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Rule-of-Three: 10/17/2011
Rich Baker

You've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D's Rich Baker to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about… with some caveats.

There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.

1 For Dragon and Dungeon submissions, do you reach out to freelancers and request that they cover certain topics, or do submissions pretty much determine what's going to be covered?

I walked 10 feet over to Greg Bilsland’s cube and chatted with him to make sure I had this right. Greg is the producer who plays traffic cop for DDI articles, and therefore knows more about this than anybody. The quick answer is, both. We solicit specific articles that we want to see and also accept submissions from authors. When we’re presenting a DDI month with a strong theme, such as this month’s Kara-Tur content, we can’t rely on a sufficient number of high-quality Oriental Adventures-themed pieces showing up in the inbox. In a case like that, we contact some of our proven contributors and ask them to take a swing at an article that would fit. However, a couple of times a year, we offer our stable of regular freelancers opportunities to submit pitches for any article they want to write. We sort through those pitches, pick the ones we like the best, and turn the freelancers loose. Chris Perkins and Greg Bilsland also comb the submissions box for gems that tie in well with our planned themes and for ideas that are just really great.

If you’re interested in breaking in as a Dragon or Dungeon author, please check our posted submission guidelines and this month's Dragon editorial. We accept proposals from new authors a couple of times each year during the listed proposal windows.

2 With so many different players, play styles, and audiences, how do you determine which ones you're going to cater to when laying out the core books for an RPG like D&D 4E?

Several years ago, we put together a task force to examine our player psychographics (a fancy term for likes and interests), looking at theory and discussion from around the industry and comparing it to our own experiences. Out of this we built our own “house theory,” which we’ve presented a couple of times in places such as the Dungeon Master’s Guide or Dungeon Master for Dummies. Basically, we divide rollplayers into Attila, Rommel, and Caesar, and we divide roleplayers into Shakespeare, Magellan, and Knuckles. (We have better terms, but that’s the way I remember ‘em.) You can check out the relevant sections of our rulebooks for the whole discussion.

Different types of products naturally appeal to different types of players. For example, Magellan loves world sourcebooks that build the depth and story of a setting, but Caesar’s not terribly interested unless a book presents new mechanical bits to make his character stronger. A big, crunchy book like Martial Power has a strong appeal to Caesar and Rommel, but Magellan is mostly interested in what the flavor bits of the paragon paths or prestige classes tell him about the world of D&D, and Shakespeare uses the book only as a courtesy to the other players who want him to keep up in combat. Those are exaggerations, of course; all players, including the ones here in the office, have elements of several psychographics in them, and it’s a rare D&D player who doesn’t enjoy some mix of story and combat.

When we’re on the ball, we make a conscious effort to include material in an adventure, sourcebook, or rulebook that appeals to a variety of players. In a book oriented toward creating new options for the fighter class (for example), we’ll include discussions that provide Shakespeare with some ideas about how to bolt a great story and some distinctive personality onto his fighter. We’ll describe fighter academies and prestigious orders that Magellan can groove on. And of course we’ll present plenty of mechanical options that Rommel will find interesting and Caesar will try to break. We don’t deliberately design a whole lot of material for Attila and Knuckles, because they sort of find their own fun. Similarly, we like adventures that provide at least occasional opportunities for talking to NPCs and monsters or provide an engaging story about the world so that Shakespeare and Magellan enjoy them just as much as the rollplayers do.

3 Any tips from the DMs in the office for creating a good mix of combat encounters, social interactions, and other storytelling elements while keeping up the pace of the action?

(I forwarded this question to our own DM Extraordinaire, Chris Perkins. Players get into knife fights for a chance to join one of his games. Anyway, here’s Chris.) My home games tend to be combat-driven, but I also have a lot of social situations and story development happening. I try not to think of them as separate elements—I try to blend them as much as possible, so that players who prefer one over another aren’t bored. When the heroes are fighting something, there’s almost always some kind of social interplay happening at the same time. It might be between the heroes and monsters or between the heroes and an accompanying NPC, but the characters are always talking, usually to gain some insight or advantage but sometimes to share something cool about their character’s philosophy or beliefs. As far as pacing goes, I “cut” my game sessions the way a film editor cuts scenes. If I feel like a scene is getting bogged down, I quickly jump ahead to the next scene, propelling the game and the action forward. Players new to my game might be jarred by these sudden transitions, but they catch on.

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