GenCon 2012 First Half Highlights: D&D’s Digital Future, Next Playtest, Board Games, Keynote Address – and the D&D Next Celebrity Game!
Well the first two days here at GenCon 2012 have been a blur, and so I figured I’d finally getting around to writing up a few notes about my experiences during the First Half of the “Best Four Days of Gaming”! It has been a busy couple of days, but I’ve been to a lot of interesting and thought provoking seminars at the convention so far, as well as having the chance to meet fellow gamers, bloggers, and writers. Of course, topping all that was my opportunity to participate in what can only be called a completely mind-blowing event for any D&D gamer – winning a seat at the Celebrity D&D Next Game with Chris Perkins DM’ing to Ed Greenwood, James Wyatt, Robert Schwalb… and yours truly!
But more on that later…
D&D’s Digital Future
My first seminar on Thursday was a panel discussion of D&D’s Digital Future, looking at the ways that Dungeons & Dragons would be expressing itself in terms of video games and MMO’s. The panelists included John Schindehette (Senior Creative Director of WotC), Eric Boyer (Producer at Turbine) and Jack Emmert (CEO of Cryptic Studios), and the topics mainly focused on what it takes to take a table top game and turn it into a video game, as well as some exciting Dungeons & Dragons Online and the upcoming release of the Neverwinter Nights MMO. Clearly the new Drow event is having seriously exciting effects in DDO, including traveling from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms to take on the menacing dark elves and Lolth. And Jack Emmert announced that NWN MMO will have no monthly subscription fee, and will have User Generated Content, allowing players to create adventures and even campaigns for their friends, and for the other NWN gamers.
D&D Next Playtest
I also got a chance to play the current iteration of D&D Next on Thursday, which included both character generation and a bit of adventuring.
The character generation section was moderated by an RPGA DM named Jeff, who helped a group of six of us players go through the playtest packet and create a character. I created a Hill Dwarf Fighter with a Protector Style, a Soldier Background, and a Survivor Specialty. It took me about 20 minutes to complete character generation and write up my sheet, although I had gotten there a little early, so actually tinkered around for another 15 minutes picking additional gear. I also had the opportunity to chat with a young couple across the table from me – Jacob and Danielle – to see how they fared with making a D&D Next character.
Danielle found the process of making her Human Fighter “difficult”, but she admitted she was also new to D&D gaming. Jacob had an easier time of creating his Dwarf Warpriest, and mentioned that he had actually run a few 3.5 and 4E adventures for friends, mainly low level in nature. He also informed me he liked 4E better than Next, although he was willing to give it a try, while extolling the virtues of Skill Challenges and the more “wargame” feel to 4E combat.
Character sheets done, we met with other players at the table and prepared to play. Chris, Mike, and Maria joined us with their Elf Rogue, Human Fighter, and Dwarf Cleric respectively. I thought it was interesting that no one opted to play a Wizard, but three Fighters and two Clerics, with a Rogue to scout for us seemed a fairly potent poarty. Our DM Jim set right off getting us going on a quest to recover a crown for a deep gnome king, lost in the Underdark. Play-wise, the adventure was fairly engaging, but the short hour we had didn’t give us much time to accomplish much in the way of meeting goals. The role-playing was fun, but overall the experience felt like a demo, rather than an actual playtest – we were not invited to provide feedback about the rules or the adventure. A bit disappointing really, but I did get a couple of cool Drow style dice for creating a character and taking part in the game.
D&D Miniatures, Board Games, & Beyond
I fit on one final seminar on Thursday before the Keynote Address, and that panel focused on the various board games that were coming out in the upcoming months with a D&D theme. The panelists included Peter Lee and Chris Daqui, whom I had met at Origins a few months ago for the Dungeon Command Demo, as well as Rodney Thompson. This seminar opened with an interesting discussion of how much work goes into each of the new board games Wizards of the Coast has been producing lately, referencing the popular adventure series games, and the Lords of Waterdeep board game which is up to #36 in the Board Game Geek rankings.
Obviously, there is quite a bit of discussion about the new Dungeon Command sets coming out, and the fact that the old TSR board game Dungeon will be released in a new form coming this fall. There was a very cool moment when David Megarry showed up to discuss his original work on the very first edition of Dungeon back in 1975, and it sounds like the new edition will be a very reasonably priced “family” game with deep roots in D&D lore.
The GenCon 2012 Keynote Address
The GenCon 2012 Keynote was quite an experience live, and I’m sure footage of it is already available online in a number of formats – like here at the WotC site. But while I found the Keynote interesting, there was a bit of an “over the top” feeling to the set-up that was somewhat off-putting. Smoke-machines and a minor light show were nice and all, but it felt like a distraction from the real purpose at hand – finding about the future of Dungeons & Dragons.
