After Greg and Shelly welcome you to the show, D&D Game Designer Dan Dillon joins us for another edition of Meet Your Monsters. This week, we discuss Helmed Horrors. Our special interview this week is with award...
Welcome to the first of many design blogs, direct from your friends at the Dungeons & Dragons Studio!
2020 was an isolating year. It demanded our coworkers across every department twist their processes and communication to suit the pandemic. Our efforts shifted to putting all our mental focus on producing some of the greatest content we’ve ever released (with more on the way). We’re proud of the work you’re seeing from us, and now that we’ve gotten a hang of this whole remote work thing, we have a little more room to just talk.
So let’s talk!
The intent of this space is to give a visible and central voice to the people driving the development of the D&D Game. You can expect official, high-level, and somewhat frequent posts to live here. While we’re still deciding on an exact cadence, the team is excited to talk more frequently and openly about all the incredible projects we’ve got in the works. Now, we won’t spoil too much—after all, a little surprise is good at every table! We want to build a space where we can best explain our philosophies and design approach, direct others when providing clarifications, and just share more about how our stuff gets made.
This blog is a team effort. While this installment is written by Ray Winninger, you’ll hear from other members of the Studio in the months ahead. As I close on my first full year here, I’m honored to be a part of it—and excited to help the team share their incredible efforts while lifting the curtain just a smidge more for our community worldwide.
Stay tuned. There’s (a Cauldron of) plenty in store!
Community Lead, Dungeons & Dragons
WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO
Author: Ray Winninger
Welcome to our new Studio Blog! We created this space to give you a glimpse behind the scenes at the D&D Studio and share our thinking about the future of Dungeons & Dragons. We’ll probably post an update every six weeks or so, but please don’t hold us to a firm schedule.
I thought I’d inaugurate the blog by explaining just who we are and what we do.
I’ll start with who I am and what I do. My name is Ray Winninger, and I am the Executive Producer of Dungeons & Dragons for Wizards of the Coast. I’ve been in this role going on two years now, but I’m no stranger to D&D. My first published Dungeons & Dragons adventure appeared in module I13 Adventure Pack I, back in (gulp) 1987. Among D&D fans, I’m probably best known for the series of "Dungeoncraft" articles I wrote for Dragon magazine in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As Executive Producer, I’m the head of our D&D Studio. That means the designers, artists, and producers who create our Dungeons & Dragons RPG products, along with the folks who are responsible for the Dungeons & Dragons business, report to me. Basically, I act as the interface between the studio and our executives, guide the studio through the product planning process, and look after the team’s well-being. At the end of the day, I’m responsible for the health of the D&D business. Occasionally, I get to contribute D&D design of my own.
What does the D&D Studio do?
The studio is responsible for traditional RPG products—the various boxed sets, books, dice sets, and accessories we release each year. Other teams inside Wizards of the Coast manage D&D video games, consumer products (do you have your D&D socks yet?), and entertainment offerings like novels, comics, and movies. Since many of us in the studio are subject matter experts on D&D and its lore, we often assist those other teams, but they’re responsible for their own products and they chart their own strategies. Similarly, our studio collaborates with sales, marketing, public relations, and community management teams, but those are also separate organizations. This means, for instance, that Chris Perkins, Jeremy Crawford, and our other designers can’t answer your questions about the forthcoming Dark Alliance video game, tell you anything about D&D movies or television, or give you a sneak peek at what’s coming soon to the D&D Twitch channel.
Who is part of the D&D Studio?
The D&D Studio itself is organized into four departments: Game Design, Art, Production, and Product Management, each led by a department head. Game Design is responsible for the developing game mechanics and stories. Art establishes the “look and feel” of Dungeons & Dragons by creating visual concepts, directing our freelance illustrators, and creating innovative graphic designs. The Production department manages our project schedules, interfaces with manufacturing experts, and generally handles administrative matters for the studio. The Product Management department interfaces with sales, marketing, and market research. They also own our long-term product roadmap and look after the D&D business.
