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Off to see the Wizards: The day that WotC showed me D&D 5th Edition

This is one of three articles covering this announcement. The other two articles are WotC Seeks Unity with a New Edition and Bet You Wish Your Workplace Looked Like WotC?

It was a pretty normal day in early winter last year. I was waiting to see if I could get a few questions answered by Mike Mearls, head of R&D for Wizards of the Coast. I heard the ping of an e-mail and saw that it was from my contact for Wizards. The e-mail said that I could ask Mike a couple of questions personally if I was available to come out to Renton, WA, where WotC is headquartered. It seemed that WotC had something big coming up and wanted to tell a few press types in person. They would even fly me out and put me up on their dime. I was excited; this wasn't the kind of opportunity which simply knocked - it blew the door off the hinges. Of course, I had to sign an NDA on behalf of EN World, so I knew we would have to sit on the information for a while and resist revealing it as the RPG community speculated around us!

So I got my things together and with my backpack bursting I headed to the airport and boarded a plane. I had a list of the other media who had been invited to whatever this was (we still had no idea what was going to happen or be said), so I cyber stalked them. CNN, Forbes, Wired.com, amongst other huge news outlets had been invited. When I arrived I instantly recognized Topher Kohan from CNN waiting for the shuttle to the hotel so I chatted him up. He was really funny and a hardcore gamer like myself, so we speculated on what it could be and talked RPGs during the ride and in the lobby for an hour or so before it was time to go to bed.

I was restless and couldn't sleep. Thanks to a successful moderate Streetwise check, I knew the hotel was across the parking lot from the Wizards of the Coast headquarters. Even though it was rather chilly outside (early December in Seattle) I donned my Batman hoodie and went out to investigate the building's exterior in the dark of night. I could see the massive purple neon sign boldly lighting up the sky and as I circled the building it dawned on me that I didn't need to break in. I had been invited and in the morning WotC would let me in. I took a couple of pictures and returned to my hotel room.

In the morning I was up before my alarm and looking over my notes. I had several sets of questions prepared since I had no idea why I had been invited. One set of notes in case Hasbro had decided to sell the Dungeons & Dragons license or anything to that effect. Another set of questions in case it was the live launch of the Virtual Game Table, and another in case it was.... 5th Edition D&D. About an hour before we were to leave I headed down to the restaurant to get a bite to eat and ran into Ethan Gilsdorf and Greg Tito as well as Topher Kohan again. We all kind of speculated a few moments on things and then it was off to see the Wizards.

So we were led over to the building and into a conference room on the first floor. I got a cup of coffee and settled in to my chair, laptop at the ready. It was then that a couple of people from Wizards of the Coasts came in and checked on us and then Mike Mearls, head of R&D followed a minute or so later. Now I was even more interested because this meant it wasn't something to do with the Virtual Table or some sort of merger.

Well, colorspray me stunned when 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons was officially announced.

Indeed it had been under development on for some time, completely under wraps (although not immune to rumor), and while continuing to produce product of 4th Edition. Then they really dropped the big news: I was going to play an early, very rough, development version of 5th Edition.

We took the elevator up to the offices on the 4th floor. It was a lot bigger than I would have imagined and there was some excellent artwork and statues (see pics). Seemed like a fun place to work even though everyone seemed really busy. I took some pictures of the lobby and then went to a conference room to play 5th Edition. Yep, that's right: I went to play D&D 5th Edition.

The above mentioned journalists plus David Ewalt of Forbes formed the rest of the players with Mike Mearls as the DM. It was fun. I didn't know that my dwarf voice sounded like Christian Bale's Batman, so I learned something new. I wish I could detail the mechanics here, but WotC has specifically asked us not to do so - the game is early in its development, and nothing is set in stone yet. I hadn't played with players I wasn't familiar with in a good while, so it felt great to get to mix and mingle with some different gamers and play a new game. Mike was a really fun DM, and all the players were extremely entertained.

Then I got some one-on-one time with Mike Mearls. This was excellent as it allowed me to talk about RPGs and what Mike enjoys about gaming. Mike answered all my questions about his gaming habits, where he saw D&D going in the future and which pieces of its past were important to keep. He also listened to what I liked and disliked about 4th Edition, D&D, and RPGs in general (don't forget about the warlord or some other way to heal other than cleric).

D&D 5th Edition is coming! (though you have plenty of time)

So, EN World is excited to officially announce to the role-playing game community (and the galaxy at large) that indeed there is, indeed, a 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons currently under development. Or, more precisely - we can officially confirm once and for all that all those rumours you've been hearing since Gen Con last year are completely true, and that WotC is now happy for you to know it!

