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GenCon 2011 Highlights (Part 1): D&D Product Preview, Interviews, “Press” Game, and More!

I’m a bit chagrined that I did not get the chance to post a blog yesterday about all my doings on Saturday at the “best four days of gaming”.  But with a last minute run through the exhibition hall and the trip back from Indy, I didn’t have time to put pen to paper about some great highlights from the convention, particularly with regards to Dungeons & Dragons!

The main events of the day involved the D&D Product Preview, which details all the goodies Dungeons & Dragons fans have to look forward to in coming months as well as an interview with the WotC Senior Brand Manager Laura Tommervik, who shared some insights about the Neverwinter Promotions across multiple product lines.  I also got the chance to play in the D&D Press Game, with Jeremy Crawford as our DM, and to meet with D&D freelancers such as Erik Scott De Bie and Brian Cortijo!

D&D Product Preview
DnD preview panel
Saturday morning kicked off with the D&D Product Preview seminar, hosted by Mike Mearls, James Wyatt, and Rodney Thompson.  As with years past, this seminar generates a great deal of excitement with the community and is packed with attendees, and this year was no exception.  While Mike Mearls officiated the seminar, the presentation was divided up into three segments: Novels, Board Games, and Role-Playing Games, discussed by James, Rodney, and Mike respectively.

> D&D Novels

Novels were the first topic on the table, and James Wyatt gave a run-down of the Dungeons & Dragons literary offerings which will be hitting the shelves this year.  RA Salvatore Neverwinter Book IIThe first major series is R.A. Salvatore’s  Neverwinter Trilogy, which started with the release of Gauntlgrym, and continues with Neverwinter (Oct 2011), and concludes with Charon’s Claw next year (Feb 2012).  In addition to the Salvatore’s Neverwinter Trilogy, James mentioned two other offerings which coincide with the release of the Neverwinter Adventure Setting – Erin Evans’ Brinstone Angels (Nov 2011), and a serial e-novella in four parts called Cold Steel and Secrets by Rosemary Jones.

The other main novel line James discussed was the Abyssal Plague series, which is world-spanning book series crossing over into multiple D&D settings.  Starting with the free e-novella, The Gates of Madness, the series now have grown to six novels, with another on the way: The Mark of Nerath, Temple of the Yellow Skulls, Oath of Vigilance (just released), Eye of the Chained God (Apr 2012), Sword of the Gods, Under the Crimson Sun, and Shadowbane.

And there was good news for fans of e-book readers such as Kindle and Nook: the older D&D novels are being steadily converted to ebook format!  James explained that the backlist of D&D related novels are being converted to this portable reader format at a rate of about three books per week, and all the new novels being released will be able to be purchased in ebook format as well.  The price point for the ebook versions of older novels will be comparable to the price of purchasing a paperback.

> D&D Board Games

When the topic changed to the board game offerings by Wizards of the Coast, Rodney Thompson took over the discussion, and began by mentioning the recently released Conquest of Nerath game, which he claimed was getting some great reviews.  [Editor’s Note: Click here to check out my review of this board game on EN World.]  Rodney went on to explain that fans of this board game are already making up new game variants, scenarios, and mods to offer different victory conditions and ways to play.

The first new game up this year, to be released in October 2011, is another adventure system game – The Legend of Drizzt board game!Legend of Drizzt  Using the same play style as the Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, this game will allow players to play heroes from the R.A Salvatore novels, including Drizzt himself.  Components from the earlier games can be used to enhance the play of The Legend of Drizzt game as well, to create new encounters and game experiences.

[Editor’s Note: Copies of the board game were being demonstrated in the main D&D gaming hall, and these pictures are of the game in actual play.]

While it was announced that the Dungeon of Dread board game has been cancelled this year, Rodney announced that in March 2012 the Lords of Waterdeep game would be released.  This “Euro”- style game is designed to allo players to take on the role of one of the Lords of Waterdeep and vie for control of the city.  This game is described as big on cooperation and intrigue, and features cards and tiles representing various aspects of the cities geography and inhabitants.  Coin tokens used in the game were modeled after illustrations found in 2nd Edition sourcebooks of Waterdeep, and Volo’s Guid to Waterdeep was a major resource in creating the map and locations which the Lords attempt to control.

> D&D Role-Playing Game

Of course, the high point of the seminar was the preview of the Dungeons & Dragons game products for the coming year, although Mike Mearls was being a bit cautious in explaining that the new philosophy of R&D was to forecast only about six months out.  Mike pointed out that one of the main goals of D&D product going forward was to offer a complete gaming experience for fans, and much of the product line is tied into the D&D Encounters events and to game days.

The Neverwinter Campaign Setting is a prime example of this, with WotC sponsoring a world-wide Game Day for Neverwinter on GenCon Saturday.  gates of neverdeathD&D players could make up characters using the new rules found in the campaign setting and experience the Gates of Neverdeath adventure at the convention and at their local gaming stores.  Further, the characters used in the Gates of Neverdeath could be used in the upcoming D&D Encounters series, the Lost Crown of Neverwinter.  The Neverwinter Campaign Setting will have both player and DM information, with tie-ins between the two for enhanced plot development and adventure hooks.  Players can look forward to new backgrounds, themes, and paragon paths centered around the city of Neverwinter as various factions battle for control of the city, creating many different kinds of adventures.

[Editor’s Note: While I did not have a chance to play Gates of Neverdeath, I did get a copy of the module, as well as chance to play the first scenario of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter!  Check out Part 2 of this blog tomorrow for details – but no spoilers, I promise!]

