WotC's Chris Perkins Talks About... Everything! Upcoming Storylines, Products, Staffing, Other World

WotC's Chris Perkins, Principal Designer for Dungeons & Dragons, was at Gamehole Con a couple of weeks ago. He took part in a panel there in which he covered a lot of things - product schedules, partnerships, other worlds, story flavours, staffing, upcoming storylines, Greyhawk, and so much more. You can listen to the whole (90-minute) audio recording here, but for those who prefer to read it I've quoted the highlights below. It's well worth the read, but if you have the time I strongly recommend you listen to the whole thing.


[h=4]On Products & Schedules[/h]
My job, and the job of our team going forward, is to try to make sure that anything that we do that ties to D&D is firmly rooted in story first. If we don't have a story to tell, we're not going to release any products to support it. Gone are the days, in 3rd and 4th Edition, when we were bound by the model of having to release a book a month or two books a month, or three books a month. We have no commitment or desire to do that going forward.

And part of that is just driven by business realities, part of it is driven by our knowledge of certain facts that we've obtained through surveys, through talking to people at shows, that there is kind of a certain amount of material that people can actually absorb before the stuff that we're releasing no longer has any value and is no longer serving anybody. A lot of 3rd Edition products, I'm sure, and 4th Edition products, I'm sure, that maybe you've bought or your players have bought are sitting on shelves having never been used, or used precious little. We don't sell products so that 5% of our audience can use 5% of it. We're now trying to sell products that 100% of our audience might use, and they'll use all of it.

The perceived value of D&D goes up, people actually having common shared experiences that they can talk about at cons, with their friends, and our stories actually get out there.

In the olden days when you had the early adventures TSR put out, everybody played Tomb of Horrors, and everybody played Keep on the Borderlands. Everybody played Temple of Elemental Evil. And those stories have transcended the game experience to the point now where people go to a convention and a 13 year old and a 40 year old and a 65 year old can all talk about Tomb of Horrors and know what they're all talking about.

[h=4]On Partnerships[/h]
Our first story that we launched with 5th Edition was Tyranny of Dragons, and we partnered with a number of different companies to tell that story. We partnered with Wolfgang Baur's company, Kobold Press to do a pair of TRPG products, we partnered with Gale Force 9, we partnered with WizKids, we partnered with our folks, Cryptic, the company which produces the Neverwinter MMO; we set up all these partners to tell that story.

[lq]One of the things we are going to be doing in the future is looking out at some of our other worlds[/lq]

[h=4]On Other Worlds[/h]
All these different elements [setting info in the core rulebooks] are contained there so that in future stories we don't have to limit ourselves to one world. And so while Tyranny of Dragons, and Elemental Evil, and Rage of Demons, have all fundamentally been Forgotten Realms based, one of the things we are going to be doing in the future is looking out at some of our other worlds. That doesn't mean we won't come back to the Realms, or have adventures that visit multiple different locations, start in one place and end in another... one of the goals with our stories is to go beyond Forgotten Realms, safe to say.

The other thing that we're driving to with our stories is to, whenever possible, draw upon the past, key elements from the history of the game that have not seen a lot of attention lately.

Sadly we won't be doing any stories round the D&D cartoon, and that's because we don't own the characters! CBS does!

[h=4]On Story Flavours[/h]
The story that follows Rage of Demons is not going to be anywhere near the Underdark, and it will have its own feel, its own flavour, its own atmosphere, its own thing. The story that follows that is going to be very different. It allows us to do things like ... Princes of the Apocalypse and the Elemental Evil story was very dungeon driven; it was a dungeon-based story... in the future we want to maybe do intrigue. What story would we have to tell in D&D that is fundamentally an intrigue story. Would it be like city based? Would it be planar based, where you're basically on some sort of planar hunt for something? And then maybe the story after that is ... [audience member suggests "horror"] ... horror, or something more light-hearted and flaky, or a little off-track, or like Eberron, a little more steampunkish, or Victorian pulpy... making sure every story has a different feel, flavour, making sure we get to visit some of our other worlds, and making sure that we're always going back to the source material and picking the best things out of the last and bringing them forward.

