast a few days ago, on August 16th. Soon after, she talked a little about it in a live-stream.

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She started work at WotC as a game designer back in February 2018, and has contributed to various products since then, such as Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Descent into Avernus, as well as being a participant in WotC's livestreams. In December 2019, her job changed to that of 'senior user experience designer'.

"I mentioned yesterday that I have some big news that I wouldn't be able to share until today.

The big news that I have to share with you today is that I ... this is difficult, but ... I quit my job at Wizards of the Coast. I no longer work at Wizards. Today was my last day. I haven't said it out loud yet so it's pretty major. I know... it's a big change. It's been scary, I have been there for almost three years, not that long, you know, as far as jobs go, and for a while there I really was having a good time. It's just not... it wasn't the right fit for me any more.

So, yeah, I don't really know what's next. I got no big plans. It's a big deal, big deal .... and I wanted to talk to you all about it because you're, as I've mentioned before, a source of great joy for me. One of the things that has been tough reckoning with this is that I've defined myself by Dungeons & Dragons for so long and I really wanted to be a part of continuing to make D&D successful and to grow it, to have some focus especially on new user experience, I think that the new user experience for Dungeons & Dragons is piss poor, and I've said that while employed and also after quitting.

But I've always wanted to be a part of getting D&D into the hands of more people and helping them understand what a life-changing game it is, and I hope I still get the chance to do that. But as of today I'm unemployed, and I also wanted to be upfront about it because I have this great fear that because Dungeons & Dragons has been part of my identity, professionally for the last three years almost, I was worried that a lot of you'll would not want to follow me any more because I'm not at Wizards, and there's definitely some glamourous aspects to being at Wizards."


She went on to talk about the future, and her hopes that she'll still be be able to work with WotC.

"I'm excited about continuing to play D&D, and hopefully Wizards will still want me to appear on their shows and stuff, we'll see, I have no idea. But one thing that I'm really excited about is that now I can play other TTRPGs. There's a policy that when you're a Wizards employee you can't stream other tabletop games. So there was a Call of Cthulhu game that we did with the C-team but we had to get very special permission for it, they were like OK but this is only a one time thing. I get it, you know, it's endorsing the competition or whatever, but I'm super excited to be able to have more freedom about the kinds of stuff that I'm getting involved with."
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

cbwjm

Hero
I liked the 3.5 sourcebook format for organizing spells: listed by class, then by level within each class, was the spell name and a one-line summary of the spell's intended result. (Fireball: Flashy explosive ball of flames 30 feet across.) Spells shared by multiple classes had their description line repeated. The actual full spells followed in one big alphabetical list.
This was probably my favourite as well, could instantly get an idea of how the spell worked which made things easier when choosing spells then you can look up the spell for more details if needed.
 

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Azzy

Newtype
And if you think you can do significantly better than WotC's basic rules, I suggest you do so.
TSR already did this with the Mentzer basic set and the later black basic set. WotC could take lesson from those to create a starter set that is a much better on-ramp to the PHB. Even then, the PHB should be more new player friendly.
 


Marandahir

Crown-Forester
Because to me, it's more important to find any spell I want quickly. If they're alphabetical, I know exactly where to look. If they're sorted by level first, then I have to know which level section to search. ("Is it level 2? No, it's not in the level 2 section. Must be level 3...")
And what class are you? Before Page 211 is the spells by class level list.

Unless you're a DM looking to add spells to a monster, the spells aren't laid out intuitively. This is the player's handbook, not the DM's guide.

Or do you just like to look up spell names for fun?

Not discounting your type of fun, but I don't think looking up a given spell without knowing the caster-level is as relevant to a new player as grouping all spells of the same caster level together for comparison and ease of reference.
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
And what class are you?
My very first 5E character was a bard, so large spell list.

A lot of the spells are fairly intuitive from just reading the name. I'd go down the list looking at the names, select the one I wanted to know more about, and then flip straight to it.

