10
Apr
12

Mike Mearls’ Magnificient Encomium

Recently noisms of the superlative Monsters & Manuals called The Mule Abides “the most consistently high-quality blog out there, in terms of theory and gaming history, probably.” I should thus be ashamed to use it as the ashbin for stuff I write that didn’t make it elsewhere, but one of the benefits of being a blog-collective is that no doubt one of the other contributors will come up with something brilliant to keep up our quality average.

A while back Ed Healy contacted me for some quotes for the RPG Countdown Best of 2011 show. I wound up quipping about a number of things I didn’t work on, but one that I did – Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – caught the attention of the guys at EN World, who wanted me to expand on the quote for their D&D Next page.

I think – but am not sure – that it didn’t ever appear there. As was the case in 2008, being a playtester means that visiting sites where fans are talking about a new edition is as madness-inducing as wearing just one of the eye-cusps that lets you perceive the Vancian over-world. If y’all have already read this at EN World, I apologize for the repost and the out-of-context community in-jokes like the link at the end. Just in case this is its last chance to avoid obscurity, though, here’s me looking back on Mordenkainen’s:

As a lifelong Gygax fan, I was honored to be chosen as one of the designers of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium; how cool is it to be hired in real life to make magic items for Gary’s PC? And as a Dungeons & Dragons fan, I was thrilled to learn that Mike Mearls would be the lead on the project. At every step in my professional involvement as a gamer, Mike has been participating in the same communities I’m fascinated by and showing me the next step forward.

When I was at the Forge in ’04 learning how to start Behemoth3 to publish Masters and Minions, Mike was there sharing the design chops and OGL mastery that he’d soon demonstrate in Iron Heroes, and also proving that it was OK to be open to indie insights and still love D&D with all your heart.

When I was at the OD&D boards in ’08 discovering all the things the old-school renaissance could reveal about the game I thought I already knew, Mike was there posting session reports from his Kardallin’s Palace campaign and dropping science like the analogy that OD&D is a jam session while 4e is a symphony.

I haven’t kept up with the combat as sport vs. combat as war thread here at EN World but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mike posting there too; he is a true member of this community and as appreciative of others’ deep insights bridging the edition gap as he is ready to bust them out himself.

The vision that Mike showed in his leadership of the Mordenkainen’s team is everything that I want from D&D Next. His eagerness to celebrate the game’s rich history meant that no artifact was too obscure or silly for us to find its hidden treasure. I’d done five other 4e projects at that point and never expected I’d get a crack at the iron bands of Bilarro or the bone of bruising. I didn’t have to tell him why it was important to have mundane items like mules in the game, Mike already knew. He pushed me to define caltrops or glass marbles with the same clarity and concision as the best 4e design, and let me write about how players and GMs can work together to adjucate the flexibility and concreteness that lets OD&D characters retrain their mule into a warbearer donkeyhorse or a pitfinder donkeyhorse in the blink of an eye.

The other thing Mike taught me with Mordenkainen’s was how to be honest and direct and still discreet. The book went through a lot of changes – I lucked into being interviewed by the Gamerati because Amazon still has the version of the cover that had my name on it, and for a while it wasn’t going to come out at all. Mike gave me some time at Gen Con, and after I rattled off all my conspiracy theories about what was going on behind the scenes, he kind of sighed a little. “Sometimes we come up with these clever stories that sound good until people start asking questions, and then it all gets complicated,” he said. “I don’t understand why we don’t just tell the truth.”

D&D Next’s promise is as huge as the job it’ll have overcoming the misgivings fans have in trusting a new set of promises. Because I want D&D to grow and thrive, I am overjoyed to see Mike in charge of that job.

When we were doing the Kickstarter for Adventurer Conqueror King, seeing that Mike had become one of our backers was a shining moment that all the great reviews since can’t equal. Autarch is taking up the space that freelancing used to for me – getting to do Dwimmermount with James Maliszewski is also making me feel like the big kids have agreed to let me roll up a character in their game – but I’d gladly put it aside for a second and pitch in to Wizards’ great project to end the edition wars. Send me that contract for the Quintessential Mule, D&D Next is the perfect system for it!


6 Responses to “Mike Mearls’ Magnificient Encomium”


  1. April 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Obligatory disclaimer: I feel bad that I’ve been employed and therefore haven’t been contributing. But the good news is that, due to the whims of my employer, this is subject to change without notice. But hopefully I will be able to get some content in anyway.

  2. April 11, 2012 at 3:37 am

    Posting less is a good way to keep up the quality! Your classics like “the fighter is the thief of fighting” are good laurels on which to rest. Here’s hoping you stay employed and content-free.

  3. 3 maldoor
    April 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Like James, I have been catering to the whims of an employer instead of pondering gaming.

    Unlike James I have nothing like his record to rest upon. I should have more time in about a month… until then I will continue to enjoy riding the coat-tails of others!

  4. April 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Years of reading Mr Mearls’ design essays and forum posts led me to conclude that Mike Mearls has some gaping holes in his knowledge of the history of D&D, in particular of how the rules of the game interact with one another. It leads him to propose (non-)solutions to (non-)problems because he doesn’t understand exactly what it is he’s doing.

    Color me not a fan.

  5. April 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    @BV: That’s an intriguing statement, one of which I’ve not personally seen evidence. Would you be willing to provide an example?

  6. April 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    His rewrite of the 3e ogre mage complained that the om wasn’t sufficiently powerful as a melee monster, which completely missed the fact that the 1e om was a manipulator and evil mastermind, not a brute like the ogre. The problem with the 3e om was that the rules which made the 1e om powerful got nerfed in 3e – instead of trying to fix that problem, he only saw it in terms of its toe-to-toe ability.


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