[h=4]On Staffing[/h]
The size of the D&D team at Wizards has changed over the years. I've been there since the TSR acquisition... when we first came to Wizards of the Coast with all the TSR folks, the D&D team numbered just under 50 people. And they were supporting a number of campaign settings that had held over from 2nd Edition, there was a Dragonlance team, there was a Forgotten Realms team, there was a Greyhawk team, every world still had its own team.... now there isn't dedicated teams for worlds, because there just aren't that many worlds that are actively supported any more. And so our team now numbers 15, and not only do we work on TRPG stuff, but we also support our novelists, we also provide support to our business partners working on digital games, miniatures, and game accessories. And we've also got part of our team whose brain space is dedicated to coming up with new ideas, new ways of getting D&D out there in the world. Loot Crate partnerships, for instance. Very, very beneficial for us, because they give us enormous exposure.

My story team consists of me, I have an art director named Richard Witters who I stole from the Magic team, who's brilliant... and I've got a storywriter named Adam Lee, who I also stole from Magic... and we're in the process of hiring a new concept artist.

[h=4]On Upcoming Storylines[/h]
I can't talk about specific storylines that we're working on presently, and at this time we're working on four. We've got two stories to tell next year, and then we've got two more stories in fairly developed states, and we don't even know necessarily when they're going to appear yet.

On the next storyline -- That's a tough one to answer. To a certain extent, obtusely, I've already answered it with the three things I called attention to. Once could speculate based on what I've told you what might happen.... we do have an upcoming story that does go back to a past adventure... doesn't feature dragons, so it won't be anything from the Dragonlance saga... I think it's safe to say if you look at the things we haven't played with yet which are fairly intrinsic to D&D [he asked the audience to suggest D&D monsters, and the vampire is shouted out] ... the vampire has been around in D&D, it's not a unique D&D monster by any stretch, but we would be remiss if we didn't do something with vampires at some point. I can almost assure you that we will get around to doing that. Certainly gothic ... and Victorian, and that sort of feel.. the question is all about timing. When is the time to do it? When is it going to surprise and delight the most people?

[lq]Turns out we can't keep folks excited for a year. There are too many other distractions in the world today.[/lq]

That's another thing about our stories, is that we don't want to be predictable. In fact, we've even changed out release plans so we don't even tell people. Five years ago, Wizards would tell people a year in advance what products we were releasing. Now we don't do it until literally months before it comes out. Part of that is simply Shock and Awe. And because we've evaluated how long we can keep peoples' excitement. Turns out we can't keep folks excited for a year. There are too many other distractions in the world today. Too many entertainment properties competing for peoples' attention. 3, 4 months, perfect window. People can remember and stay excited for 3-4 months about something.

So, yeah, vampire, classic monster, yeah, we'll do a story with vampires... [more classic monster suggestions].. yeah, we'll do a story with giants.

[lq]Yeah, we'll do a story with vampires[/lq]

On codenames -- I'm doing two playtests here at the show. One is for a story codenamed Cloak, and one is for a story codenamed Dagger. All of our stories now have codenames ... it's necessary because we have to submit all of our story names for trademark search... there are a lot of titles in the world out there today, and we often have a title that we like that gets rejected .. because it was the name of a video game that was made in 1979 ... it's getting harder and harder and harder to come up with names. So until we have a name that is actually trademarked, we go with codenames.

Cloak -- ... they were going up into the icy mountains, and this temple under a mountain that's basically become a repository of evil. There was this sect of good-aligned wizards and paladins who were keeping this temple, and all of the evil within it, trapped there, to keep the world from going, you know, crazy. Keep the world safe. But that was 400, 500 years ago. What's in there enow? Well, maybe the wizards have all died off. Maybe they sort of succumbed to the evil there. Who knows? But it's an interesting story, and that's a piece, or a fragment, of a story that is going to be important in the future.

Dagger -- Dagger is a story in which you're going around and pillaging the ancestral mounds of barbarian tribes. And that has a slightly different feel, don't you think? It feels a bit more pulpy, and oh, you're got an airship! Great!

Now, by telling you that, I haven't actually given anything away about the main plots of those stories, I assure you. But it's tantalising...

