ZAM @ PAX East: Dungeons & Dragons Online

With DDO's first expansion - Menace of the Underdark - on the horizon, we met up with Executive Producer Fernando Paiz at PAX East to talk about what's coming this Summer.

ZAM is also having a small twitter contest to give away Winter Wolf Pup Pet Codes! Just tweet / follow @ZAMOfficial or @Pwyff with why you should have a Winter Wolf Pup, and we'll select some lucky winners throughout today! You may enter once per twitter account for a total of two entries! Be sure to follow us, or we can't directly message you with your winning code!

If you win a Winter Wolf Pup code, just go to, and enter the code we give you. Then, log into the DDO game client and receive an item in your character inventory. You can then redeem this in-game item to Caypenn Drop-Axe near the Leaky Dinghy in the Stormreach Harbor to receive your swag bag and Winter Wolf Pup!

While the Turbine booth - a subset of the WB Games booth - at PAX East 2012 was a little understated in comparison to the huge, sprawling behemoths of other developer booths (I'm looking at you, 2K Games), the content they were showcasing was anything but. In focus this time around was, of course, the Dungeons & Dragons Online team with their Menace of the Underdark expansion set to launch June 25th, 2012. While my interview with Fernando Paiz covers most of the big features coming in Menace of the Underdark, I can't stress enough how great these graphical additions are looking in the game. After my interview with Fernando, I sat down for a brief guided tour through Eveningstar and the King's Forest, and I can easily say this is an expansion done right. Not only is the DDO team pursuing new concepts and themes with Forgotten Realms, but the whole thing just looks sharp. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what the DDO team can do with Forgotten Realms. Now on with the interview!

ZAM: We're here with Fernando Paiz, Executive Producer for Turbine's Dungeons & Dragons Online at PAX East 2012! How are things going today?

Fernando Paiz: We love this show because it's all about D&D! There are so many D&D players here; there's a huge Lolth statue over at the Wizards of the Coast booth that we both worked on together. The big Dungeons & Dragons expansion this year is all about the Rise of the Underdark and the threat of Lolth trying to take over as Queen of Magic of the forgotten realms, which we're doing as well, but with our own take on it. Of course, we're pulling in the heroes of Eberron who have become entangled in Lolth's web that will become a part of this storyline.

It's a really fun and epic story that will take you all the way from the Update 13 prequel through to the end of the expansion and your face-off with the Deity Lolth in the raid at the end of the expansion.

ZAM: What really big things are you hoping to do with an expansion like this for DDO players?

Fernando: The expansion, of course, is huge in a lot of ways. I'd say the first biggest thing is going to Forgotten Realms. I think most players know this, but our game has been set in Eberron, which is a specific D&D setting, which has an industrial magic feel to - more of a city environment - which is a very different flavor from the D&D you may have been used to playing in your pen and paper days if you played ten or twenty years ago. So here we're going to Forgotten Realms for the first time, which is a really big deal; it's very important to us. It feels special; it feels true to what the setting should be. So we're trying to do all kinds of upgrades to the game. Technology, systems, new art, new monsters and all kinds of new things are coming in so that we can create Forgotten Realms in the way we've always hoped to see it.

The first part of the overworld we have is Eveningstar. When we arrive from Eberron we're going to land near this village called Eveningstar. It's normally a peaceful village in the past, a hunting village, but of late it's come under attack by Drow raiding parties. In our story, they're coming out from the Underdark to attack the villagers of Eveningstar looking for something. 

Today we're showing off one of the early quests of the expansion pack in the town of Eveningstar, where the players go into a den belonging to some forest hags. Forest hags are mystical creatures that speak in riddles, and they sense the subconscious thoughts of people, which is why they're here. The forest hags are in league with the Drow, which is unusual in itself, because the Drow have asked the hags to figure out the answer to an important question that Lolth wants answered: "Where is the thread of the weave?" The thread of the weave is something that the Drow have figured out exists in the world and they believe is in Eveningstar or very close by. The thread of the weave is a vessel of Mystra's Power. Mystra is another iconic character in the Forgotten Realms - the queen of Magic of the Forgotten Realms - who has been missing now for several years. Lolth sees an opportunity here to rise up to assume the throne of magic to become the queen of magic herself on top of being the badass deity that she is. So our players have to stop Lolth because she's threatening Eberron and Eveningstar and a whole lot of other things.

