A painted Beholder mini at DDXP 2008. Image by Flickr user Benimoto, used under Creative Commons License.
If you've been living under a rock, or simply don't read up on RPG-related news, you may not have heard about the upcoming changes to Dungeons & Dragons. Big changes. Currently in playtesting, the RPG's fifth iteration (codenamed D&D Next) is aiming to be the definitive version of Dungeons & Dragons, tying together the signature aspects of all prior D&D editions in a modular system.
With such a focus on leveraging the past to make a great new product, we felt it would be a great time to get inside the heads of the Dungeons & Dragons team to see just what sort of history they've had with the game. No two players are likely to have the same experience with a property as expansive as D&D, but looking at what inspires today's current crop of designers can give plenty of clues for the future.
Over the next five weeks, we'll be chatting with Mike Mearls, Rodney Thompson, Bruce Cordell, James Wyatt, and Chris Perkins. Today, we'll kick things off easy and ask each of the D&D staff members to explain their connection to the one D&D setting they consider their favorite.
Mike Mearls: Greyhawk is my favorite D&D setting, mainly because it's the first one that really grabbedmy interest. I started with basic D&D in the early 1980s, and my first campaigns took place in what would become Mystara. However, when I discovered the City of Greyhawk boxed set I fell in love with the setting. While a lot of Greyhawk fans were disappointed that the set didn't serve up Gary Gygax's original vision for the city, I found it to be a highly gameable and an interesting place to run campaigns.
I loved the feeling of the immediate, global threats of the demigod Luz to the north and the diabolic Great Kingdom to the east. I liked the feeling of a splintered collection of good kingdoms that struggled to form a consistent alliance against evil. In many ways, Greyhawk connected with my idea of a D&D setting where powerful adventurers were quite likely cutthroat mercenaries out to make a fortune, rather than heroes serving the greater good. It seemed like the sort of setting where Conan the Barbarian or Cugel the Clever would both equally feel at home.
Bruce Cordell: I like big wizard hats and I cannot lie, which means Forgotten Realms has been my favorite D&D setting. It's a classic high-fantasy world where anything is possible. In the great urban metropolis of Waterdeep, criminals and spies skulk, while the wider lands beyond are littered with the ruins and barrows of more ancient and failed civilizations, ripe for adventure. Plus, the Realms served as the setting for all 8 of my novels. Without the Realms, there would be no Sword of the Gods, my favorite forgetful assassin.
James Wyatt: For years, I had no use for published settings. I used everything I learned in middle-school social studies classes to create a ridiculously detailed world of my own, and in my teenage arrogance I doubted that any published settings could teach me anything I didn't already know.
The setting that changed my mind was Ravenloft. I don't even remember now what convinced me to take a look at it, but it was such a different take on D&D that it opened my mind to the possibilities of what a setting could do to change the core assumptions of the game. Later on, I got really into the Victorian-era variant of Ravenloft, Masque of the Red Death.
My first published game-design work was for Masque of the Red Death, so I guess I have to say that Ravenloft launched my career. Ironically, I was never so much a fan of the setting as I was of the flavor of horror and the game rules that Ravenloft used to reinforce that flavor.
Chris Perkins: Planescape! It's a challenging setting that combines politics, religion, philosophy, and planar cant. Throw in demons, devils, and a donut-shaped city, and you really have something wildly inventive to play with.
Rodney Thompson: My favorite D&D setting of all time is the Al-Qadim campaign setting, released in 2nd Edition. Part of the reason for this is that my very first real D&D campaign was an Al-Qadim campaign, and part of the reason is because I love fantasy with an Arabic/ancient Egyptian twist.
The setting was so rich with texture and callbacks to classic myth (1,001 Arabian Nights, of course, was a huge influence on the setting) that I had no difficulty immediately getting into the story of the setting. There's just something awesome about fleeing from the fabled Jade Palace of the Necromancer on a magic carpet in the hopes of delivering an enchanted scimitar to the Queen of Pirates while being chased by an angry djinn that screams adventure to me.
Check back in next week, where we'll ask our five interviewees about some of their most memorable play experiences