Wednesday, May 16, 2012

D&D live chat May 16th

D&D Next Chat Transcript (Mike Mearls & Jeremy Crawford)

This is the transcript of the D&D Next (5E) live chat held today. Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford were on hand to answer questions about the upcoming public playtests of D&D Next.

Mearls: Hello world.

Trevor: There's Mike Mearls, one of the stars of the show!

Mearls: Jeremy Crawford will be a little late. We just finished up a meeting on the playtest packet.

Trevor: You want to regale us with any playtest tidbits while we wait for him, Mike?

Mearls: Hmmm... let's see. I've been DMing mostly, and the rules have changed a lot over the past few days. Probably the funniest thing was guest starring as a librarian in a playtest game at DDXP. Also, I got to test the DR rules when the players had to cut open a dead wererat's stomach to find a gem it had swallowed. That was not how I expected to test those rules.

Trevor, you can go ahead with questions. Jeremy will be here shortly, and I can defer to him as needed.

Trevor: Alright, lets get the intro blurb in there and get started then.
Welcome everyone to the Q&A for the next iteration of D&D and the upcoming playtest! I'm Trevor Kidd, Community Manager for Wizards and D&D and I'll be facilitating the chat. Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford from the D&D design and development teams will be fielding Your questions.

Jeremy Crawford: Hello, everyone!

Trevor: This is a moderated chat, which means every comment or question you make is seen on our end of things, but you won't see it until we publish it to the room for Mike and/or Jeremy to talk about. With all that said, let me get out of the way and let Mike and Jeremy introduce themselves and say a few words. After that, we'll start fielding your questions!

And there we have Jeremy!

Alright - I'll leave the floor to you two. When you're done with introductions let me know and I'll get on to the questions.
Mearls: I'm Mike Mearls and I'm the senior manager for the D&D team. My job is to oversee the development of the game and make sure all the teams work together.

Jeremy Crawford: And I'm Jeremy Crawford, head of editing and development for D&D products.

Mearls: I also pitch in as needed to get work done. For instance, my other open window has the rules text for rituals, though those won't be in the initial playtest.

Jeremy Crawford: I do enjoy trying to get Mike to work as a writer still.
Mearls: I think we're ready for questions.

Trevor: To cover a lot of very basic questions out there, can you remind us when the playtest starts and give us a little information about what people can expect from this first playtest packet?

Mearls: The playtests starts on the 24th. That's next Thursday. Which is much sooner than it seems. Much, much sooner.

Jeremy Crawford: Here's what to expect in the packet . . .

Five pregenerated characters

The Caves of Chaos adventure

A bestiary to accompany the adventure

And rules of play, both for players and DMs

Mearls: We're doing two clerics to test the range of the domain/deity system.

Jeremy Crawford: One of the clerics is more of an armor-and-mace fellow, and the other is more of a mystic

The five characters will feature the background and theme system that we've alluded to in the past few months.

Trevor: Another very popular set of questions from many in the room: Who can play in the playtest, and how are we going to distribute the playtest information to people?

Jeremy Crawford: We hope everyone will play!

Mearls: The playtest is open to anyone who signs up, and the information will be available digitally. As part of signing up, there will be an online playtest agreement similar to the one we used for Dungeon Command last year.

monstermanual: What level of complexity will we see in the first wave playtest PCs, and what options will we have to adjust them to our taste?

Jeremy Crawford: There will be a range of complexity, from a relatively straightforward fighter to a class wizard.

By "class" I mean "classic".

Mearls: Character customization will come in a bit later. To start with, we're focusing on the core system.

Jeremy Crawford: We will roll out adjustment options in the next few months. For now, we'd like people to play with the pregens.

OngoingDamage: How different will the 5/24 playtest materials be from what we saw at PAX East? Did any of the PAX East playtest feedback get incorporated into the current version?

Jeremy Crawford: There will be many differences, both in the core mechanics and in the characters.

Mearls: Yes, we incorporated that feedback. The playtest will look fairly different in terms of characters. Mostly, things will look a little simpler for DMs. The classes, themes, and backgrounds are a little better organized, and we've done some work in figuring out what parts of a character sit where.

shamsael: How much can we expect the rules to change from the start of public playtesting to final release? To put it differently, how much of the system at this point is set in stone and how much is free to be tweaked or rewritten at this point?

Mearls: Probably the biggest change is in the mechanic for advantage and disadvantage. We've also have done a lot to the cleric, fleshing out domains and making those a bigger part of the class that changes a lot of stuff.

