Aug 272012

I had the opportunity to interview a member of the D&D Brand Team while at GenCon, which was something I couldn’t pass up. Regular readers of know I love D&D and have been a very active DM of both 3.X and 4th Edition. The people at the Wizards of the Coast booth were very cool and accommodating. It was my pleasure to sit down with Shelly Mazzanoble and chat her up about their Rise of the Underdark Campaign.

If you don’t know, Rise of the Underdark is a current theme running through all of D&D’s line for 2012. The drow have the spot light, even more than usual, and they’re popping up in rulebooks, novels, board games and even in Dungeons & Dragons online:

“ In this year’s Rise of the Underdark campaign, Dungeons & Dragons® invites players to explore the notorious drow race and venture into a world of darkness and danger. Mystra, the goddess of arcane magic, is dead and Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, is making her bid to seize control. The drow invasion has begun, and adventurers are needed to help stop Lolth from bringing about everlasting darkness to the surface world. With a robust suite of offerings focused on the drow race, D&D® players get a deep-dive into the events surrounding the Rise of the Underdark and gain access into the minds and lives of the popular race like never before.  “

Shelly Mazzanoble is a writer, cat whisperer, former Player in Chief and Associate Brand Manager at Wizards of the Coast. With all those roles, I figured I could get some really juicy details out of her.

Everything seems to be drow themed right now, which is cool, everyone seems to be digging it. One of our reader’s wanted to know. . . there’s a rumor that the upcoming Encounters season is going to be a follow up of sorts to a previous season, and people are going to be able to play their character’s past 3rd level. Can you confirm or deny that rumor at all? (Thanks Alton!)

Hmm. . . I wonder where they got that rumor from. Well I think the best way to confirm that would be to go play at Encounters. Yes, to see if that is actually true. Encounters has a lot in store for people who Play D&D. The season that’s coming up on August 22nd, the Council of Spiders, is allowing players to play as Drow, which is different for many people. How much to the Drow nature you choose to play your character is up to you and probably up to your Dungeon Master but we’re giving people a lot of campaign hooks through Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue source book and also with Drow Treachery™ Fortune Cards there’s a lot of ways to enhance your Drow centric campaign. It’s going to be hard to not to want to play them.

Sure. It’s very much designed so that they have a lot of benefits with this.

Yeah, exactly. Especially with those Fortune Cards. I don’t know if you’ve played with Fortune Cards before (I have.) but you that if you use them you get a benefit that’s actually a benefit for you and/or you’re party. With the Drow Treachery cards that is true you get a benefit but usually at the expense of someone or your entire party. It’s going to be hard not to just embrace that.

It’s going to be cool. I like that. How far are you planning things like Encounters ahead? I mean you know the next season, but do you know the season after that?

There are people in the building who do. I’m not one of those people. . . I actually do know, of course I can’t tell you. *Laughing*

She won’t tell me though. *Laughing*

That’s right. I could tell you but I won’t. I choose not to, especially if you’re recording this. *More laughing* (Sorry folks. I’ll bring paper and pencil next time.)

Well that’s interesting. That’s good to know.

Yes, they’ll be good though. There will be more fun things in store.

As far as this particular theme is concerned, it seems like we know all the tie-in products already. The WotC calendar isn’t as full of game books as it has been in the past years. After this next couple, we know there’s a Forgotten Realms book coming up, but that doesn’t sound like it’s going to have mechanics in it or very little.

It’s flavor. The Ed Greenwood Forgotten Realms. Very, very, very flavorful. It’s all of his notes from when he first started creating the Forgotten Realms. It’s how he sees the Forgotten Realms.

Is that probably going to be the end of this particular theme or is there going to be a little bit more but isn’t on the calendar yet?

So the Rise of the Underdark campaign, the story concludes at the end of this year, but they’re continuing in 2013. D&D doesn’t hibernate for two or three years until we’re ready for the next iteration. I don’t want people to think that. I know that during the keynote Mike had mentioned that the playtest was an ongoing process. It could go on for the next two years. I think people were thinking ‘Oh my god! No D&D for two years!’

But it’s a big fear because they see how thin the calendar is and it feels like, with so many articles on the playtest right now being D&D Next related, or at least the regular ones.

Yeah there is a lot of call and setup dedicated to D&D Next. We’ll definitely have products and programs that support 4th edition all the way throughout. You’ll get a lot of that on Dragon and Dungeon magazine. You’ll get a lot of that in store play programs and through the Sundering novels that are coming out next year. Were you at the keynote?

I wasn’t, unfortunately.

Well you can watch it online.

Yes you can.

We have some adventures that are going to be written by Ed Greenwood and R.A. Salvatore that connect to how you play those games and happens in those games in your home campaign is actually going to help shape the Forgotten Realms.

That’s great. That’s very exciting. **At this point in the interview we start talking about Dunkin Donuts and we really break down into silly nonsense. I’ll skip ahead.** I’d really like to see some of the contests that were happening last year. You had that hybrid contest that was really cool, and there were a couple of other ones where readers can participate.

Well, we just had a contest. A fan video contest. Have you seen any of those videos?

I haven’t seen that yet, no.

They’re on Facebook and you can vote on them too, so you should. We want to hear what the fans have to say. That was probably our big contest for the year, but there will be other ones throughout. Anything in particular you would like to see?

I like the ones where players in a sense can shape content. The videos are fun, don’t get me wrong, but they’re sort of About D&D instead of . . . Are D&D. **I then suck up to Shelly for a moment and we descend back into silliness**

We’ll see if my suggestions help shape things. Look for more GenCon reports as I catch up on sleep!

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Brian Liberge

Brian Liberge is a father of one, living in Boston, MA. Introduced to AD&D at an early age, he’s continued to update with the editions, and new games. He loves home-brewed ideas, is honest to a fault, and thinks that ideas and mechanics should absolutely be shared between systems. With a B.S. Degree in Theatre Arts, a job in Information Technology, and a love of strategy gaming, he tries to bring the best of each into his new creations for StufferShack. Check out his latest book the Midgard Bestiary for 4e, available now. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

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