Trask Has Lunch with Mike Mearls, Lead Developer of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I was fortunate enough to attend the “Hall of Fame’s Guest of Honor Banquet” at Origins this year.   We arrived early hoping to get the most interesting “guest” in attendance.

The guest list included some living legends, such as Ed Greenwood and Reiner Knizia, among others. Haaldaar wanted to speak with Ed Greenwood or Mike Mearls. I was ambivalent. Any of the above mentioned three would be just fine. Sadly, there was also one “penalty” guest in attendance, Mathew Atherton aka “Feedback ” from “Who Wants to be a Superhero .” The fact this reality show refugee did not sit at our table was a welcome surprise.  I usually only win a raffle when the prize sucks.

Happily, Mike Mearls plopped down to join us.  We spent the next 90 minutes having a pleasant gaming discussion over a tasty vegetarian lasagna. It was not a formal interview, but Haaldaar and I got in some questions between bites and Mike was kind enough to answer them.  What follows is my recollection of the questions and answers and the discussion’s flow. Some of the questions originated from other table guests and some from myself.  I am paraphrasing both questions and answers, since I did not record the lunch.  Apologies to Mike if I misremember anything.

1. Will there be psionics in 4th edition?

Mike: It is under discussion, but nothing concrete yet.  We are looking to make it distinct from the existing casting classes.

2.  I played the “Living Forgotten Realms” preview modules and they seemed  short on role-playing. Is this intentional or just because they are previews?

Mike:  Due to the time and format limitations of convention rounds, the Living modules tend to focus less on story and more on the encounters. This makes them easier to run for a variety of DM skill levels in the alloted time.

3.  Why are the online 4th Edition  tools and website not complete?

Mike:  Another group is handling that, but they are working on it.

4.  Do you think the GSL license will catch on with 3rd party publishers?

Mike: The publishers need to see successful books published with the new system. Once that happens, more will sign the GSL

5.  How long did 4.0 take to create?

Mike: They started before I was hired. I believe it was around 3.5 years.

6. The new system is stripped of some of the stranger rules, such as the “how far away can you smell the forest fire .” Was this intentional?

Mike: Yes.  We wanted to put the DM back in charge of the game and get away from specific “rulebook” solutions to unusual issues.  The DM should decide these issues.

7.  “Dungeons and Dragons” players are being pulled away by other media ( “World of Warcraft” was mentioned several times.)  How do you compete with that?

Mike: We should strive to create the best tabletop RPG possible. Competing against all potential competitors is not the best approach.

This next question and Mike’s answer I found fascinating. I think that he has the right attitude towards “Dungeons and Dragons” place in the gaming world.

8.  Many game stores  have  “collectible card/miniature games” as a majority of their inventory and sales. Do you see a future for “Dungeons and Dragons” in that environment?

Mike:  “Dungeons and Dragons” must earn its  place in the gaming store. Many years ago, “D&D”  faced limited competition from other media. In today’s market we have to stay relevant to our players to compete.

Those were the high points of lunch that interested me.  I wish I had more time to speak with some of the other guests, but you can only do so much in 90 minutes.

For a more  “nuts and bolts” interview about the game system with Mike, Dave over at Critical Hits was in attendance as well and did an audio interview as well. It is worth checking out.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.