Jeremy Crawford: An example change: Spellcasters all have at-will spell options now.

Mearls: Nothing is set in stone. Since we're starting simple, we can make huge changes without massively reworking tons of text. We're taking it slowly precisely because we expect to release rules, incorporate feedback, than use that to drive the next wave of material.

John Sussenberger: Will we be able to run play tests in public locations, such as a game store or convention?

Jeremy Crawford: Addressing the previous question: The only things we won't budge on are the things set in D&D's stone, such as using the d20 or that the game contains wizards.

Mearls: I believe we're working on that option now. Right now, for the playtest each person taking part should sign up. We're working on something right now that will alow cons and stores to run stuff.

Gerardo: Hi, thanks for making this live chat. I've been following the character class design post and I'm intrigued to know how you measure balance. How do you know a class is balanced or not? Some number or value attached to powers that you add up and say OK it's good, or is it more a gut feeling based on the designers experience and playtest feedback?

Jeremy Crawford: It's a mix of math, playtest feedback, and a dash of intuition.

Mearls: It's a combination of the two. D&D covers so much ground, that we can balance stuff based on combat without actually balancing anything for a specific campaign. We're looking at each area of the game - combat, exploration, interaction - and making sure that characters can contribute in each area. It's maybe 50/50 art and science.

Mearls: Feedback will be the biggest, important factor for us.

The Mormegil: Can you tell us more about movement and positioning in D&D Next? What will it look like?What about attacks of opportunity? What are your thoughts about interrupts and other out-of-turn actions?

Jeremy Crawford: That's a Russian nesting doll of questions! Mike and I are conferring . . .

Our desks are next to each other, so we're chatting at the same time. The simple stuff first: Attacks of opportunity are not in this playtest, but the system does have rules that point to the peril of making ranged attacks in melee, for instance.

Mearls: Ha! Jeremy will love this question. I'm really not a fan of giving people extra turns in addition to their own turn. I think it really slows the game down. For movement and positioning, the goal is to focus more on terrain and interesting things to move to and around, rather than flanking and such.

There are off-turn actions in the game, but the philosophy now is to have them eat into your turn or have something you have to set up. For instance, instead of everyone automatically getting opportunity attacks, a character might need to take a feat or choose an ability that basically says, "If you make a melee attack on your turn, you get one opportunity attack for the next round."

A rogue might have this - you can move away from an enemy that moves next to you, but you lose your move on your next turn.

Arbanax: Can I ask how Monsters will be handled in terms of stat blocks and information, the off table help and fluff and the at table crunch?

Jeremy Crawford: In this playtest, you'll see shortened stat blocks in the adventure, and then full stat blocks in the bestiary.

The bestiary includes both mechanical information and lore.

What you'll see is just a starting point. We expect the stat block format and the lore information to evolve quite a bit in response to playtesting.

Jools: I'd love to know what your thoughts are on conditions in 5e. Something spoilery would be nice!

Jeremy Crawford: We've been discussing conditions quite a bit lately. They're certainly in the game. I'll be revising them this afternoon, in fact.
We're fans of conditions that make sense both as game mechanics and as something in the world. Prone, for example, is a useful game concept, and it matches what's going in the story. You're knocked on your butt!

Mearls: We're trying to keep the list of conditions slim and make it apply to things that are obvious changes in the world. For instance, right now invisible and ethereal are on the list of conditions. We also added intoxicated. Basically, what are things that when they happen to you have a clear effect on how you interact with the world?

Here's another thing - with stuff like paralyzed, we're dealing more in describing what happens rather than trying to make everything mechanical. So paralyzed says that you can' t move your limbs. Spellcasting specifies that you need to move your arms to cast a spell. Thus, a paralyzed creature can't cast spells.

The idea is that we give the DM clear mechanics, but also make it clear what's happening in the world so the DM can make any judgment calls as needed.

Jeremy Crawford: My favorite new condition is intoxicated.

Mike: How are we going to provide feedback on the open playtest?

Mearls: We'll have a series of surveys we're sending out. I also think that we might have a dedicated forum on the site for discussion, but I think Trevor might now more about that. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for us to capture feedback, while also reaching as wide an audience as possible.

Mearls: BTW, the surveys are being put together by the folks at WotC who do that for a living.

The Mormegil: I know your top one priority is making the game feel like D&D, but those of us who do not notice any distinctive feel in D&D and would like to help too may need a direction for their efforts. What are you looking for in this playtest? What do you expect from it?

Jeremy Crawford: We also want to know whether the game is enjoyable for you, whether the rules make sense, and whether is evokes a swords-and-sorcery feel.