With the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast is seeking to "create a rule set that enables players of all types and styles to play a D&D game together by taking the best of each edition and getting at the soul of what D&D is." I did get an opportunity to playtest some of the materials and the above statement is not too far off; it felt, in many ways, very retro. The project has been given a code name inside WotC, but we have been asked not to reveal that code name at this time (it begins with an "I" though!) The new edition will be designed as a basic rules set which can be expanded upon with stack on rules to suit the tastes of mechanics complexity to suit the players and DMs.

Wizards will be doing several rounds of playtesting for this project in the coming months. In addition, they will continue to encourage discussion through Monte Cook’s weekly Legends & Lore column, other articles, and through community discussion threads. Additional details about playtesting will be available shortly, and you can expect to see some elements of 5E at DDXP this year. Admitting that they have learned from the past, WotC's playtests will be much more open than with 4th Edition and you can hear all about this in WotC Seeks Unity With 5th Edition.

The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. I asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, "The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in." That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products; however, there are no current plans that we know of for other settings - we assume these will follow in later years.

When will we learn more?

Soon! We've been asked not to share everything we learned quite yet, but in the coming months you'll hear plenty of information about release dates, products, marketing plans, new and old distribution models, mechanics, playtests, and more.

Why so secretive? Well, nothing is yet set in stone. An initial but incomplete rules draft exists, marketing plans are being finalized, and everything is subject to change based on fan feedback - which they hope to gather in a structured way over the coming months. Even the name is not necessarily finalized.

It's been tough holding this news in while surrounded by an internet maelstrom of rumor and speculation; NDAs are like that. And there is a bunch of stuff we're still not permitted to reveal (mainly pertaining to the mechanics we playtested - darnit, we had photos of the pregenerated cleric's character sheet used in the playtest! - and the specific marketing and distribution plans which WotC revealed to us) but I'm sure we'll be able to talk about some of that very soon. We fully expect that DDXP later this month will reveal much.

See this page at wizards.com for WotC's own reveal, where you can also sign up for playtests.
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Nemesis Destiny

It really seems like one of those djinn-in-a-bottle kinda deals... just like the wars that "ruined" Greyhawk, etc. I can sympathize, to a point, but at the end of the day, you can choose to play in whatever timeline you like, deal with the changes, or pretend they never happened and chart your own course. This marks the first time that any "pre-ruination" timelines would officially be supported, if I'm not mistaken, so that's a plus...

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Geeky Ecohumanistic Futurist
What Nemesis Destiny said. You always have had the choice of playing at whatever point in the settings timeline that you preferred, and to even create your own or change what is there. As a DM you can whever you want to your gaming world.

Having support for the previous timelines is great idea.

BTW Nemesis Destiny, I like the avatar. :)

Nemesis Destiny

BTW Nemesis Destiny, I like the avatar. :)
Thanks :) Shamelessly stolen from Laughing Squid (blog site and webhosting company). I don't have any affiliation with them, I just like squiddy things and this seemed like a cool avatar :)

Anyway, the whole thing with FR is a giant catch-22; if they just leave it to develop along without any major changes, it stagnates creatively (It's The Same, Now It Sucks), and if they do something like what they did, it becomes They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

The rub is, even a less drastic change, one easily undone in a narrative, would have caused fanboy outrage. The same thing happened in Greyhawk with the wars and the Out Of the Ashes boxed set. Lots of fans hated it, and it's arguably easier to "undo" than what happened to Toril. So a lot of groups ignored it.

It's one of the things that drove me to make my own setting. Not what happened to Greyhawk specifically, but the idea of creative control. And guess what? I decided to introduce a destructive, world-shaking event to drive story. And it worked. The people that have been playing in this campaign just love it, but probably because they had nothing invested in it emotionally beforehand. Now, they have a lot invested. They're constantly saying how real this campaign world feels, and how much they love exploring it, and really, that's the highest compliment a DM can get.

Now there are times that I shake my head and wish I'd never done x, or y, or z, but at the end of the day, the story is better for it. If you want to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs.

I don't mean to say that all of what I'm saying applies perfectly to the situation in FR, I'm just offering it up as food for thought. I honestly haven't really cared about things in Toril since I stopped running it and reading the novels in the late 90s.


First Post
Anyway, the whole thing with FR is a giant catch-22; if they just leave it to develop along without any major changes, it stagnates creatively (It's The Same, Now It Sucks), and if they do something like what they did, it becomes They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

Good point. IMHO, they just went way too far with the Spellplague. You don't need to radically change a campaign setting in order to usher in a new version of your game (4E). From my experience, most Forgotten Realms fans are pretty attached to their Toril. I believe that WotC would have been far better served if they had done what TSR did back in the days of leaving AD&D behind and ushering in 2nd Edition: the God's War/Time of Troubles. Yes, there were some big changes as a result of all of that but the world was left relatively intact. Some gods were slain, some created, others replaced... plot twists are necessary to prevent a world from becoming stale. Spellplague?! It was just too much. I ignored it in the 3.5 game I was running. 4E is far too one-dimensional to me; glad to see them put the proverbial fork in it... it's done.


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