[h=4]On shorter modular adventures[/h]
We are doing that, but we're doing it now though Adventurer's League. So our shorter module adventures are all Adventurer's League adventures, you can play many of them here, you can also download them. Because we've discovered that because now here stories are these experiences that are meant to last a period of time, our typical stories usually have a marketing plan associated with them that runs for about 4-6 months, we'e discovered that that's actually good for us because it goes enough people the chance to discover it and experience it and then talk about it before they get taken off on the new thing. And part of the goal with the stories is to bring people together with common experiences, and the shorter, more modular things tend to be fleeting, and don't get that resonance The other challenge with them is when it comes to actually selling modules. Their presence on the shelf is significantly less. When they're shelved in, they don't have spines, they disappear and get lost more quickly, the stores that buy them don't give them as much credence or as much weight, whereas when we release a bigger book, or a box or something, that has a little bit of "oomph" behind it, it tends to get the stores and the distributors more excited, and it tends to give us a bigger buildup. People get more energised, they start saving money for it, they know that they won't have to buy six things from us, they can just buy one..and a lot of that is driven by, just like a World of Warcraft model. You can't imagine Blizzard releasing six expansions a year. They don't ... they want to release a mammoth, not a bunch of mice.

[lq]You can't imagine Blizzard releasing six expansions a year. They don't ... they want to release a mammoth, not a bunch of mice.[/lq]

[h=4]Other Assorted Items[/h]
Home-brew vs. published -- A great bulk of those who play D&D run homebrew settings. But of those home-brew campaigns, over half of those homebrewers do pillage from other settings ... 15% or 50% of the world they've created has hawked stuff from other worlds. They're comfortable pillaging our products for ideas. That homebrew number, I can't remember the exact percentage, but I think it's like 55% homebrew. And then it's like 35% Forgotten Realms, and then everything else ... Very few people right now, turns out, running Dark Sun campaigns. A sliver of a sliver. Very few people running Hollow World campaigns. Very few people are running Mystara campaigns. It pretty much goes Homebrew, Forgotten Realms, I think Greyhawk's at 5% ands then everybody else is at 2% or 1%.


Consultants -- As far as with working with people... it's another change in how we do business at WotC. We never used to do this before. We consult. 5th Edition was very good to us. The company supports us wholeheartedly, they have given us large amounts of money to basically bring people from the outside who have some cachet or who are creative titans in their field, bring them in an actually have them consult with us on our stories. They help us develop the stories. The way it works is we drive a dump truck of money up to their house, and we say "Come with us to Renton, Washington for a week and sit down for a week's worth of meetings to break a story." And we don't even know that we're necessarily going to do this in product yet. We just ant to get these people out here and pick their brains and see what comes out of it. One of our most successful endeavours was Pendleton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time. He came out for a week, spent some time with us in meetings, and a marvellous story came out of that wacky coalition of elements that you'll be seeing in the not too distant future. We've had other consultants as well. For instance on Out of the Abyss we naturally brought in Bob Salvatore. RA Salvatore writes the Drizzt novels, since Drizzt was going to be sort of an anchor for the story, we brought him in to consult on that. But we are looking at bringing in consultants beyond the range, beyond the pale... people that obviously love D&D may not actually have ever worked on a D&D product. Or maybe they have! Who knows? If I could resurrect Gary Gygax I would bring him in as a consultant, certainly. But we have to stick to the living.

[lq]It is incumbent upon WotC to spend some amount of its time, effort, mindspace, and resources to ensuring that the roleplaying hobby and the D&D enthusiast hobby, the gaming hobby, is healthy[/lq]

On inclusiveness and growing the hobby -- We are going to see D&D stories that are fresh, that are going to attract new people to the hobby, and I think it is incumbent on us probably more so than any other company ... it is incumbent upon WotC to spend some amount of its time, effort, mindspace, and resources to ensuring that the roleplaying hobby and the D&D enthusiast hobby, the gaming hobby, is healthy, that people are always coming in, that we have stories that are welcoming to them, that are inclusive, that are going to appeal to more than just middle America white guys, that are showing D&D to people in a whole new light, in a way that's fresh, that's welcoming, in keeping with the age in which we live, and I don't want anybody feeling discriminated against by our D&D stories, by the products that we're releasing. I don't want anybody to feel that they can't play because of some perceived barrier, because their mother told them it was satanists ... D&D has always been safe and fun and smart and friendship-inducing.

