Hello and welcome Peter Lee, Matt Sernett, and Bruce Cordell to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. If Wizards of the Coast was an automobile we would be referring to them as a classic, having over 20 years in the gaming industry. Wizards of the Coast is the proud owner of one of the most venerable properties in existence, Dungeons and Dragons, a true classic if there ever was one at 38 years old! You might be familiar with their other 800 lbs. gorilla Magic: the Gathering which single handedly created a card game phenomenon that is still going strong today. More recently Wizards of the Coast has been expanding the Dungeons and Dragons line into the board game medium with fantastic properties like The Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Games, Conquest of Nerath, and the very well received Euro-style game Lords of Waterdeep. Not only that they have a great lineup of games coming out this year including the Dungeon Command skirmish level series of games, the Dungeon Survival Handbook, and a trilogy of books including the new novel Spinner of Lies.
2D6.org: Peter Lee, Matt Sernett, and Bruce Cordell, would you please introduce yourselves and for those who may not know, tell us what you all do at Wizards of the Coast?
PL: I started in early 2008 as a game designer for D&D Miniatures. My duties have expanded the last few years to include all the board games we’ve been putting out the last few years, including Castle Ravenloft, Lords of Waterdeep, and Dungeon Command.
MS: I’m a designer for D&D, and I’ve occasionally worked on some Magic sets, primarily as a world-builder. I’ve been working on D&D since 2000, first editing Dragon Magazine, and eventually doing a stint as Editor-in-Chief. I’ve been doing game design for D&D full time for several years. Today I’m a member of what’s called the Story Team, which includes the novel editors. Along with writing new material and creating new mechanics, one of my responsibilities is reviewing the work of others (novel outlines, adventures, online articles, miniatures concepts, and electronic games) to make sure it’s consistent with the history of our settings and the directions we’re going as we move forward. Not everything passes through my hands, but I try to see as much of it as I can. It’s great to be able to do it because just a few years ago the kind of research and fact checking necessary to consistently get things right just wasn’t feasible. Now with searchable text and about 150 gigs of products in electronic format, it’s time consuming, but at least it’s possible.
BC: I’ve been a game designer writing for the Dungeons & Dragons game since 1995, which means I’ve got a lot of adventures and other game books to my name. I’ve also been lucky enough to write several Forgotten Realms novels in my free time, most recently with Sword of the Gods and Spinner of Lies.
2D6.org: Can you explain the process Wizards of the Coast uses when it comes to writer submissions and give any tips to aspiring writers?
BC: Wizards of the Coast has a host of staff and freelance writers for its digital magazines, Dragon and Dungeon. Nearly everyone who works as a writer now got their start by pitching magazine article ideas to Dragon and/or Dungeon, eventually getting approved, eventually getting a final draft of the article approved and published, and doing this a few times. Great writers get noticed, and are asked on to larger projects. There are certainly other routes, but this one is certainly a way to go.
2D6.org: Mr. Bruce Cordell, you have a long pedigree including “Return to the Tomb of Horrors”, the “Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide”, and recently the new novel “Sword of the Gods: Spinner of Lies”. The Forgotten Realms have been around since 1987 creating an extensive history and back story full of intrigue, titanic struggles, and world changing events. Do you find it challenging writing in the Forgotten Realms especially with the challenges of continuity in a world that has been touched by so many writers? Can you tell us about the process of keeping the lore and occurrences across The Realms consistent?
BC: Forgotten Realms is one of my favorite D&D settings, which means I’ve been using it since the very first dark gray boxed set. But sure, setting aside my personal knowledge of the Realms through its various incarnations, it’s true that writing for a setting that that allows multiple inputs through game products, organized play, novels, short stories, and articles can be a challenge. For a period of a few years, it was in my bailiwick to help track the continuity across all these realms. That process involved all the stakeholders having a monthly meeting to discuss all new inputs, as well as a review process for all adventures and novels. However, for the last year and a half, I’ve been working with the D&D Next game design team, and the continuity of the Forgotten Realms setting is currently in the capable hands of James Wyatt.
