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Thoughts from a D&D Creator Summit Virtual Attendee
Was this an honest attempt to move the industry and hobby forward?
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) invited me to attend the D&D Creator Summit and due to scheduling issues, I was only able to attend virtually for personal reasons (though the initial offer was to attend in-person).
I have included a screenshot of the media and safety details I received below.
For those who do not know me, here’s a quick rundown. Hello! My name’s Daniel Kwan and I’ve been working as a freelance writer and cultural consultant in the tabletop gaming industry for 5 years and co-host the Asians Represent Podcast. I’ve received 2 Gold and 4 Silver ENnie Awards for my work. As a narrative and mechanics writer, I contributed to notable products like the official Candlekeep Mysteries adventure book (The Book of Inner Alchemy) for WotC, Dark Archive (Paizo), the Tian Xia World Guide and Tian Xia Character Guide (Paizo), the Ultimate Micro-RPG Guide (Simon & Shuster), Motherlands RPG, and Avatar Legends (Magpie Games). As a cultural consultant, I’ve worked for companies like Dimension 20 and Critical Role.
D&D isn’t perfect. As a fan and creator, I’ve never held back criticism of WotC and the game itself (alongside other WotC games). I try my best to use my platform to advocate for diverse representation in games media and the creative process.
D&D is for everyone, but a lot of work is required for that to become a reality.
So let’s get to my thoughts on the D&D Creator Summit.
The virtual event was broken down into three sessions:
Opening remarks from WotC CEO Cynthia Williams and Dixon Dubow (D&D Creator Relations)
Two, ~2.5-3 hour sessions*
30-40 people were invited to attend in-person (32 attended) and 150 were invited to be virtual attendees (80-90 attended).
In-person attendees had the ability to try out the VTT, while virtual attendees were promised “very early playtest access” in May 2023. Virtual attendees also had exclusive access to “office hour” sessions with WotC staff.
*The entire virtual event including breaks went from roughly 12:00 pm EST to 9:00 pm EST.
Opening remarks were plagued by technical issues. After starting late, the majority of the virtual participants (myself included) did not have access to a video feed. Not much of note was revealed during this session with the exception of a “D&D accessibility program” (answer: it’s this).
The first session started late and featured a technical issues - attendees did not have access to a video or audio feed. Once technical issues were resolved, the session was formatted around an informal office hour Q&A with Dixon Dubow, who did his best to answer questions within in area of responsibility. This was not the case for every virtual attendee.
Here are some highlights:
Mike from SlyFlourish asked what WotC’s goals were with the Summit - Dixon answered “active listening” and elaborated that the event was an effort to open opportunities for WotC to receive direct feedback. He was very clear that he wanted folks to be honest and constructive.
The summit was described as a “small test for what we [WotC] want to do on a much larger scale”, a trial run that is to be greatly expanded in the future.
When pressed about WotC’s commitment, Dixon replied that the company is “committed enough that we’re planning another one at Gen Con [at a venue outside of the main convention]…we don’t want this to be a one and done.”
“Moving forward, we will look forward to replicating the event [for international offices to do localized events].”
@Indestructoboy asked about inconsistencies with regards to access to review copies for “press” and “creators” - Dixon noted that there is an ambiguous internal definition of a “creator” (with regards to internal points of contact). They are looking to set up a D&D creator inbox for media requests to be triaged by brand (rather than a shared inbox for D&D and MtG).
D&D Beyond and Beyond presentation led by Dan Rawson (SVP of D&D) & Marjory Laymon (VP of D&D Beyond).
Technical issues persisted into this session for some of the virtual attendees. I was able to experience the virtual presentation without issue. It was nice to have a multiple rotating ASL interpreters present.
The presentation began with an introduction to select members of the team: Dan, Marjory, Pat Backmann (Sr. Product Manager), Jared Wasdin (Product Manager), Elliot Spilk (Associate Product Manager), and Sarah Chaffee (Community Manager) before moving to the following slides.