So players are going to get familiar with this back story of the thread of the weave. The only thing the hags say - in their riddles - is that the thread of the weave is, "Something that everybody knows but nobody knows." So nobody knows what it is, but the power of Mystra does live in this vessel, the thread, and that's a mystery that starts off this storyline. Of course, we get to follow this storyline through three full adventure packs, where normally releasing adventure packs might have four or five quests in them. In this case, we get start with the King's Forest and Eveningstar, and then we'll go fight the Drow themselves in one of their home cities of Sschindylryn - the city of portals - where, like Eveningstar, there is a lot of lore and back story to it, but it hasn't been overdone in Forgotten Realms tales, so we get to create some of our own stories here. Sschindylryn is built on top of an ancient ziggurat, where players will eventually have a cool fight on top of that ziggurat. As the finale of the expansion storyline, we're going to keep following this epic story to fight Lolth in her home plane of the demon web. So this expansion will bring three sets of environments there, with the overworld of Faerûn (Eveningstar, King's Forest), the Underdark (the dungeons there and the city of Sschindylryn) and eventually the Demon Web (Lolth's home base). 

So there's this whole family of environments, and they all have new art, new monsters and cool new stories. There are also a lot of tech upgrades to support this and to make this a place unlike any you've seen in DDO before.

ZAM: In terms of working with Forgotten Realms and creating content for such an iconic setting, are there plans to explore more here?

Fernando: Absolutely. Menace of the Underdark, as huge a release as it is, is just the beginning for us of a whole new campaign. So we see all that promise out there. Right now we're in the forest, but one day we'll get to go to the mountains or the swamps that are nearby, or some of the other far-off locations that you might be hoping we'll go visit in the Forgotten Realms. This is by no means the end of the Forgotten Realms.

We're also building the world in a more open world feel, where you will be able to walk through different locations to see the spaces that connect them. The game still maintains its instanced rules, but we're building the world as if it were an open world. So you will be able to walk through the forest to get to the western edge, and eventually - in one of our future updates - you'll unlock something that's just beyond there. So you'll have a sense of the connectedness of the world that's a lot clearer than what you currently have in Eberron, where we're flying all over the place and it's all teleports and instances.

ZAM: So I guess one of your big focuses is that you want to expand the world of DDO. As you've said, Eberron is very heavily instance-based, so it feels very disconnected in that sense. This expansion and new setting is your chance to try something new, thematically, with your world building?

Fernando: That's basically right. I'd also note that DDO is not leaving Eberron; our heroes come from Eberron and our back stories are from Eberron. We'll be creating a lot of great new adventures for Forgotten Realms, but we'll also continue developing stories for Eberron and tying them in together. For us, we feel like we have a double-sized universe to work with to draw  ideas, stories and new adventures from.

ZAM: With such a huge expansion pack coming in June, are you still hoping to stick with your development cycle of a new adventure pack every two months thereafter?

Fernando: I'm hoping we're going to be able to roll out some other great updates once every two months after the expansion so that we can get three more in the back half of the year as well. So we have an update now with Update 13, we're taking a tiny break to do this huge release with the expansion, and then we'll follow it up in short order with a series of really great updates in the remaining months of the year.

ZAM: Any free adventure packs planned in expanding the Forgotten Realms or getting players into there?

Fernando: We're not commenting yet on how future updates will work. We still have a lot of stuff to nail down in the expansion, and then the details of that will come next. But we just did a free update, and most of our content tends to be premium. But of course we have the VIP program as well, and the VIP program will be that much better with the release of Menace of the Underdark. We have new content that we're adding all the time, and we also have the Druid class, which is a premium class we're releasing with Menace of the Underdark. We did something cool with the Druid where you don't have to buy the expansion to get the Druid class. Our VIPs will also be able to play the Druid from level 1, starting in Eberron, right with the release of Menace of the Underdark. So for those players that don't choose to buy the expansion right away, they can become a VIP to get access to the Druid, in addition to our other premium content and cool perks that we're going to put into the VIP program that I can't talk about yet. But our VIP program does keep getting stronger, and we'll have some cool new systems and new content that VIPs will get access to exclusively as well.

ZAM: Sounds fantastic, we're looking forward to hearing more in the future! Thank you!

Fernando: Thank you!

Chris "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief


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