The State of D&D: Products, Psionics, Settings, & More

At Game Hole Con, WotC hosted a "State of the Industry" panel, featuring Chris Perkins and Mike Mearls. Nerds on Earth was there to record the audio (listen to that here). Amongst other things, they hinted at the next FOUR products, mentioned that the Mystic, Artificer and Revised Ranger were upcoming, and indicated that D&D is now the most popular it has ever been since the 1980s. They also mention the release schedule, settings, novels, and more.

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EN World member Mistwell took the time to listen to the audio and list the highlights!

A lot of good info in there.

Xanathar's Guide comes out at the point where in prior editions they were working on or coming out with the next edition of the game. Instead they put that level of effort into making this the first big expansion of the game. (They say later they don't anticipate a new edition until 10 years as gone by in most likelihood, if feedback continues as it is - and 6th edition would be highly likely to be backwards compatible with 5e).

The playtest had HALF A MILLION playtesters. Wow.

The next big expansion is mystic (Psion) and artificer and revised ranger. They will come out, but need more testing and refinement. Ranger also needs to be free rather than a paid product. It will be a free download.

Every product being released in 2018 has either been written, or is being written. One is at the tail end of the editing/layout process. Another is in the playtest phase. A third is in the finalizing development phase. And a fourth Mearls won't talk about at all. So, looks like four major products for 2018.

There will be a balance between rules crunch and adventures/story in the products. They are trying to very carefully manage and curate the rules balance aspect. Adventures get about 300 playtester groups. Rules get a whole lot more.

They are very pleased with the 10 person collaborative DMsGuild group producing content and adventure related stuff on DMsGuild for them right now. That team will also be coming out with their own subclasses and such for Xanathars for example. They will be looked at internally by WOTC but are for home game use only and are not nearly as highly playtested as official content. But it's very good content and does get a sweep of review from WOTC.

The team feels D&D overall is in a very good place right now. They've seen an enormous positive reaction to the game. They think probably only the early 80s matches the level of popularity of the game, and that it is more popular that probably any other time in the history of the game other than being matched by the early 80s.

They're very happy with the slowed release schedule as it gives them so much more time to focus on what they put out and the future. The most important aspect of that is their ability to plan out the future properly. In prior editions they worked on, the focus was always on getting the next book out. But with 5e they can spend a lot more time planning the game out into the future rather than just on the next product. Right now they are focusing mostly on 2019, spending a lot of time thinking about the entire year's experience and putting it all together cohesively and to build D&D in a planned way which brings more people into the hobby and make them feel welcomed. They didn't have a lot of time to ask those questions and plan them out in prior editions. They also think the slowed release schedule has allowed them to get a lot more new players as one of the barriers to entry (the quantity of rule books) is no longer there.

On Psionics, they re-read the Darksun books a lot. A lot of the thinking they do these days is thinking of D&D as a multiverse, and as Darksun being part of the prime material plane with greyhawk and forgotten realms in one big shared multiverse. And they asked why in a devastated world Psionics is prominent. They are very focused on what psionics is, why it exists in this universe. They felt in prior editions D&D focused on very specific things, and less about the myths about those things and why things did what they did and how they related to the rest of the cosmos and the things in it. As an example, the Draconomicon focused a lot on the anatomy of dragons, but little about why dragons in relation to who they are, why they do what they do, how they related to the rest of the cosmos.

Specific to Psionics and that topic, Mind Flayers used to rule most of the material plane, so what was going on with the Gods for those years, and how does that relate to the psionic powers of the Mind Flayers? Mind Flayers had no Gods, so what did it mean for the Gods when the Mind Flayers ruled, and what happened with the Gods when the Mind Flayers fell? Those are the kinds of questions they are asking, along with where Psionics comes from and how it works.

On Settings (with a lot specific to Eberron). One challenge D&D had in the 90s was the settings were competing with each other. But now that they are thinking of settings as a "genre" as opposed to a "place" it twists a bit what they can do with a setting, so it does not necessarily have to compete anymore. They need to focus on what role a setting places in the larger game. So "typical D&D" looks a lot like Forgotten Realms. Dark Sun is "Post-Apocalyptic D&D". Ravenloft is "Gothic-Horror D&D". Eberron is either "Film Noir D&D" or "Pulp D&D". Genre becomes the focus, as a means of changing what the feel of D&D will be for a game, and as a means of explaining that setting to a new player. They have an idea of what they want to do with Eberron, but a lot of it just comes down to doing it right, so they take the time to make sure that when it comes out it will feel like a definitive book. They don't want it to be a "product line". They never want you to buy a book and need anything more than the core three books to use it. So if they ever put out one Eberron book and then a second one, the second one would not assume you owned the first one. And they always want you to use most of a book they put out, rather than just a small part of it. And they want you to be able to pick up a setting book and use it right away rather than spend a lot of time on preparation.