“What is D&D Beyond”
The official gateway to D&D. Announced that they will begin the process of deprecating dnd.wizards.com as dndbeyond.com gains “16x the traffic…we want to be where the players are”.
D&D Beyond will be the new homepage of all things D&D.
“We’re really thinking of D&D Beyond to be the home and ecosystem for the D&D community.”
“What have we been up to?
Integrating with Wizards - employee onboarding
Digital content drops - Highlighted Prisoner 13, The Vecna Dossier, Spelljammer Academy, and Minecraft Monsters Compendium releases. In contrast from book publishing, priority is to leverage the digital connection to fans and players.
Stability & performance - they want to set a technical foundation for the base version of D&D Beyond.
This slide highlighted the high level priorities for the D&D Beyond team.
Make play/prep easier - how can core tools like character sheets be made simpler? How can prep work for DMs be simplified? How can support during play be streamlined? How can they support the player journey towards transitioning into the role of dungeon master.
Mobile play experience - the team acknowledged the different experiences between mobile and web (PC) platforms and want to focus on bringing parity to these two different platforms.
Better new player onboarding - for those new to the game and veterans new to digital tools. Spoke about “pre-mades”, “one-click content”, and bringing contextual guidance to play via “tool tips”.
Open to partners & other publishers - opening a marketplace to partners and publishers. They are in the very early stages to this.
Backend “tech stuff” - investments into backend systems while delivering features to customers - “slower to release features” due to this - no specific timeline or features shared - they are defining their roadmap to share with creators and the broader community.
“What should we build next?”
The D&D Beyond team solicited the different audiences for questions. *Note: Virtual attendees were unable to ask questions via mic. Plenty of time was allocated to questions from chat. Direct quotes from the teams are italicized alongside notes I’ve made. Questions are bolded. Note that during this portion of the summit, it was unclear (to virtual attendees) as to who was actually speaking.
Will the new D&D Beyond (and associated VTT) be homebrew friendly from a tools perspective? Will there be a homebrew “market place”? If so, how will content be moderated? How will D&D Beyond be further monetized?
In response to D&D Beyond being homebrew friendly: “An enthusiastic hell yeah.”
The team highlighted their technical experience building third party marketplaces within digital tools. They want to enable homebrew content, but do not have clear details about new features or a timeline for functionality beyond the existing (though limited) homebrew toolkit.
Regarding third party partnerships and VTT content, will there be restrictions on who gets to access that content for porting?
“We want the content and the access to be as broad as possible. Partnering is something we’ve done with a couple of great VTT partners out there. We’re going to continue to do that…I hear you loud and clear and we’ll give that some hard thought.”
DMs Guild provides access to approved IP for community creators who publish on that platform. Will this policy extend to the D&D Beyond marketplace?
“That’s a great question, we do need to think about that!”
This was not on their radar.
What steps are being taken to consider equity in pricing for countries/markets with different socio-economic challenges (i.e. accessibility and regional pricing for future content)?
“This is a great question, it’s not one we’ve tackled yet.”
Will accessibility features be built into D&D Beyond?
There were no concrete answers about the roadmap for accessibility features, but the team mentioned the different quick character builder options that already exist. The conversation seemed to favour “ease of play” surrounding character creation over “ease of use” (i.e. features like dark mode).
Localization of D&D content into other languages.
Localization is still something that is being discussed internally. They did acknowledge that there are “global intentions” for D&D Beyond.
Basic localization appears to fall under the current work they can’t complete until their technical foundation is established.
What is the publishing future of D&D given the financial and resource investment into D&D Beyond? What is the future of D&D in print? D&D Beyond access with physical release (analogous to how the music industry monetizes vinyl)?
“Very very bright future…we are committed to supporting that…it’s a yes/and situation.”
“We want you to buy the stuff once.”
They mentioned the challenges with physical security that provide a roadblock (i.e. people stealing codes in a retail store). At the moment, it seems that there are no immediate plans for you to be able to purchase a book and also receive the digital copy.
