A special Dungeons and Dragons event was held on Thursday night at Gen Con.  Billed as a keynote address, it did begin with an introduction from Gen Con owner (and former Wizards of the Coast CEO) Peter Adkison and a few remarks by current Wizards of the Coast CEO Greg Leeds.  But the meat of the event, held at an offsite hall that held over 600 people, was a panel discussion between senior D&D R&D team manager Mike Mearls; WotC Senior Creative Director Jon Shindehette; and author and Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood; moderated by EN World’s Kevin Kulp.

Mearls started off by discussing some of the reasons why the process of revamping D&D was undertaken.  "A significant chunk of D&D fans are unhappy with how D&D has changed over the years," he said.  He also noted the role that fans play in creating the game.  "D&D is your campaigns, your stories, your house rules, your characters"  he said.  "And we’ve lost track of that and now we’re going to talk about how to bring that back."  The goal will be to create a version of D&D that “will appeal to everybody, regardless of which version they’ve played."

The beta test of D&D Next, on which some 75,000 fans have given input, is going to be a long process lasting two years or more.  That would put the release of the new version in 2014, since the beta testing started earlier this year.

WotC did announce some steps that will occur between now and the release of the new version.  It plans to release digital versions of the entire D&D archive back to 1st Edition beginning in early 2013.  The format and business model for this release was not revealed.  The company pulled back on PDF releases of its products in 2009, citing piracy as the reason (see "WotC Ends PDF Download Sales").

WotC will focus on one world for now, and that world is Forgotten Realms.  Greenwood described the editorial event that will set the stage for D&D Next, noting that it will not be like Spellplague, the event that ushered in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition in the Forgotten Realms world.

Six authors will write novels that will "right the realms," Greenwood said, in a major storyline called Forgotten Realms: The Sundering.  They are:

R.A. Salvatore: The Companions
Paul S. Kemp: The Godborn
Erin Evans: The Adversary
Richard Lee Byers: The Reaver
Troy Denning: The Sentinel
Ed Greenwood: The Herald

Two Forgotten Realms: The Sundering adventures will also be released in 2013, in a generally slow period for new D&D releases in the run-up to the new edition.