This post concludes my interview with Dungeons and Dragons designers Mike Mearls and Rodney Thompson at Gen Con. In part 1 of this series we talked about the upcoming D&D Boardgame line. However, the conversation quickly drifted into other D&D products, including Dark Sun and Gamma World.
Mike Mearls (MM): Yes. One of the things we wanted to do with the red box was to make a solo adventure that you play through. And as you play through the adventure, it fills in your characters sheet for you based on the choices that you make. So, if you decided to grab a sword and start fighting in melee, it helps you fill out the fighter information on the character sheet. By the end of the adventure you have a full completed character sheet. It even has you make a choice with some story items that determines your alignment. For example, a guy could asks you for help with something that was stolen. If you volunteer you are a good character. If you say “whats in it for me”, you are an unaligned character.
SG: If you hit him over the head and steal his gold?
MM: Yeah, evil isn’t really covered in this yet. Maybe in the black box. But seriously, overall it tried to show you the entire D&D experience, not just the tactical combat parts.
Rodney Thompson (RT): For Dark Sun we wanted to take it back to the original second edition boxed set. It had a magic to it that was very unique. So, that was our story starting point. For 4E, the most interesting new mechanic is the Themes mechanic. A Theme is a way to describe what your social role is in the world. For example, You can be an elf and a rogue and that defines a lot about a character. But in Dark Sun you could also be, for example, a Dune Trader. You can travel the deserts as a merchant, and that is your social role. Themes will help in making your character more unique in Dark Sun.
SG: Are their associated powers and abilities that are tied to Themes?
RT: Yes, there is one for free. This is like a racial encounter power. This is to help remind you, every encounter, that you are a certain Theme. As you gain levels, you have the option to swap out power your class powers for Theme powers instead.
SG: Gamma World is coming out in October. is this going to be compatible with the other D&D products? Gamma World is post-apocalyptic earth compared to the fantasy worlds in other D&D products. How would they tie together, if at all?
RT: There are degrees of compatibility. We made it so the monsters in Gamma World are very similar to D&D monsters. If you are a DM, and you are running a Gamma World game, you can use, for example, a Beholder or a Dragon from the D&D books.
By the same token, we want to give players a very different experience in Gamma World. So, on the players side the character creation isn’t necessarily similar. But, you will recognize similar terminology and types of mechanics. For example, if you play D&D you will instantly know what an at-will power is in Gamma World. There have also been some numerical tweaks to the system to change gameplay slightly. For example, because we want Gamma Word to run a little faster, we upped the players damage so they can kill monsters faster. Conversely, we also dropped character’s hit points, so monsters can kill them a little faster too.
SG: Gamma World has what will be called Expansion Kits. Are those adventures or supplements or both?
RT: If you think of Gamma World, it is a stand-alone game that has compatibility with D&D. These expansions are a lot like board game expansions. They are a thing that you buy to expand your core experience. They do include new adventure content. But, they also include new rules, monsters, and locations. So, its more like they are expanding the whole experience rather than one particular aspect of it.
SG: Can you describe the card aspect of Gamma World? How do the cards tie to the RPG experience?
RT: In the classic Dark Sun RPG, you had tables in the book that you rolled against to determine random stuff like mutations and mutant powers. The cards are used to replace that design. Unlike a table in a book that you can’t change once printed, the card element of Gamma World makes it able to be altered or expanded by adding or subtracting cards. In Gamma Word, the idea is that you have mutations that are coming into effect throughout the game and you are also finding ancient technology that you can use. The cards will just facilitate that mechanic.
SG: I know the core box set comes with cards. Do the expansions have cards as well?
RT: Yes, and in addition there will also be packs of cards that can be purchased on their own.
SG: Are those are randomized packs?
RT: Yes. The idea is that if you are sitting down to play a Gamma World Game, the DM could tell the players to each get two packs of cards. Then you would crack them open at the game, and those are the random mutations for that game.
SG: So Players and DMs would buy them specifically for random elements in the game? It is won’t be something people would buy to collect?
RT: Correct, it is designed to be part of the play experience. It is not a collectible game. You could pull cards in a non-random way, there is some discussion in the books about that.
MM: Yeah, you can do that if you really want to. But power gaming in Gamma World doesn’t really matter. It is a very lethal game. It would be like power gaming Call of Cthulhu. You can do it, but it doesn’t really make much sense.
MM: Similar to Gamma World cards, we are going to be doing fortune cards for D&D. They are collectible cards that give the same kind of random dramatic element to the game. The player can alter the action a little bit by using a random benefit. As a whole they make the game a little more unpredictable and makes things work out in an interesting new way.
Also like the Gamma World cards, they aren’t designed to build an optimized deck to get a more powerful character. they are designed to be random and add chaos to the game.
RT: If you are familiar with TORG and their drama deck, it is similar to that concept.
At this point I was evicted from the tower. My time had come to an end. But I have dreams of next year, again scaling the Keep for the wealth of information inside!
I want to thank Mike Mearls and Rodney Thompson for taking time out of their Gen Con to talk to me. And a special thanks to Katie Page for arranging the interview.