What are the technical requirements for the VTT?
“Our intent is a little different than where we are. Our intent is to play it on any device that you have.”
They spoke broadly about the goal of having the VTT be compatible with as many platforms as possible and that they would be taking an “agile and iterative approach”.
Is there going to be a mentorship program in place or opportunities to get eyes on third party content (i.e. helping creators grow via some sort of spotlight)?
This was a question about discoverability within a diverse and oversaturated marketplace. The future marketplace was framed as a place for creators to get noticed.
“That marketplace dynamic is really powerful and that’s something we’re eager to lean into.”
“The job of our marketplace is to surface the stuff you want. You’ll get the content that you go after…creators will find their people.”
It appears as though there is yet to be a clear answer about the discoverability dynamics/process on the marketplace.
Personal question from me. As someone who got ruthlessly targeted by a pocket of the community for speaking out about racist legacy content about Asian cultures, I'd love to get clarity on if that content will migrate to D&D Beyond. Will Oriental Adventures be ported into D&D Beyond in the marketplace?
“Any content that we publish today goes through robust review and we hire and retain consultants that help us make sure that we’re putting things out there that are appropriate and inviting to everyone. If it comes from us, it’s going to go through that process.”
“Because of those standards that we have for anything we publish, I’m going to say that that’s going to make a lot of work to bring those old edition to D&D Beyond because we won’t do it without doing that work. If you’re wondering why it hasn’t happened yet...we’re not going to half-ass it.”
How will they support LGS, libraries, and schools? Will they require an account to run events?
This is something that the team is looking into. They noted that over 9.5 million students have participated in their school program and that they want to continue doing this sort of work.
D&D Virtual Tabletop
This was a presentation by Kale Stutzman (the VTT game director). The intention of the presentation was to learn pain points the team should solve and how the VTT can help content creation needs.
Goals of the VTT:
Fun - translate the joy of playing D&D
Convenience - reduce barriers to learn, play, prep, and DM
Authenticity - recognize and reinforce the core of D&D
Immersion - feel connected to the world and people playing
The interesting point was that core to authenticity is recognizing and reinforcing the core of D&D.
“The uncertain thing for me is how do we make this 3D space that has video game-like qualities to it, but doesn’t disturb the power of imagination that you have with D&D. That’s the biggest risk, so that’s what we’re tackling first.”
Where are they now?
The VTT is currently in pre-alpha state and they are presently focusing on playing, not creating. This is the brief roadmap they presented.
In 2023, the focus will be on supporting core mechanics, implementing intuitive player UI and play assists, DM controls, and increased testing/feedback.
In 2024, the focus will shift to character and miniature creation, encounter and world building, a “remixable” content library, and wider playtesting.
In 2025, they plan on some form of release, allowing people to use the same creation tools, share creations, and engage in a wider community feedback loop.
Here are some key takeaways from the Q&A component of the presentation:
At the moment, playtesting is only open to WotC employees and their friends/family. This will be extended to influencers and then some form of closed alpha/beta. They presently don’t have a process outlined for a closed alpha/beta.
No other RPGs are being considered for port into the D&D Beyond VTT (similar to Foundry, Roll 20, etc.).
From a technical perspective, Unreal 5 will enable the team to eventually bring the VTT to consoles.
The dev team has played the current build of the VTT on a phone (unknown of what type).
The VTT will be a standalone desktop app and will not be available on a web browser.
The VTT is intended on being an “ecosystem” - you can use it for a single combat encounter, tell the entire story with it, etc.
Kale said that the demo they showed at D&D Direct (people around a table with laptops) is not the primary way they envision folks using the VTT. The build shown at D&D Direct might be an old one.
Regarding mechanical (rules) integration, Kale said “you can do literally anything you want"…you can play anything that has dice and minis in it…it won’t have the automation [that comes with the D&D rules].”
