Maintaining the Legacy of Dungeons & Dragons

The following is a video transcript

Todd Kenreck: Given the tremendous impact of D&D, there is a little bit of pressure when it comes to maintaining the legacy of D&D and also inviting new audiences to experience our favorite hobby. I spoke with Kate Welch, Jeremy Crawford, and Mike Mearls about that responsibility.

Mike Mearls: The job I have is essentially answering the question of like, "Okay, you have this thing that's existed for more than 40 years, and how do you keep it going into the future?" The way I think of it is, it's easy to fall into sort of, I see it as a trap, of thinking of it as like I'm a museum curator. We have this thing, Dungeons & Dragons, and what we want to do is put it on display the way it was, and put it behind glass and preserve it, and never let it change because that's what it is, and that's what it should always be. I think that's really the opposite of what I want to do. When I think of that sort of caretaker responsibility, I think that a lot more like there's this playground called Dungeons & Dragons, that people have been coming to, to have fun with their friends for years. But the people coming are going to change. Every generation has its own likes, dislikes, what they're dealing with. That playground has to remain relevant. But it has to remain Dungeons & Dragons.

Kate Welch: In the last couple of years, D&D has made its presence so strong and so known in my life, and in the lives of so many people, the popularity of D&D has been tremendous in the last couple years. I feel like I am sort of an exemplary individual of that rise, not that I'm exceptional, but that I am a wonderful example of what D&D has brought into its fold in recent years. Anybody who's a D&D fan can tell you stories about how positively it's impacted them, and the kinds of things that they have changed in their lives as a result of Dungeons & Dragons. I felt that very strongly too. It happens to have the right combinations of skills and luck to be able to make it my job.

Jeremy Crawford: D&D is infinitely expandable because of that core nature that it's a storytelling platform, anything within it's high fantasy framework is really possible. For us, often the question isn't how can we expand, but in which ways are we not going to expand. Because the danger could be that we expand so far with the design of the game, layering on rules, giving you a bajillion new options, et cetera, that we could get to the point where everyone loses sight of what's that core experience. Why did we come to D&D in the first place? Why do we keep coming back to D&D? Why does it forge so many friendships when people gather around the D&D table? For us, often the question is, "All right, we have these 20 directions we could go in, we need to pick just a couple of them, which ones?"

Mike Mearls: It's all about what are the fundamental things that speak to us as humans that this game fulfills? That cross boundaries of generations, not just generations, but gender, and culture, and all that stuff.

Kate Welch: You always want to be able to retain old players and make sure that they have the content that makes them interested in staying while also recruiting new players, attracting new players. There's this bouncing act that exists. But unlike in video games, the swath between old players and new players is pretty much as wide as you can imagine it. People of all ages, and all races, and all backgrounds are playing Dungeons & Dragons now. You have such a huge crowd of people that you want to try to appeal to. In addition, you want to try to get the new people who've never tried it themselves before. 

Todd Kenreck: No, pressure.

Kate Welch: No, there's a considerable amount of pressure, but it's also such an honor to be able to be one of the people that's trusted with the stewardship of this. And it really is a stewardship. It's not trying to ... I'm not coming in to try to make new Dungeons & Dragons, I'm not coming in to try to wreck what's already good, it's very much you are entrusted a responsibility to keep the game as good as it has been, while also trying to make it better. It's a lot, but it's wonderful.

Mike Mearls: People like D&D because we know they like feel empowered. How can you take that concept of making something that's more empowering, gives you more forward momentum? To make Mordenkainen not only a character that you might interact with, but think you might follow his footsteps. He's got an agenda that he's going to go out and enact that you could react to. It isn't enough for you to just sit back and passively hope things get balanced, it's you have a specific threat that you think is going to come to pass if the balance is put out of whack. You are now going to go out because you believe this great tragedy that might be fall of the cosmos, if the balance is violated. You're going to go out and with extreme prejudice take out anything that might threaten the balance. Because literally the cosmos is at stake.

Hopefully, that's something all people can relate and can think of in terms of fantasy, or the stakes in the world with politics being so divisive, and even though the Cold War is over, and all that stuff, it still feels like, "Oh, we're as just on the brink of catastrophe." Playing into that, because that's what this generation has grown up with, that's what they've seen. Giving them threats and motivations that make sense to the character, always thinking of the character, why they do things, and building something that's internally consistent, you know, the mind flayers. It used to be, especially in the early as a fantasy, there's a real sense of mystery, and I think that people still want a sense of wonder, but I don't think they necessarily want it from a sense of mystery.

I think they want it from a sense now, especially because of video games, and movies can now show us these worlds, I think they seek it more in a sense of scope and majesty, rather than no one really knows how this works, I think that's sort of played out. I think that's another area where you've seen this kind of change from mind flayers going from being just mysterious to now having this past that cast them as these horrible villains, but who in their minds would tell you, "No, we're the victims, we were the ones who were defeated by our slaves. Oh, poor us." Right? You know that's wrong, but it's how they see it, right? And building out these things that are more painted in grays rather than just absolutes, that are more about what's ... the sense of wonder the mind flayer evokes, isn't the sense of you don't know what it is, and who can know, but the sense that they are thousands of years old, they are a relic from a time we can't even comprehend within D&D.

They have these plans that are horrid, but are vast in scope and using that to build more inspire that sense of wonder, inspire creativity. More of that. You know enough, to then spark what you will now take as your next step, the adventure that you're going to feature a mind flayer is the main villain, or whatnot.

Todd Kenreck: Thank you Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, and Kate Welch for talking about the stewardship of D&D, I'm Todd Kenreck, your host, thank you for watching.

 

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