Before Page 211 is the spells by class level list.
Yes, but if the spells are arranged by level first, you have to first go to the class level list and then go to the appropriate level section, as opposed to a straight alphabetical lookup. Two steps instead of one.

This is the player's handbook, not the DM's guide.
That's a fairly meaningless distinction because it's the only list of spells. Both players and DMs have to use it.
 
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Rabulias

Adventurer
Back in the AD&D 1st Edition and 2nd Edition days, spells were presented by class, and then alphabetically by level. This was often a pain for DMs and players. Yes, when you gained a new spell level, it was handy to flip through just a couple of pages to look over all the spells. Having gamed through both of those, IME there are more instances where the current presentation is an improvement. DMs have many NPCs and creatures with spells and spell-like abilities and a single alphabetical list is an easier reference. Players will often have potions or other magic items that grant spell effects that they need to look up, and they will not always know the spell level. I do miss the 3rd Edition summaries in the spell lists, and I think their return would make the lists more useful.
 


Hatmatter

Explorer
Back in the AD&D 1st Edition and 2nd Edition days, spells were presented by class, and then alphabetically by level. This was often a pain for DMs and players. Yes, when you gained a new spell level, it was handy to flip through just a couple of pages to look over all the spells. Having gamed through both of those, IME there are more instances where the current presentation is an improvement. DMs have many NPCs and creatures with spells and spell-like abilities and a single alphabetical list is an easier reference. Players will often have potions or other magic items that grant spell effects that they need to look up, and they will not always know the spell level. I do miss the 3rd Edition summaries in the spell lists, and I think their return would make the lists more useful.
I agree.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think there are a few small tweaks they could make that would really improve the on boarding for new players. If think they could add another 8 pages to the PHB (the standard amount for printing) dedicated to helping new players and it would really enrich the book whilst taking nothing away from the rules.

Some tangible examples of what I mean: the starting process for most new players is to fill out a character sheet. In the PHB they sort of guide you through this in the first section, but they don’t tell you everything you need to know. For example, no where in the first section does it tell you what your passive perception score is. In fact they don’t overtly tell you in the second section. There a box out on passive scores and you can deduce it from there.The same goes for you initiative and for your attack bonus on ranged weapons and things like that. I think for a lot of players they get lost creating their first character because there are all these empty areas on your character sheet that you would expect to fill in as you follow the first section of the book, but can’t find the answers to.

Another thing that I see tripping players up, is that after choosing your race it prompts you to select a number of skills to be proficient in. But then in the next step, choosing your class, you might get set skills that your character is proficient in, perhaps being ones you’ve already chosen meaning you need to jump back a step and pick another skill instead, and then the same thing can happen with your background prescribing skill proficiencies too. Really you need to choose your race, class and background simultaneously - work out all the mandatory skill proficiencies you get, and then make your choices. A little flow chart to guide a player through this could do wonders in my opinion.
It also doesn’t help that the book doesn’t explain what skill proficiencies even are until Chapter seven. How is a new player supposed to make these decisions without knowing what they mean?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm not saying it couldn't benefit from reorganization. I'm saying that no matter what you do to it, the sheer volume of information people require from the PHB will prevent it from being "easy".
I simply do not agree with this.

If you cut classes, races, spells etc. it will be met with "outrage" from the people whose favorite material has been removed to make it more digestible.
I’m sure it would be. It’s also not something I am advocating for in the slightest.

An intro version with both new / better organization (and ymmv on what that means) and reduced options is the only way to make it "easier". I don't believe it will ever be all that easy. As many have pointed out, it's not an easy game.
I disagree with every assertion you make here. D&D is an easy game (see: all the people proudly proclaiming they figured it out by themselves when they were 12). Better organization would make that ease more apparent to newcomers, who are often turned off by its apparent complexity.

