D&D drama: Key figure in RPG’s redesign quits as playtest looms

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Dungeons & Dragons

For roleplaying enthusiasts dreading yet another makeover for the venerable tabletop fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons, one of the saving graces has been that Monte Cook, a senior architect of the enduringly popular 3rd Edition, was involved in the forthcoming 5th Edition, which has been dubbed by insiders as “D&D Next.”

Not so fast! Cook announced on his blog Wednesday that he has parted ways with the production team:

Last week I decided that I would leave my contract position with Wizards of the Coast. I am no longer working on Dungeons & Dragons, although I may provide occasional consultation in the future. My decision is one based on differences of opinion with the company. However, I want to take this time to stress that my differences were not with my fellow designers, Rob Schwalb and Bruce Cordell. I enjoyed every moment of working with them over the past year. I have faith that they’ll create a fun game. I’m rooting for them.

D&D R&D senior manager Mike Mearls said in an update on the game’s official website that he was “surprised, and frankly saddened” by Cook’s departure from the project. He also dropped a start date for the long-promised public playtest of the new rules set — May 24:

Maybe you’ll cheer, or maybe you’ll engage in heated and passionate debate. In either case, we’re absolutely dedicated to making D&D Next a modular game, one rooted in the traditions of tabletop RPG play while poised to blaze a trail toward a vibrant, exciting future. In the end it is you, the audience, who will determine the future of D&D. The game is too big, and too important, to stand for anything less than that.

Cook’s omission of Mearls from his praise for “fellow designers,” and his insistence that his decision to end his contract work was “based on differences of opinion with the company” (referring to Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast and, perhaps, Mearls personally), fires the imagination about what feud could possibly force a figure as steeped in the lore of D&D as Cook to abandon the project. But as he mentions a nondisclosure agreement, we may never learn the details. After all, Hasbro takes its intellectual property very, very seriously.

UPDATE: An update to Cook’s blog clarifies things … a little:

Praise for one person is not criticism for another. Singling out one does not automatically imply exclusion of another. 

To be certain, I enjoyed much of my time working with everyone who’s been involved with the new edition of D&D: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Bruce Cordell, Rob Schwalb, Miranda Horner, Tom LaPille, Rodney Thomson, Greg Bilsland, Matt Sernett, Rich Baker, James Wyatt, and everyone else. The WotC RPG R&D department is full of talent.

Bruce and Rob were the guys I spent each and every day with, though. They were my team. I’ll miss the daily doses of their creativity and friendship.

Thanks, Obi-Wan Shinobi — and awesome handle!

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