The next product mentioned was what was described as a “super-adventure” called the Madness at Gardmore Abbey.  This boxed set is due out next month in September, and is packed with features and components – four booklets of adventure content, a couple of double-sided adventure maps, sheets of monster tokens, new dungeon tiles, and a deck of cards representing the infamous Deck of Many Things!  One of the points both Mike and James stressed about this new adventure was how it got away from the linear A-B-C progressive dungeon, and was more of an adventure setting.  James also mentioned that in this adventure, the Deck of Many Things actual play an important role in determining how the events unfold, and actually influence some areas and effect how encounters play out.

Also coming out next month will be Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, which will be a new sourcebook detailing new items and rules for D&D.  Mike described the book as containing not only magic items, but new mundane items, weapons, masterwork items, and even rules on hiring henchmen.  This book will only be available through game stores, although might carry it if they purchase it through WotC’s new distribution system.

Late in September, a new play experience will begin called Lair Assault.  This will be similar to the D&D Encounters experience, but will feature very challenging short dungeons, with variable components such as puzzles, traps, and hazards.  Dungeon Masters will be encouraged to select components to create a seriously hard challenge for players, but players are also encouraged to create their most optimized characters and parties to beat the dungeon.  The first Lair Assault will be Forge of the Dawn Titan in September, and Attack of the Tiger Claw in March 2012.

There will be a new miniatures collector’s set out this fall featuring five chromatic dragons, which will be available in limited release.  Collectors should contact their local gaming stores to reserve their copies soon!

In November, the new Players Options: Heroes of the Feywild will be released to coincide with the new D&D Encounters adventures, Fury of the Feywild, based upon the old AD&D module, “Beyond the Crystal Cave”.  The new player’s option book will feature three new races – the hamadryad, satry, and pixie – and new builds for barbarians, druids, and bards.  The new barbarian build sounded particularly interesting, featuring mechanics which will allow it to switch between defender and striker roles.  There will also be new Feywild character options such as backgrounds, paragon paths, and themes.  It should be noted that the pixie will actually be able to fly from 1st level, which makes it unique among the 4E races and classes.  In addition to the book, new Feywild Fortune Card sets will be released to coincide with the D&D Encounter series.

Another sourcebook due to be released will be the Book of Vile Darkness in December.  This supplement will not only create player options for dark and evil characters, but also include adventure hooks and plot tips to allow Dungeon Masters to run an “evil campaign.”  Unlike the old 3.5 tome, this book will not be as explicit, and not have to carry a content warning label.

There are several exciting Dungeon Master supplements coming out in the winter, including a new haunted house style dungeon tile set called Shadowghast Manor, a set of three double sided poster maps in January 2012, and a dungeon tile set featuring diagonal corridors and oddly shaped rooms in next March called the Cathedral of Chaos.

Next year, in February 2012, the Powers of the Planes Below sourcebook will be released, featuring new elemental based powers and themes for characters, as well as new elemental builds for Monks, Sorcerers, and Wizards.  As with the Player Options: Heroes of the Feywild, Powers of the Planes Below will be accompanied by a new set of Plane Below Fortune Cards, and a new D&D Encounter series dealing with the Elder Elemental Eye.  This new series for D&D Encounters will feature a more investigatory adventure plotline, delving into the lore of the dread Tharizdun!

Finally, in April 2012, a new Undermountain Adventures setting will be released, featuring a poster map of the famed Yawning Portal Tavern, 80 detailed adventure areas, random dungeon generator tables, and other tools to allow DMs to flesh out this massive dungeon crawl.  Described as a “DMs Playground”, the boxed set will only have a poster map of the first level of Undermountain, allowing DMs to expand the adventure in any way they desire.

> D&D Q&A

Following the D&D Product Preview, Mike Mearls fielded questions in a Q&A with the support of the rest of the panel.  Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A:

  • The virtual tabletop is still in beta, and there was no information on official apps for portable devices to access the DDI materials.
  • There will be Kara-Tur campaign materials released as exclusive DDI content, including a new Runepriest build based upon oriental themes.
  • More material with tie-ins to the Abyssal Plague novel series will be released in DDI, such as new monsters and hazards.
  • The new builds scheduled for the Monk and Barbarian will be PHB standard, and not Essentials style.
  • The new wizard build will be evocative of the Sha’ir from the Al’Qadim setting, including control of a genie familiar!
  • Electronic formats for sourcebooks is a possibility which is still being explored, but no details are available.
  • Electronic formats of previous D&D versions are also being examined for release.
  • Generic character themes will be released in future issues of Dragon as they become available.
  • D&D is not looking at crossing genres at this time, and will remain a fantasy rpg, with a desire to get “back to basics” of what D&D really is.
  • Regarding Legends & Lore articles: Mike made a special point to discuss the purpose of his Legends & Lore articles in Dragon Magazine.  Mike made it a point to mention that he felt as the head of R&D that using these articles to open topics of discussion and get feedback from D&D fans was important for his work.  These articles often ask “what if” and help to look at new paths for R&D to take.  He mentioned that he wanted to get back to the “roots of D&D”, and what made it great, and what still excites and engages the players.  Feedback from the D&D community to his articles is an important part of what he does in his job, he said.
  • Finally, there was no mention of what the new setting in August 2012 will be, although there was some hints dropped.  Mike Mearls claimed that there will be a new campaign setting, and that it will be a new “way to play” D&D, and he dashed hopes that it will be related to the old Dragonlance Campaign Setting.

As a personal note, I’m hoping for a re-release of the Greyhawk Campaign setting, and the appearance of a supplement featuring Mordenkainen by name this year fills me with some hope we might see the old setting revived.  But most likely, there will be no hard evidence until early in 2012 as to what the setting will be all about.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this blog series highlighting GenCon 2011, with some interviews and insights from Laura Tommervik and Jeremy Crawford, as well as news of the new Facebook 4E game from Atari, and more!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

legend of Drizzt 1 legend of drizzt 2

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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