So, to sum up my point, you might improve on it (both the PHB and any new intro game) but you will never make it easy enough for casual / new players to just pick up and play. They have to want to play. Really want.
Obviously people who don’t want to learn to play never will. The problem is that some people who do want to learn to play never do, because they have an idea in their head that it’s this super hard, super complex game. It isn’t, but it doesn’t do a good job of making that clear. It could do a better one, creating a better new player experience, without needing to change a single rule.

The best thing, imho, that streaming games have done is make it desirable / cool. As well as bringing some basic familiarity.
On that I do agree with you. Streaming games also show potential new players an example of actual play, which demystifies it and shows them that it’s really not as hard as they think it is.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I simply do not agree with this.

...

Obviously people who don’t want to learn to play never will. The problem is that some people who do want to learn to play never do, because they have an idea in their head that it’s this super hard, super complex game. It isn’t, but it doesn’t do a good job of making that clear. It could do a better one, creating a better new player experience, without needing to change a single rule.
I think R_Chance has a point though... 320 pages cannot be called "easy". The point is that the PHB does not teach you the game, it's a "handbook" i.e. a reference book, and not a tutorial or a guide. It has a complete list of character options presented by type (race, class, spells...) which you can't read sequentially if your purpose is playing the game tonight in the same way you can do with many tabletop games. Then it has a fairly complete set of rules spanning various chapters, which are supposed to tell you almost everything you need to know about combat, exploration, spellcasting... This material is supposed to be read gradually over many days.

When I started playing more seriously (3.0) I bought the PHB. I never bought a "starter set/box" because I already knew I was going to be interested in the complexity and magnitude of a RPG, that was already a selling point for me, compared to other tabletop games. But it doesn't work like that for a lot of people, at least not anymore because now D&D has expanded the gamer base to a lot more casual gamers than before, meaning there are a lot more "beginners" trying to play the game, and the PHB is not a good book for them.

I think Kate Welch is very correct, the "new user experience" is neglected by WotC. In theory, they have already thought about it since the start when they decided to publish the Basic rules and the Starter Set (the latter being meant for beginner DMs anyway). But after the initial release, and despite a few updates to Basic, I don't think Basic is "basic enough". It is still 180 pages! If you think carefully, I am quite sure you can distill the true minimum core of the game into 20 pages + an appendix for spell (not necessary all of them) and another for a bunch of monsters, enough for beginners to play a dozen sessions... after that, they are not "new users" anymore and can switch to the current 180 version of Basic or the PHB, but clearly D&D is not leading beginners through this process if the first document presented is 180 pages and not even telling them on page 1 that they don't need to read it all!

I can't speak for the Starter Set because I don't have it, but Basic and PHB are written by experienced gamers for experienced gamers, even if now and then they include some incredibly dumbed-down explanations on things that are already so simple they don't need to be simplified... This over-explaining the trivial things and at the same time failing to understand why the audience is still put off by the bigger picture, is a typical symptom of someone who knows their stuff so well that they have become unable to understand someone may not get it so easily. The problem is likely that at WotC they don't have enough knowledge about how to teach something, either they didn't hire enough good experts or they aren't listening to them. At this stage, D&D still largely relies on experienced gamers to teach the game to newcomers, except newcomers who are already attracted by the idea of having to "analyse" hundreds of pages of rules.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I simply do not agree with this.
Do a word count and get back to me on the volume of information. Reorganize and strip it down and it will still be long. That's just imho, and we apparently disagree on that. And that's OK :)

I’m sure it would be. It’s also not something I am advocating for in the slightest.
Sorry, I might have been thinking of someone else. No, I was. My apologies.

