Recently Wizards of the Coast surprised fans with Plane Shift: Zendikar, a D&D supplement that let players plan campaigns set in a plane of existence from Magic: The Gathering — a first-ever crossover between the two venerable fantasy worlds. Now they’re at it again, but this time it’s a journey to the creepy Innistrad, and we have the first look.
Like Zendikar before it, the Innistrad supplement was written by James Wyatt, and features rules and background information for game masters to plan their own fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in Magic’s Innistrad, home to creepy cathedrals, bloodythirsty vampires, rampaging werewolves, and all sorts of spookiness (as well as the setting of many a Magic expansion, including the recent Shadows over Innistrad).
We spoke to Wyatt to discuss the new book, why Innistrad was perfect choice for Dungeons & Dragons, and what Wizards of the Coast hopes for the future in crossing over its two legendary fantasy series with each other — check it out below, alongside pages of Plane Shift: Innistrad, making their debut here on Kotaku. Don’t forget to click the magnifying glass to enlarge them!
Kotaku: How did the idea to tie the Magic and D&D universes together like this first come into fruition?
James Wyatt: These booklets were the result of several conversations among different people as The Art of Magic: The Gathering — Zendikar went from earliest concept to printed book. Early on, Magic creative guru Jeremy Jarvis told me he had a secret agenda for that book, which was that it would be a campaign setting with no rules.
At the time, we talked about the idea that we could publish a booklet that would give it that little extra step, but neither of us gave much credence to it. But then I had conversations with Jeremy Crawford on the D&D team and Adam Colby on the Magic Brand team, and it started to seem like a more real possibility. Adam really became a champion for the cause, and he’s the one who made sure it finally happened.
For my part, I was writing the rules anyway — I ran a short-lived Zendikar campaign for the creative team. So the extra effort of polishing the writing and laying out the pages is all that was really required from me in order to make it happen. And now I’m running an Innistrad game — using Curse of Strahd. So really, this is all in service to my own gaming needs!
Kotaku: What makes Innistrad so suitable for this transiting from Magic to D&D?
Wyatt: Innistrad draws from the same roots of Gothic Horror as Ravenloft (the original adventure as well as the various incarnations of the campaign setting) in the D&D Multiverse. There are plenty of differences between them, but Innistrad is just as ripe as Ravenloft for horror-themed D&D adventures.
Kotaku: Were there any challenges integrating elements specific to this setting compared to your work on Zendikar?
Wyatt: Working on Innistrad was different from writing Plane Shift: Zendikar in a couple of ways. Innistrad is a human world, so there were no races to write up — which was one of the most substantive parts of the Zendikar booklet. I did variant human “races” for the different provinces of Innistrad instead, which proved to be a really interesting (to me) exercise in taking the rules in the Player’s Handbook and adding a specific flavour to them. I gave a lot more attention to the most common “creatures of the night” — vampires, werewolves, zombies, and geists — than any particular monster got in Zendikar. And a large part of the Innistrad booklet is suggestions for translating Curse of Strahd over to Innistrad, which is, more than anything, a happy coincidence of timing between D&D and Magic.
Kotaku: What’s the process like deciding what to bring over from the card game?
Wyatt: I am explicitly not interested in messing with the fundamental mechanics of D&D. For the purpose of these booklets, I’m not going to reinvent the D&D magic system, for example, or create specific rules for Planeswalkers. Given a fictional world like Zendikar or Innistrad, you can use the Magic rules as an interface to interact with the world, or you can use the D&D rules as an interface. When you’re playing a roleplaying game, it’s a lot easier to use the D&D rules. Of course you can tinker with the rules as much as you want, but I don’t like to do more work than I have to!
Given that starting point, the two most important things are making sure that the players can make characters native to the world in question, and making sure that the Dungeon Master has the resources needed to create and populate an adventure. Races are the most obviously important player option — how do you play in Zendikar if you can’t play a kor or a merfolk? I have so far opted not to tinker with classes too much, because classes are supposed to represent fantasy archetypes that are common to most worlds in the Multiverse(s). For Innistrad, I spent a fair amount of time talking about the Avacynian church, because it’s such an important part of the world and likely to be significant to many player characters. That includes a new background, the Inquisitor, to reflect the particular training and role of certain characters associated with the church.
From the DM’s perspective, you need monsters and adventure ideas. For Zendikar, I wanted to make sure you could interact with felidars and krakens, and I tried to give the tools you’d need to throw a huge variety of Eldrazi at the characters. For Innistrad, I focused on the most important horror monsters.
Kotaku: What was the one thing — be it a location, creature, or specific character — you were most excited to pull from Innistrad and re-imagine in the mechanics of D&D?
Wyatt: I’m stupidly happy with the Creepy Doll monster in this booklet. But I was also really excited to present mechanics to differentiate the vampire bloodlines, the werewolf howlpacks, the angel flights, and various skaabs (flesh golems) from each other. I’m also really pleased to be running an adventuring party consisting of a ranger from Kessig, an archmage of Goldnight, a Thraben inquisitor, and a “reformed” laboratory assistant from Nephalia. It’s when the rules come into contact with players that the magic really happens.
Kotaku: First Zendikar, now Innistrad — can we expect to see even more Magic worlds come to D&D? What about the other way around, and getting to see D&D in Magic?
Wyatt: I will admit that I am thinking about Plane Shift: Kaladesh now that The Art of Magic: The Gathering — Kaladesh is at the printer! But it’s a challenge, and still churning in my brain. And I can barely think beyond that point, let alone talk about it, so we’ll have to see how it pans out.
There’s a big difference between one former D&D designer who now works on Magic writing these short booklets in his spare time, on the one hand, and all the effort required to make an actual Magic card set, on the other. Putting D&D in Magic would be a whole different ballgame.
To find out more, visitDragon Magazine.