[This marks the half way point of the session]

Big survey coming out next week on Adventurers League. They want to bring the League into the 21st century and more friendly to a new audience.

On Forgotten Realms novels: They feel the novel business is very tricky, and they are a game company. They're not necessarily good at novels business. They don't have a good plan for novels, and they do not have a novel publishing expert on their team right now. It's not something they say they will never do again, it's just not their focus this year. They would consider a partnership, but they're not looking for it.

On Planescape and the other settings: They have a rough draft cosmological ties for how all the settings could come back and fit together and have products, including even Spelljammer and Dark Sun and Eberron and Greyhawk. They want to make sure for each setting product, they assume this is the first time you're seeing that setting, and not require prior knowledge of it.

In terms of story lines, they don't plan on doing a story line that lasts multiple products like Tiamat did, at least not right now. They didn't have the product mix down pat during the Tiamat two book adventures. They have a better sense now of how long it takes a DM to get trough content. They also found two adventure big books a year was too much, and many DMs were not keeping up. The Adventurer's League content is intended to expanding the Adventure content for those minority number of groups that can absorb two big adventures a year or more.

[This marks the 45 min mark]

Subclass feats are likely not in the future from the WOTC team, as it's took fine a level of detail. New subclasses are in the future, and new classes and races probably well.

The PHB is selling so well they're afraid to make any changes to the PHB...not even changing the index or footers which they want to badly do and know needs to be done. They would consider posting a better Index online though for people to print.
 

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Dragonblade

Adventurer
I agree that changing the PHB significantly would be bad juju now. But you can incorporate errata and a new index. That won't disrupt anyone's game.
 

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Dragonblade

Adventurer
I'd also like to a deluxe core book treatment. I'd pay the premium price to get an enhanced set of core books with all errata, higher quality paper, binding, etc. and ideally a Sage Advice inspired FAQ appendix at the back of the books.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
This seriously irritates me. This is the exact same logic they used for not fixing 4e. The CharOp forums had easy fixes that could easily be implemented with only a few changes to the books but WotC insisted that changing anything in the game would annoy too many people.

This is not a smart strategy in my opinion. There are some desperately needed updates and fixes. You can't just lock the edition in stasis, flaws and all, and expect it to have longevity. An update, at some point, has to come.
I imagine they think the number of people who feel desperate changes or corrections are needed to parts of the game *and* who are unwilling to make those changes themselves to their own games pales in comparison to the number of people who will get pissed off thinking they now have to buy the PHB again because otherwise they are using an outdated rulset.

Sent from my SM-J320V using EN World mobile app
 

Mercule

Adventurer
(I also really like the stuff in there about settings as genre ... which means they probably aren't touching Greyhawk)
I'm actually OK with this. The Greyhawk base was kinda split between the red & gold box, Greyhawk Wars, and From the Ashes. The options available to WotC are to pick one of those or add yet another option that satisfies no one. Personally, I'd be happy with a higher production value, hardcover version of the red and gold box, but I'm afraid they'd lose the uniquely Gygaxian flavor in the process. It also isn't likely to be that appealing to modern audiences, so pure vanity product.

Do I think the setting could be revived and serve as the flagship vanilla setting? Actually, yes. I just think it'd take quite a bit of care to do so and I'm skeptical that the current team has the mindset to do it.

What I do think would be nice, for Greyhawk, is to have them do a one-off adventure set in Greyhawk that really hearkens back to the original "evil-hating neutrals" and mercenary tone. Maybe do a companion DM screen that had a poster map of the Flanaess, which would be hard to replicate on the DM's Guild. Otherwise, Greyhawk really is the one setting where they're justified in saying, "It's part of the history of D&D and you should look at earlier products for more info."
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
There's a lot of good stuff in there! Thanks Mistwell!

I was curious about this-

"The team feels D&D overall is in a very good place right now. They've seen an enormous positive reaction to the game. They think probably only the early 80s matches the level of popularity of the game, and that it is more popular that probably any other time in the history of the game other than being matched by the early 80s."