I disagree with every assertion you make here. D&D is an easy game (see: all the people proudly proclaiming they figured it out by themselves when they were 12). Better organization would make that ease more apparent to newcomers, who are often turned off by its apparent complexity.
The game I figured out at 15 (it was brand new in 1974) was, compared to today's game, relatively simple. I came out of miniature wargaming and board wargames. We read reams of rules and those were better organized if longer for the most part than early D&D. The basic mechanics are not too complex in 5E (or older D&D), the knowledge required about classes, spells, skills, etc. is more complex. I think anyone can sit down at a game and play, as long as they have knowledgeable people helping them. Some people have talked bout video games doing a better job with the new player experience, but I'd say that's just the game itself standing in for those human players who help you in TTRPGs. Again, this is imo, ymmv.

Obviously people who don’t want to learn to play never will. The problem is that some people who do want to learn to play never do, because they have an idea in their head that it’s this super hard, super complex game. It isn’t, but it doesn’t do a good job of making that clear. It could do a better one, creating a better new player experience, without needing to change a single rule.
All to true on the "don't" front. Again, I think you're right on organization, it could be better set up period. I just don't think it's as simple after that as you. So, improvable yes, bet never dead easy. It may be possible to lower that barrier / idea about it being "super hard" but... I think compared to a lot of hobbies and casual pursuits it is harder. Not that I don't think it's incredible fun and well worth the time :)

On that I do agree with you. Streaming games also show potential new players an example of actual play, which demystifies it and shows them that it’s really not as hard as they think it is.
And I agree with you agreeing with me on this :D What it shows off is the basic mechanic; "roll a d20" and apply the results. with help anyone can do that. I just think they pick it up as they go from people who know more and act as informal coaches (be they players or DMs). It's some rules content you read and some people helping out. I suspect that most people on this site picked up the game this way. Unless they're antiques like me :)

What is funny is that I don't like to watch streaming games even though I understand the value :D I would just rather spend my time playing and / or working on my game. Anyway, here's hoping you're right and they can make it a better experience. I just have my doubts that they can significantly impact that barrier to entry.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
To add an extra bit to my previous post...

I could actually say that right now, the Basic rules are in fact almost pointless. What purpose do they have? The game offered by Basic is essentially the same game offered by the PHB.

The main extra thing that the PHB offers in terms of gameplay is feats, which increase the complexity of characters during gameplay, but are optional even for PHB characters. Multiclassing minimally increase the complexity during play (some combos do it), otherwise it mainly increases complexity during character creation. Then obviously the PHB gives you more choices at character creation but again that's not necessarily affecting gameplay complexity (although some of those choices are instrinsecally more complex than those in Basic).

The fact that Basic gives you less choices than PHB is certainly a good thing! But they could think of an even simpler option that strips the game down to the bare minimum without changing the rules, only by lowering the amount of choices during gameplay even more. All for the purpose of cutting down the page count in a truly "start here" kind of guide for new users.

For example, a few things that could be done in "Starter Rules" (below Basic):

1- present only the truly essential combat actions: Attack, Cast a Spell, Use an Object/Ability (maybe also Disengage)

Beginners are not as petty as experienced gamers! If you tell a beginner that in this game they can do one of 3 things, they will stick to those for a while. Experienced games will start complaining why they cannot do something else. Attacking and spellcasting (+ movement) are by far the most common actions taken. Keep "Use an Object" in there for healing potions.

Even though OAs are a complication to the combat gameplay, I would keep it in Starter Rules in order not to alter the fundamental mechanics of movement in 5e combat.

2- limit everything to e.g. 5th level (or even lower)

The point is that we lack a truly lowest-barrier way into the game for new users, but after a while they won't be "new" anymore, and can explore other books. Few levels means to dramatically cut down the size of the guide so that it would not be intimidating.

3- offer character "starting packages"

One of the most blocking point to new users, is choosing spells. You must offer a new user the option of playing a Wizard or another spellcaster. Telling a beginner "you're not good enough to play a spellcaster" is frankly quite a stupid approach. But then you can't show them a list of 15-20 spells and tell them they have to choose 5. This is easy for someone who already plays RPG but a new user can get analysis-paralysis and be afraid of making a mistake.

