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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

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.
I always thought the point of the Basic rules was that it was a free way to distribute the core of the game to people who would otherwise avoid it due the price point.
 

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jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
3- offer character "starting packages"

One of the most blocking point to new users, is choosing spells.
The "Quick Build" sections in the PHB include level 1 spells for all caster classes.

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.
This is basically what the pre-generated characters in the Starter Set do, as well as the free downloadable pregens from the WotC site. The latter, in particular, are structured less like a character sheet and more like a playbook.
 
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Hatmatter

Explorer
The "Quick Build" sections in the PHB include level 1 spells for all caster classes.


This is basically what the pre-generated characters in the Starter Set do, as well as the free downloadable pregens from the WotC site. The latter, in particular, are structured less like a character sheet and more like a workbook.
These are good reminders, Jayoungr; there is so much material out there, it is easy to forget about both the "Quick Build" tips in the PHB and the pre-generated character sheets available through the website.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
I can see both sides of this. When I'm looking up what Shapechange does, it's far easier for me to just go to "S" and find it, so purely alphabetical is better. However, if I'm making a 7th level NPC and I need to choose 3rd level spells, It's far easier for me to go to a 3rd level section and look through that, than to look at a 3rd level list and then look all of them up in a purely alphabetical order.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, so really it's just a matter of preference. Overall, I'd say that I prefer the purely alphabetical look-up. There the initial hassle that I mentioned, but after that I spend far more time looking up exactly how my spells work than I do picking initial groups of spells. The spells are already organized by level on my sheet, so I don't need to do that again.
 

Azzy

Newtype
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.
Actually, there are things in the SRD that are not in the Basic rules. So, that's it's not to establish that.

The Basic rules are, in my opinion, there to give a prospective player a free resource to consider and understand before purchasing a product and then deciding it's not for them.

Bringing up the Basic rules, does make a great point. That would be a perfect place to make a noob-friendly introduction to the rules in the spirit of the old Basic boxed sets.
 

Azzy

Newtype
Thanks for your response on this. Could you elaborate on why you hated it before and what you liked about the alphabetical organization?
Sure. When looking up spells, you first had to find the setion for the relevant spell, and then look for the spell in alphabetical order. (There's also the fact that, in those editions, spells were also seperated by class, so you would first have look for the class' spell section first, then look for the spell's level, then look for the spell alphabetically. 5e, however, would get around that issaue, at least.) Having the spells all listed alphabetically skips a step in that process (two steps from the previos editions). 3e also had the benefit, as pointed out by a previous poster, of having short spell summaries in the class' spell list (5e should really adopt that method).
 

Azzy

Newtype
I think R_Chance has a point though... 320 pages cannot be called "easy".
I think most of those 320 pages are a red herring, though. A lot of that isn't necessary to learn or read first to play the actual game (llike the multiple races, classes, backgrounds, spells, feats, much of the equipment section, and the appendicies). Actual character creation rules and the core game rules don't actually take up that many pages. Better explaining the concept of various options in character creation could help (like explaining skills and such) before going on a deep dive of all the options. The extant introduction (pp. 5-8) and summary of character creation (pp. 11-15) isn't bad, but could do better the concepts and elements of the game that players should know about before launching a new player in to character creation. A glossary of terms in the introduction would also be handy.
 


Li Shenron

Legend
I think most of those 320 pages are a red herring, though. A lot of that isn't necessary to learn or read first to play the actual game
That's why I said that a Starter Rules primer could be 20 pages.

The problem is that the game is presenting newcomers with 320 (or 180) pages of stuff. Even telling them "here's 180 pages, but you only need 20" still means they have to read 180 in order to figure out which are the 20 they really need.
 

Azzy

Newtype
The problem is that the game is presenting newcomers with 320 (or 180) pages of stuff. Even telling them "here's 180 pages, but you only need 20" still means they have to read 180 in order to figure out which are the 20 they really need.
It's like you ignored the part of my post that you snipped.
 


Haffrung

Adventurer
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.
Nailed it.

WotC got a lot right with 5E, including the realization that complex, crunchy character optmization was an endeavor much more popular online than in the broad player-base. But they didn't shake off the assumption that every D&D group will be led by an alpha gamer who plays D&D as a lifestyle hobby and internalizes hundreds of pages of rules in order to facilitate play for everyone one.

I think they do have access to experts, and have listened to them in the past. But as part of the 'return to the roots' objective of 5E, they deliberately turned their back on modern teaching and presentation techniques out of fear of alienating grognards. Which must be incredibly frustrating for someone tasked with improving the new user experience.
 

Haffrung

Adventurer
The problem is that the game is presenting newcomers with 320 (or 180) pages of stuff. Even telling them "here's 180 pages, but you only need 20" still means they have to read 180 in order to figure out which are the 20 they really need.
I also believe there's a powerful resistance on the part of RPG publishers to providing complete, compact summaries of the rules, out of fear of losing out on sales of those $60 hardcovers. I don't think it's a coincidence that the most effective rules summary in the history of the game, the Essentials Rules Compendium, was released when WotC had (temporarily it turns out) abandoned the 3 hardcovers publishing model.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
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...")
To add on. If flip to level 3 spells, how many pages to I need to flip to level 5. Being Alphabetical I can make a better guess on how many pages to flip from charm person to charm monster.
 


