Mike Mearls Answers Questions About "Dungeons and Dragons Next"

If you read the interview, Mearls clearly says that they did not focus 4e on the strengths of a tabletop rpg but tried to incorporate other trends of gaming, specifically board games.

Hardly a month ago I posted a thread in the general discussion forum, asking readers to discuss on the premisse that "4e is to Descent what Roloemaster is to D&D". That thread got closed by moderators ASAP.

Interesting that Mearls is now comparing 4e to board games.

Where in the interview does he say that? I think I missed that part.

But if he did say that, then the Ravenloft quote makes even less sense without further elaboration.
 

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tuxgeo

Adventurer
That second bullet point strikes me as odd. It wasn't until the Ravenloft board game that they realized they should focus on the strengths unique to RPGs, rather than what's popular in gaming-in-general?

Why didn't they realize that sooner? Why did it take a board game to remind them this about role-playing games? Why was it the Ravenloft board game (as opposed to other ones; I can't remember if there were D&D board games prior to that one) specifically?

I don't mean to be cynical, but that really sounds like they're showing up late to the party of conventional wisdom. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard on the internet over the last few years that RPGs should focus on what RPGs do best, and not try to compete with other types of gaming (e.g. video gaming).

That second bullet point doesn't seem odd to me at all. I think that most professional game designers are going to be well-served by playing lots of different types of games--at least in order to be able to see, first-hand, what kinds of mechanics work in what kinds of situations, and what kinds of mechanics don't work quite so well.

Given (if you'll allow any such) that the designers of D&D were playing lots of different kinds of games as part of their jobs, it's not surprising to me that they would want to make sure that the game they were working on stayed relevant to the market -- that is to say, that the game they were working on at least stayed abreast of the current trends in gaming. (As though to say, "If our game isn't the current trend-setter, at least let us not fall too far behind!")

The great revelation of the recent D&D boardgames, then, was that the boardgames not only could sell to modern audiences, but could even lead players to try the older TTRPG version of the same game. With that revelation, they knew that they were in no danger of falling behind the trend, because the trend could lead customers right on back to the original game.
So, starting with the Ravenloft boardgame, continuing with The Wrath of Ashardalon and The Legend of Drizzt, they had a non-TTRPG product (boardgames) that could lead buyers to try the TTRPG version of D&D.

This presumably meant that the TTRPG version of D&D didn't have to do all of its own marketing, and could be true to its past while still surviving (and possibly even thriving) in the commercial marketplace.

At least, that's how I see it: they were taking their wisdom (conventional or not) from actual sales figures of actual products, not from discussion on Internet message boards. . . .
 

Iosue

Legend
The developers have always pointed to European board games as an influence on 4e design. Particularly anytime they were asked about MMORPGs' influence on the design, the response was, "Sure, we looked at everything, MMORPGs, board games, and card games."

What always gets me is, why is this considered so off-the-wall, non-common sense, and foolhardy? Innovation is good for the game, it's always been good for the game. It was innovation that led Gygax and Arneson to create D&D in the first place, innovation was behind the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements that created the core D&D we all know today. Innovation led to 3e, which was a huge success and brought many new players to the game.

2008 was a different world than 2000, much less 1989 or 1977. RPGs now faced competition from console games, MMORPGs, board games, card games, and heck, just the Internet. We can look back at 4e and say, "Well, they should have stuck with RPGs strengths," but we don't know if that would have been the road to further audience loss and marginalization. They may have had the right idea but wrong execution. Who knows how it might have turned out if the Digital Initiative had turned out like they planned. I fiddle around with the Virtual Table and think it is truly an innovative way to bring the strengths of role-playing to the Internet. What if it had been 3D, with customizable avatars straight from the character builder, as initially designed? When I think of 4e in that light, I marvel at the ingenuity. A simple, elegant game outside of combat, easily manipulable by DMs, and then a detailed combat engine to spice up those online games. Taking the best parts of roleplaying games and adding new ideas from all kinds of gaming, and bringing it to the new media. I think in the end, it didn't work. Marketing mistakes that drove players away, DDI being buggy driving players away, a Players Handbook that was not an easy entry into the game (and I like 4e), the GSL driving third party publishers back to the OGL. Plus the economy crapping out just as it was released. The game itself aside, a lot of things went wrong for 4e. And while I'm a fan, I can't say the game itself might not have been too much change, too soon. But, goddamn, WotC reached for the stars. They fell short, but I admire the effort.

