On the morning of January 9th, 2012, we learned that the “next” iteration of D&D was coming. What I would find out a few hours later was that I was one of those chosen to participate in the closed play-testing process. Twelve days later the initial materials would be in our hands, and we were off!
Having played and loved the game since I was 12 years old, this was beyond exciting – the question was, what was this occasional writer of D&D articles and full time “graphics guy” doing anywhere near a process better served by those who knew the mechanics and mathematics of the game inside and out (skills I assumed better suited to the needs of the developers). I’ve played the game, a lot, but I’ve never cared too much about the “how it all works” aspect, instead focusing on the “how fun it is” part – whenever the math failed to get me there as a DM, I made it get there my own way.
Whatever the reasoning, I was invited… and I was not about to start asking questions.
I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes pieces. Whether it’s politics, sports or history, I can’t stop reading/watching when it comes to timelines and details of events from behind-the-scenes, after the fact. As such, somewhere around January 12th or so, I decided I would document the various dates and events that occurred during the “Friends and Family” playtest I was fortunate enough to participate in. What follows are those details, shared from my point of view. There’s nothing crazy here – no gems, or mind-blowing revelations (I think), just a journal of sorts. If you find those kinds of things interesting, read on…
Mon, Jan 9, 2012: The News
Early AM: The NY Times posts (early) an article titled “Players Roll the Dice for Dungeons & Dragons Remake” covering the coming of the “Next” edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards of the Coast follows with their article “Charting the Course for D&D”
10:30 AM: [Greg Bilsland] Email: Sent to an unknown number of people (including myself), this was the “Invitation to the Dungeons & Dragons Friends and Family Playtest”. The number of participants would later be stated (See: Jan 23rd) as approximately 1,100 people.
11:01 AM: I email Greg asking a few questions. He answers them and closes with “Cheers! Glad to have you on board.“… I suddenly feel a little guilty for the Tiger Beat magazine cover I made in January 2011. Not that it was done to embarrass him of course, it was all in good fun, and by all accounts (including the brief interaction I had with him later) he was a good sport about it.
I just realized… in 3 days, it will have been exactly 1 year since I made the cover.
11:25 AM: Monte Cook announces he is joining WotC to work the next iteration as the Lead Designer.
Mon, Jan 10, 2012: Generations
10:07 AM: I consider the name “D&D Generations” as a possible/fun idea instead of the use of “Next” and even send a tweet…
“@MonteJCook re:#dndnext goal to be “a set of rules that unites all the previous editions”. Maybe name it “D&D: Generations”? #dnd”
Mon, Jan 11, 2012: Art n Stuff
I create a “D&D Generations” logo for fun.
Jon Schindehette (Sr Creative Director for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast) responds…
You might be interested in some of the articles I’ll be writing as part of the creative development of the next edition of D&D (and if you don’t mind, I’ll tuck your naming idea in my pocket for consideration). One of the articles will be on logo development for the next edition. With your permission, I might even be interested in using the logo that you developed as part of the conversation. Would that be okay? Articles will start going live in Feb on the D&D website.
Sun, Jan 15, 2012: NDA’s Out, Barely
3:36 PM: I finally send my signed NDA (and those of my players) to Greg and then immediately wonder about confirmation of some kind. I’m pretty excited at this point, knowing I will experience this aspect of the development of a game I have enjoyed since I was 12 years old.
Mon, Jan 16, 2012: The Wait
3:08 PM: [DUE DATE FOR NDA’s] – Tweet from Greg Bilsland simply states, “Playtesters broke my inbox.” This leads me to believe there is still a chance to receive confirmation of some kind (that my NDA’s were received).
Tue, Jan 17, 2012: Confirmation
11:50 AM: [Greg Bilsland] Email: NDA’s received! Message simply states, “You’re all set”. Players are notified, and further excitement kicks in.
Sat, Jan 21, 2012: Playtest Cycle 1.0
9:00 AM: [Greg Bilsland] Email: Playtest Cycle 1.0 materials arrive (Player Packet, DM Packet, Monster Packet, Character Sheet, Caves of Chaos – all PDF’s). Quick skimming of the documents begins, full reading of them to come tonight.
1:00 PM: Forward playtest materials to players, scheduling our first game for the 28th!
Sat, Jan 21, 2012: Here It Is
Evening: All content from all playtest material is read. Some small details stick out as really interesting/different, but nothing too crazy. It feels familiar (as someone who has played all editions of the game), which is good.
On a large (12’ wide, 4’ tall) whiteboard in my home office I write out the things that my players will find very different between 4e (the edition most of them are the most familiar with) so we can reference it them easily while playing. While writing this on the board, I am reminded of the free pamphlet handed to me at my LGS when 3rd Edition was on its way. The pamphlet had some conversion information about bringing characters over from 2e to 3e. I had been excited about the new edition, and some information was online, but here was more information, in my hands. I physically had it, which made it official to me.
Mon, Jan 23, 2012: Playtester Guilt
11:50 AM: [Greg Bilsland] Email: Message includes some FAQ answers, including the following…
Can I discuss the fact that I am in the Friends & Family playtest?
