WOTC Mike Mearls AMA On Reddit

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Monday of this week WOTC 5th Edition Lead Designer Mike Mearls did an Ask Me Anything On Reddit. Here is a summery of what was covered. I just picked some of the better questions and answers here, it lasted for quite awhile, and there was plenty of Q/A. So head over HERE to read the full AMA.



How many people constitute the core/full-time WotC D&D development team? I’ve gotten the impression it’s not a huge group and was curious. Obviously that number must become much larger when you add in contract/commission folks and support roles.

Creative team is 10 people.

What is something you have tried putting in the game, but could never find the right mechanics to make it work?

I’d love to find a way to manage a dungeon crawl that’s very newbie friendly, that provides enough structure to give new DMs the confidence to run the game, but that doesn’t become a set of rules that devolves into playing the rules, rather than playing the game. Basically, a framework for the game that gives DMs a little more creative support without replacing the DM’s creativity. It’s a narrow path to walk. The rules for exploration in 5e are fine, but I think they’re too much of a bother for experienced DMs and too mechanistic for newbies to really benefit from them.

People ask for everything: classes, settings, monsters, settings, races, settings. With so many people asking for so many things, how do you incorporate these requests into the decisions about what to do next?

We look to prioritize things – luckily, there is usually a pretty clear hierarchy, where one thing stands out as the most requested thing, and so on.From there, we use UA to look at which concepts or ideas resonate and which ones fall flat

5E seems built to last. Assuming that’s correct, what sort of design choices are intended to add longevity to 5th Edition?

A few things:

Keep mechanical expansion slow and steady
Keep an eye on overall player satisfaction, and focus on areas that are proven to be pain points
Build painless upgrades – if we ever did do a 6th edition, my ideal would be seamless backwards compatibility.

What’s a class / archetype for 5E you’ve wanted to design, but haven’t had the opportunity to?

I would LOVE to do specific domains for a load of deities, probably using existing domain abilities in a lot of cases but creating a unique ability or two for each one to give it some flavor.

What are some aspects of the core game that were the most fun to design? What were the hardest?

Most fun – magic items, cleric domains, warlock pacts

Least fun – feats, spells

What are some things that you personally have loved from previous editions that you strive to ensure are brought to everyone’s attention with this latest edition?

From prior editions, I always want to keep a sense of wonder for new players. It’s important that we try to remember that every product is potentially someone’s first time with D&D. It’s a vague thing, but we can’t get too complex, too focused on inside knowledge, and so on.

How different has the feedback from polls, surveys, and play tests been compared to the sales or download data for products? Any surprising insights on how that data influences design priorities?

The polls so far have been in step with final results – we usually see a much bigger difference in forum or online feedback. It’s honestly kind of random – stuff will be super hated online, but the polls are fine with it.

How much do you tend to enjoy working with the more traditional fantasy settings like Forgotten Realms vs. some of the more out-there stuff like Eberron and Dark Sun?

It varies. The Realms is really fun because it looks fairly generic, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff hiding in the details. A lot of our work has been extracting that material and making it more obvious.With a setting like Eberron, the flavor and basic gimmick are already there. There’s not as much room for invention. The main task, from a professional standpoint, is figuring out how it all functions within the greater D&D multiverse.On a personal level, my longest 3.5 campaign took place in Eberron, and my go-to setting has been Greyhawk for more traditional fantasy. I tend to alternate campaigns between something very traditional and something based on a stranger/less classic fantasy setting.

Are there any plans for non-Faerun settings like Dark Sun, Eberron, Spelljammer, or really any setting that isn’t Faerun?

Yes, but nothing I can talk about. We think of D&D as a multiverse of worlds.

Will we ever see a campaign setting book for the rest of the Forgotten Realms? Not just the Sword Coast.

Can’t comment on specific stuff, but we’ve put thought against many regions of the Realms. Personally, I love Thay.

Can you give us any general details regarding when an unearthed arcana variant might become a regular rule? For example, the Revised Ranger has been a very popular UA used at many tables, but its playtest status makes it unusable in official events such as the Adventure League.

When we have a product on the schedule that’s a good match for it, we’ll include it there. Alas, no news on new products yet.

Is there anything that’s made it in to the final version of any 5e book that you wish had been changed or revised before release?

Stuff about 5e that bugs me:

Cyclical initiative – too predictable
Fighter subclasses – so bland!
The divide in the warlock between the pact and the pact boon – boons should be options chosen from among stuff your specific pact can give
Ranger – I’d rebuild it using the paladin as more of a model
Druid – I’d make shapeshifting more central, maybe scale casting back to paladin or rogue level, use a nature domain for the guy with a scimitar and shield
James Wyatt wrote a cool sample adventure for the DMG that we couldn’t include. Wish we had.
A better treatment of actions – action typing is still too fuzzy for more tastes.
Bonus action – they’re pretty hacky; I’d get rid of them and just design smarter. Prior editions always poke through your thinking and distort it. We were so dependent on swift/minor actions that it took a lot of work to stop framing concepts in their terms.

Is there any rule you personally do not like at all that is in the fifth edition of D&D?


What’s the rule(s) that you homebrew the most in your own homegames and why?

Currently, initiative. Find the current rule too predictable for my tastes.

Do you have any house rules that appear in all of your games? Like a standard thing that isn’t part of the core rules but you feel helps the game/players along?

