The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

Alexander Macris | 16 Sep 2010 15:00
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Mike Mearls: It's interesting, because it's one of those things where - to segue a bit into my own personal gaming - when 3rd Edition came out, I didn't even notice that rule. We played for two years, I like to say I had the most fun with 3rd Edition when I played it as if I was running 2nd Edition, where we weren't buying magic items, and no one thought "I'm going to take things to make my character powerful," they just think "I want to take things that express what my character is." The most fun I have with D&D is when people are in that mode of "I'm in character, I'm going to interact with this world."

Anyways, moving along. One of the things we found is that in 4th, 4th really exacerbated it, but it was an existing problem in 3rd, if players can buy anything, it really limits the design space that you can put out there. You can come up with this really interesting design for a flaming sword and eventually every player in the group will be able to buy them. Then you get back to this thing which you first saw in 3rd, where everyone in the party can fly, everyone in the party can teleport, skill checks become irrelevant because everyone has the Climb feat, everyone has slippers of spider climbing, things like that. It turns the game into almost a superhero game. Which is fine, if that's your style, but it's not necessarily the default.

What we can do with magic items is we can portion them out and say Here's a subset of magic items that players can buy, and those are the common items. The uncommon items are the ones which they need to find, and those have this basic range of power within them. And then there's rare items, which are even more powerful, and like uncommon ones, you can't just go out and buy them, you can only find them. The great thing about that is, it lets us do things like here are boots of flying, here's a pair of boots, they just let you fly. Because we know that it's not possible for everyone in the group to get those, unless the DM wants that to happen, then that's fine. The default is that maybe one person in the group can fly places. Having played a campaign where I was a dwarf warrior who had wings of flying, if the entire party can fly, it's much easier to dominate encounters or dungeons or adventures. If one character can fly, it's more likely that if you play that character, you're more likely to get in more trouble that you can't get out of when you can fly ahead of the rest of the party and get surrounded by ogres or something.

The Escapist: That character always gets killed.

Mike Mearls: Somehow, in a campaign I played six or seven years ago, I actually survived doing that. My character's tagline was "The luckiest dwarf in Faerûn." It makes it more of a "OK, it's a useful tool, but it's not overpowering." It's something where you have to be creative to figure out how to use it. I played a game where everyone could just fly around and it puts so much pressure on the DM - you go from thinking, I am building this fantasy world, and creating these locations and this entire campaign to just thinking how do I deal with this group of five people who can fly around? It distorts the game to the extent that unless the DM wants to do that, we don't want to force it on a DM.

The Escapist: If you look at 3.0 to 3.5, there were a huge number of small mechanical changes to the game, but the fundamental philosophy of the two games is really similar. It sounds like with Essentials, the mechanical changes are much less. When I read Red Box, I couldn't really find any major mechanical changes that would in any way say 'oh, this is not 4th Edition.' It does seem like, in seizing the helm of the ship, you've changed philosophy. Would that be accurate to say?

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