Interview with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of our interview with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker. We’ve talked about DnD Essentials; now let’s move on to the other games!

Obsidian Portal: Let’s jump right into Castle Ravenloft. It’s a board game now and eventually it will be its own RPG?

Mike Mearls: Yep, that’s correct. So the board game just came out this month and then… well we can’t really talk about the RPG yet as it’s still in process. But next fall is when the Ravenloft Role-playing Game is coming out.

Obsidian Portal: I see. Back to the board game, are there options for players to commit to ongoing campaigns through a series of linked adventures? Can the same group of players sit down with the same group of characters game after game and still hit new content?

Mike Mearls: So the Castle Ravenloft board game is really meant to be a much faster play experience than DnD. Basically the idea behind was that maybe there would be some times when you and your friends like DnD and you’re at a cook out or wrapping up a small dinner party…

Obsidian Portal: Or as I like to call it, Tuesday night.

Mike Mearls: Haha, but you might say “Ok, let’s play DnD. You guys go make characters and I’ll make the adventure, but it’s going to take a while to get setup.” Well Ravenloft is kind of our effort to fill that spot. It’s a very quick to setup DnD dungeon crawl experience, so it doesn’t really support an ongoing cast of characters. However it is definitely something we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people on. It’s something we might look into for possible expansions of the game.

Rich Baker: Castle Ravenloft certainly has a lot of replayability and it’s organized into a distinct set of missions and quests. So you could certainly play through those quests in order if you really had a mind to. Essentially we were looking for replayability instead of campaign building.

Obsidian Portal: The box for the Castle Ravenloft game says that it supports 1 to 5 players. That brings up two questions in my mind: How is it a one player game, and will additional rules be made available adding additional players? I ask this because most of gaming groups that I am aware of have 5-6 players and a DM?

Rich Baker: First of all, the Castle Ravenloft board game is DMless. You don’t have to have a DM. No one is playing the monsters. The monsters essentially act on the players’ turn. To put it simply, the game tells you what to do with the monsters. Like Mike said, it’s not to replace your DnD game. Maybe it’s Tuesday night and Joe couldn’t make it to the game. So your group is short 1 player… let’s bust out the board game. ‘Cause you know, “Hey we’ve got an hour…”

Obsidian Portal: “Let’s go visit Strahd and see what he’s doing for the evening.”

Rich Baker: We really kind of view it as… as… You know, I think it would be fun to play with a huge group. I bet you we could come out with an expansion that would let that happen. In fact, that’s a good idea… we’ll put that one away.

Obsidian Portal: Awesome. You can just put me in the credits.

Rich Baker: Hahaha. But yeah, it’s designed to be something that you don’t have to have a lot of prep time for. You don’t have to have a DM for it. And really, that’s where the 1 player thing comes in. You could play the game solo if you cared to.

Mike Mearls: The way the game works is that when you take a turn as a player you move and attack just like in DnD, but you build the dungeon as you go. The dungeon consists of tiles that are face down, and when you explore a section of the map you haven’t explored yet… well it’s kind of like how if you play StarCraft the map starts out black and when you send a unit out it starts to reveal the terrain. When you get to the edge of the dungeon, you flip a tile and add it to the dungeon.

Obsidian Portal: Oh so there’s a sort of Fog of War element. Wow!

Mike Mearls: Exactly. You flip tiles and you add more monsters. Basically the way it works, is that after a player takes their turn, that player then takes a turn for the game. Monsters activate and attack the players. There may be traps that you draw and that goes off. There are random event cards. You might draw an event card that says “A swarm of bats emerges from the crypt.” And everyone would take damage as they bite and swarm past you.

You can play with just one player because the danger scales up when you add more players. The more players, the more chances for the dungeon to take turns.

You know, in November we have another board game coming out. It’s called Wrath of Ashardalon and it uses the same rule set as the Castle Ravenloft board game. If you bought both of those games, you could very easily take the characters from either game and put them in the other. In theory you could then play with up to ten people. But you may have to tinker with the adventures a little bit to make that work.

Obsidian Portal: So you give your blessing to let other folks tinker with the board games?

Mike Mearls: Oh sure! You know, that’s one of the things that’s most exciting about it. The game hasn’t been out for a full week yet and we’re already seeing people write their own adventures, come up with characters…

Obsidian Portal: That’s exciting!

Rich Baker: Yeah. Once you’ve seen how a few of the scenarios are put together, you can create your own very easily.