The answer was (simply put) “no” (reasons redacted). I realize at this point it is entirely likely that a number of people I consider pivotal to the success of the game within the community may not be part of the process, which has me thinking about my place in it. As a guy who writes “occasionally” about D&D and otherwise (as I put it) “messes with graphics” (sometimes related to the game), one could argue that their place in this process would provide more value to the game than mine.
Wed, Jan 25, 2012: DDXP
DDXP Begins, public gets access to playtesting D&D Next.
Sat, Jan 28, 2012: My First D&D Next Game (DM)
7:00 PM: Players (having signed and sent in approved NDA’s) come over to make characters and play the first game.
I tweet about the game later that night (without referring to it as the playtest of course).
I brought up the Player information for my players on my iPad and a spare laptop, and one of the players showed up with the whole thing printed out. Class sections were essentially handed to those playing said classes and 2 people shared (4 classes, 5 players). I run an off-the-cuff dungeon crawl so we can explore combat (one of the things most of us want to see in action first). Encounters are quick and dangerous (compared to 4e, the edition we played the most of recently) – something we were hoping to see.
Overall, the group enjoyed the aspects they were able to explore. Concerns are expressed regarding some class options down the road, and casting as it relates to Clerics, but in all cases, everyone understood that it was an early look and we would know more later.
Sun, Jan 29, 2012: DDXP
Fri, Feb 1, 2012: Caves of Chaos Re-imagined (by me)
On this day I start and complete my version of a map for the “Caves of Chaos”. On Twitter, Jerry LeNeave (@DreadGazeebo) had triggered the inspiration with the tweet…
Anyone know where I can find a nice high-res copy / fan-recreated map of the Caves of Chaos (aka B2 KotB). The 20+ year old scan is meh #dnd
As the provided adventure for playtesting, including for conventions (as seen at DDXP), I thought it would not only allow me to vent some creative energy (about 9 hours straight), but it might be nice for others playtesting. Multiple versions of the map were made, but all told the map has been downloaded almost 10,000 times as of today, May 24th (crazy!).
Fri, Feb 10, 2012: Playtest 1.0 Feedback Request
11:37 AM: First request for playtest feedback comes through, 2.5 weeks since the sending of materials. The feedback questions were as follows…
What three aspects of this iteration of the playtest did you like least, and why?
What three aspects of this iteration of the playtest did you like best, and why?
What questions about the rules do you have?
I fail, and do not answer these in time.
Sat, Feb 11, 2012: My Second D&D Next Game (DM)
7:00 PM: Players arrive for the second game. Some use their previous characters, others make new ones.
This game (not a continuation of the first) involved them being hired to “remove” a “Witch” from the forest property of a wealthy baron. Borrowing inspiration from Baba Yaga, the hut had legs and took some skill to enter. Inside, there was much more room than outside as the rooms consisted of a number of pocket dimensions which allowed me to insert the players into many different scenarios, testing their skills.
I ran this game with almost no combat. The focus this time was non-combat roleplaying and various skill challenges (not “skill challenges” in the 4e sense, just lots of various checks, etc).
After the game, we discussed the question of whether or not this “feels like D&D” – something the developers had claimed they were shooting for. We agreed that it did. That said, the consensus from my players was that they wanted to see more options in the playtest. The simple choices available presented simple gameplay, which was fine, but as such it seemed (after two long games now) that there wouldn’t be much more to say without seeing more of the system/options.
Wed, Mar 7, 2012: Playtest Cycle 1.5
7:20 AM: [Greg Bilsland]: Email with Playtest Cycle 1.5 materials arrives (Player Packet, DM Packet, Monster Packet, Character Sheet, Caves of Chaos, New NDA – all PDF’s, plus an FAQ Doc file). The email generally states what new things we will be seeing…
New content in this version includes…
Races: Races have improved and greater traits, which they gain at levels 7 and 13.
Classes: Classes now go up to level 10.
Themes: Themes now have feats, which they start gaining at level 5.
Spells: We’ve added 3rd- through 5th-level spells.
Monster Packet Additions: We’ve added lots of new monsters to the Monster Packet.
Sat, April 21: My Third D&D Next Game (DM)
7:00 PM: Players once again gather at my place to play. Again, some play characters they played previously, others make new ones.
This game has a good mix of combat and non, picking up where the last game left off. The players had entered a portal in the last game that dumped them on the deck of a ship sailing through a sea of sand. Now surrounded, the players cleverly avoid combat and discover that the Witch they are looking for is a prisoner on the ship (among others). Before long, the ship is attacked and they face naval combat (yep, in the middle of the desert). Their ship emerges victorious as it comes to rest on a rock outcropping, where it was originally heading. A few encounters (combat and non) later, the game ended in a TPK, but not before much fun was had.
Discussion after the game was brief as it was late. General consensus was that the players were really excited to see more. Beyond that were minor complaints, wishes and concerns but they agreed that much of these items would likely be addressed later, and for some we would simply have to wait and see (and hope).