They are unsure if a 2D version of the VTT will be available. They speculated that this could take the form of a fixed camera view for phone users (as an example).
Kale is personally excited about the prospect of machinima made using the VTT (hinting at the ability to hide UI) and other creative uses for streaming.
There was a question about the representation of marginalized groups in the VTT, its production, and how the conversation can happen early. There has apparently been a lot of internal discussion (so far) around the character creation feature.
At the moment, they are still exploring how VTT content will be packaged with digital book purchases (if this ultimately happens).
Additional Supplementary Q&A
I brought up this question related to the Nov 10, 2022 blog post on D&D Beyond where Chris Perkins wrote that, “The studio’s new process mandates that every word, illustration, and map must be reviewed by multiple outside cultural consultants prior to publication”. Cultural consultants are often used by companies to shield themselves from criticism. Is Wizards also committed to including more diverse voices in the creative process? Furthermore, are they committed to promoting or hiring marginalized people into decision-making positions on their product and executive teams?
Jontelle Leyson-Smith (Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Philanthropy & Employee Experience) stepped in to answer.
“We want to hire the best people for the job. A fantastic game designer does not make a cultural expert. I want to be clear about that. A person of colour does not necessarily mean that they are an expert in the broad academic experiences of people of colour.
Yes, we are absolutely always paying attention to a variety of representation questions and considerations within our workforce [promotion rate, performance ratings across demographics, pay equity, etc.].
I want to create a workforce and a workplace where a person of colour or marginalized gender or a disabled person can be a game designer and never discuss that part of them if they don’t want to.
When we talk about hiring consultants, we’re making sure that we’re engaging with people who are experts.”
This prompted WotC to add an impromptu supplementary Q&A hosted by Dan Rawson and Kyle Brink (Executive Producer, D&D).
Q&A shifted into a discussion about the company’s PR response to the OGL fiasco. On the note of mistrust about D&D and lack of confidence in WotC, and the resultant backlash that creators faced when they announced their attendance.
“We lost sight in that moment of the real fact that D&D is a dialogue. It’s a dialogue between DMs and players. It’s a dialogue between creators and community. It’s a dialogue between Wizards [of the Coast] and community. Now, that being said, while I’m not at all happy with the trust that we burned, I am happy where we landed… I’m sad that it took that to get us there… the fact that the SRD is in the creative commons, irrevocably so, it is the strongest signal that we are committed to keeping D&D open and inclusive and that we recognize that it is built on a community”.
Dixon then chimed in.
“There should never be a situation where you as a creator feel that you or your platform is in danger because of who you choose to work with. On top of that, as we said in our community update, we always encourage open criticism. But, we want that criticism aimed at us, not at you. In that regard, we are looking at steps we can take to do that. But let me be absolutely crystal clear, we want that feedback aimed at us.”
This was actually a recurring theme in his words throughout the session, that he wants to work with “people comfortable speaking truth” (in voicing concerns and providing feedback).
When asked about mental health and support resources for creators/influencers, the staff asked the audience to provide feedback after the summit. There were pleas for WotC to find the means to create support systems for independent creators operating outside of traditional employment, especially if decisions made by the company drove hate towards independent creators. Further context has been added below:
When asked about race, they talked about how multiple inclusion reviews are conducted internally before soliciting feedback from the community. Kyle mentioned the spectrum of feedback they receive and while they want to act on as much feedback as possible, some people may harbour negative feelings despite best efforts.
“No matter what decision we make, there are some people who think that’s the right play and there are some people who think that’s the wrong play. Our job is to, as much as possible, make the game as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible. Which means, there’s gonna be some part of that spectrum that’s gonna feel excluded no matter what decision we make and that doesn’t mean it’s cool to leave people out. But it means it’s a fact of what happens.”
My impression is that they are learning and trying their best to do the right thing. Positive intent is important. With regards to species, he noted that,
“We’re trying out “species” and we’re getting feedback on it. And we’ll look at that feedback like we look at feedback on anything and we will land on an ultimate decision. I can’t tell you what that decision is today because we haven’t finalized it yet….We’re running it by inclusion folks as well.”
