Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about you and your history with D&D, what you're playing now, and anything else you want people to know about you?
I started playing D&D when I was 9. My best friend's older brother played AD&D and one night he ran me and my friend through a quick dungeon crawl. I tried to play a wizard and I'm sure I failed miserably. I was hooked. As I grew older I transitioned from one edition to the next and played around with other systems including Gurps, TMNT, Rifts, and a slew of White Wolf games. I always come back to D&D though.
As for other things about me, I always wanted to try my hand at making games or at least working with people who do, so when I started working at Wizards ten years ago I was pretty excited. Things just got better from there, and while I don't make the games, it's awesome to have a job where I can talk with all the people out there who are as excited about D&D and gaming as I am!
I usually spend my time at the D&D table about evenly split between games where I'm a DM and games when I'm just a player, but lately it's been all DM all the time. Well, I'm only in one game currently, DMing a group of guys out here in Des Moines, Iowa through an adventure I made up for our D&D Next playtest.
Speaking of being excited about D&D, what excites you the most about the D&D Next playtest?
The most exciting thing for me is the playtest process in general. I've been involved with playtests before, for RPGs, digital games, LARPS, and board and card games, but this feels different. The scope and depth of the playtest along with the level of involvement on the playtester and community end are huge! I love seeing the community we're a part of talk about something and then watch as it's changed in the next couple packets or in one of the internal playtests. As far as mechanics go, I'm still really stoked about the way combat expertise is shaking out.
Having a mechanic that might be shared by the melee focused classes is cool, but what I'm really hoping to see is more unique maneuvers for each class. The Monk really got that right for me and I'm hopeful that the other melee heavy classes will get some iconic maneuvers as well.
Expertise Dice were introduced as the Fighter's unique "schtick" but have since spread to the Rogue and the Monk; what other classes that we haven't seen yet do you think would make good use of Expertise Dice?
That's a tough one. In a recent L&L Mike talked about giving basic expertise dice to many classes that get involved in mundane combat, and I could be a fan of that. Again, it would be the unique, flavorful maneuvers that set those classes apart. Maybe most of them don't get maneuvers. I'm a fan of the paladin, and they're a pretty martial class, so I'm hoping to see some maneuvers that maybe focus on smiting enemies or protecting the party for them at some point. But I would be equally happy with class features for the paladin that did similar things but focused on the divine connection to power them. Maybe the Barbarian? It would be cool to see mechanics that allowed the barbarian to use a limited set of maneuvers unless/until he rages and then he just becomes brutal and unable to focus on any precise maneuvers. Many of the other mundane combat oriented classes really look like they have a strong, iconic idea linked to them so maybe they don't need maneuvers in the long run. Once it's all said, done and printed I'm hoping we see some character options (maybe feats or something similar) that let people add class specific maneuvers to their characters to give them those extra choices and flavor in combat if they want it.
This week's Legends & Lore covered a lot of ground but something that really stood out was the alignment specific options for the paladin; how do you feel about alignment-based mechanics and class restrictions?
When I run games I generally hand wave alignment restrictions on classes, and I generally don't mind trying to play up an alignment for a class if that's what the DM wants in order to play that class. So if certain classes keep alignment restrictions I'll probably ignore them, but that's not the ideal solution for many people. It would be much better if the D&D Next team could find a way to have alignment matter for those people who want it, and not have it be so important for those people who don't, and do all of this without making either solution feel tacked on. And I think that's what they're experimenting with. In this week's L&L Mike talks about having paladins that have different abilities and mechanics based on their alignment or deity. He broadens the concept when he writes, "The paladin you create might mix and match some of these abilities, depending on your character's alignment and ethos." To me this says that if you want to use alignment, there will be options for paladins of those alignments. If you don't want to cling so tightly to alignments, you can build your paladin with options that reflect his ideals or maybe his deity. I hope that's the way we see alignments evolve for the classes that have traditionally had alignment restrictions. On one side you have package type options that give abilities that reflect the classes attachments to specific alignments or other aspects like deities, and on the other you have a more a la carte option that you can use to have those class features echo your characters ideals, or that the DM can use when creating abilities granted by homebrewed deities.
You mentioned that you are making your own adventures for your playtest group; how does that process compare to making adventures in other editions you've DMed?
Well right now it's a bit more free form that I would probably usually do. The campaign has taken a turn to focus on humanoids in a capital city, so many of my NPCs are human, elf or halfling. For creating "monsters" of these NPCs I just grab some numbers for some monsters of that level that are sly, wizardy or brutish depending on my needs and apply them to my city dwellers. I also give them some abilities that reflect their brutish nature - some based on the monsters in the playtest packet, others based on monster abilities of 4E and earlier.
Like many other playtesters, I've found that the monster math is a little off, so I generally max hit points for my baddies and up their attack bonus by two or three depending on the threat. For AC I just give them the appropriate armor types and then eyeball their dexterity to see if it makes a difference. It sounds like a lot I guess, but it only takes about 15 minutes to put together the stats for a group of baddies.
It takes a bit longer if I want to actually build out a spellcaster or really special baddy. It definitely works for what I need, and it looks like the stat blocks and ability listings in the most recent packets are getting closer to the 4E monster block, which I love. I'm really looking forward to more monsters that I can just drop into the game or beg, borrow, and steal from!
What's the one monster or group of monsters you want to see the most in the next playtest packet?
I'm a fan of aberrations, so I'm really looking forward to seeing more of the iconic monsters in that group, specifically the beholder. The mindflayer in the latest packet looks pretty good and I like what I've seen from James in the related Wandering Monsters, so I'm hopeful that these guys will be cool and creepy.
And to close out, as one of the people at the center of communication between the fans the designers, do you have any advice for playtesters on providing feedback? For the designers on listening to feedback?Well first thing - if you're involved in the playtest at all, please make sure to fill out those surveys we send. Those are easily some of the most useful tools we have for collecting feedback, and the more people doing those the better. Does that mean I want you to stop talking about the playtest in forums, twitter, blogs or other social media outlets? Definitely not. When a new packet drops and people rip through it and post up their feedback, we aggregate that and send that to the D&D teams. All that stuff can be a great indicator of what we're going to see as people sit down and start playtesting with the new material. Just keep talking about it, and continue to be respectful to each other and the process! Also keep in mind that what we're seeing in the forums and elsewhere is just a tiny drop compared to the amount of playtesters and feedback we're receiving over all. It's easy to look at the people around you and think that the vocal majority in our little groups represents the majority of feelings in all the feedback, but that's not always the case.
As for any advice to the D&D Next team, I don't have much to say besides keep doing what you're doing. They're definitely looking at all the feedback and making changes, and reaching out to us with articles like Legends & Lore, Wandering Monsters, and the D&D Next Q&A. The Google hangout and video that we had after this last packet release went over pretty well too, so I'm hoping we can do more of those for future packets. Also, if there's anything you'd like to see us do just drop me a line in the Wizards community or twitter and I'll see what we can do!