Mearls: There are two ways to look at it.

If you're a long-time D&D fan, the playtest should feel like you're coming home again. We want the rules to be easy to use, rulings simple to make, and the game to move at a good pace. All while feeling like D&D at its heart.

If you don't have a particular attachment to D&D or its specific feel, then the game should be fun to play, interesting to run, and an overall good fantasy RPG.

Our biggest goal is making sure that the core rules are easy to understand, easy to use, and fully functional.

Tara: What were some of the major changes from the last few days?

Jeremy Crawford: Haha!

Mearls: Hmmm... is there anything we haven't changed in the past few days?

Jeremy Crawford: One of my favorite changes from this week is adding more flavorful effects to some of the cantrips.

Mearls: I did a review of our weapon table, and I think the spear was the one weapon I didn't comment on. Probably the biggest things are rogue schemes and cleric domains.

Jeremy Crawford: Yeah, the rogue has really come into focus this week.

Mearls: Yes, cantrips that you use to attack are basically utility cantrips that have a way you can use them against creatures. The ignite cantrip lets you start fires, whether its lighting a torch or a goblin's butt.

Kamikaze Midget: Can you tell us about anything you guys have discovered in focusing the game on the entire adventure, rather than on the individual encounter?

Jeremy Crawford: The poor goblin and his butt.

Mearls: The biggest thing is making it OK for one character to own a particularly encounter. If the wizard casts sleep and KOs a group of six kobolds, that's OK. In the next encounter, the rogue might sneak up on the kobold shaman and gank him, or the fighter blocks a doorway and takes down a wave of attackers. Same goes for characters with good social abilities, and so on.

It also means for a much faster game - characters contribute in each encounter, but we can let someone shine without feeling that everyone must have at least 4 or 5 turns to do their thing.

Jeremy Crawford: There is a tremendous amount of world texture that we can include when there isn't pressure to make everything count in every single combat encounter. We can include character options that speak to social situations, exploration, traveling on the high seas, hopping into other planes of existence, and so on, without segregating those options into little buckets.

Mearls: It also means that "unbalanced" options are more viable. For instance, in one adventure the characters fought a gang of hobgoblins. One of the hobgobs was a beast master who used a whip and a prod to drive a pair of giant scorpions forward. The rogue sniped the beast master, so the scorpions turned around and had their revenge on the tribe.

It ended the fight pretty quickly, but it made for a fun adventure. The characters ended up luring the scorpions into a room with a window, locking them in there while the rogue climbed out.

Brian: How do you plan on handling the discrepancy between the 4e-style spells for wizards/sorcerors (Powers) vs the older-style spells (A lot of very unique and varied spells)? Would both styles of play get along nicely in a game?

Jeremy Crawford: Yes, they get along together very nicely.

Mearls: We have some potentially interesting ideas for the warlock vs. sorcerer vs. the wizard. I can't say much, but when you have two or three classes using arcane magic, you have room to maneuver. In 3e the warlock was sort of 4e-like, as was the binder. I think we can make room for both in a way that makes those classes unique and fun.

The great thing about classes is that you can have a spell slot system, a spell point system, and a power system all in the same game.

Somnambulant gamer: Everyone's incredibly excited about this initial offering, do we know what kind of timeframe we're looking at for materials to generate new characters and a chance to see more of the core classes that will be released?

Jeremy Crawford: Even in the playtest spells, you will see elements from classic spells and elements from powers.

Mearls: Let me check our schedule. It's on a white board on the other side of my desk...

Jeremy Crawford: We plan to roll out character-customization options this summer.

Mearls: OK, if things go smoothly you'll have that stuff before the end of the summer. Keep in mind that feedback is a part of this, and it's all contingent on how much we need to change based on round 1.
Jeremy Crawford: And we'll roll out other classes bit by bit. Since our focus is on collecting feedback, we are not going to release too much at once. We want to make sure each part of the game gets the love it deserves.

Andrew: Can you comment on adventure pacing versus the wonder of magic? In 3e, PCs were often required to rest after the cleric/wizard were out of spells, regardless of the state of the rest of the party. In 4e, everyone can keep going until out of surges, but there was less "magical pizazz" across the classes -- a sword being a magic missile being a druid's claw.

Jeremy Crawford: We have been striving to connect pacing to concrete things in the game world: magical resources, such as spells; hit points; and various options that might rely on a character expending some of his or her vitality.

