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Dungeons & Dragons’ Design Team Has a New Head, Mike Mearls Exited Last Year

April 29, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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The Dungeons & Dragons design team has a new head, with former head Mike Mearls having been off the team since sometime last year. Senior story designer for D&D Christopher Perkins confirmed on Twitter that Ray Winninger is now an executive producer and the head of the D&D team, while lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford added that Mearls stopped working on the tabletop RPG team sometime last year.

Winninger himself confirmed the news in the latest issue of Dragon+ magazine, opening the issue with:

My name is Ray Winninger and I’m the new Executive Producer in charge of the Dungeons & Dragons studio at Wizards of the Coast. In just a few months on the job, I’ve already been impressed by the skills and the passion of the designers, artists, editors, and production staff who bring you our terrific D&D products. They are a uniquely talented group, and it is an honor to work alongside them.

Winninger is a veteran of the RPG industry, having co-designed Mayfair Games’ licensed DC Heroes RPG and Torg, a multi-genre game for West End Games. He also wrote for Dragon magazine, writing the “Dungeoncraft” column that helped guide new Dungeon Masters working on their own campaigns and serving as a contributing editor on the publication from 1999 through 2002. In terms of 5E, he did work on the Out of the Abyss campaign, where he’s credited in the list of designers.

Mearls began his work for D&D in 2005 when he was brought on by Wizards of the Coast to be on the design team. He was a lead developer on 4th Edition and was promoted to the position of lead designer in 2009. Mearls was the lead designer along with Crawford for 5th Edition, which has seen the tabletop game surge back into popularity thanks to a streamlined rules system that is more newbie-friendly than 4E and the rise of streaming shows such as Critical Role, Acquisitions Inc., D&D’s own Lights, Camera Action, and others.

The specific timing of Mearls’ exit from the D&D team is unclear. Mearls is still with Wizards of the Coast, but not on the tabletop D&D team. He did an interview in May of 2019 promoting the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign book and since then has done a few appearances in support of Larian Studios’ upcoming Baldur’s Gate III game. Mearls’ last direct tweet in relation to the tabletop game was in February, when he issued a statement on Wizards of the Coast’s relationship to Zak Smith, who was listed in the 5E book as a “contributor,” in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against him.

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Dungeons & Dragons, Jeremy Thomas