Massively catches up with Dungeons and Dragons Online at Gen Con

Gen Con is rolling along this weekend in Indianapolis, and Turbine is there showing off their upcoming release of Module 8 in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Massively dropped in on their show floor booth to see what they had to see and chat about the brand new character creation system coming to the game, as well as upcoming enhancements, including an increased level cap and maybe even a chance to see Khorvaire in DDO.

Our interview and demo starts after the break, and you can check out the pictures we got of the new content in the gallery below. Good things ahead for D&D fans, especially new players to the game.


Massively: How's the event so far?

Kate Paiz, senior producer, Dungeons and Dragons Online: Oh, it's been great. I'm having a wonderful time. This is my first Gen Con, so I've gotten a chance to really kind of see it. In years past, I've sort of kept everything going at home and let other people go, and this year I was like no, I really want to go, so here I am. It's been a good time.

I've been here since many, many years ago, and it's busy for a Thursday.

Yeah, it feels busy.

Mod 8 is the next one coming out, right?

Yes, exactly.

I've heard a few things about Mod 8 so far. What is Module 8's big selling point?

There are a couple things. For me, there are really four main points to Mod 8. First of all, we've redone characters generation. The goal was to make a character generator that people could still use to deeply customize their characters, as they could before, as they can in the normal pen-and-paper, but to provide a little more context and a little more explanation for people that weren't so familiar with the 1st and 2nd edition rulesets, not so familiar with 3.5, or have come into DDO because they have friends who play it, and aren't necessarily into D&D.

So what I'll show you in a little bit is how we've structured these paths, where there's not one good Fighter build, there's three good Fighter builds, so you could be a defensive Fighter, an aggressive Fighter, or like a mix. And so we give you a template that can last you all the way up to level 20, and that way you're able to still have two Fighters or two Rogues in a party, and as long as they've picked different paths, they have very different abilities, very different contributions, and so it enables players to have diversity without needing to know all the rules and to customize them deeply. I'm definitely hearing from players that sometimes you can make bad choices, and it always sucks to ruin a character that you've been leveling forever.

So these will be guidelines given to players at character creation that will serve as a handhold all the way up through their leveling?

Exactly. So what we'll do is if you stay on your path as you level up, it'll say, "We recommend these abilities," and you can say yes or no, and if no, then you're able to customize it yourself, so you can leave it at any time. But as long as you stay on the path, we'll be able to give you builds really customized for that path. I think it's going to come out really nicely for people who aren't rules experts in 3.5. People who are ready to play and go, where advancement doesn't take half an hour because you're not like, "Hmm, which one do I want? If I do this, then what's going to happen?" It'll be very good for that.

Are those going to be single class, or are some of the templates going to be multiclass?

Not multiclassed right now, but in general, we tend to balance for single classes first, and then add multiclass consideration secondarily, so won't be seeing that in this build, but definitely a possibility for the future.

Also what we're doing is we've redone the new player experience. We got a lot of feedback from players about what was good about it, what maybe wasn't so good about it, wanting something new for existing players, and folks coming in who maybe aren't so familiar with MMOs or with D&D, depending on which side they're on, to provide them with a little more context, more help, in terms of the rules, and just hints and stuff.

So we can take you through that experience. (Demoing.) You start out shipwrecked on the cove -- a white dragon has destroyed the ship that you're in, so we're on one of the islands in the Thunder Sea. And you're in rags, you have no gear, and basically you run into a party of higher-level NPCs, and they help train you about what your skills are and who you are, and then you go through a tutorial dungeon and into a village that been besieged and frozen by this white dragon, and they can't connect with other islands any more, and they need your help. And so you have to figure out why is the white dragon doing this, how you can save the village. There's a Sahaguin supporting cast, so those are also the enemies in the area, which is a great monster that's very popular in the Thunder Sea and that we've been having a lot of fun with. They're really awesome.

And then we have some illithids and some other monsters and things like that, just to give people a lot more of that classic D&D up front. That's definitely something that people were yearning for.

