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Gen Con 2014 report: Interview with D&D 5E designer Jeremy Crawford, Part 2

I had a chance to interview Jeremy Crawford at Gen Con, the lead designer of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and managing editor of Dungeons & Dragons. In the second of three installments, Jeremy reveals the future of playtesting for D&D and future support for 4th Edition. For the first part of this interview, see part one.

Interview with Jeremy Crawford, Part 2-slide0
Wizards of the Coast

MT: The playtest is currently over. Will there be another playtest?

JC: Our plan is to revive open playtesting in various forms, because we've now developed a lot of knowledge in this area. It was quite a learning process for us to suddenly be getting feedback from thousands and thousands of people. We now have systems in place. It has paid off so well in terms of quality of the game and engagement that process can provide for our players, that we feel it only makes sense for us to continue that process in various forms.

MT: My group was part of the friends and family playtest and they put it this way: "If the game sucks, we only have ourselves to blame."

JC: That really gets at one of our goals, which goes back to our overall goal for this edition of being inclusive of all people who love D&D. We wanted everybody to feel like they had some part in it. Because at the end of the day Mike and I might be the ones leaving the game in its current form, but D&D belongs to all of us. Mike and I and the rest of the team, we're all D&D fans just like everybody else -- I've been playing it since elementary school starting with first edition -- we all inherited this game from other people starting with Gary Gygax and Dave Arenson, so we've really embraced this idea that we're all in this together and this is the game we all love.

MT: One of the challenges that TSR struggled with was that players began to get fragmented. We see that now between 4th Edition D&D and Pathfinder. Hopefully we're coming back around -- if we speak a common D&D language, the whole player base benefits.

JC: A big part of that, of refocusing on Dungeons & Dragons from a big perspective, is us deemphasizing the place of rules in the game. Rules are vital, they need to be solid, they need to serve our DMs and players, but at the end of the day they're one tool among many. And they're one element among many that makes D&D what it is. And that's why in the new Player's Handbook we have the world information, there's a map of the cosmos, we talk about gods, we talk about all of our classic settings, because all of those things together form this huge constellation that is Dungeons & Dragons. And when you pan back like that and look at the big picture, then it's much easier to not get embroiled in this edition vs. that edition, it's much more about the larger network of stories, game systems, etc. that are all together Dungeons & Dragons. That all said, we are happy if people love 4th Edition or love 3rd Edition, 2nd or 1st, and they want to stick with that, we're happy for people to play the edition they love. That's why we brought previous editions back into print through, we reprinted some of the books, we plan for the foreseeable future to keep the DDI service with the 4th Edition character builder we plan to keep that going.

MT: That's good news. I know that was a concern. We're all looking forward to Dungeonscape.

JC: That's also a shift. We've talked about that in the past often whatever team was working on D&D, whether that team was at TSR or subsequently at Wizards, it often viewed its job as being the shepherds of the current edition, and that isn't how we view our job anymore. We view our job as being the shepherds of Dungeons & Dragons. That certainly includes the current edition, and that edition will get a lot of our focus, but that doesn't mean we can't continue to serve previous editions and other incarnations of D&D, whether it 's novels, video game or comic books, and also serve those incarnations as well.

MT: The challenge of bringing everyone together brings up the question: Out of the worldwide D&D fan base, who is the target audience?

JC: That's our target! It is that big. Almost four years ago now, when Fifth Edition was just a glimmer in our eyes, when Mike and Rodney Thompson and I and several others at the company were first dreaming about what this next edition might be, the term that we often use to talk about it was we wanted there to be a "Big Tent." We wanted there to be room for everybody, for everybody to recognize "ah, there's a place for me in there." And I think that isn't just us dreaming big, that's also us really trying to tap into what has always made D&D special among role-playing games. It has this immense reach, partly because of how mutable it is, because people feel they can make it their own, they can kitbash the rules, they make up their own worlds, and you can certainly do that in many different role-playing games, but for a variety of reasons D&D has often been sort of the playground. All of us at one time or another who love RPGs played and loved other games as well -- there always seems to be this gravitational pull where everyone always ends up back at D&D and part of it is because it's this common language. Even if some other game is this person's favorite, there's always a sense that people can come back to D&D and everyone gets it. Everyone knows what a rogue is, and a fighter, and a cleric.

MT: Talking about new editions of D&D, it's always a risky proposition to add new rules without turning off people who understand the game's "language." What's fascinating about ability saves and advantage/disadvantages is how they can be applied to D&D game without significantly altering the current rules. How did these rules come about?

JC: I'll start with the ability score saving throws. That goes back to some of the earliest conversations that Mike Mearls, Rodney Thompson and I had, dreaming about what this edition could be and one of our goals was to make ability scores really matter because they're so defining for your character and we wanted to make sure that whenever possible we were bringing the player back to those numbers so that you felt invested in them and also so we could turn down the number of other stats you had. Basically we wanted to make those six numbers work, really earn their place on the character sheet. That's really where the ability saves came from.

MT: What was the evolution of the advantage/disadvantage game mechanic?

JC: The mechanic itself is something that we occasionally played around with in 4th Edition. It was actually the defining class feature of the Avenger in 4th Edition. They could mark this enemy with their Oath of Enmity ability and then they could roll two d20s whenever they would attack this person and use the higher number. That's not exactly advantage and disadvantage but it's a similar type of process. It was Mike who had the first light bulb moment, "what if we tried to use this as a general rule?" A number of us were really excited by it because we saw the potential that if this mechanic caught on it would allow us to get rid of a lot of the bookkeeping bonuses and penalties that have often been a sort of Chinese water torture in all previous editions of the game. Advantage and disadvantage is a great example of something where we were actually ready for the playtesters to hate it. A number of us, Mike, and I, and most of the rest of the team -- although there were some naysayers, and there always any design process there are plenty of fights behind the scenes, most of the time friendly -- but this is one where we had a lot of excitement for. When we sent it out in the first playtest packet we were ready for the playtesters to just reject it: "This is too big of a change, too strange." So we were ready to basically kill our baby. As designers we always have to be ready to kill our babies, we're really listening to our players. But this was one that the playtesters right away were fascinated by, excited by, and so advantage and disadvantage started picking up steam. And even for several packets we were still ready to pull it, but approval ratings only went up.

This interview continues in Part 3.

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