R_Chance

Adventurer
Ah, I remember those - I believe a 20th level Wizard (excuse me, “Magic-user”) took something like 5 DAYS to memorize all spells from scratch. Basically, he had to cram like a college student before Finals. 😀
At least two days, no matter how you cut it, more if the DM mandates the minimum rest time be applied between "work days" That minimum was based on the highest level spell to be memorized (i.e. 12 hours for 9th level) and you needed a 1/4 hour extra per level of the individual spells. The first day would be spent memorizing the 2 9th level spells you could have. You run out of time and have to rest again... and memorize again... yeah, it would add up. That's what down time was for magic users back in the day :)

Thank all the odd gods that none of my 1E players ever made it to 20th level :D
 


At least two days, no matter how you cut it, more if the DM mandates the minimum rest time be applied between "work days" That minimum was based on the highest level spell to be memorized (i.e. 12 hours for 9th level) and you needed a 1/4 hour extra per level of the individual spells. The first day would be spent memorizing the 2 9th level spells you could have. You run out of time and have to rest again... and memorize again... yeah, it would add up. That's what down time was for magic users back in the day :)

Thank all the odd gods that none of my 1E players ever made it to 20th level :D
I had a buddy playing an 18th level magic-user in a 1st ed game, low on spells in a crunch situation. He used a 9th level slot to cast Wish to immediately prepare all his other spells. Exhausting, but potent.
 

auburn2

Explorer
The idea that it is too complicated for beginers is hogwash. I started playing without reading a single rule with a friend who also never read a single rule when we started and we had fun.

I remember when I first started D&D, it was the redbox 1980s era basic system. Me and my friend Erin (we were 12), watched his older brother (who was 15) play with his friends. I saw it a once or twice, Erin saw it a lot since he lived with his brother.

Well Erin and I decided we were going to play D&D. Erin said he was going to be the DM, since he watched his brother play and knew everything about the game. Me and my 10-year old brother would be the players. I asked if being DM meant he talked to the players in riddles since the "DM" in the D&D cartoon talked in riddles ... shows you how much I knew. Erin said no and explained the basics of how the game worked fighters, elves, dwarves, combat .... and everthing he said it turned out was completely wrong. We started playing Keep on the Borderlands (which he did not read either before or during the session) in the back of my dad's station wagon on the way to the beach.

Our first D&D session lasted most of the 2-hour drive until the TPK which happened while we were still in the keep. I think Erin thought his ultimate goal as DM was to wipe out the party and "win". We had loads of fun, a rules referee would have said what we were playing was not D&D. Erin was just making it all up, roll this dice, roll that dice, he was using technical words like "hit points" and "secret passage" that he had heard his brother say. I loved it so much I started reading the rulebook on that vacation. It took me about a 2 sentances into the description of Elves to realize Erin got the rules all wrong, but he still got the "game" right (except for the part of trying to kill the party).

Over the next few years we recruited a few of our friends and started playing with me as DM pretty regularly. We moved to AD&D 1e and I became an expert in the rules and after that we played mostly by the rules.

My point in this post is people can play and D&D and even DM without understanding the rules at all and the #1 rule in 5e - the DM has final say - means that you can do this "legally" as well. Using your imagination to make a fun immersive story is the important piece, not the rules. If people understand that and if they are welcomed by any rules-mongers at the table it won't be intimidating or difficult to start at all.
 
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Olli Rose

Villager
Without wanting to be mean or start a flame war or anything, doesn't your post kind of amount to "DnD is easy if you ignore all the DnD"?

It's good that you had fun but I think a designer would consider their rule books and modules a failure if you had fun because you didn't read them.

The idea that it is too complicated for beginers is hogwash. I started playing without reading a single rule with a friend who also never read a single rule when we started and we had fun.

I remember when I first started D&D, it was the redbox 1980s era basic system. Me and my friend Erin (we were 12), watched his older brother (who was 15) play with his friends. I saw it a once or twice, Erin saw it a lot since he lived with his brother.

Well Erin and I decided we were going to play D&D. Erin said he was going to be the DM, since he watched his brother play and knew everything about the game. Me and my 10-year old brother would be the players. I asked if being DM meant he talked to the players in riddles since the "DM" in the D&D cartoon talked in riddles ... shows you how much I knew. Erin said no and explained the basics of how the game worked fighters, elves, dwarves, combat .... and everthing he said it turned out was completely wrong. We started playing Keep on the Borderlands (which he did not read either before or during the session) in the back of my dad's station wagon on the way to the beach.

Our first D&D session lasted most of the 2-hour drive until the TPK which happened while we were still in the keep. I think Erin thought his ultimate goal as DM was to wipe out the party and "win". We had loads of fun, a rules referee would have said what we were playing was not D&D. Erin was just making it all up, roll this dice, roll that dice, he was using technical words like "hit points" and "secret passage" that he had heard his brother say. I loved it so much I started reading the rulebook on that vacation. It took me about a 2 sentances into the description of Elves to realize Erin got the rules all wrong, but he still got the "game" right (except for the part of trying to kill the party).

Over the next few years we recruited a few of our friends and started playing with me as DM pretty regularly. We moved to AD&D 1e and I became an expert in the rules and after that we played mostly by the rules.

My point in this post is people can play and D&D and even DM without understanding the rules at all and the #1 rule in 5e - the DM has final say - means that you can do this "legally" as well. Using your imagination to make a fun immersive story is the important piece, not the rules. If people understand that and if they are welcomed by any rules-mongers at the table it won't be intimidating or difficult to start at all.
 
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