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GenCon 2011 Highlights (Part 2): D&D Product Preview, Interviews, “Press” Game, and More!

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this blog series, I recapped the exciting news from the D&D Product Preview seminar.  It appears that Wizards of the Coast has a some awesome novel, board game, and role-playing game releases due out in the coming months for Dungeons & Dragons 4E.  meeting with laura 1In this blog, I want to cover my interview with Laura Tommbervik, Senior Brand Manager for WotC, my demo of the upcoming D&D Heroes of Neverwinter game app for Facebook, and my chat with Jeremy Crawford during the D&D “Press” Game about the Neverwinter Campaign Setting.

From Preview to Interview

After the D&D Product Preview, I headed over to the Wizards of the Coast booth in the Exhibition Hall to have a chat with Laura Tommervik.  I had met with Laura at last years con when I got to take a look at the D&D “Red Box” with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker (An Essentials Meeting – with Mike Mearls & Rich Baker!), and it was awesome to meet with her again to discuss the new release of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, and the cross-promotional strategy for the new product line.

Laura excitedly dove right into the topic of the Neverwinter promotions, explaining how the Neverwinter Campaign Setting was just one part of a much bigger picture.  She stressed how the Neverwinter setting was being promoted with “multiple touch points” to the D&D community, and across several platforms, which included the D&D sourcebook, fortune cards, novels, a board game, and even a comic book tie-in.  Laura informed me that R.A. Salvatore and his son were working closely with IDW Comics to produce a 6-issue series of books featuring Drizzt, with substantial story links to the Neverwinter Trilogy, and to the campaign setting.

And of course, Laura made sure to point out that they were really focusing on reaching out to the D&D gaming gates of neverdeathcommunity with live events, such as the Neverwinter Game Day which was taking place at the Con and at WPN gaming stores around the world, which would then tie-in to the new D&D Encounters season.

“The character you make today for the Game Day, you can take that right into the Encounters season,” Laura explained.  The Game Day module, Gates of Neverdeath, is really a prelude to the Lost Crown of Neverwinter which will be played during subsequent weeks of the D&D Encounters.

Beyond the campaign setting, with the Game Day and D&D Encounters tie-ins, there is also the new Legends of Drizzt board game, which allows players to have a “4th ed-like experience”, and to play all the characters from the Salvatore novels, including Drizzt himself.  Laura urged me to take a good look at a play session up in the Sagamore Ballroom after the interview, when she learned I had not played any of the cooperative adventure board games before.

“It’s a very different play experience… never the same thing twice,” she assured me.

We went on to discuss the Neverwinter Trilogy of novels, and Laura was happy to inform me that the first in the series, Gauntlgrym, was getting great reviews.  She even got me a copy of the second novel, Neverwinter, which is due out in October to give it a read.  I promised her I would get a review onto EN World as soon as possible.

[Editor’s Note: So if you’re a fan of the Neverwinter Trilogy, keep an eye out for my review of the second novel in the coming weeks!]

Another promotion tied-in to the “Neverwinter Experience” is the Guide to Neverwinter Contest.  Subtitled “Visit Neverwinter Now, Visit Hawaii Later”, this contest offers as the prize a one-week vacation for two in Hawaii! 

“We wanted to send the winners to a place that was never winter – what better place than Hawaii?!” Laura asked.

I was also informed that the new D&D Lair Assault experience would also have a Neverwinter tie-in.  Laura explained that she herself had taken part in several attempts at the first adventure, Forge of the Dawn Titan, during playtesting, and that it “was really, really hard!”  She stressed that this new play experience was aimed at D&D “strategizers” who could optimize both their characters as well as their adventuring parties.  And she stongly recommended investing in getting a decent amount of Fortune Cards from the newly released Neverwinter booster pack set.

“The [fortune] cards are really an important resource… if you want to survive,” Laura claimed.

Laura also pointed me to the massive Neverwinter multimedia site that WotC has set up at  And for the record, if you have not seen this site yet, definitely check out the Vie for Glory video at the bottom of the splash page.  The video was running on screens around the WotC booth all during the interview, and it really gets you pumped to play in the Neverwinter setting!

