D&D 4th Edition: A Behind the Scenes Look at D&D Insider

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

The gaming industry has now come full circle. If a gamer could look
back to the very beginnings of video gaming, they would find that many
of the very basic foundations of our gaming experience began with
Dungeons and Dragons. Now, as we enter into the summer of 2008, the
game developers at Wizards of the Coast are preparing to unleash a
newly refurbished D&D experience upon the world and this latest
edition will include a digital experience unlike anything
we’ve seen in the past.

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Wizards of the
Coast studios and take a look at the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons 4th
Edition rule set and the spearhead for WotC’s digital
initiative: Dungeons and Dragons Interactive. To learn more about the
soon-to-be-released rulebooks and D&DI, I sat down with Chris
Perkins (Story Design Manager) and Chris Youngs (Editor-in-Chief) who
both work closely with the D&DI project.

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The 4th Edition of
D&D will be in the hands of fans very soon.

After the usual pleasantries and discussions about my background with
Dungeons and Dragons (which is relatively extensive), we cut right to
the chase. Rather than giving the usual introduction for reporters
unfamiliar with D&D, Perkins immediately opened up and
explained why Wizards of the Coast opted to create an entirely new
experience with the 4th Edition of D&D.

“4th Edition came about because we decided to simplify parts
of the game that needed simplification, and take all the complexity
that people like and put that in the right places,” Perkins
said. “We also wanted to make it an easier game to learn and
an easier game to DM. Frankly DMs are finding less and less time to
themselves to prepare the games. Everything we did really stemmed from
those base desires.”

“D&D 4th Edition is really the marriage between the
traditional tabletop game with this new digital element,”
Perkins continued. “The idea is that we want people to play
D&D either 100% analog, 100% digital, or anything in-between.
The analog part of the game is rolling out in a way that’s
familiar to a lot of players, starting with the three core rulebooks.
We’ll then expand it with future supplements that will add
new toys to the toy box.”

At this point I really wanted to learn what D&DI had in store
for the MMO gamer. What would MMO gamers see when they first logged
into D&DI? Why should they be interested in this latest edition
of D&D? Why build such a provocative game to compete with the
MMO space?

“We’re at a place in our industry where Wizards
really commands the tabletop roleplaying game arena. We don’t
have any competitors," Perkins stated. "Our competitors are the people who are competing
for people’s entertainment time. Anything that takes up
entertainment time – World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Xbox
Live – all of those products are our competition. Some
individual’s play MMOs, but they’d just as soon be
playing D&D if they could find a way to do it.”

While some current players of D&D are incredibly excited about
the changes coming to the D&D landscape, others have been less
than thrilled about the idea of D&D trying to span that digital
medium and directly compete with video games. In fact,
there’s even been some confusion that D&D may be
totally reworking its rules to be more “video game
friendly” and has adopted terminology that may be familiar to
gamers – particularly the “talent tree”
term that is used extensively in the latest edition of the Star Wars
RPG. I asked Perkins about this confusion and whether he could clear
the air concerning the new direction of D&D.

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This was how
D&D used to be played before D&D Insider.

“Thankfully, we don’t have talent trees in 4th
Edition,” Perkins said, laughing. “It is in the
recently re-released Star Wars game, and I think people assume that the
4th Edition rules will have talent trees because of Star Wars. I can
dispel that false issue. The Star Wars game is really based more off of
the D20 Modern game.”

“However, the greater point that you’re making
– this sort of borrowing of terminology on occasion
– certainly occurs at Wizards, but it also works in
reverse,” Perkins continued. “I have always
believed, and the people that I know in the gaming industry have always
believed, that we’re all in this industry together and
communicating with a customer base that have a particular sort of
vocabulary. We are comfortable looking at the games – the
MMOs that we play – and asking ourselves what
they’ve done right and what we can take that will make our
games better.”

“They’re doing the exact same thing,”
Perkins concluded. “World of Warcraft looks at D&D
and decides what they like and don’t like and what they want
to take out of the experience. It’s a sort of back and forth
in the industry helps us in the long run. It helps solidify the

With Perkins’ answer out on the table, I had to wonder just
what sort of changes Wizards was making to cause such a startling
amount of confusion. What was Wizards doing to make the easier for
players to dive into, and what should old and new players expect from
the new edition?

“While we don’t have talent trees in
D&D,” Perkins answered, “we are making a
stronger effort to point to character roles and calling them things
like ‘Defender’ and ‘Striker’
and “Controller.” They’re definitely more
familiar with the audience we’re looking at.”