The way I read Mearls' comments, all he's saying was they tried design 4e with cross-over appeal, so they could easily introduce board gamers, and video gamers to D&D. And what Castle Ravenloft taught them was that the RPG itself doesn't have to be the gateway. I don't think that's necessarily an obvious conclusion they could have come to in 2006/7 when they were designing 4e.
 

Insight

Adventurer
Instead of another "Red Box" for 5th ed / next / whatever... maybe they should consider a board game version of the game for their "gateway" product.
 

xechnao

First Post
Where in the interview does he say that? I think I missed that part.

But if he did say that, then the Ravenloft quote makes even less sense without further elaboration.

It makes a lot of sense. Many people complained about 4e's board game tactical gameplay drawing a lot of time and focus to play it out. Of course for many others this has been a lot of fun and so they like 4e a lot. But beyond this group of people that like 4e it is not for every tabletop roleplaying gamer.
Mearls said:
Stuff like Castle Ravenloft had a big effect on our decision, as it showed that we could focus the tabletop RPG on its strengths rather than worrying about incorporating the latest trends in gaming.
 

It makes a lot of sense. Many people complained about 4e's board game tactical gameplay drawing a lot of time and focus to play it out. Of course for many others this has been a lot of fun and so they like 4e a lot. But beyond this group of people that like 4e it is not for every tabletop roleplaying gamer.

I agree that 4e had board game elements. I just don't see how the Ravenloft board game showed them that D&D doesn't need to draw on video game or board game design to be good. Ravenloft was basically the 4E rules in full board game form. Just feel like I am missing the connective tissue here.
 

xechnao

First Post
I agree that 4e had board game elements. I just don't see how the Ravenloft board game showed them that D&D doesn't need to draw on video game or board game design to be good. Ravenloft was basically the 4E rules in full board game form. Just feel like I am missing the connective tissue here.

Well Mike Mearls tries to give reasons for dropping 4e and any focused design to various elements beyond those of broader appeal to tabletop roleplaying gamers.
The Ravenloft game was D&D's effort of direct marketing to board games as a seperate product line of the roleplaying product line and it made them understand that they better develop various product lines with the appropriet design focus for the various respective markets instead of designing one line with appeal elements for every market.
 

Kzach

Banned
Banned
Of course, that's a sample size of one, and the plural of anecdote is not data, so take it with a huge pinch of salt.

"...the plural of anecdote is not data..."

Is this something you came up with or is it an already established phrase? I ask, because I want it to be my new sig. It is made of awesome.
 


Truename

First Post
That whole thing confuses me. What exactly did Ravenloft board game show about RPGs to them? That D&D should be more like a game board, or less like one? I don't get what it is they found and how they're going to apply it?

Mike Mearls said:
...it showed that we could focus the tabletop RPG on its strengths rather than worrying about incorporating the latest trends in gaming. If board games, or whatever category is hot, can support a D&D game then we can just create a game to meet that need.

Sounds to me like he's saying Ravenloft taught them that they don't need to modify D&D to take advantage of the business opportunities of new gaming trends. Instead, they can make other products to take advantage of those trends and those products will be bring players to the core D&D RPG.

For example, 4e has a very strong eurogame influence in its rules design and presentation. (I say this as a 4e DM.) Reading between the lines, I'd guess that 4e was designed that way in order to bring in new players--to take advantage of the rising popularity of board games like Settlers of Catan. Mearls is saying that they've learned that they didn't need to do that; they could have made the Ravenloft board game to appeal to Catan players and it still would have brought new players to the core D&D game.

Keep in mind that Mearls is a manager now, not a designer. When he talks about "success" and "learning things," he's just as likely to be talking about D&D as a business as he is to be talking about it as a game.
 

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