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WotC Ray Winninger Is Head of D&D RPG Team; Mike Mearls No Longer Works on RPG

People have been wondering where Mike Mearls has gone for quite some time. It seems that he has not been working on the D&D tabletop RPG since some time last year, and the new head of the team and Executive Producer is Ray Winninger.

Winninger is an RPG industry veteran. Amongst other things, he was co-designer of DC Heroes and Torg, and wrote the Dungeoncraft column for Dragon Magazine. He has worked at a number of RPG companies including TSR, Mayfair Games, West End Games, and more.

Ray_Winninger_at_MIX08_2_crop.jpg



Winninger is Chris Perkins' and Jeremy Crawford's boss. And in further comments, Chris Perkins says that Mike Mearls has not been part of the tabletop RPG team since some time last year.


That explains why Mearls' Twitch shows, like Happy Fun Hour, have disappeared. Although he's made a couple of retweets since, his last tweet on Twitter was February 13th, 2019. He still works at WotC on the D&D brand in some capacity, but not the tabletop RPG itself (he did an interview about Baldur's Gate 3 on Polygon last year).

Ray Winninger introduces himself in the latest issue of Dragon+, WotC's online magazine. "My name is Ray Winninger and I’m the new Executive Producer in charge of the Dungeons & Dragons studio at Wizards of the Coast. In just a few months on the job, I’ve already been impressed by the skills and the passion of the designers, artists, editors, and production staff who bring you our terrific D&D products. They are a uniquely talented group, and it is an honor to work alongside them."
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Remind me what that was? Google isn't finding it for me.
Early on in the 5e open playtest, they set a lot of lofty goals, such as 5e being able to emulate the feel of any past edition, even in one instance claiming that you’d be able to have different players playing characters in the styles of different editions at the same table. They claimed this sort of thing would be made possible through modular design - a simple framework onto which optional rules “modules” could be attached or detached. You can see a bit of this philosophy at work in the 5e DMG, but for the most part, it didn’t live up to the expectations they created.

I don’t really think the modularity thing had anything to do with Monte Cook leaving. He’s since talked about how they originally got him onboard by convincing him that the corporate culture at WotC had changed/was changing and that he would be able to flex his creative muscles without a lot of corporate interference, and that he left when it became clear that they had been stringing him along and nothing had really changed.
 

gyor

Legend
Early on in the 5e open playtest, they set a lot of lofty goals, such as 5e being able to emulate the feel of any past edition, even in one instance claiming that you’d be able to have different players playing characters in the styles of different editions at the same table. They claimed this sort of thing would be made possible through modular design - a simple framework onto which optional rules “modules” could be attached or detached. You can see a bit of this philosophy at work in the 5e DMG, but for the most part, it didn’t live up to the expectations they created.

I don’t really think the modularity thing had anything to do with Monte Cook leaving. He’s since talked about how they originally got him onboard by convincing him that the corporate culture at WotC had changed/was changing and that he would be able to flex his creative muscles without a lot of corporate interference, and that he left when it became clear that they had been stringing him along and nothing had really changed.

I can't help but wonder how much of Monte's influence is still in 5e?
 

cbwjm

Hero
As others have mentioned, his dungeoncraft articles were great reads. I think it was one of those articles that I read the 50/50 rule when a player asks to perform a task. That is, if a commoner (with all 10s in stats) could be expected to succeed half the time at a task then allow the PC to attempt the task with a simple ability check. Nowadays that would just be a DC 10 check. Every now and then I go back and reread these articles, plenty of good stuff in them.

I guess Mike is working on the digital side of things? I recall somewhere that they were ramping up there digital games and he did work on BG3. If you do want to see his happy fun hour videos you can still find them on twitch. At least you could a few weeks ago.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I can't help but wonder how much of Monte's influence is still in 5e?
I doubt very much, as he left pretty early on in the process. If any of his influence survives in the final product, it’s probably just general design philosophy more than anything specific.
 

So many “Keep on the Shadowfell” comments and honestly, it’s on rails but for learning 4e it’s not that bad.

Ohhhhh son. SON. Why gotta say things like that? You're just triggering me.

Keep on the Shadowfell is absolutely that bad. It nearly killed 4E for me before it started. If I hadn't run an adventure I'd designed myself for part of the group and convinced them 4E had tons of potential, I think they'd have been like "Let's just play Cyberpunk 2020 or something..." (no-one wanted to go back to 3.XE or relatives).

On the rails isn't even a major problem with it. That's the tip of the iceberg of problems with Keep on the Shadowfell. It's the smallest problem with Keep on the Shadowfell. It's total rubbish all the way down. It has every hallmark of a bad adventure.

1) It's staggeringly boring. Literally everything about it is boring. The encounters are dull. The setup isn't great. The keep itself is extremely boring, both in terms of layout and constitution. The plots and characters, of which there are very few, are also extremely boring.

