Wizards is changing 4th Edition in response to feedback, releasing an innovative set of new products that aim to recapture the classic feel many fans had missed. The first of these, the 4th Edition Red Box, launched last week, and aims to recreate the wonder that kids felt in the 80s picking up a strange new game.
"The basic gist of the Red Box is to create an easy entry point into D&D," Mearls said. "If you look back at the launch of 4th Edition, the game was really aimed at existing D&D players. The idea is really just to cut down the time between 'Hey, I bought this game' and 'I'm playing it.' That's something that - especially within the past 5 or 10 years - gaming culture is much more focused on. The time between when you first interact with a game and you're playing it is getting shorter and shorter and shorter. The Red Box is all about saying 'you buy this box, you take it home, you unwrap it, and you're playing within two minutes.' You're not reading through 50 pages of combat rules, trying to figure out how it works. There's an immediate entry point."
That sounds good for a parent introducing the game to their kids for the first time, but what about experienced RPG players that want to get into 4th Edition? Should they pick up the Red Box, the upcoming Essentials line, or focus on the previously published 4E material?
"At this point, if you're just getting into it, Essentials is the better bet, even just for the price point," Mearls said. "One of the things we're doing, since it's a smaller format, is a 6x9 soft-cover book. I just got my copy of Heroes of the Fallen Lands. It retails for $20, it has levels 1-30 of the classic four classes: Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, Cleric."
It's clear there is more to Essentials than merely attracting new players. The tone that Mearls uses when discussing his current campaign, which uses first edition D&D rules, belies a reverence to the "old school." We asked him if he was trying to bring 4E back in line with classic D&D.
Mearls smiled. "That's definitely part of it. I really think it's important to have the core of D&D as the foundation that people walk into. That's why in the new Red Box there's Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. It's the classic classes and the classic races. We asked [ourselves]: 'What is the core of D&D and why did people like it in the original [Red Box]?'
The direction that Mearls was describing seemed very different from when we last spoke to Andy Collins, Mearls' predecessor, back in March. At the time, we openly questioned why there was a focus on the newfangled races like Tieflings and Dragonborn, and why all the character classes felt and played exactly the same. That's another problem that Mearls attempts to fix in Essentials through a return to classic D&D feel.