Level ranges - Tyranny of Dragons, the TRPG products that were released for it, took you from levels 1-15. Elemental Evil, same, 1-15. Out of the Abyss, our Rage of Demons adventure, 1-15. We're going to be changing up that model in the future. So you may see future stories which are strictly low-level, you may see some that are sort of set in the middle, you may see some that are set strictly high-level. Or you may see a story that can be told at level 3, level 10, and level 15. We're going to change that up for a couple of reasons. 1) We don't want to be boring and predictable. 2) We've discovered that when we give people 4-6 months to play an adventure, they won't necessarily get to the end. Tyranny of Dragons, most games did not make it to the end. Elemental Evil, most games did not make it to the very end. Out of the Abyss remains to be seen. So, for the next one, we're going a little shorter, and for the one after that we're going a little shorter still. That doesn't necessarily mean that the products will be getting tremendously shorter; for instance one of the upcoming products that we're doing it enormously replayable. It's a short adventure, but you can play it 200 times and never have the same adventure twice.

[lq]Tyranny of Dragons, most games did not make it to the end[/lq]

Non-story based products like SCAG - Will we do more of that in the future? Yeah, part of our goal in that is to surprise and delight ... if all we did were big adventure books, that wouldn't be surprising. So the question is "What is the next Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide?" Who knows? I don't know. ... But let's say we did a Greyhawk adventure, Greyhawk has been out of circulation now for how many years? Although you can still ... there's nothing stopping you from running a Greyhawk campaign because everything out there is still there and its still timely. And it remains, as far as I'm concerned it's an open question whether we would even change the timeline. Greyhawk's current timeline is perfectly cromulent. So is its original timeline. So the question then becomes "Is it a better user experience to put all the information you need to know about Greyhawk in the adventure product because it's really for the DN's information, or is it better, and it's going to be better received, if that information is parcelled, divorced from the adventure as a separate thing that you have to buy? That you have to spend money on now."

On Greyhawk -- The other problem that we have with Greyhawk, speaking honestly, is that it's D&D at its most core. The problem is if I were t say that to somebody in an elevator, they'd go "I have no idea what you mean. What the hell do you mean, Greyhawk is like D&D at its core? What is core D&D?" "Oh, it's monsters and magic and wizards!" "Well, you just described The Hobbit. You just described Dragonlance. You just described Forgotten Realms." What makes Greyhawk, Greyhawk? Is it Gary? What else about Greyhawk makes Greyhawk, Greyhawk? Is it low magic? Because you have Mordenkainen - he is not low magic. So it's that magic is more exclusive in Greyhawk? Unless you goto the Valley of the Magi, where it's not. It's got barbarians, a whole lot ... look at the Greyhawk map, there's a whole lot of barbarian territory up there. We don't know a whole lot about them except that they're tigers and... we've got Scarlet Brotherhood which are aryan monastic wanna control the world type organisation, somebody at work, I can't remember it was Mike Mearls or somebody else, described Greyhawk as almost Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser-esque, Fritz Leiber, Lankhmar-esque. That would certainly make sense based on things I heard about what Greyhawk was like when Gary was running it, sort of maybe he felt that way. Certainly Fritz Leiber was a friend of Gary's and the Gygax family, and Gary loved his works according to Empire of the Imagination.

If we were to do a Greyhawk story, one of the things I'd be sorely tempted to do is focus on Iuz. I'm not going to give you a full campaign setting. I'm going to tell you a story about Iuz and all of the **** that he's doing right now and all of the repercussions that are happening because of that... Iuz is going to be the glue that holds this story together.

The full audio is a 90-minute podcast available from Gaming and BS. I've covered the salient points, but there's plenty more there to listen to!

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I crit!
Chris Perkins Cryptically Spills the Next Story

At Game Hole Con Chris Perkins tells us all what the next story for the next season is. Note it's in the middle of a bunch of things he says but it's there.
Also he talks about not being in the Realms, very son now.