2D6.org: Fans of your work will notice references to certain characters and organizations laced among your works creating a sort of continuity. Have you ever thought of expanding upon these ideas and fleshing them out and possibly creating some iconic characters (much in the way Ed Greenwood Created Elminster and all the works based on him) or do you prefer creating new and unique heroes?
BC: I think of doing that all the time, actually. While any of my characters could potentially step into the spotlight again, I actually made a bid to create exactly such a touchstone character for myself: Demascus, Sword of the Gods. The first Sword of Gods book, eponymously titled, was gratifying, because people really liked my favorite forgetful assassin. The second novel, Spinner of Lies, has also gotten some great response so far, and I hope it gets much wider notice.
2D6.org: For those who may not know, where in the timeline of the Realms does this new trilogy take place? How will all of this tie into the Rise of the Underdark and can you give us any teasers about the 3rd novel in the trilogy?
BC: My Sword of the God novels are mostly set on the southern shore of the Sea of Fallen Stars in the city of Airspur, though certain events take Demascus quite far afield from time to time (including the Demonweb). In response to Lolth’s bid to dramatically increase her influence, drow priestess Chenrya Xorlarrin attempts to make off with a chunk of magical “mineral” that’s not really what it seems. Demascus gets caught up in the middle, even as enemies (but can’t remember) from past incarnations try to snub him out once and for all.
To be clear, the Sword of the Gods books are not a trilogy, per se. Subsequent novels do pick up story arcs from previous ones, but each stands alone despite starring the same main character. I can’t share any additional info on upcoming projects, but we’ll definitely be dropping details on our website the time comes.
2D6.org: Speaking of the Underdark, The Dungeon Survival Handbook was recently released including new races, character themes, and powers geared toward the dungeon delver. This new book seems less geared towards tossing lots of new statistics at players and more towards story building, can we look forward to this format in future D&D releases?
MS: Absolutely. Of course people still want mechanics and we still want to provide them, but we’re trying to make mechanics that speak more toward story than they might have in the past.
2D6.org: The Dungeon Survival Handbook adds 3 new races (Goblin, Kobold, and Svirfneblin) that have historically been relegated to the role of evil cannon fodder for players. Yet as a DM some of my most memorable adventures involved these very cannon fodder races spruced up with a level or two in a character class. Can we look forward to more of these races getting the player character race treatment in the future? To this day I still have copies of the Creature Crucible books for this very purpose much to the PC’s chagrin.
MS: We’re certainly exploring those options. When introducing any new race or class, we need to balance the interest that people have in those new races/classes with the time/desire that people have to sort through an increasing number of choices. At any rate, I recall reviewing a couple Dragon magazine articles along this vein, so people should definitely check them out. As we go forward, if folks show interest in seeing more, we’ll definitely work to provide them.
2D6.org: Can you tell us about the inspiration for the themes and powers presented in this new handbook? Was it challenging to balance the powers in a way that allowed all classes to feel they could support the party in a dungeon setting without unbalancing the classes?
MS: As always when we present several themes, we do our best to make them apply to as broad an array of classes as possible. That way the vast majority of players can look at the group and see something that appeals to them.
With a few exceptions that slip through the net, we’ve got a pretty good handle on game balance. So the real challenge to creating a theme is making it compelling enough to warrant its inclusion in a book (and the character builder). There’s three ways to approach picking a theme’s identity: 1. Do something you know to be interesting to a broad audience (ninja, pirate, noble); 2. Create something unique that you hope inspires people (ankheg wrangler, gelatinous cube rider) 3. Blend the first two approaches and give a unique spin to a broadly shared concept (shadow warrior of the Ankheg Clan). The Dungeon Survival Handbook used the first and third approach, viewing them through the lens of an Underdark setting. So the trapsmith and treasure hunter are straight-forward concepts that everyone gets, whereas the bloodsworn and escaped thrall might be a bit mysterious at first glance. But when you read the themes, it’s pretty clear that the bloodsworn is the classic idea of someone out for bloody revenge and the escaped thrall is an escaped slave with the fun story element that you were mentally dominated by some scary oogie-boogie.