Wed, April 25: Monte Cook Out
12:30 PM: Monte Cook posts an article on his live journal indicating he no longer works for Wizards of the Coast, 107 days after joining them…
I tweet a summary of my feelings related to the news…
Bummed re: @montejcook’s departure, but I’m sure we’ll continue to see great things from him – my hopes remain high for #dndnext. #dnd
His departure concerned me a little, not so much that the game would fail without him, but that it could be a sign of more troubling things going on behind the scenes.
In fact, I’ve never worried about an edition being released that I didn’t like. After all, if it happened, I can play any of the previous editions at any time, all of which I enjoy for various reasons. My only fear (when it comes to D&D) is the idea of it being bottled up, shelved and forgotten – no longer officially supported (not that this was a concern when Monte left). We have an amazing community, and I have no doubt it would live on in that environment if it were ever shelved, but I also feel a lot of the energy and enthusiasum behind the game is driven by the fact that it is successful, it is supported and it lives, “officially”.
Thu, Apr 26, 2012: Enter Trevor Kidd
1:12 PM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email to a small group (14 or so) of community people (including myself) says he will be working with us from here out to go over some things that will be happening in the “immediate future”. This message also includes the planned scheduling of a “D&D Social Gathering” (#1) to occur Friday, April 27 via Google Hangout.
Fri, Apr 27, 2012: D&D Social Gathering #1
2:30 PM: [Trevor Kidd]: “D&D Social Gathering” (#1) occurs via Google Hangout. Due to 10 person limitation, some could not attend (including myself). Recap provided by Trevor same day (can’t share that). “D&D Social Gathering” (#2) tentatively scheduled to occur Friday, May 11.
Mon, Apr 30, 2012: Information Re: Public Playtest for May 24
10:26 AM: [Greg Bilsland]: Email reiterating that the public playtest was just announced. The message indicates that the upcoming public playtest (May 24) will “…give you the chance to see the results of your feedback”.
The message goes on to state that the next phase of the playtest (May 24) will seem more limited in scope than we were accustomed to as that is a necessary step in the process. We are also told at this time that ‘certain’ NDA restrictions will be lifted then.
(This lifting of certain restrictions eventually allow for posts such as this one, and others you will see going forward).
Wed, May 9, 2012: D&D Social Gathering #2 (Prep)
9:18 AM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email stating that “D&D Social Gathering” #2 to occur Friday, May 11. Topics of discussion will be announcements and articles coming next week. He will also provide answers to previous questions, then open the floor to Q&A.
Fri, May 11, 2012: D&D Social Gathering #2
2:30 PM: [Trevor Kidd]: “D&D Social Gathering” (#2) occurs via IRC (as opposed to Google Hangout). I attend this one, though I only ask a few questions (can’t share this content).
In a separate email, new NDA’s are sent. I don’t sign immediately, and it pays off 3 days later, on the 14th…
Mon, May 14, 2012: New NDA’s Coming
10:06 AM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email indicates “WotC Legal” has new NDA’s coming (updating those from the 11th), so if we didn’t get ours in yet (from the 11th), no biggie. I immediately sign and send it back… procrastination pays (sometimes).
Wed, May 16, 2012: D&D Live Chat, Submit Questions
8:16 AM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email reminder that there will be a (Public) “D&D Next” Live Chat today at 11:00 AM. Trevor gathers questions from us for the chat. I attend, the transcript from which is here.
(I just realized the website marks this as archived on May 14th, which wasn’t possible – oh well)
Thu, May 17 2012: Press NDA’s
9:19 AM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email with new NDA’s to sign. These are “essentially ‘Press NDA’s’” that will allow him to share documents (upcoming blog posts/articles, etc) and plans from their internal emails and meetings. I sign and send mine in immediately.
Tue, May 22 2012: Public Playtest Day -2
10:32 AM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email from Trevor includes the upcoming agreement everyone will have to… well, agree to, when getting playtest materials. The purpose is just to let us have an early look so we know what to expect on the 24th. This email goes into Q&A mode as a number of us have various questions – most of them are related to what we can/can not create and release via our websites/blogs/podcasts. This includes specific examples for which Trevor begins looking to get approvals on – seems most ideas are okay.
2:51 PM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email from indicates that beyond the upcoming (Public) playtest, there will be new “conversations” (wotc blog posts) coming. Attached are the first of these, including “Magic Properties” and “Variations on a Monstrous Theme”. We can write blog responses now, but need to hold off on posting them until the articles themselves are available online from WotC (obviously).
Tue, May 23 2012: Public Playtest Day -1
12:59 PM: [Trevor Kidd]: Email clarifies information given to us yesterday. We will be accessing the new playtest material the same day as everyone else. Every hour beginning at 5am (PST), notifications will be sent out letting people know (in waves) they can access the material. The last batch will go at 7am at which point everyone will be notified – this is an attempt to address potential server load issues.
Tue, May 24 2012: Public Playtest Day!
2:00 AM-ish: This is my last entry as I finish cleaning up this post. I hope you enjoyed this weems-eye-view of my participation in the play-test process from January to this point. We will continue to work with Trevor, Greg and company helping as best we can.