You’ll find a full roster of D&D Studio members in the credits of our most recent releases.
Who decides what Dungeons & Dragons products to produce?
In a way, we all do. Once per quarter, studio leadership reviews product pitches submitted by Wizards employees. If we decide a pitch has merit, members of the studio are assigned time to flesh it out. If we still like what we see, the project lands a slot on our schedule and is assigned a Product Lead. The Product Lead owns the product’s vision and ensures the product meets its schedule. Typically, the Product Lead designs a hefty chunk of the final work, decides who designs the other parts, and collaborates with our art directors to establish the product’s look and feel. At present, there are five members of the studio who act as Product Leads—Jeremy Crawford, Amanda Hamon, Chris Perkins, Wes Schneider, and James Wyatt—and we’re training up others.
By design, we develop almost twice as many products as we publish. Developing more projects than needed allows us to pick and choose based on how those projects progress; it’s a strategy we use to boost the odds of bringing only the very best concepts to market.
What does 2021 have in store for Dungeons & Dragons?
Here is how this year’s products break down:
Candlekeep Mysteries was conceptualized and led by Chris Perkins, an outgrowth of his work on Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. While Chris was developing a chapter of Avernus that sends the adventurers to Candlekeep, he realized the legendary library-fortress might present an excellent organizing theme for an anthology of adventures.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft was the brainchild of horror afficionado Wes Schneider. This terrifying entry is set to arrive May 18, 2021.
Later in the year, Chris will return with our big summer adventure, James Wyatt will deliver a substantially improved version of a concept that I initiated myself, and Amanda Hamon will close us out with a project that was jointly conceived by herself and several other studio members. As usual, Jeremy Crawford is working with all of our leads, overseeing mechanical content and rules development.
In addition to these five major products, look for a couple of additional surprises we’ll unveil in the months ahead.
How long does it take to create a D&D product?
It takes a minimum of 12-14 months (and sometimes even longer) for a product to make the journey from an idea voiced at a pitch meeting all the way to a printed product on the shelf at your local game store. Candlekeep Mysteries went into full production in January 2020 and released fourteen months later in March 2021. Van Richten’s Guide went into full production in March 2020 and releases in May 2021.
How much input does Hasbro have into the D&D product lineup?
None. Wizards of the Coast is fully autonomous. We work with Hasbro on various administrative matters, and Hasbro greenlights any particularly large investments we make (like acquiring another company or developing a AAA video game), but we otherwise own our own product roadmaps and make all the relevant development decisions. We do occasionally collaborate with Hasbro on special projects like the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Begins or the Drizzt and Guenhwyvar action figures.
I have feedback or questions about a D&D product. How can I contact the D&D Studio?
Our community management team monitors Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, a few areas of Reddit, and the Official D&D Discord. The conversations happening on these platforms are frequently summarized and forwarded to the studio team. If you’ve participated in a such a conversation, thank you! The insights we glean from the ongoing discourse are invaluable.
If you want to ask us a direct question, just DM any of our official accounts.
Perhaps the easiest and most direct way to offer feedback on future products is to participate in the surveys that accompany our regular Unearthed Arcana releases, or our broader, bi-yearly player surveys. These surveys play a critical role in shaping the future of D&D’s ruleset and product plans.
I want to submit a pitch for a D&D product. Whom do I contact?
We don’t accept product pitches from outside Wizards of the Coast. You can read more about our policy here. If you submit what appears to be a product pitch through any of our communications channels, I’m afraid it won’t reach the studio.
I’m a game designer. Can I freelance on D&D products?
Generally, the best way to get our attention is to freelance for smaller RPG publishers or—even better—to create quality content for the Dungeon Master’s Guild. If you’re budding creator, here are a few resources to help you get started:
Anything else we should know?
Yes. You should know how much we appreciate your passion and interest. Those of us working in the studio are fans ourselves and it’s more than gratifying to share our love for this great game with such an engaged and creative community. Enjoy Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft this May, and look forward to future blog posts laying out our plans for Dungeons & Dragons in the weeks and months ahead.