He goes a bit in depth about the business model. I think it's brilliant but I know folks don't all agree with me. I will note that it doesn't rule out splats altogether, just that anything released will be part of the story for that season.

Also he hints at a couple of playtests at the con. Cloak and Dagger, one to do with an ancient temple gone bad, and the other with raiding the burial mounds of ancient Barbarian tribes.

And I haven't listed to all of it yet!

I first heard about the talk from Misdirected Marks Down With DND.

Oh and he talks about consulting with folks like Pendleton Ward (and he said it was fantastic).

Listen to it all at the Gaming and BS Podcast.

I know what other con I'm going to next year!


Small Ball Archmage
You know it's interesting, they're taking a very MTG like model with this- each card pack rotating into standard is part of a specific story "season" "innistrad, zendikar, etc" and while Magic operates by making things illegal in the current standard after a certain period of time both for balance reasons (modern and legacy are not balanced for example) and to force their dedicated players to keep buying cards, that won't really apply to us (depending on what AL does i guess.) Instead, we'll just get things as we get the corresponding story material- which means I think we can expect the trend of adventures like Out of the Abyss (being insanely awesome) to continue with more stuff coming out in tandem with it. TBH this is the way it's been working so far- consider that SCAG was supposed to be released alongside Out of the Abyss, Princes of the Apocalypse had the Player Companion etc.


Thanks for the link. Really, I just like listening to Chris Perkins speak. His description and logic energize and relax me to no end. I'm so glad he is overseeing the stories of D&D.


I crit!
You can almost hear the wheels turning while he talks about the lost tomb, and dinosaurs. He really does sound like he's having a great time.


Not in the Realms?! I don't care what world* they jump to: I'm buying everything for the next season.

*Okay, I care. I'm hoping Eberron. But, I'd almost buy a couple years worth of product supporting My Little Pony and Care Bears, just to drive the numbers away from the Realms.


I'm not sure he meant the next season.
Adventurer's League operates in a seasonal model. It's most likely what he meant by season.

I reckon we'll get a connective adventure using one of the connective settings that lets people take their Forgotten Realms character's (and their Forgotten Realms knowledge) and allows them to utilise it in another campaign setting. It also gives WotC a clear line of succession from people of the current product to the new one in the form of an adventure. So it will be something like: A group of mid to high level adventurers hear word of a cult-like enemy in such and such place of the Sword Coast. When they go and investigate they:
  • feel the mists of Ravenloft envelop them and whisk them away to a Domain of Dread;
  • discover an ancient portal that has only just become dormant but takes them to Sigil OR
  • an ancient spelljammer ship that has been getting repaired and is now spaceworthy so long as the PCs manage to wrest it from the bad guys.
As they continue to chase down the enemy and discover what's really going on they find themselves travelling to:
  • Greyhawk
  • Eberron
  • Dragonlance OR
  • Mystara.
Upon defeating the enemy they find themselves with a new continent to explore and so continue on the (portion of a) continent.

I personally have no problem with this whatsoever. As a fan of the Forgotten Realms traveling from world to world sounds like a lot of fun to me. If I were to run a Forgotten Realms campaign for players who are in my Pathfinder group I would most likely take some of their retired characters (from various campaigns), convert those characters to D&D 5th edition and then give them a plothook that solves a long standing mystery of Golarion which would require them to then travel to the Forgotten Realms to fully discover that mystery. I would pepper it with lots of classic Dungeons & Dragons IP that you can't normally find in Golarion so they can be introduced to this brand new world while still in Golarion and their knowledge checks would reflect these creatures are not of this world. In fact it'd be hilarious to have my characters be both the connective tissue and also the villain. My characters were clones of Manshoon who had been polymorphed to look different, brainwashed and then inserted into Golarion society as sleeper agents to be activated at a certain time in order to be coordinate their efforts into a grand master plan.

Based on the comments (and the fact we've had Forgotten Realms) I'd expect a non-classic campaign such as Eberron and probably using something suitably thematic such as Spelljammer.
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I haven't listened to the interview yet, but haven't they been saying very recently that all of the stuff they are working on for at least the next couple of years are set in the Forgotten Realms? (I'd personally love it if that weren't the case, but that's the impression I've gotten.)

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