Departing a bit from the Neverwinter promotional, I asked Laura how she thought the D&D Encounters were doing.  meeting with laura 2She claimed that they were one of the “strongest touchpoints” that WotC has with both the D&D community and with WPN retailers, and was a bit saddened to hear that I had never played in them – regretfully, my own “local” retailer with Encounters is a 45 minute drive around Detroit to the western suburbs.  Laura stressed that D&D Encounters gave “immediate feedback” regarding how the product lines were doing and that tying the lines even closer to the seasons just made for a solid strategy to give players and retailers the best possible D&D experience.  When asked about the TwitterBuffs, she was quite enthusiastic about how much players around the world enjoyed them, and what a tremendous effort they take to create each week, not to mention the timing of the release of the buffs on Twitter so that every gamer in every timezone worldwide could use them!

While on the topic of Twitter, I asked Laura about why we have seen so little development of mobile device apps for use around the D&D gaming table.  She claimed that WotC was “aware of the concern” and that there are projects in the works, but she could not give specifics.  Laura stressed that any official apps released would have to go through the “highest levels of playtest” before WotC would release them to the community.

We discussed the D&D Community Forums, and Laura assured me that both marketing and R&D read them very judiciously.  From her perspective, the forums not only “strengthen the community” but provide valuable information to constantly “tweak” the D&D play experience based upon the members feedback in the various message threads.

Facebook is also providing a lot of contact with the D&D community these days, according to Laura, and is approaching almost 300,000 members to the Dungeons & Dragons Facebook page.  She anticipates that Google+ will also be a new platform for community contact as well, once it gets out of beta.  And YouTube is getting substantial attention now, with plans for instructional videos for the new board games, and to promote the D&D Encounters seasons.

Before departing, Laura urged me to take a look at the demo of the upcoming Facebook game for D&D, Heroes of Neverwinter.  And despite my misgivings, I promised I’d give it a once-over before I left the booth.

Really, Another Facebook Game?

I’m going to be blunt about this – I hate Facebook games!  I have never liked them, and when my friends on Facebook send me invites to the next big Facebook game, I cheerfully click the DECLINE and BLOCK buttons to keep those pesky invites off my page.

But from what I saw of the Heroes of Neverwinter, I’m going to have to change my tune about Facebook games!

There were a couple of reps from Atari demonstrating this new D&D 4E based game at the WotC booth, and I spoke with a young lady named Jen who was part of the development team for the Facebook app.  Jen worked on the art for the characters, including faces and clothing options, and was more than happy to convince me that this game would change my mind about playing Facebook games.

The Heroes of Neverwinter game on Facebook allows players to customize their main character from one of four races and four classes – Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard.  heroes of NeverwinterPlayers then get to hire three other heroes to lead into dungeons – these mercenary heroes are actually taken from all the other heroes which have been created and leveled by other players!  But be assured that using other players’ characters does not affect them in any way for the owner, as they are merely an image or template of that character for use as a mercenary NPC.  At first level, mercs are free, but higher level mercenaries cost more and more gold, which creates a pretty solid money-sink in the game.

In addition to hiring heroes, between adventures there are shops and auction houses to upgrade gear.  Gear also drops from monsters in the dungeon, which can be influenced with potions of “luck”.  Starting characters get a stack of ten of these potions, but more can be purchased using “astral diamonds” which can be bought with real cash.  Rarely, astral diamonds can also be found in the dungeon, but they are typically bought with a credit card or paypal.  However, the use of the astral diamonds is not required to play the game, but there will be substantial perks only available by paying real cash.

As far as play style goes, it look amazing, and reminded me a lot of the old “Gold Box” turn based video game.  The characters have access to the typical selection of at-will, encounter, and daily powers, with daily powers working only one time while in a dungeon, and refresh when the dungeon is exited.  The play was fast-paced, yet having the luxury of strategy that only a turn-based game can offer a player, and I found myself wishing the game was available NOW!

Sadly, beta for Heroes of Neverwinter starts in September, but from what I saw, this game is bound to be very addictive to D&D gamers everywhere – and it’s free!  Click the banner of the game (above) to head over to the Facebook fansite and check out the screenshots!