2D6.org: Of course no talk of the Underdark would be complete without mentioning the soon to be released Dungeon Command skirmish board game and the first faction pack Sting of Lolth. Will these faction sets be a limited release run replaced as soon as the next batch of factions are released or will it be a continuing and expanding product line?
PL: Dungeon Command is definitely not a limited release. Aside from Sting of Lolth and Heart of Cormyr, we already have other faction packs coming down the pipeline that we’re really excited about. While each faction pack is fun on its own, I think Dungeon Command is most compelling when you are mixing creatures and orders from multiple sets. For example, I love the resulting story and gameplay when you mix the drow from Sting of Lolth with a few goblins from the upcoming Tyranny of Goblins. That’s not something you can do as easily with a limited release.
2D6.org: Can you offer any hints of future factions beyond those already mentioned, perhaps a demon faction pack, or something in the theme of The Temple of Elemental Evil?
PL: Certainly! The third faction pack is Tyranny of Goblins, releasing in September. This features goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears, as well as big creatures like a Troll and a Horned Devil. I can’t reveal much more than that, but people can definitely look forward to a good mix of other creatures and threats in future packs.
I have a ton of ideas for the game, so we’ll see what comes up next. The game is mainly set in the Forgotten Realms, but it’d be cool to make an exception for something as inherently D&D as Temple of Elemental Evil – I could do a whole year of releases on that game alone! It’s a great game to play as well as design – I can’t wait to see what people think of the upcoming releases.
2D6.org: One of the greatest challenges of any skirmish style game is creating variety while keeping everything balanced. How will the factions in Dungeon Command be made to feel and play differently from each other?
PL: The core mechanic of Dungeon Command involves giving your creatures orders. Each order has an associated ability score that should be familiar to all D&D players: Strength, Dexterity, and so forth. Each faction includes a subset of ability scores. For example, the drow faction from Sting of Lolth is mostly a Dexterity band, with a small number of other ability scores to round it out. Each ability score brings a lot of the feel to the band. A Dexterity band has a lot of mobility, A Constitution band is extremely tough, while a Charisma band has a lot of tricks dealing with teamwork and leadership. Most bands are a combination of two stats, each filling a unique space in the game.
While the ability scores give an overall feel to the band, the rules on individual cards brings in the spice. The spiders in Sting of Lolth all have the ability to maneuver around your opponent’s creatures, giving them a very slippery feel that feels spiderish. Heart of Cormyr has a few mechanics only usable by Adventurers and the combination of abilities, keywords, and mechanical themes really makes each band feel different.
2D6.org: Miniatures in board games can understandably cause costs to skyrocket. Will Wizards of the Coast try to reuse old Dungeons and Dragons sculpts to keep costs down (and hence keep the costs down for the consumer) or can we look forward to some new sculpts for Dungeon Command?
PL: We’ve used some old sculpts, but we also have new figures in upcoming faction packs. I think people will really like the mix of minis we’re offering.
2D6.org: Including enemy and ally cards for the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System board games with Dungeon Command was a fantastic tip of the hat towards fan service. Can we look forward to any other cross promotions like this in the future? Will the Dungeon Command tiles also be compatible with the Adventure System board games? Will there be hero statistic cards for use in the adventure system games or only monster cards for now?
PL: The Dungeon Command tiles do interlock with the Adventure System, but they’re not the same size so they can only be used as part of a special Adventure. While most of the boxes have Monster cards, Heart of Cormyr has a slightly different mechanic allowing you to find allies in the dungeon. (It didn’t make sense to turn heroes like the Dragon Knight or War Wizard into a Monster.) I can’t really talk about any other cross promotions at this time.