Mike Mearls: Really, the only things you have to be careful of are a few of the rules tweaks. Like there’s one adventure where you go into the dungeon to find an item. When you find the item a bunch of monsters ambush you. And you have to defeat the monsters and grab the item to win. There’s another scenario where you find a villager that’s been bitten by a vampire and you have to escort the villager through the dungeon to a fountain that will cure him of vampirism.

So you have these very different scenarios that use the core basic rules (how to move, how to attack monsters) and then on top of that each scenario comes with 2 or 3 unique rules. Rules that change how the game plays, and how that scenario works.

Does whatever a SquidGirl can!

Obsidian Portal: Fantastic! Ok. So. You have a third board game coming out, right? Gamma World is a board game, correct?

Rich Baker: No, Gamma World is an RPG.

Obsidian Portal: Ah! Gamma World is an RPG in a box.

Rich Baker: Yes. Exactly.

Obsidian Portal: So Gamma World is kind of like… Fallout meets Borderlands meets Final Fantasy 7 meets Candy Land. Is it…

Rich Baker: Hahaha. Yeah it’s some pretty far out stuff. Gamma World is an old, old RPG property, right? It goes back to… gosh, the late 70s. Basically it’s a post-apocalyptic world in which all sorts of radiation, mutagenic bombs, and reality distorting devices have been set off. We’ve created a world in which your character can be anything from…

Obsidian Portal: I’ve heard I can play as a SquidGirl. Could I play as a SquidGirl?

Rich Baker: Yes you could play as a SquidGirl. SquidGirl is on the cover.

Obsidian Portal: Awesome.

Mike Mearls: The last time I played I was a giant baby. I was a ten-foot-tall toddler with a giant rattle. I was mutated, massively strong, and I had the moral outlook of a 3 year-old.

Obsidian Portal: That’s terrifying.

Mike Mearls: Yeah, to the monsters it was.

Rich Baker: Basically, in the Gamma World box, you get a 160 page rule book, which includes your first Gamma World adventure. You get a couple of token sheets, so there are player pieces and monster pieces. There are a couple of poster maps and a set of cards for Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech. Those cards are things about your character that change not just from session to session, but sometimes right in the middle of the encounter.

You might suddenly say “Hey! I didn’t know this, but apparently I have laser-beam eyes!” And then halfway through the encounter you might suddenly discover “I no longer have Laser-beam eyes. Turns out I’m bulletproof instead. Well that’s handy… That’s good. I can go with that.” Or “Now it turns out I have big floppy feet. Well that’s not really all that helpful now.”

Mike Mearls: The original game was basically: We have an atomic war and there was all this radiation everywhere. We tweaked that back-story a little bit to speak more to this idea of alternate realities colliding. I think we worked in the Large Hadron Collider as a reference at some point…

Rich Baker: Yes.

Mike Mearls: And this is why mutations and player abilities are constantly changing. You basically have all these different possibilities of Earth. Including atomic war in some realities. These are all colliding at once. So reality is a little unstable for some characters.

Rich Baker: So yeah. “Not only do I now have laser-beam eyes, but I’ve always had laser-beam eyes. Didn’t you remember that?”

Obsidian Portal Bumpersticker

Obsidian Portal: That sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. So it looks like we’re running out of time, but I wanted to ask about the DDI real quick: Can we expect any digital content (Essentials, Castle Ravenloft RPG, Gamma World) going to show up in the DDI?

Mike Mearls: Well, for Gamma World, I don’t think it’s going to show up in the DDI in terms of the Character Builder. There might be some plans; I’m not sure because I don’t have the schedule in front of me. Gamma World is meant to be a very quick pick-up-and-play game as far as character generation goes.

For the Castle Ravenloft board game, we already have two additional adventures available on our website and we plan on releasing some more.

And finally for Essentials, yes. Yes just like any other content for DnD, it will make its way into the DDI.

Rich Baker: We have a lot of good essentials stuff coming to the DDI, even this month I think!

Obsidian Portal: Great guys. Thanks so much for your time, and enjoy the rest of PAX!

We’d like to say thanks to Katie Page who made this interview possible and, of course, to Mike and Rich for being such good sports about the whole forgetting-to-hit-record thing. So what do you think? Care to see what good old Stradh has been up to these last few years? Interested in trying out Gamma World? What about some of the new races, classes, tile sets, and rules clarifications from the Essentials line?

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