The D&D “Press” Game

After my interview and first-look at Heroes of Neverwinter at the Wizards of the Coast booth, I headed over to the Sagamore Ballroom to participate in the D&D “Press” Game.  Like last year, Jeremy Crawford was our Dungeon Master for the hour-long session, and he brought along a copy of the new Neverwinter Campaign Setting for us to take a look at.  While I will withhold my full judgment about the new sourcebook until after I can give it a complete read for my review, I was fairly impressed with what I saw flipping through the pages!
dnd press game
Jeremy informed us that the book was divided up roughly into thirds: one-third being Player content with new themes and feats, another third for Dungeon Master only information, campaign setting content, and adventure hooks, and one-third that was information about the region that both the Player and the Dungeon Master can share and use in the game.  I asked Jeremy where the inspiration for the character themes came from, and he explained that inspiration from the old edition Neverwinter content, including prestige classes and other material, was used to help design the new content.  The themes I saw included an Uthgardt Barbarian theme, a Spellscarred Harbinger, and another one called Oghma’s Faithful, as weand that’s just a couple of the 13 new themes which will be out in this supplement.

The Neverwinter Campaign Setting also contains a tear out poster map of the region, which we got copies of in our press packets, along with a character theme card, and two of the Fortune cards from the new Neverwinter Booster packs (see pics).  My cards were Over Bold which granted 10 temporary hit points when my character spent a healing surge, and Pile It On which granted a +2 bonus to attacks and defenses to any ally that spends an action point before the start of my next turn.  I also got to add a few other cards to my Fortune Deck, like Spellplague Surge, which caused all allies with 5 squares to add additional 5 fire damage to their attacks for the next turn.  Clearly these cards are pretty potent stuff, and really enhance the characters’ abilities both deal and take damage in a combat.

neverwinter map press game neverwinter cards

Jeremy ran us through the first encounter in the upcoming Lost Crown of Neverwinter series for D&D Encounters, and without spoiling anything, I’ll give you this advice – use those Fortune cards, players!  Those cards saved all our characters at one time or another during the encounter, and really helped turn the battle when we started getting mauled.  I should note that no one died during the encounter, but it was a near thing for yours truly, when I stuck my warpriest a little too close to several foes without my defender nearby.

As you might have picked up already from the themes and the Fortune Cards, the spellplague and its subsequent fallout play a major force in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting – and in the D&D Encounters!  I can’t say anymore without verging on a spoiler alert, but you have been warned!

Freelancer Nirvana

One of the real highlights of my own GenCon 2011 experience was the opportunity to participate in a couple of Freelance seminars hosted by Wizards of the Coast.  As a writer with an article “in the works” for Dragon Magazine, I was invited to join a round-table discussion about freelancing for WotC, hosted by Jeremy Crawford and Greg Bilsland.

Although I am not at liberty to discuss details about the roundtable, I can say that having the chance to meet and chat with Jeremy and Greg about article ideas and possible pitches was really awesome, and I learned some great “do’s and don’ts” about freelance writing for D&D.  But what was really exciting was the chance to meet and chat with other freelancers who have come up through the “ranks” so to speak.  Erik Scott De Bie, Brian Cortijo, and Matt James were just a few of the notable D&D writers around the table, and they quite generously shared their own insights into the process of writing for Wizards of the Coast.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, this year’s GenCon was a great deal of fun, and am already looking forward to attending next year.  I also find myself looking forward to the year ahead with great anticipation for all the new D&D 4E products, and I really like what I heard in both the Product Preview and the interviews about the importance of the gaming community in the minds of the WotC staffers.  It feels like D&D is being marketed smartly and strategically to our community, and is offering players a really profound gaming experience both at the gaming table, as well as at the local stores and even on the internet and social networking sites.  Likewise, when I heard Mike Mearls speak about regaining the community’s trust, and how seriously he takes his job at the helm of R&D, it gives me a good feeling about our chosen hobby, and hope that the gaming experience with Dungeons & Dragons will continue to improve over time, and just keep getting better!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

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.


3 Responses to “GenCon 2011 Highlights (Part 2): D&D Product Preview, Interviews, “Press” Game, and More!

  1. TwoFang says:

    Just wanted to point out that the tear-out map from the Neverwinter Campaign Setting
    is not the map shown in your photos. The map shown was also in the “swag bags” given to players at this year’s Game Day and shows the area of the Sword Coast surrounding Neverwinter on one side and has a poster image of the book’s cover art on the other.
    The tear-out map that comes with the book is equally well done, but shows a map of
    the city itself, and on the reverse has a map of Evernight, the Shadowfell “mirror” city.
    So you have another map to look forward to!

  2. @TwoFang – Awesome, thanks for that clarification! I never got to see the map from the book torn out – I don’t think Jeremy would have liked us ripping his copy apart – and just assumed it was the same as the one in the swag bag. Can’t wait to see the other map now!

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