2D6.org: The Adventure System board games (Legend of Drizzt, Wrath of Ashardalon, and Castle Ravenloft) are a fantastic distillation of the core D&D 4.0 mechanics merged with a board game. When can we look forward to the next installment and any hints as to what it may be? Are you taking fan and community suggestions, if so can I toss Temple of Elemental Evil into the hat?
PL: There’s a wealth of old D&D adventures that we could easily be translated into an Adventure System game; Temple is one of my favorites as well, but a preliminary list of miniatures is staggeringly long to handle all four elemental factions.
We’re working out exactly when the next one will come right now, so I unfortunately have nothing I can say at this time.
2D6.org: Will the Adventure System board games continue to be big box sets, or have you considered expansions? Maybe small box sets with new adventures, cards and higher level monsters and/or heroes?
PL: We’ve considered expansions, but there are a lot of options and decisions still up on the air. The biggest question would be which game to expand? I don’t think an all-in-one expansion works, as if you have just one box, you can’t use up to two-thirds of the product. An expansion that expands just one of the games may not be compelling. I’m thinking about it, but I haven’t yet hit a good solution.
2D6.org: Wizards of the coast released one adventure online combining Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, can we look forward to more of these, maybe one including all 3 boxed sets or even the Dungeon Command skirmish sets?
PL: It’s on my mind, but I haven’t gotten a chance to dedicate the time to another one just yet. Fortunately, there are a few extremely creative fans that have written their own adventures if you know where to look. I love to see other people’s creative spin on the game.
2D6.org: The newest boxed set Legend of Drizzt upped the power curve some, was this more of a unique occurrence due to the subject matter (Drizzt and company being iconic powerful heroes of the Realm) or will future releases slowly scale up like this?
PL: The Adventure Games need to match the feel of the subject matter – it wouldn’t feel like Drizzt if he ended up dying every few minutes. The game needed to match the expectations of the people coming to the Adventure System for the first time. Some of the core mechanics from Ravenloft were put in to give the game a horror feel; these decisions aren’t right for high fantasy. I suspect that future releases may not be as easy.
2D6.org: For me, Lords of Waterdeep came out of nowhere and basically let everyone know that Wizards of the Coast is ready to branch out deeply into the board game market. When can we expect the first expansion? Have you considered a premium line of custom cubes shaped in the form of Fighters, Clerics, Wizards, and Rogues for customers to buy?
PL: We weren’t sure how well Lords of Waterdeep would do – so we were pleasantly surprised at how much people liked it. I don’t have any additional info on an expansion, however if the game proves popular enough, I can imagine an opportunity to do a deluxe anniversary edition with premium components. Again, though, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.
2D6.org: Are there any other surprises we can look forward to in the future from Wizards of the Coast? Any possible teasers you can share with us?
PL: It’s been fun! I’d love to share a teaser, but I need to take my secrets to the grave.
MS: All I can really say is that we’re doing some fantastic behind-the-scenes work to set the stage for the future. When I’m not deep in the archives mining for some nugget of D&D lore, I’m gazing way out past the horizon. I’ve never had more fun at work than I’m having now.
BC: Thank you so much for your interest, and taking the time to talk to us about our projects, games, and novels! Unfortunately, there aren’t any secrets I can divulge – just stay tuned!
2D6.org: Some really fantastic answers from Wizards of the Coast! I am really looking forward to seeing the release of Dungeon Command! Thank you again Peter, Matt, and Bruce!
We at 2D6.org would like to thank Peter Lee, Matt Sernett, and Bruce Cordell for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions! Wizards of the Coast was kind enough to supply us with a FREE COPY of the new Dungeons and Dragons book Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook! How do you win? The 2D6.org way! Simply post a reply to this thread stating what you liked about the interview and who you would like to see next! The winner will be randomly selected (from all US entries) on the 7th of July 2012!