The third thing, and the thing that I'm particularly excited about, is we're doing a new kind of NPC, sort of -- we call them hirelings, in that you're able to hire an NPC character that's your level or below, and they come in Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, kind of a variety. Sorceror as well. And you can bring them with you so that you and your best friend, who want to play a regular group on Friday, but can only go in and play a little bit, so you can have a four person party with just the two of you, so you can each bring a buddy, and now you can make some of that more difficult content a little more achieveable, so that as you go through you can go beyond that small party and solo experience without necessarily having to pick up a group

So they take a place on your HUD. You can heal them, they can heal you. You can help them. They'll break boxes, they'll kill monsters without any instructions from you. But they won't zerg through the dungeon, they won't open gates. You can ask them, "yeah, go ahead and open that gate, dude," but you're able to control all their behavior, so they're working for you. And of course they cost money, right? So they actually are working for you in the fiction of the game.

And that gives you a lot more flexibility on what you want to do with the pace, so they're not just crazy zerkers.

And the last thing?

Because we are doing a lot of low level content, we wanted to make sure our higher level players weren't feeling ignored, and so we are doing a high level module as well. We're picking up the story of the Reaver's Bane. And at the end of the Reaver's raid he teleports, he kind of poofs and you don't know where he goes. Turns out he went somewhere far away, and we're going to take you to that place and allow you to sort of understand what he's doing and help him, or circumvent his intentions to better aid the people that are suffering.

Where is he on the continent?

We're not going to get too into details today. That's definitely a conversation that we're going to hold for a little closer, but there are a lot of good things -- we'll definitely have a bunch of giants, a bunch of dragons, and it's going to be a good time.

What time frame are you looking at, then, for Module 8?

It's definitely going to be in the Fall, I'd say sort of in the "Octoberish" time frame.

Thanks very much for you time, appreciate it.

No problem!

During the demo, Paiz also mentioned that Turbine is updating the game to DirectX 10. Shorelines have been softened up a bit, and details, from the foreground to dragons far in the background flying around. Shadows also have gotten a makeover, and snow has been added into the game as well. DDO shares the same engine as Lord of the Rings Online, and since the DirectX 10 build was created for that game, it was an obvious choice to also update DDO. There are some additional steps to take, so they're not sure when it'll come out (some art assets will likely have to be redone), but it's in beta form right now.

Since she mentioned the LotRO engine, we asked if the music system from that game would be making an appearance in DDO at all, and Paiz told us that while they did like the system, they don't have ideas yet on exactly how it might be implemented, so there are no plans to include it in DDO yet.

She also said that hirelings (and most of Module 8) would probably be testing and playable in a few weeks -- they'll be posted on the test realm sometime near the end of September, and then go live with the Module later this year.

She walked us through the starting experience -- the NPCs given to starting players are designed to walk them through how the game is played and seen. While the player plays a support role for much of the storyline (including an ultimate fight with the dragon -- you knew it was coming, right? Apparently current players may already know it, as the dragon may make an appearance later in the game as well), they get to watch higher level NPCs, and get a nice preview for what's to come.

She also hinted at changes for Module 9. The level cap will be increased up to 20, and players will be headed to Shavarath, picking up the storyline from Mod 6 and 7. There'll be more arkons, more demons and devils, and "a nice balance" of celestial and demonic stuff. They just got the concept art in for a fortress where, as each army fell there, the next army was built on top of it, so there are cliffs with siege engines sticking out of them and crumbling leftover bricks underfoot. "I think it's going to be very satisfying," says Paiz.

We asked how, at level 20, the MMO would deal with extending the pen-and-paper game, and Paiz said she wasn't worried at all. Epic levels and prestige classes would fit great in the game, she said, and so that's planned for next year, as are Half-Orc and Half-Elf races. And now that players are in the higher levels, they say they want to expand more into the various Planes -- Shavarath will be first, because "there's a lot of richness there," but after that they're planning to head into a few more different ones.

The Druid class is also due out in the future -- it got switched with the level cap in terms of priority -- and they're trying to make sure that the transformation of the character into the avatar was right, not just in terms of how the character plays but in terms of how it interacts with other things in the game world. They're still iterating on that one -- they want to make sure it feels perfect. They are aiming for a nice diversity when thinking about what kind of forms Druids will have access to (and Paiz said the Monk set a good example for them), but it's still too early to hit on specifics for that class.

Finally, D&D nerds extraordinaire that we are, we asked if there was any chance we'd see the main Eberron continent of Khorvaire, and Paiz teasingly said that "there's a chance. There's always a chance." Wizards of the Coast is excited about seeing it in the game as well, but Paiz said that because the continent is so well developed already, it'll take a lot of work to get it exactly right, so they don't have specific dates or modules planned out for it yet.

On-site reporting for this post was done by Michael Zenke.