A few things I do:

Milestone advancement. I hand out levels when the players accomplish something notable.
Aside from potions and scrolls, I use custom magic items that (as my players will tell you) invariably come with a drawback or curse.
I’m far more loose with the rules than people might expect. My attitude as DM is that I’d rather let something ride than look up a rule. Even a broken character is only an issue if it stomps on another player’s fun.
My biggest, new house rule is initiative. I really dislike the current initiative system. It’s too predictable, weirdly slow when a fight should be sharp (A dragon appears! OK, timeout as we roll dice, do math, and bubble sort a bunch of initiative results), and bulks up the system in non-obvious ways.

I’ve run several games with a new system, and might run it up the Unearthed Arcana flagpole to see if anyone salutes it.

I say this as a lover of all things D&D: do you think there is any big flaw in D&D right now that you would like to see addressed? What do you NOT like about the game? (mechanically, socially, structurally)

I wish Adventurers League was more story focused. There’s something of a combat-centric tradition that carried over from earlier editions. It’s not a huge issue, but I don’t want people to see AL as a D&D variant.

What are, in your personal opinion, the best and worst designed class in D&D 5e so far and why?

Best – wizard. Super happy with the subclasses. They are really on point for how I think subclasses should work.

Worst – ranger. We overthought it, didn’t really dig into how the subclasses could be more vivid and a core part of the class.

The warlock bugs me because I dislike how the pact and the pact object are two separate choices.

What contribution are you most proud of? What bit of 5e do you most regret?

The entire 5e thing, really. If I had to pick one thing it would be a combo of the open playtest and going back to the OGL.

5e regret – other than specific rules I’ve covered elsewhere, wish we had cleaner subclass support (more evocative) for a few classes, especially fighter.

Is the goal of 5e to get all D&D players onto one edition and then to support it for a long time, much like what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10? Should we expect 5e to last longer than the 5-6 year lifespan of the previous several editions?

I think we’d do a new edition only when the warts of the current one are bothersome enough that people want them excised.

Today’s current market where large numbers of new roleplaying games are being released, and other popular roleplaying games are releasing new settings and core rules support monthly: do you feel like your slow module support release model is effective in retaining customers?

Based on what we’ve seen, I’d say that our release schedule has been a key component to D&D’s explosive growth.

Can you talk a bit about the decision to emphasize D&D as a ‘legacy game’ with 5ed? Why was it important for you as designers to embrace the game’s history?

There’s a few reasons:

People leave and come back to D&D all the time, often over the course of many years. Keeping the game recognizable helps keep those players involved.
There’s a lot of really great adventures and content in the game’s history. When we make something new, we have to be confident it could be more compelling than revisiting something classic.
It helps keep D&D distinct, by pulling its history together into something that emphasizes the unique parts and builds bridges between them to build a coherent whole.

What’s a more unusual book you’d like to produce for 5th edition if the release schedule, sales and approval from the rest of the team magically didn’t matter somehow

I can’t say, because there’s a good chance it’ll end up on the release schedule!

Are there other storylines/adventures that you, as a fellow gamer, would love to see updated to 5e? Are there any large campaign ideas that aren’t evocative of earlier editions you’d like to develop for 5e?

I’d love to do something inspired by Dragon Mountain or Undermountain, a big dungeon with interesting pieces.

For a new thing, an underwater campaign or one set in the elemental planes.

What is the most terrifying monster built/that you would build?

Anything that destroys magic items.

If you don’t mind sharing, how did you end up working for WotC and then managing the creative team? It seems like a nebulous career path and I’m wondering how it was done, or how it could be done today.

This is a hard question to answer, because so much comes down to the culture of a company you want to work with and the state of the business. I had a few things work in my favor:

I have a crazy work ethic. I can’t stop thinking about D&D and where to take it next. I think you have to think to yourself, if I didn’t have to work a day in my life, what would I do? The answer is your calling.
I was in NYC for 9/11, and it was something of a wake up call to help ignite the point above. I was 26 at the time, not really applying myself to anything. The reminder that life is pretty fragile gave me a serious kick in the ass. Moved back in with my parents and made game writing and design my focus.
I wrote lots of bad to mediocre design for low pay for a few years. On the upside, I also skilled up and developed the ability to do a large volume of work to specification and on time. That’s still a hugely useful skill today.
Once I arrived at WotC, I focused on working hard and delivering what was needed from me. When I disagreed with stuff, I was always respectful and remained committed to our direction even if it wasn’t a path I would personally pick. I still operate that way – when you work on a game like D&D, it has to be about the millions of players out there, not what I personally want. That’s what my campaign is for. I think that has really helped keep the focus where it needs to be.
In terms of becoming a manager, you need to embrace that idea that a creative leader doesn’t make things work by being personally creative. You make things work by boosting the creativity of people around you. You bring energy to meetings, provide encouragement, give good feedback, and focus on skilling up as a team.

This might all be maddeningly vague, but there really is no career arc that I think anyone could replicate. It’s all very context driven. If D&D had been healthy and strong from 2000 to today, I’m probably still just a designer or maybe a team lead.

Say you wanted to reboot the movie and/or book ‘Mazes and Monsters’. How would you do it?

I’d make it retro and play it for laughs. The movie is basically hilarious to me now.

What are your thoughts on D&D Beyond, and how important is it to the future of 5E?

Really excited about it. I think that Curse is bringing a lot of expertise and excitement to the table. I use the tool myself and am quite excited to see it roll out.

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