Dungeons & Dragons may never be the same.
With the new edition of the role-playing game that founded them all — and is the wellspring for the billions of dollars such games have made over the past 30 years, be they on tabletops, PCs, consoles, online, or mobile — comes a new emphasis on its most popular monster, dragons. The wyrms haven’t been this prominent since Dragonlance, a world setting dealing with gods and dragons that also had a line of best-selling novels, since the 1980s.
And dragons are invading Neverwinter, D&D‘s main massively multiplayer online RPG.
In the second of a two-part interview, Neverwinter lead producer Rob Overmeyer and D&D brand manger Nathan Stewart tell us about designing games, both for paper and for monitors, in the Forgotten Realms, the most popular world in D&D; about the nefarious Cult of the Dragon, how this shadowy group has gone from animating dead dragons to bringing the terror of Tiamat to the world; how the Cult changes the balance between good and evil in Neverwinter; and their favorite dragons.
GamesBeat: What influence, if any, has Neverwinter the MMO had on the new Realms?
Nathan Stewart: The biggest thing that it’s done is allow us to tell these bigger, connected stories that are going to play out to both the digital and physical consumers together. In the old days, while you might have had an awesome adventure for people who are rolling dice with a Dungeon Master, it forces us to ask questions like, “Is this a great experience for all D&D players? Does this work for the Neverwinter crowd as well?”
It’s helped shape our storytelling in a way that can be more platform-agnostic, more fun for all audiences. You don’t have to know everything about all the different magic items and lore and everything. A big part of Neverwinter is that you don’t have to know everything about Lord Neverember to have fun, but if you want to dive deep in there, you can.
The influence, then, number one, is having a great partner who keeps us committed to fleshing out that story and showing all the great cultures on the Sword Coast. Number two, it’s helped shape our storytelling by combining together to get the best creative minds on both teams and come up with much bigger, more grandiose stories that work for multiple products. It’s the first time we’ve really embraced this. You can have D&D players sit down and talk about the Cult of the Dragon, and they’ll all be talking about the same thing, even though they might not all be talking about playing the same game.
GamesBeat: Rob, what has been the best aspect of working with Wizards as far as integrating this material into the relaunch of the game?
Rob Overmeyer: It’s like a geek dream come true. I can elaborate on that a little bit. Working together and coming up with a platform-agnostic story, one of the things that I get to do and my team gets to do is, we get to geek out and ask questions about things that we’ve long wondered about. I wonder about the Harpers and where they’re going and what’s happening with the Silver Safehold. I get to be able to poke at those things. I get some sideways looks — “Oh, you never know what’s going to happen there.” But it’s great to be able to talk about those things and work to figure out what’s in the future. We can work together as they say, “What do you guys think about this on the lore side?”
We tried to have a very professional meeting at our last large meeting, but to be honest, half the time it turned out to just be thinking about the what-ifs and geek-out moments about what we could do going forward. So that’s probably the coolest thing, the most fun I have working with Wizards — being able to get glimpses of where everything is going. Even though they still won’t give me everything I want to know.
Stewart: We did stay on track for a good hour or two in that meeting. It wasn’t until after lunch that you guys really digressed into geekdom. But it’s nice to see so many people in the room who are passionate about the brand. When I think about Dungeons & Dragons and how many game developers and storytellers it’s inspired through the years — what do we have now? We had to get more chairs. We had 20 or 30 people, and they’re all making a respectable living with this game that they loved. If you told their 12- or 15- or 18-year-old selves, they’d have said, “Get out of town! There’s no way.” “No, serious, we’re all gonna sit in a room and talk about D&D and get paid to do it.”
Overmeyer: It’s pretty great when meetings that start off about financial projections turn into what type of demons we can let you summon.
GamesBeat: My Realms knowledge isn’t as good as it used to be, so I apologize if this is just a ridiculous question, but I don’t remember any significant dragons in Neverwinter’s area. Are you making up new ones?
Overmeyer: We have dragons in Neverwinter and the Sword Coast in multiple zones that are around. I imagine that there’s probably more, but I don’t know about whether or not they’re brand new to the lore or whether they’re known dragons.
Stewart: It’s a mix of both. This is getting into a bigger story question. I think the real heart of what you’re saying is very true. In the Forgotten Realms, especially for a game called Dungeons & Dragons, it’s funny, because dragons haven’t often chosen to play this really in-your-face role in the world. Frankly, I think that as a race, they feel so much above the other inhabitants of Faerun. They’ve chosen to be out of reach.
What’s really going on here, I think, is that there’s this cataclysmic shift. The dragons and the Cult of the Dragon are going to play a role in that. It’s an opportunity for the dragons to take their proper place and rule all the other races in Faerun. I don’t think that the dragons in Faerun all care as much about whether Tiamat comes back, because as you know, different colored dragons have very different motivations. But I think what we’re seeing here in terms of Neverwinter and new dragons coming in or old dragons emerging from their lairs nearby — this is all part of a bigger idea. The dragons see this as an opportunity to gain their rightful place on top of the food pyramid.