2) Nothing at all in it makes any sense. I discussed this I think here at some length when it came out. It's just a giant pile of nonsense. It makes Terrible Trouble At Tragidore look like one of Shakespeare's most human and believable plays. And the more you look it, the more you think about it, the worse, and worse it gets. There's some stuff that like, if you don't think about it at all, and just run, it only gets you later when you "Whaaaaa wait?!?" but there's other stuff that's just "C'mon, what, no, no no no no noooooooooo that is dumb and makes no sense...". It's like if I constructed an adventure to actually make no sense, it would make more than KotSF, because it would at least be thematically consistent.

3) It's full of rules errors. We went over this at the time.

4) There's nothing memorable about, or cool about. The final encounter is least-awful thing about it by miles. It was still so bad, that it made literally change campaign worlds to get away from it.

5) It has appalling organisation. This is a crime, a real crime against DMs. It's not unheard-of, it's not even uncommon, but to commit this crime as well as all the other crimes?

6) It's far too long for the tiny amount of actual content it has. It's just ridiculously long, given that about 60%+ of it is basically "filler". This did help me in one way - it taught me that "filler" encounters, whilst fine a lot of editions, are really not fine in 4E.

And yes it's terrible railroad. But I can forgive a terrible railroad, and so can my players, when the train takes you somewhere interesting or exciting. That place is not Keep on the Shadowfell.

The only positive thing I can say is that, despite a lot of rules errors, and despite being really boring, the encounters were relatively well-designed and balanced.

I was a big 4E booster and kind of excited about Mearls back then, and that adventure put me on the back foot. The other good thing it and the follow-up adventure did for me was convince me that there was absolutely no possibility I could use WotC adventures for 4E, so I'd have to write my own. And 4E was the right edition to make that decision in.
 

Its going to take time to get a full grasp of what Winniger's mark on D&D 5e truely looks like compared to Mike Mearls and who ever had the job during the interm period between them (does anyone who had the job in the interm period?)

Pretty sure it was a combination of Nathan Stewart and Winniger. Winniger got a promotion around the time of "the incident" and Mearls stepping back from public view.
 

teitan

Hero
Ohhhhh son. SON. Why gotta say things like that? You're just triggering me.

Keep on the Shadowfell is absolutely that bad. It nearly killed 4E for me before it started. If I hadn't run an adventure I'd designed myself for part of the group and convinced them 4E had tons of potential, I think they'd have been like "Let's just play Cyberpunk 2020 or something..." (no-one wanted to go back to 3.XE or relatives).

On the rails isn't even a major problem with it. That's the tip of the iceberg of problems with Keep on the Shadowfell. It's the smallest problem with Keep on the Shadowfell. It's total rubbish all the way down. It has every hallmark of a bad adventure.

1) It's staggeringly boring. Literally everything about it is boring. The encounters are dull. The setup isn't great. The keep itself is extremely boring, both in terms of layout and constitution. The plots and characters, of which there are very few, are also extremely boring.

2) Nothing at all in it makes any sense. I discussed this I think here at some length when it came out. It's just a giant pile of nonsense. It makes Terrible Trouble At Tragidore look like one of Shakespeare's most human and believable plays. And the more you look it, the more you think about it, the worse, and worse it gets. There's some stuff that like, if you don't think about it at all, and just run, it only gets you later when you "Whaaaaa wait?!?" but there's other stuff that's just "C'mon, what, no, no no no no noooooooooo that is dumb and makes no sense...". It's like if I constructed an adventure to actually make no sense, it would make more than KotSF, because it would at least be thematically consistent.

3) It's full of rules errors. We went over this at the time.

4) There's nothing memorable about, or cool about. The final encounter is least-awful thing about it by miles. It was still so bad, that it made literally change campaign worlds to get away from it.

5) It has appalling organisation. This is a crime, a real crime against DMs. It's not unheard-of, it's not even uncommon, but to commit this crime as well as all the other crimes?

6) It's far too long for the tiny amount of actual content it has. It's just ridiculously long, given that about 60%+ of it is basically "filler". This did help me in one way - it taught me that "filler" encounters, whilst fine a lot of editions, are really not fine in 4E.

And yes it's terrible railroad. But I can forgive a terrible railroad, and so can my players, when the train takes you somewhere interesting or exciting. That place is not Keep on the Shadowfell.

The only positive thing I can say is that, despite a lot of rules errors, and despite being really boring, the encounters were relatively well-designed and balanced.

I was a big 4E booster and kind of excited about Mearls back then, and that adventure put me on the back foot. The other good thing it and the follow-up adventure did for me was convince me that there was absolutely no possibility I could use WotC adventures for 4E, so I'd have to write my own. And 4E was the right edition to make that decision in.

That’s a mouthful! Lol I see all your points as an experienced DM (30 years) but for a newb ehhhh. They got better and seemed to hit their stride with essentials and Gardmore Abbey. I get it though.
 

That’s a mouthful! Lol I see all your points as an experienced DM (30 years) but for a newb ehhhh. They got better and seemed to hit their stride with essentials and Gardmore Abbey. I get it though.

