Rolling With Kierin Chase: Talking the Past, Present and Future of Dungeons & Dragons

Warp Zoned editors Nicole Kline and Mike Gutierrez recently got a chance to sit down with Kierin Chase, Brand Manager for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast. As former dice rollers themselves, they were eager to see what 4th Edition has to offer and how it has progressed in the two years since its launch. Kierin was more than happy to detail all of the new D&D supplements, product lines, video games, and everything overall that makes now a better time than ever to jump into “The World’s Greatest Role Playing Game.” Nicole even got to ask the million-dollar question: will we see a resurrection of Spelljammer?

Nicole Kline, Senior Editor: We’ve actually talked about getting back into D&D, we have friends who play it, but I’m always like “oh, it’s so complicated!”

Kierin Chase, Dungeons & Dragons Brand Manager: It’s always a great time to get back into Dungeons & Dragons. But it’s really true now more than ever and there’s a couple of reasons. Most importantly, we just came out with the new Essentials line of products at the end of last year. And what we did is we looked at our portfolio of products, and we know we have a bookshelf of books, and all hardcovers, and you don’t know where to start. So what we decided to do was really streamline what we had and make sure that it was easy for brand new people to come in, or even people looking to get in on 4th Edition for the first time ever to come (back) in.

So that’s what we did, and you’ll notice with the essentials line that they all have the same kind of look, matte white look. And we broke down the products into really clear what they’re doing and what the purpose is. We have a book called The Rules Compendium and we have books for players and books for DMs, but it starts with the flagship product: The Red Box Starter Set. And it’s the Larry Elmore art, old logo, we went back to the original logo that we had. We brought this back, because we wanted to make sure that people realized it’s the same kind of gameplay experience people remember for the 36 years that Dungeons & Dragons has been around, it’s just updated for 4th Edition. This brings back the idea of the “choose your own adventure” character builder. It’s single player, you go through it, at the end you have your own character ready to go and ready to play. And from there, you can go out to the more hardcore players options books.

So that’s a great way to get into Dungeons & Dragons right now, but if you’re looking for something even easier to get into, you can go and pick up one of our board games. We have Wrath of Ashardalon that just released a couple months ago back in January and we have another one called Castle Ravenloft. What’s great about these is they’re 1-player to 5-player, it’s a standard board game just like you’d see from anybody in the industry. But at the end of the experience, you can actually realize that you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve just played it in a board game form.

WZ – Nicole: I can’t see these books without touching them and usually buying all of them, it’s bringing back a lot of memories.

Chase: So if you notice (with the board games), it’s the same kind of experience, with the grid and tiles, except the board game has minis instead of tokens. It’s still dice, character sheets, power cards. It’s Dungeons & Dragons, just in a family-friendly, easy-to-understand-and-comprehend form.

The third way to get into Dungeons & Dragons is our weekly Encounters program that we have in hobby stores across the world. We have hundreds of locations in your local hobby stores in North America alone, and there’s a couple of things that you do when you go there. Let’s say you’re a brand new player and you have no idea how to play Dungeons & Dragons, never even touched a d20. You can go in, they’ll give you a brand new character, pre-generated, ready to go, and they’ll teach you the rules and how to play. If you’re someone who’s a little more experienced, you’re comfortable running your own character, you can bring that character as well.

What’s cool about the Encounters program is that it’s broken up into seasons. We do four seasons a year, currently we’re in “March of the Phantom Brigade,” and with these seasons, the adventure are episodic. What that means is, you don’t necessarily need to start at the first one and then play all the way through to get the whole story. It’s more the encounter and monster of the week, being able to go through a little bit of getting in, getting some loot, killing some monsters, rolling some dice, and having some fun, and then the story progresses a little bit. But it’s ok if you jump in and out, it’s ok if you miss some weeks. At the end, you’ll have a big culmination to the storyline, then we end the season and we go onto the next season.

Mike Gutierrez, News Editor: That’s great, I remember hearing about it last year. How successful has it been and what kind of feedback have you guys gotten about the Encounters program?

Chase: It’s a massive success for us, we’re really thrilled, not only to be able to give some great support to retail stores, but also the community who’s been really, really supportive. We’re making sure that we’re giving rewards to DMs through the DM’s Rewards program, as well as the player. So participating in it is its own reward, but additionally, you also get some cool prizes.

WZ – Nicole: I feel like with Penny Arcade recording their D&D podcast, I feel like that has spiked the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.

Chase: It has definitely brought us more to the forefront, especially in the digital age, realizing that a lot of the game design and gameplay that they’re very familiar with actually comes from its root in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m actually constantly amazed at how many people that work in the game industry have either gotten their start or have an affinity with Dungeons & Dragons. I mentioned Chris Benson, one of the creative directors form Blizzard. During his keynote speech at BlizzCon last year, he mentioned Dungeons & Dragons about five times, more than anything else, as a key influence for what he is. It shows that the creativity, the open world, the imagination, being able to be a game designer on your own using the core rules of Dungeons & Dragons, is something that really appeals to people in the industry. And I think Penny Arcade and Mike, “Gabe” specifically, the year of being a DM shows how you can really just get into it and be creative in a way that you never really expected.

WZ – Nicole: I played 2nd Edition, I’ve never played 3.5, but one of my friends got the books for 3.5 and I just remember reading them and being like, “I don’t think I could adapt to all of these massive changes!!!” But some people told me 4 has kind of gone back to 2 in a lot of ways.

Chase: So 4 streamlined the rule set a little bit. 3rd Edition is a great edition, we’re really proud of it. It suffered toward the end of getting long in the tooth. After the 8 years that it had been out, there was a lot that had been added to it, it was time to streamline it a little bit and make it a little easier to jump in.

One of the biggest advantages about 4th Edition is we allow DM’s a quicker prep time. So instead of taking hours and hours in preparation of monsters and making their adventures, as quick as 15 minutes (they’ll) be able to go in. Same with character creation for new players, just really streamlining it, not removing the complexity of the game, certainly not removing the option to role play, it’s making sure it’s a little easier to jump in and play right away.

WZ – Nicole: My stepdad, I regretted buying him a 100 sided die, because if we were squabbling, he would roll his eyes and you’d hear him rolling the d100 for random encounters. He was hardcore about it, our weight was all accounted for, that was a big pain until I got a bag of holding.

WZ – Mike: And now she actually has one in real life…

Chase: What happens if you put a bag of holding in a bag of holding?

WZ – Nicole: It causes a rift in the space-time continuum.

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