Now, as far as old dragons or new dragons, it’s all of the above. You’ll see good dragons and evil dragons coming out of the woodwork for this adventure, because it has such a big impact on the Realms.
GamesBeat: What’s your favorite chromatic dragon, and why?
Stewart: Probably green. I think I just embraced this tricky or devious side in their mentality. I play a trickster rogue in Neverwinter. Typically my go-to character is always a rogue of some kind. I like to role play a bit in there, so my current rogue is actually a pastry chef. After all, you can’t just go around and tell people that you’re a thief and an assassin. So my rogue is a thief by type, but I masquerade as a pastry chef, because I think it would be weird to advertise to everyone that I’m nefarious. I think green dragons are also very much known as being tricksters. I identify with that.
Overmeyer: For me, I think it’s white dragons. If I had to be specific, it’s juvenile white dragons. They’re smaller. They’re not very good at combat, but from what I’ve read of the lore, they never forget anything. They hold crazy grudges. I PvP a lot, and I never drop a grudge. Somebody gets me in a match, I look for them. I wish I could friend them and be queued with them all the time. So it fits in with my PvP nature, the white dragon. I might not be the best at PvP, but I never drop a grudge.
GamesBeat: When Cult of the Dragon comes out for Neverwinter, does the Cult replace Thay and Netheril as the major threat? Or is it just joining them as a new major faction?
Overmeyer: Storywise, it’s additional. The Cult has an agenda that has very real implications for those other factions and threats.
Stewart: We’re very aware of all the different powers that be, both living in Neverwinter and in Faerun and the Realms. We’re going to weave this very connected story. You might get glimpses of the future, or what you think the future is, and it might unfold in very different ways than you expect. To give you the best non-answer we can, this is an additional threat, and sometimes the enemies of your enemies are your friends. Sometimes the friends of your enemies are enemies. Unlikely alliances might be formed, but maybe they’re not alliances?
That’s a lot of the fun of dropping this first Tyranny of Dragons on you. Unlikely comrades, groups that you wouldn’t think you’d end up working with, but to what end? Who’s your common foe? These questions are all popping up. It’s a big war-torn Sword Coast that we’re dropping you into. The questions you’re sharing here are the questions players will ask as well, both in Neverwinter and in the tabletop game.
GamesBeat: What edition of the tabletop game did you guys start with, and what was your favorite, not counting the new edition?
Overmeyer: I started with my friends back in basements, a long time ago, in 2nd Edition. Then I didn’t pick it up for quite some time. I picked it up again in the fourth edition. I played minis for a bit, not so much the tabletop RPG. But fourth would be my favorite that I’ve played.
I’m definitely looking forward to coming up next. I’m excited to get back into it. We’re looking to have a bunch of campaigns start up again at Cryptic and get everybody going after work using the new rules.
Stewart: The funny thing is that I started when 2nd Edition had just come out, but I was actually playing AD&D. I played with my cousins, because they had all the books for that, even though the second edition had just come out. I played that for a long time with friends, but I moved around a lot, so every time I moved I’d lose my gaming group. I looked to the computer games to fill my D&D and RPG needs for a long time in the middle there. Then I got back into it with the fourth edition.
I know you ruled out the new edition, but the truth is — I really love both editions that I played. What I love about the new edition is that the elements from those that I enjoyed are there. The storytelling, the “RP” in the RPG, really comes through in the new edition. I like the combat and the encounters in fourth edition, too, and I think we’re seeing some of that trickle in as well. I know it’s kind of a corporate answer there, but it’s pulling great elements from both of the editions that I have years of experience playing.
A lot of other people are seeing that as well. I always think it’s funny when people who come from the 3.5 [Edition] era say, “Oh, the new edition totally hearkens back to third!” I’ve never played third, and I love the new edition, so maybe it’s good for a lot of groups, or maybe they’re wrong, although I wouldn’t want to tell them that.
GamesBeat: At this point, when someone says “the Realms,” what does that mean to you after all these years?
Stewart: Now that I work for Wizards of the Coast, it means [Realms creator] Ed Greenwood. That guy is the Realms. Seeing the Realms come to life and going to him to ask him questions about the Realms and getting detailed answers from him, that’s what comes into my head. It’s been an amazing opportunity. You talk about geeking out, that’s when I get to geek out. “Why’d you do this, Ed?” For me, that’s a special part of the job.
GamesBeat: You guys aren’t bringing back Cult of the Dragon founder Sammaster, a lich that’s been destroyed multiple times, right? We don’t have to deal with him anymore? He’s gone?
Stewart: I’m not answering that. Well, the real answer is, “Never say never.” When we’re diving in, do we really want to lean into the stuff that everyone loved and was awesome? Sometimes you hate things that you loved and sometimes you love things because you hate them. All I’ll say is that we’ve got a great world here. We’re trying to bring it to life with these fantastic stories. It’s Dungeons & Dragons, and so anything can happen. You don’t want to get too confident or comfortable — “We’ll never see so and so again!” That’s when the floor usually drops out from under you.
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