Mearls: That's a great question. We want magical to feel magical yet rooted in the world. The cantrip thing ties into this. Cantrips aren't specifically made to blast people, but a cantrip you use to create a small amount of acid as part of an alchemy experiment can also be a useful weapon. Spells should feel magical and maybe even mysterious in some way.

For instance, going back to cantrips, we specifically didn't want to just make a spell that was the same as a crossbow but it did fire damage. That sells magic short, IMO.

Somnambulant gamer: You mentioned all casters have at-will spell "options" now. Are these class features, or tied into the themes or backgrounds?

Jeremy Crawford: Both! The cleric and the wizard get them, and some backgrounds and themes offer them.

Mearls: Yes, both. At-will spells come with classes. Rogues and fighters can opt into that if they want. I'd also like to at some point offer an option for a non-at-will magic game, but we received overwhelming feedback in favor of at-will magic. That feedback was largely edition independent.

Jeremy Crawford: Yeah, when playing a spellcaster, many people like to feel like a spellcaster all the time and not have to resort to a crossbow--or a dart!

Preston: What races will be in the play test? Do you see race or culture as being a driving force behind a characters mechanics?

Jeremy Crawford: The classic four will be in the playtest: dwarf, elf, halfling, and human.

Mearls: Halfling, human, dwarf, and elf. We're actually doing a mix of race and culture with our approach. A high elf and a wood elf share some innately elf things, but also get some things distinct to their specific culture.

Jeremy Crawford: Right out of the gate, you'll see the high elf, for instance.

HustontheTodd: What I love about 4e is the ease with which I can throw an encounter together. What can I expect from dndnext to make adventure building fun?

Jeremy Crawford: While Mike answers that, I'll say something else about race. A thing I love about our current approach is that you don't just pick your race, such as dwarf. You also pick what kind of dwarf you are.

Mearls: 4e provides the standard we're using for DM tools and adventure building. My goal is to do a mix of basic D&D - which was fairly step-by-step - combined with 4e's approach, though focusing more on the adventure as a whole rather than encounters. We also know that DM experience plays a big role in how people approach adventure and campaign design, so we want to offer a lot of options including "roll lots of dice and randomly determine everything" to "do whatever you want."

RupertDnD: Are Fighters getting cool stuff too, like powers or maneuvers?
Jeremy Crawford: The fighter gets to carry my wizard's tea!

Mearls: Right now, we're keeping the fighter fairly basic but giving you those options in feats. However, the fighter does get a couple unique mechanics to make him different. This is definitely an area where we're looking at feedback, but so far people seemed more concerned with getting at-will magic that in making manuevers something all fighters automatically get.

And to be clear, right now if you spend a feat for maneuvers you're getting a whole suite of options to use, not just one thing. Also, I don't think the first pregen fighter has maneuvers to start with.

Jeremy Crawford: We're committed to giving fighter players interesting tactical options, but we also want to make it possible to play the simple basher. Feedback is usually split on wanting both types of fighter.

Jozh: Prestige Classes/Paragon Paths? In or out?

Mearls: We're not sure yet. One of our next big tasks is to look at high level play and how things might evolve beyond class. If we do paths or prestige classes, we want to make sure that they fit into the overall Next system in an organic way, We don't want to just bolt them in.
OK, one more question then I have a lunch meeting.

Jeremy Crawford: Our initial high-level playtests were a hoot and included elements similar to paragon paths / prestige classes, but we're still exploring options.

EdofDoom: Are there any obvious tanking mechanics in the new edition? Something that guarantees a wizard in the back doesn't get ganged up on by people running past the fighter?

Jeremy Crawford: There are definitely ways for one character to protect another. We have a whole theme dedicated to the concept, in fact, but you won't see a tank per se in the first batch of five characters.

Mearls: There are two things. First, creatures grant cover. So, cowering behind people is a good idea. That said, the basic option for that rests in a theme right now. My feeling on tanks is that it's best if a player wants to do that, rather than saying an entire swatch of characters are assigned that when a player might want to be a fighter to be good in combat.

I'd rather it be clear that a player has taken a theme to do that and is getting into it because that's what the player enjoys doing in D&D.
Thanks for the questions, everyone. This was a lot of fun. I've asked Trevor to capture the questions we couldn't get to so we can cover them before the playtest launches.

Jeremy Crawford: Yes, thank you, everyone!

Trevor: Alright, that wraps things up for the Q&A! Thanks everyone for all the great questions. We weren't able to get to them all, but as Mike mentioned, we will be trying to answer as many as we can in future articles and conversations.

Thans toMorrus for transcribing.