Here's the thing - I do accept that for a new DM or something a lot of this would have been a non-issue, in the sense they wouldn't have noticed (though I guarantee a couple of the "but why?" things could nail a new-to-D&D person), but why not start new players with the best, not the most mediocre?

I mean, I was lucky. The first ever AD&D adventure I saw was a written by my second cousin, she was over here from Canada, and it was amazing. I lost it years ago, but for like, the few years when I wrote adventures, I'd sometimes go back and look at it, it was so well done. And she wrote it over two nights (staying up really late my dad told me). You could have taken that, published it, and people would have been like "Wow this is a really well-put-together adventure and very atmospheric and everything makes sense!". Because it was so good (and admittedly because she talked to me at some length about DMing), it was like I had a big head start, like a significant advantage on DMing and adventure design.

So I guess I'm kind of just horrified by bad edition-lead-in adventures, because they're particularly likely to be picked up by new/inexperienced players, and instead of getting them off to a flying start, they're basically setting them up to get held back in class!
 

Olaf the Stout

Adventurer
I've looked, and while I find a screencap of an email Mearls sent to Zak which people don't like, it does not reveal the names of accusers. And Zak later said Mearls did not reveal the names of accusers to him. So, is there actual evidence Mearls revealed the names of accusers, or is that just one of those rumors which grew into a belief that's what happened over time?
I’ll try and find what I read back when this first came out. From memory finding info involved diving down several rabbit holes, so it may take me a bit of digging.
 


3) It's full of rules errors. We went over this at the time.

To be fair, that was a general theme of 4e in its beginnings and only stopped at essentials, when it was just too late. If 4e had been like essentials, It wouldn´t have seperated the community that hard. Not that I can prove it, but it got way better then. Still, even at that point, even when the adventure was reading well, playing it as an rpg was a bad experience. When you advance only 1 or two rooms in a full 8 hour session, something is off.

To the topic. I am curious how DnD5e will go on under a new boss.
I am sad to see Mike Mearls leave so quietly because he had to. I was curious about that incident and digged a bit. Even though there may be victims, Mike´s role in that incident is not as clear as some people try to state as fact and he is harassed whenever he is making an appearance. And no matter what you have done, that is not how you are doing it in a democracy.
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I played in it and enjoyed it. And I don't think my DM did much moderation to it as he was a new DM and we were all new to 4e.
Pretty much the same. My DM at the time wasn’t new to DMing in general, but obviously we were all new to 4e. It certainly wasn’t a great adventure, but in my experience it was cromulent. And I was pretty skeptical going in, but by the end I was sold on 4e.
 

Pretty much the same. My DM at the time wasn’t new to DMing in general, but obviously we were all new to 4e. It certainly wasn’t a great adventure, but in my experience it was cromulent. And I was pretty skeptical going in, but by the end I was sold on 4e.

The encounter design was basically fine. If you had a low bar for what constitutes a good adventure and a party that doesn't ask questions, or need good plots, or enjoys interacting with NPCs, it's fine. As a showcase for 4E combat, it works.

As anything else? Pffffft, not sure about that.

And whilst it was criminally boring, at least it wasn't as IQ-loweringly stupid as Thunderspire Labyrinth (featuring the world's most poorly-explained random Green Dragon).

Mike´s role in that incident is not as clear as some people try to state as fact and he is harassed whenever he is making an appearance.

What exactly he did will never be clear, but in the absolute best-case scenario for him, he was unprofessional in public, and unacceptably careless. And that's the best-case scenario. Anything else is a lot worse and he should have been fired, so we have to hope it is the best case.
 

Ray wrote part of the infamous Castle Greyhawk module. His ascension was foreshadowed with Xort's appearance in MToF. So obvious in retrospect. Wheels within wheels....
 


The encounter design was basically fine. If you had a low bar for what constitutes a good adventure and a party that doesn't ask questions, or need good plots, or enjoys interacting with NPCs, it's fine. As a showcase for 4E combat, it works.

As anything else? Pffffft, not sure about that.

And whilst it was criminally boring, at least it wasn't as IQ-loweringly stupid as Thunderspire Labyrinth (featuring the world's most poorly-explained random Green Dragon).



What exactly he did will never be clear, but in the absolute best-case scenario for him, he was unprofessional in public, and unacceptably careless. And that's the best-case scenario. Anything else is a lot worse and he should have been fired, so we have to hope it is the best case.

When the incident and Mike's connection/statement, and then WotC's statement came out, it was discussed at length on this site, til the threads, of course, got to the point where they had to be locked. But since I do not think locked threads are also deleted, they should still be archived here from about the time this all happened last year.
 

I wish I could find something that Ray Winninger has worked on. I'd like to get a better sense of his style of play.

I remember reading Dungeoncraft and enjoying it, but (a) the game was very different then, (b) the industry was very different then, and (c) I was very different then. It sounds like he might be a more experienced brand manager who has some game design experience rather than a game designer who's been forced into a management role.
 

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