Overall, much of what was said about what WotC envisioned D&D to become to the community made sense to me, even if I’m not sold on how they are getting there (i.e. D&D Next). Nevertheless, the news about the Realms shake-up and the new series of novels is some pretty exciting stuff regardless of what edition you enjoy, and it made me look forward to attending the “What is the Sundering?” seminar on Friday.
D&D Monsters, Magic Items, and DM Mischief
My first seminar on Friday morning was fairly expansive discussion on the D&D Next teams philosophy and design goals for monster and magic item design. The panelists on hand were Jeremy Crawford, Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins, and James Wyatt, and they launched right into discussing how D&D Next would be different from the previous two editions of D&D.
I plan to go into greater detail in a blog later this week, but the gist of what I heard was that the team wanted monsters to be more iconic to their D&D roots, with a greater focus on how they fit into a DM’s world-setting. Ecology, society, and general habitat information (like frequency of appearance) would make a comeback in future monster manuals, as they were in 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, allowing DMs to decide how monsters would be part of a setting without making players question the “absurdity factor” – like “if these monsters are so powerful and prevalent, why haven’t they taken over the kingdom?” Magic items will once again be wondrous and special, and not be “entitlements” to fix flaws in game mechanic math. Laudable and certainly reasonable goals here, which was definitely worth pondering – expect that I’ll probably devote a whole blog to this topic in a few days!
I should mention that is was during this seminar that Chris Perkins was asking trivia questions, and handing out modules. I scored 1981 version of In Search of the Unknown still in the shrinkwrap for correctly identifying the name of the module which had been called “In Search of Adventure” last night during the keynote. I also managed to answer one final trivia question – “What was the original 1st edition Drow armor made from?” to win a seat in the D&D Next Celebrity Game with the answer of “adamantine”. Given how many times I have run Vault of the Drow in my gaming career, I’d have been disappointed with myself if I had flubbed that answer!
What is the Sundering?
Here’s another seminar that is going to spawn another blog of its own next week – “What is the Sundering?” Hosted by James Wyatt, this panel consisted of some of the most well-known D&D authors around: Richard Lee Byers, Troy Denning, Erin M. Evans, Ed Greenwood, and Paul Kemp. Sadly, R.A. Salvatore could not make the event due to an illness in the family, but he would have rounded out the panel of authors writing the new book series – The Sundering.
This novel series will chronicle The Sundering – a final cataclysm which will change the Realms when Ao re-forges the Tablets of Fate – but all from the view of mortal and quasi-mortal heroes, with a different one featured in each book. Ostensibly, The Sundering will metamorphose rather than reboot the Forgotten Realms, opening the world up to a time when mortal heroes would once again be the movers and shakers in the setting – more specifically, the characters created in D&D Next to adventure across Toril!
I think Ed Greenwood had the best analogy – the Realms are like a great big mansion that is getting a massive crew in to refurbish it, and make it a spectacular place of adventure again. And that’s what the authors hope to accomplish with this novel series.
D&D Next Celebrity Game
What can I say here? All I can say is that even a day later I’m still a bit boggled by the experience at the D&D Next Celebrity Game! It is one of those experiences as a lifelong gamer and fan of D&D that I will absolutely never forget!
Ironically, at the time I was playing, all I could think to myself was “Please try not to say something stupid!” I mean honestly, when you have a chance to have Chris Perkins as your DM, and are seated at the table with Ed Greenwood, James Wyatt, and Robert Schwalb role-playing their hearts out, I think it’s only natural to be concerned about a case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. But once I got over a bit of initial bit of nerves, I jumped right in and had the time of my life! My only real disappointment was not having the time to finish the adventure – I’m sure there was a climactic scene planned by Mr. Perkins that would have rocked our world as we struggled to recover the lost Shield of the ancient dwarves!
I want to express my thanks to Chris Perkins, Ed Greenwood, James Wyatt, and Robert Schwalb for making a memory that will last a lifetime – I can’t think of a better souvenir to buy from this year’s GenCon that could ever compete with my character sheet signed by all four celebrities – especially Robert Schwalb AKA “The Mighty Pung”!
Well I’m off to an afternoon of even more seminars about D&D Next, and I’ll have even more to report in the coming days. So far, this has got to be the best GenCon I’ve ever attended… and I just wonder how the Second Half can possibly live up to the first?
So until next blog… I wish you all Happy Gaming!