Scott Rouse: They’re a little tough since I don’t think we marketed them right. They’re a great look inside the heads of the designers and developers. We wanted to make it a behind the scenes/making of product instead of a real preview product. We thought that if you liked DVD extras, you’d like the books.
Andy Collins: I was a bit skeptical at first. No rules? But then I got the final copies and they’re great. They sit on my desk and I use them for inspiration. We plan to have a number of other previews through D&D Insider as well. Insider will be a great place to preview mechanical and story content, like stuff for Eberron. It also means we can try out concepts before they see print.
CH: How does the brand team work with the R&D team?
Andy: Sometimes the brand team drives product development.
Scott: Power decks are a great example. (referring to cards with easy reference to character powers for 4e–ed) That’s a product we started to see talked about on the communities, which we took to R&D as an idea. We’ll see if it works.
There are some failures for sure. The Dungeon Survival Guide was a great concept that we hoped would get along well with previous successes like Practical Guide to Dragons, but for an older audience. Unfortunately, it never was properly positioned to fit with that audience.
Confessions of a Part Time Sorceress is an example of a success. Shelly is in my department, and I couldn’t be happier with having her writing for us.
Dungeon Tiles are a great example of a successful collaboration between brand and R&D. People wanted this product for a long time, but we couldn’t figure out the best way to do it. The existing offerings ranged from files you print out yourself to the Dwarven Forge set. There was nothing that really was satisfying. Then one day someone brought in a board from a Fantasy Flight game, and it just clicked, that nice linen laminated finish.
Andy: It took us two weeks from there to make the first set of Dungeon Tiles. From start to finish with that product was six months. We put it through, and crossed our fingers.
It’s great that we can experiment with products and titles. The day they tell us to stop will be the day I look for another job.
Scott: Same here.
Andy: Unearthed Arcana was another example of a product that was an experiment. Variant rules? Different ways to do hit points? We really weren’t sure it was going to fly.
When we started to work on 4e, we weren’t sure about that either.
CH: Why’s that?
Andy: It was a major shift in thinking. It was the first time we weren’t tied up in translating 20 year old concepts. We got to ask more, “does this make sense?”
We knew the core mechanics worked, so those didn’t change. But we wanted to make everything like they were designed for. It freed the design and let us ask “what can we do with these?” It let us examine how the characters and monsters interacted with the core rules. That was the biggest leap forward.
We looked at the monsters and asked “what can they do?” instead of making them work with the same rules that characters work with. We asked the same question about characters: “what can they do?” to let them have their own unique powers instead of the same stuff that monsters do. We wanted our characters to be able to do Matrix moves.
CH: How about those who prefer a more deadly or gritty game? Will fourth edition accommodate that style of play?
Andy: I’ve yet to get a good definition of gritty. If you ask different people, you’re likely to get different answers. I think it’s more about atmosphere and type of monsters than the rules.
Scott: In my current campaign, just a few weeks ago, my halfling lay in a graveyard, bleeding, and worrying that zombies were going to come and eat him. THAT is gritty.
Andy: In 4e, every encounter could be your last. Gritty isn’t about what powers you have.
CH: How transparent are the rules and math behind 4e?
Andy: We try to make it clear how classes and items and such interact. There’s a better understanding of group dynamics too. For an example, there are express benefits for magic items by level. Does that answer your question?
CH: I believe the person who asked us to ask you wanted to find out how easy it would be to design your own class.
Andy: Class building is the most complex, since they each have a list of powers. It’s like inventing a completely new spell list.
Each class needs its own niche too. We designed each class to focus on what that character type should be doing. There are exceptions, like it only makes sense for the Wizard to have Fire Shield even though that might be seen more as a defender power. We really tried to give classes a better play experience than 3e. More symbiosis with other characters too.
Many 3e classes felt like other classes, so they didn’t have their own niche. There were many classes I designed that were this way that I loved, but just weren’t unique. Then there were other classes that didn’t fill any kind of role.
Scott: The monk comes to mind.
Andy: Exactly, the monk was going to be my example too. Before they were kind of all over the place with a bunch of strange abilities, instead of jumping all over the place, doing jump kicks and cool martial arts. When the monk is published in 4e, you know exactly what role it’ll play.
CH: So the monk will be a martial striker? Can we call that a scoop?
Andy: (laughs) That’s at least 50% wrong. I shouldn’t say too much since we haven’t seriously started designing the class.
CH: How much does everyone who works in both your teams get to play?
Scott: We only have one person in brand who doesn’t play regularly, and that’s Kim Mohan. I’m in a 3e game that we converted over.
CH: What do you play?
Scott: I was a Swashbuckler who got changed into a Rogue for 4e.
The part we really enjoy is that no one is required to be there to play anymore. We can play whenever we get enough players together. Every walk of the company plays 4e, and every day there’s a game going somewhere in the building. We have had over 700 playtesters work on 4e.
At one point, R&D had around the clock playtesting. For two weeks straight, the R&D department shut down to playtest. I’d show up at a meeting room and find it full, and told to “go away, we’re playing!” (laughs)
Andy: I’m currently in 3 different monthly games.
Scott: Brand and the early playtesters were crucial in the process. However, our best critics came from the RPGA. Chris Tulach gets big props for that. He got them organized and their feedback was invaluable.
I remember one interesting early playtest by the Brand team. Our wizard used a sleep spell on a bear. We broke the coup de grace rules right there.
Every playtester has contributed something to the final product.
CH: So you both are managers in your department. Do you play with your employees? Has that ever lead to any awkward moments, like a boss firing someone because his employee killed his character?
Andy: None of my employees are in my active games. I am running a game for my boss and two Vice Presidents of the company, though. I put a lot into that game, because one bad session could ruin the company for a month. (laughs)
Scott: I did ask one of my employee’s to run a game for me, and he does a great job. No employee in our company has been fired for killing someone’s character. I actually think it’s a great team building experience.
CH: Have you ever though about marketing D&D as a team building experience for companies?
Scott: No, not to sell. But we have talked about something similar for companies. We’ve looked at the rules and asked “what would the Warlord be like in a corporation?”
Congress should use D&D to make decisions. Actually, all important decisions should be made using D&D.
Andy: It’s funny because R&D looks at laws that are being passed by congress and immediately begins to think of loopholes and exceptions. When you work as a designer and developer, you’re probably very smart, and very critical about everything. Human Resources at Wizards hates R&D, because whenever they make rules, we try to break them.
CH: What’s your favorite part of fourth edition?
Andy: Monsters! I love running the game. They’re more evocative and more playable. I’m not going to miss a 1 or more page stat block. The 4e Monster Manual has one third of a page for a dragon, ready to be used. Everything is right there. Not an unplayable mass of options.
Scott: Powers. In the ten weeks or so of this campaign, my Eladrin Rogue has thrown a dagger once or twice. I like deciding to save up and work towards a big combo. I’m tracking less stuff too, which has freed me up to roleplay more than I ever have. I’ve been taking on the role so much, in a recent game, there was an NPC who was giving his big speech. I interrupted him by yelling “Shut up!” Some of the other players remarked that they had never seen me get into a character so much.
Thank you to Andy Collins and Scott Rouse for taking the time out to talk to us!