So a "Starter Rules" would better have at least 1 sample "starting package" that includes iconic spells known/prepared, as well as equipment already chosen, and of course fixed ability scores.
 

ChaosOS

Hero
Supporter
I don't think the basic rules are intended to be an onboarding thing - they primarily establish what's in the OGL and thus permissible for 3P content.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
The "Two page workbook that becomes a character sheet including explaing your powers and character advancement" playbooks from Powered by The Apocalypse style games is something to consider.
 


Marandahir

Crown-Forester
My very first 5E character was a bard, so large spell list.

A lot of the spells are fairly intuitive from just reading the name. I'd go down the list looking at the names, select the one I wanted to know more about, and then flip straight to it.

Yes, but if the spells are arranged by level first, you have to first go to the class level list and then go to the appropriate level section, as opposed to a straight alphabetical lookup. Two steps instead of one.

That's a fairly meaningless distinction because it's the only list of spells. Both players and DMs have to use it.
Thanks for your response. I also play a Bard usually as a PC (but more often DM), and find the alphabetical ordering very difficult for me and for other players.

Yes, Bards have a larger spell list with magical secrets (especially Lore bards), but that doesn't cause issues when all spell levels are essentially separate resources.

A straight alphabetical lookup sounds like fewer steps, but in practice, it's a mess of a way to choose your spells for a given day, and a lot harder to look up through all 78 pages rather than just a narrow band of said pages that match that spell level.

The only time I'd find listing by spell levels less useful is if I'm considering casting a spell at a higher level than it's normally listed. Still, I'd argue the benefits outweigh the flips. I wouldn't need to look up 2 pages because the spells would be notated by level on my character sheet, rather than having to flip to the Bard (and other class spell lists) to find the level I'm looking for.


Having played BECMI, 1e, & 2e, I always hated the way that spells were organized. When 3e came out and reorganized spells alphabetically, it was like a breath of fresh air and made it so much easier.
Thanks for your response on this. Could you elaborate on why you hated it before and what you liked about the alphabetical organization?
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
A straight alphabetical lookup sounds like fewer steps, but in practice, it's a mess of a way to choose your spells for a given day, and a lot harder to look up through all 78 pages rather than just a narrow band of said pages that match that spell level.
What can I say? For me, it doesn't just sound like fewer steps--it actually is fewer steps. I'm not saying you're wrong, but let's at least acknowledge that apparently different layout options work for different people, and no matter which one WotC chooses, it's going to be the wrong one for some players. Which means that there's no single objectively best option.
 

ChaosOS

Hero
Supporter
Then why are they in the Starter and Essentials Kits?
Fair point, there should probably be more work done to make the rules accessible in those products. I'm probably biased towards thinking of them as OGL tools because I'm used to referencing them for what's permissible content to produce.



RE: Spells by level - 5e has a much stronger case than 3.5 for sorting spells by level. Every time a spell is referenced in a monster block or anything else, it includes the level references. Furthermore, spells are only one level; you don't have "this is a third level spell for clerics but a fourth level spell for wizards" type stuff. I'm having a hard time of coming up with examples where you don't have the spell level - I guess just some innate magic stuff, like Tieflings? If you were to redo the spell organization you could just reformat those innate magic entries to make sure the spell level is notated.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
RE: Spells by level - 5e has a much stronger case than 3.5 for sorting spells by level. Every time a spell is referenced in a monster block or anything else, it includes the level references.
It also includes the spell name. If I sort spells by level, to actually get to the information, I'm actually doing two references - first level, then name. I find the 1st level spell section, then flip through alphabetically.

Referencing by level is needed when a player levels up. It may be useful when a GM is designing encounters. Those are not time-critical moments. At the time when I need to do it quickly, in play, which is probably the most frequent form of referencing spell text, having to do two references rather than one is not simpler or faster.
 

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