I have had very public thoughts on the use of the term species, so I am happy that they have not landed on a final term.
When asked about the use of AI in the WotC creative process (though I framed my question from the perspective of expedient generation in the VTT), Dan stated quite clearly that,
“AI, in terms of artwork and content we create is completely inconsistent with our process. Our process includes humans. It involves iterating with humans. We go back and forth with humans. So that’s our process and we aren’t deviating from that, so you aren’t going to see AI [being used] in our content.”
Finally, the team made it clear that ASL interpreters and CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captions will be a standard at every official WotC event as much as possible. This is great news.
The One D&D Ruleset
The next presentation was “2024 Core Rules Revision” by Jeremy Crawford, Chris Perkins, and Josh Herman.
The session primarily served as a dive into the Player’s Handbook (PHB), Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), and the Monster Manual (MM). This segment felt like a press conference.
Here are some key takeaways.
In the new Player’s Handbook they plan on teaching the reader how to play before they make their first character. The current PHB structure has largely been the result of tradition.
The PHB will also have a rules glossary. There will be a similar glossary in the DMG that collects D&D lore to aid in understanding obscurities in the game.
The PHB will also include new game options (clarity was not provided on this).
The PHB will largely have all new art.
Revising Fifth Edition
Let’s start with a key piece of information here. This was framed as a revision to the fifth edition ruleset with an emphasis on compatibility/conversion. This isn’t Sixth Edition or 5.5. They are effectively revising the current game that is in place.
“You will be able to open up your Curse of Strahd and run it with the new core books. I might blow your mind with this next one. If you really want to, you can also make a character with the 2014 Player’s Handbook and the options in Tasha’s Cauldron and Xanathar’s Guide and have that character at the same table as a character made with the 2024 books. This is why I say, what we’re doing has not been done before for the game.”
You will be able to run 5th edition adventures using the new rules and the new core books will provide guidance on how to interpret retired terms and rules with the new ruleset. These new books will effectively function as conversion tools.
As an interesting note, since 3.5 edition required you to replace your books, it was actually 4th edition. That said, Jeremy noted that Fifth Edition is actually Sixth edition by a technicality.
I asked a question about the monk, a class that has relied on Asian stereotypes. This was Jeremy’s response.
“How we’re handling the monk is connected to how we are handling all of the classes. Here’s what I mean by this. The monk absolutely has had that problem and that has been something on our long list of things we’re going to improve this… In many ways, I think the core of the issue is that there is not enough non-European representation in the other classes. And so one of the things that we’re doing, is making it so that there is non-European representation in all of the classes, so that when you get to the monk, you no longer feel like ‘oh, this is the Asian class’. Then, we’re doing the flip with the monk. We’re ensuring that there is non-Asian representation in the monk.”
To go alongside this, ki will be changed to “spirit points” to be more inclusive of other martial arts traditions around the world. Jeremy noted that a lot of this content is subject to change due to community feedback.
I’m curious to see what they do about this. Especially with how they communicate the nature of “spirit points”.
The new PHB will be bigger than the 2014 counterpart. It will have 12 classes, 48 subclasses, and 9 species (though they have confirmed that this term is subject to change).
There will be new backgrounds, feats, spells, equipment, and weapons.
They are adding a lot more art for aspects of the game like backgrounds - Jeremy describe the art for backgrounds as “fantasy vignettes” to help players elevate their character customization experience
Subclasses will be more distinct.
Jeremy mentioned a “College of Dance” for the bard. Dance bards may be a reality.
Jeremy noted that the team originally wanted to use lineage as a successor for race, but Jontelle’s team and the inclusion review process steered them towards species. This baffled me, but Jeremy was clear that this is not set in stone.
The PHB will have the following nine species: human, dwarf, halfling, goliath, dragonborn, elf, gnome, orc, and tiefling.