“We don’t explicitly use words like “DPS”
or “Tank,” but everyone understands that that is
what we’re doing,” Perkins continued. “ The reason is obvious. There’s a
significant part of the community that has already incorporated that
knowledge into their subconscious when it comes to games, so why not
talk to them on that level?”

“That’s our rationale,” Chris stated.
“No talent trees in D&D. We do have feats. We do have
powers that are called different things by different classes
– wizards call them spells, fighters call them exploits.
Maybe someone will steal that for their next game.”

The 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons is extremely exciting for a
generation of fans that were waiting for the latest iteration of
D&D, but this latest go-round with the folks at Wizards of the
Coast also offers video game players a whole new look into the world of
D&D, one that can only be seen from the inside of the digital
realm. Digital gaming will be a whole new experience for D&D,
and will be spearheaded by Wizards “Dungeons and Dragons
Insider” content.

“D&D Insider is going to be a number of software and
web applications, along with editorial that is delivered through the
online magazines: Dungeon and Dragon,” Youngs noted.
“There are really two software applications that really
epitomize what the D&D Insider applications are all about. The
first is the character visualizer, which allows you to take the
character inside your head and realize it in a fully 3D environment. We
want you to – for the first time – really explore
the options that have never been visually available before.”

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Do you think
D&D players will enjoy the digital format?

According to Youngs, the character visualizer offers a no holds barred
version of character creation. Just like in normal D&D
character creation, you pick your race and class, adjust height and
weight, customize your portrait, and you can also change your pose to
however you want your character to look. With this amount of detail
available to players, Wizards didn’t want to skimp on the
finer points of generating a character, even allowing players to adjust
skin and hair color with no restrictions at all. The software has no
rules, restrictions, or anything like that. It allows you to do
whatever you want to your character.

As I watched, Youngs produced a male human fighter for me to observe,
yet it was obvious that Youngs could put any sort of items he wanted on
the character. “You can have a wizard in full
plate,” Youngs said. “Or if you want to have your
fighter wielding a wand, you can do it. Want to have blue skin? You can
do it.”

While many of us classic D&D players are used to having these
sort of options available, what would the introductory player choose to
do with the appearance of his character? Thankfully, Wizards has
insured that even the newest players are able to find the
“appropriate” color palette for their race or
class. “We have a pre-generated color palette based on your
race, but that’s entirely up to you,” Youngs said.

Of course, it wouldn’t be D&D without items and
equipment having the appropriate “glow” effects.
“You can make anything glow,” Youngs continued.
“All of your items; even your skin or hair can be made to
glow. Item color can be adjusted as well as the positioning of the
weapons. You can have them on your hips, back, forearms, along with
your hands.”

Along with the glow effects, you can also choose to have a variety of
different versions of your character saved onto your computer. From
what Youngs described, you could have your avatar decked out in his
full adventuring gear for the dungeon crawling portion of the game, but
then switch him out for the well-dressed hero for the in town

The entire concept of character creation – in the past
– has been almost entirely focused on the mechanics of your
character with the visualization being an after thought or something
more oriented towards roleplaying specific games. Now with the
character visualizer, every type of player can now construct their own
look and feel for their character.

“It’s really a virtual miniature
creator,” Youngs said. “You create a miniature then
you load it into the virtual D&D table. For those players that
aren’t using the D&D table, you can load it onto your
digital character sheet and it automatically fills in your character
portrait box, which is a big step up from the printed pictures or
little stick figures that you had to previously tape or draw in that

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The future for
D&D seems bright.

Rather than simply leaving players to fend for themselves for good
character art, Wizards has incorporated the essence of character into
the entire visualizer. Players can print out their sheets along with
using their D&D characters as wallpapers for their gaming
desktop. Players can choose from a variety of different backgrounds to
drop their characters onto.

And Wizards won’t simply give players the visualizer then let
them fend for themselves. Over time, they’ll be continually
adding more items and equipment to the visualizer. Everything can
certainly be enhanced, just like any online game, and the Wizards
creators are more than aware of those possibilities.

With that, this will end Part One of my adventures with Dungeons and
Dragons 4th Edition and the D&D Insider. If you're interested in learning more about D&D Insider and the virtual gaming table, check out Part Two of this exclusive preview!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Dungeons & Dragons Insider Game Page.

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