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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If you look at roleplaying games, the challenge is to get an experience - and this is something that we really aimed at with the Red Box - get people into it immediately, give them a taste of that, and during the introductory experience, speak to them in a way similar to the other games they play. Get them into the action quickly, hook them on it, and then pull them into it. It's like attacking people from different angles.

You look at the Castle Whiterock game we just came out with - that had a very similar design goal of look you can open this box, unwrap it, punch out the pieces, but you can start playing within minutes. You don't even have to build the pieces to start playing. As a designer, you poke people, you give them a taste of it, and now they're willing to take the time to learn the game and get immersed in it. The challenge is just, there are so many options for good games you can just dive into immediately like that game Shank I mentioned before. I played the demo at PAX and two hours later I went home, downloaded it to my Xbox and I beat it last night. I played it a few hours a night on Labor Day and Tuesday and Wednesday, and I beat it and now I'm ready to go onto the next game.

I have a list of games from PAX that I want to play. And I'm churning through those games far faster at 35 then I ever did at 15 where maybe once a month if I was lucky and did all my chores my parents would buy me a Nintendo game or a board game or a D&D book.

The Escapist: I didn't realize, you're exactly the same age as I am, no wonder we knew all the same gaming cultural references.

Mike Mearls: That's very funny. It's all Wizardry, Bard's Tale.

The Escapist: I totally see the challenge you're facing. D&D is a game that gets more fun the more you play. The more immersed you get, the more fun it becomes where, with so many games you play today, the more you play them, the less fun they become. If you can speed up the velocity at which the game starts becoming fun and get them hooked with the initial play experience, but then it gets more fun from there rather than less fun, then that's a real win. My biggest challenge in getting people to play in campaigns is literally just getting them to come to the very first session.

Mike Mearls: Exactly. The problem you face there is the challenge we face but on a bigger business scale.

The Escapist: So that's the idea of dropping the price point, more books, smaller books, it all ties together.

Mike Mearls: With the box set, the Red Box set, there's a DM kit in the box, the Monster Vault, it has a book in there, but it also tokens and a map. The D&D encounters program, where it's basically just show up at your local game store, if you never played D&D before, great here's a character, sit down and play. And in an hour, you're going to get through an entire scene as part of this adventure and hopefully get you hooked to come back next week. I think that's what's telling when you look at Encounters, it's been a real success for us. In a lot of ways, I think there's a lot of untapped interest for D&D out there, it's just a matter of meeting it. It's a matter of delivering it to people in a way that they can integrate it into their lives. As you said, once they get hooked, once they see what's interesting about it, then they go onto what we think of as a traditional D&D experience, the 300 page book and all that stuff.


Alexander Macris has been playing tabletop games since 1981. In addition to co-authoring the tabletop games Modern Spearhead and Blaze Across the Sands, his work has appeared in Interface, the Cyberpunk 2020 fanzine, and in RPGA AD&D 2nd Edition tournament modules. In addition to running two weekly campaigns, he is publisher of The Escapist and president and CEO of Themis Media. He sleeps on Sundays.

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