Update at bottom
Mike Mearls, the brainchild behind 5e Dungeons and Dragons, and general D&D head honcho is out. I first noticed something was up, when I caught he was doing some freelancer work for a Necromancer Games indiegogo a few weeks ago, but it looks like official word is out. His name is the big one on the project, and it seemed weird that the head guy of the biggest name in the game would be doing kickstarter work for moderately sized competition. It’s one thing if Necromancer Games was a one man no name shop, like me if I kickstarted something, and Mearls were doing me a favor, but they have been around since 2000, and consistently put out content. At the time I shrugged it off as weird, but its a small industry, so maybe he’s just got some side hustle and maybe WoTC has terrible non-competes. Turns out hes probably been out for a bit.
Broadly, Mearls was not my favorite RPG designer. In fact, he may be one of my least favorite because of his combination cringe-ie personality and general lack of direction. 5e has been a huge success, and more people know the term DND than ever before. That’s a win. WoTC Claims to have had their highest sales ever . They use the same language they always do, for whatever reason to exclude 3e, when they make this announcement every other year, but I believe them this time. That said, the actual rpg rulebook output is way low, the digital initiatives are “OK” and overpriced, and the general direction of the mechanics has been a strong decrease. Its easy to play, and the art is cool, but the actual rules pretty much across the board are steps back from the 3e era. My unfounded speculation is that a lot of the success is residual rub off wins from things like Stranger Things, Critical Role, and Celebrity Nerds, more than the quality of the product. I’m not against those things, but ultimately its a good brand, not a good game.
Ray Winninger seems like a random choice to folks I talk with. He did some AD&D stuff back in the day, a couple of small time supplements for other games, and then went to work at Microsoft for a decade before jumping back to WoTC out of nowhere to head the biggest name in the industry. I disagree, and think it’s a really solid choice for the role of “lead D&D guy”. The RPG industry is notoriously small, and friend’s of friends tends to be how you get jobs regardless of talent. Bringing someone who has experience as a “Senior Platform Strategist” for a major organization should bring some professionalism and big business sense to a very small time operation. Throw in the “true nerd cred” of having been someone who wrote RPGs when writing RPGs was a terrible career choice, and you know you have someone passionate about the industry. Some ins with Microsoft probably means some improvements in their digital front as well, and they haven’t done a good job of that … ever?
Seeing a new name in the mix has me cautiously optimistic about the state of D&D for the first time in a long time.
*Update 5/21/2020: In the ever expanding saga of mearls failing upwards, WoTC mentioned during DNDLive 2020 that mearls is still around splitting his time between computer games and the TTRPG.