I wonder how they measure popularity. Is that in terms of a general feeling? Sales numbers? Revenue? Adjusted for inflation and/or population growth? Core rulebooks only or supplements?

I know, I know, I agree that D&D is doing better than it has for a long time (or at least, appears to be), but I'm curious how they do historical comparisons.

(I also really like the stuff in there about settings as genre ... which means they probably aren't touching Greyhawk)
Don't be so sure on the last point: the DMG goes to great pains to make Greyhawk distinct in feel, as Swords & Sorcery that "crosses the streams."

Probably they mean overall sales and continuing sales. Mearls has stated on Twitter that the 5E core books have outsold 3E and 3.5 combined life time totals so far, and sales continue to be brisk based on all evidence. The TSR sales data is supposed to be pretty fuzzy, but they have some information to compare against, I'm sure.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't think that is quite right. Let me explain.

If they aren't doing settings as campaigns worlds (as indicated) but, instead, settings as genres, then they don't need Greyhawk. Because they have the FR. I suppose you could argue that Greyhawk is more S&S than FR, but that's neither here nor there.

As listed in the OP, many of the other settings can be established as genre entries. Just like they did with Ravenloft. Put in a bit of crunch, and otherwise do it as a straight-forward AP.

Will this be unsatisfying for people who want, for example, a full Eberron (or Dark Sun, or whatever) experience? Yes. But, on the plus side, more people will play it, gain exposure to it, and there will be some rules for fans of those settings to further explore.

(My two cents are that a Planescape "setting" will be incredibly unlikely in the near, 1-2 year, future.)
Depends on what you mean by a "Planescape Setting." They are testing Planar races and rules in the UA right now, and are dropping lots of Planes related hints. Arguably, both the PHB and DMG contain Planescape gazeeters, making Planescape the actual default setting (at least metasetting).

If they don't have a Manual of the Planes equivalent lined up, I would be somewhat surprised. The Modron March will probably come up soon, too, given how they keep bringing it up in every single book.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
This seriously irritates me. This is the exact same logic they used for not fixing 4e. The CharOp forums had easy fixes that could easily be implemented with only a few changes to the books but WotC insisted that changing anything in the game would annoy too many people.

This is not a smart strategy in my opinion. There are some desperately needed updates and fixes. You can't just lock the edition in stasis, flaws and all, and expect it to have longevity. An update, at some point, has to come.
Well, the "living errata" of polymorph* was one of the key reasons I started to get dissatisfied with 3.5E and didn't stick with 4E (the digital tools for which were, at least initially, supposed to incorporate errata and rules updates).

Something like improving the index doesn't bother me and seems completely innocuous in a 2nd (or beyond) printing. Typos fall into the same category, for me. Things happen.

There's a gray area with errata, though. Errata is an implicit (maybe even explicit) acknowledgement that something got missed during the editing process and the finished product wasn't as intended. That could be because everyone involved was part of the conversation and took assumptions for granted. It could be simple human error in getting text from a prior draft. It could be something else, too, but it isn't a rules change.

Despite my group having completely replaced the PHB Ranger with the latest UA Ranger, at our table, I would find it incredibly inappropriate for the next printing of the PHB to incorporate the UA Ranger (or something like it). That's not errata. That's a rules change. If they wanted to do a 5.5 or 5E Revised, so be it. Within an edition, though, I shouldn't have to even know that I may need to check print runs on my books.

Digital tools (DDB) are in the same boat, IMO. Fixing typos are fine, but I don't want an argument at my table because I'm running from DDB while a player is looking at the rules in their PHB. They can have a certain tolerance for typos, but they shouldn't be expected to invest time online to keep up with "official" changes.

* The fact that I disagreed with the changes didn't help. I saw that more as beating the creativity out of the game than fixing a loophole. Regardless, I refused to invalidate my players' books and we never adopted that particular set of errata.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
This seriously irritates me. This is the exact same logic they used for not fixing 4e. The CharOp forums had easy fixes that could easily be implemented with only a few changes to the books but WotC insisted that changing anything in the game would annoy too many people.

This is not a smart strategy in my opinion. There are some desperately needed updates and fixes. You can't just lock the edition in stasis, flaws and all, and expect it to have longevity. An update, at some point, has to come.
The fixes being mentioned are organizational: I wouldn't expect to see any substantial changes to the core books before 6E.
 

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