Interview with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker

So there it is, Saturday afternoon. I’m half way through PAX, and I’m escorted on to the DnD Bus. There in the back of the bus I’m introduced to Mike Mearls and Richard Baker. They’re watching the Princess Bride on dvd. My first thought is “Holy shit, that’s Mike Mearls and Richard Baker and they’re watching Princess Bride on dvd! I sure hope I don’t screw up this interview!”

Image of The DnD Bus by The Portland Mercury (http://bit.ly/9zYQdV)

Obsidian Portal: This is a really nice bus! Is it just for PAX, or will it be making rounds to other conventions?

Mike Mearls photo stolen with love from www.NewbieDM.com

Mike Mearls: Well PAX is right here in our backyard, and we wanted to have a big block party to celebrate all the great products we have coming out this year. So it’s just for PAX.

Obsidian Portal: So let’s move on to DnD Essentials. Why the change in the product line name to Essentials?

NOTE: Rich Baker had a fantastic off the cuff answer for this question that went above and beyond. And then I realized that I wasn’t recording audio. He was kind enough to repeat most of it on the second go around. Thanks for your patience Rich!

Image of Rich Baker stolen from Rich's Blog (http://bit.ly/dxaLxc)

Rich Baker: The idea behind the Essentials line is that we want to provide new players with an easy place to start. We have a bit of a hang up now in terms of our product line that we have some pretty advanced products out there in terms of things like Players Handbook 2, Players Handbook 3, Martial Power 1 and 2 and Arcane Power.

There are all these places that new users could go, and the idea with Essentials is “Let’s try to bring this into a single trade dress that’s pretty recognizable so that the new player knows where she’s supposed to go, so retailers know what they should stock, and to make starting the game easier.”

It can be pretty daunting for people worried about starting with the wrong book or not getting the help they need from retailers. In addition to the obvious changes in the packaging and the marketing message, we did actually work on the game play elements to make sure there where simple options available for what should be simple character classes.

Obsidian Portal: Great answer! Thank you so much. It’s almost like you said it twice. So the Red Box is only for new players and DMs then?

Rich Baker: Yes. Yes, we did wrap it in nostalgia by calling it the Red Box and putting the original art and trade dress with the logos and everything. But the guts of it are essentially 4th Edition. It contains the first two levels of play for a set of basic character classes (Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard) and we hope it’s something brand new players would be interested in, but it’s also our hope that people who have been away from DnD for a long time will see this is a great place to start in again!

Obsidian Portal: So where is the Red Box going to be sold? Will it just be in our Favorite Local Gaming Store, or will it be sold stores like Wal-Mart and Target?

DnD Essentials: The Red Box

Mike Mearls: It should be available in both Wal-Mart and Target, from what I understand they’re both picking it up and it’ll be found in the area of the store where they sell collectable card games like Magic and Pokémon. And of course, it’ll be available at your local game store.

Obsidian Portal: I’m glad to hear it’s going to go into those big stores, because it gives a chance for kids who’ve never been to a game store to see it and try out a tabletop RPG. What other Essentials products do you all have coming out this year?

Mike Mearls: If you start with the Red Box, there are two tracks for folks to take. For the players, there are two books coming out that are 320 pages each and they’re both the 6×9 soft cover format and they each retail for twenty dollars. The first one out is Heroes of the Fallen Lands and it’s coming out on the 21st of this month and it’ll be available sooner at Premier Stores of course.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands takes the classes from the Red Box and extend them from levels 1 to 30. It covers the same races and all the feats. For the player, this book has all the core DnD Rules. The second book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, comes out in November. So if you think of Heroes of the Fallen Lands and the Red Box as the core rules for players, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms has the next tier of options. It will include races like Dragonborn and Tiefling, that are a little more unique to DnD. We’re also introducing the Drow and the Halforc…

Rich: Paladin and Ranger.

Obsidian Portal: Paladin and Halforc? Awesome!

Mike Mearls: Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms will include the classes Paladin, Ranger, Druid, and Warlock. So you can think of Heroes of the Fallen Lands as the core of DnD, and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms as the next ring out.

Obsidian Portal: Sounds great! So what do the DMs get?

Mike Mearls: Yep. Oh, there’s also this one book that sort of rests in the middle. There’s the Rules Compendium that is also 320 pages with the same format and price point of twenty dollars. The Rules Compendium… I kind of think of it as Robert’s Rules of Order for DnD. “What happens when I fall prone and I’m next to a pit?” It’s a rules encyclopedia. All the rules and technical terms laid out, all the latest errata and updates. Its aim is to be an easy reference point for the table and the DM.

Rich Baker: It’s organized much differently than our previous ‘how to play the game’ chapters.

Mike Mearls: That’s right. And for the DMs, there is a DM Kit. It’s a box set and it comes with a DM booklet in the same 6×9 soft cover format. It also comes with adventures, maps, and tokens. If you want to be a DM, that box is where you start.

 One of the things we’re trying to emphasize with DnD Essentials is the all-in-one nature of the product. Whereas before if you wanted to DM you’d have to buy the Dungeon Masters Guide, the Monster Manual, a play surface, and some miniatures. We wanted to include everything the new gaming group needs in the Red Box, and everything a New DM needs in the DM Kit.

There’s also the Monster Vault, which is also a boxed set that comes with an adventure, a poster map, and tokens for every monster in the Monster Vault book. Which is also in the same 6×9 soft cover format. I know I’m going to forget something, so Richard if you catch something let me know.

Rich Baker: I’m working on it.

Mike Mearls: The final part of the DM track is the three tile sets we’re releasing. One for the dungeon, one for the outdoors, and one for the city. Each one is a box set that retails for twenty dollars I believe. And that’s a lot like the other Essentials products. If you buy the Dungeon tile set, then you have all the tiles you need to build a dungeon encounter. There are 10 Essentials products in total, but you don’t need to buy all of them.

The way we see it, if your local shop has these 10 things on the shelf, you can find out pretty easily where to start. Say you want to DM. You start with the DM Kit. After running the adventures there, you want to make your own adventures, so you pick up the Monster Vault. Then say your party is leaving the dungeon so then you get the Outdoor tiles. So you didn’t buy all of that at once, but over say, a year or so of playing.

Obsidian Portal: So the Essentials line of products is supposed to grow with the needs of the gaming group?

Mike Mearls: Exactly.

This wraps up the first part of our interview. Check out the next part of our interview tomorrow where we’ll cover Castle Ravenloft, Gamma World, and more!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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