Jeremy noted that the half-elf and half-orc aren’t going anywhere. They just won’t be in the revised edition and will live in the 2014 PHB and D&D Beyond. The team wanted to focus on the orc and three elf variants already exist in the book. He said, “Frankly, we are not comfortable, and haven’t been for years with any of the options that start with ‘half’…The half construction is inherently racist so we simply aren’t going to include it in the new Player’s Handbook. If someone wants to play those character options, they’ll still be in D&D Beyond. They’ll still be in the 2014 Player’s Handbook”. I suspect that rules will be in place for custom ancestries like they mentioned in the associated Unearthed Arcana.
The next UA (barbarian, fighter, and monk) will have new weapon options. They are introducing a new feature called “weapon mastery” - properties (a existing mechanic) in a weapon that require a class feature to unlock. These are designed to make weapon usage combat more nuanced. Mastery will exist alongside the existing properties. This is a welcome change and enable people do try out combos between characters!
The “Graze” mastery property is fantastic - it allows you to deal damage equal to your ability modifier for the weapon…even if you miss.
Firearms (musket and pistol) are now martial weapons.
The fighter is being viewed as the class that interacts the most with weapon mastery. In testing, they are the only class that can shift weapon mastery properties around.
Eldritch Blast will be a built-in ability for warlocks instead of a spell.
The new DMG will have more time and attention helping the DM prep their first session and communicate with their players in a way that will facilitate fun and safe storytelling at the table. There will be a concept of a session zero and safety tools included to root them in the game’s culture.
Given the weapon changes, the 2024 Monster Manual will have most creatures over CR 10 reworked
The monster manual will be the largest D&D has ever had and will feature almost all new art. They are focusing on adding high CR monsters and more NPCs. There was mention of adding “apex monsters” (unsure if it’s an actual term) that are over CR 20.
The new DMG will “show” the reader a campaign in order to help new players create their own. This is a great quality of life addition to the game.
If you bought a book on D&D Beyond, you won't lose it with the change. However, you will not receive the 2024 books automatically if you own the 2014 counterparts.
Chris Perkins stated that the revised DMG will address 3 concerns from fans: “I don’t know what’s in the DMG”, “I can’t find what I need in the DMG”, and “I don’t use it”. The DMG will help players with concrete tips on what to do for common issues like missing players (scheduling conflicts, running out of steam in a campaign, etc.). It will also include safety tools and guides for inclusivity.
Larger type face is confirmed for new books.
The 2023 D&D Creator Summit ended up being what many of us wanted: an opportunity to present feedback to decision makers about the direction of the product, inclusion, safety, and equity in the industry. However, in order to get to this conversation, it took the attendees breaking the structure of the event.
I have mixed feelings about the event. While we got to see some exciting new content, some of the more challenging questions (particularly those surrounding the OGL and rebuilding community trust) were not answered to the satisfaction of the attendees.
While the virtual event itself was plagued by technical issues, what proved to be most disheartening was the clear priority for the questions posed by in-person attendees. Virtual attendees were left with many unanswered questions and were unable to voice their questions over voice chat during the primary sessions. At times, it felt like remote attendees were largely being ignored. The WotC team has promised some form of a follow-up, with details pending.
There were, however, a couple of glowing positives. Dixon Dubow proved to be the breakout star on the D&D team. A true advocate for positive change. At this event, Dixon may have attained folk hero status to the creator community with the honesty and conviction he displayed.
A special shout out should also be extended to Jared, Julián, Maritza, Kenny, and Jay - the extremely professional ASL interpreters. They were incredible and worked overtime to make sure the event was accessible.
It was also a wonderful experience seeing my peers and making new friends!
I’m grateful to have received an opportunity to participate and did my best to take it as seriously as possible. My goal has always been to make the most of every interaction I have with WotC - to ensure that I can do my small part in guiding the hobby forward in a positive direction.