For many, she’s the kickass granny Rosie Beestinger on the Penny Arcade show Acquisitions Incorporated: The C-Team. But Kate Welch is far more than a streaming D&D player.
In fact, these days Welch is helping form the worlds in which we play, as she is one of the most recent hires for Dungeons & Dragons as one of their game designers. In a short amount of time she has become one of the most prominent faces for modern D&D audiences and players, helping influence the direction of the series and being one of many online personalities bringing new people in.
We got a chance to chat briefly with Welch about her role at Wizards of the Coast and the work she did on their next adventure, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. (All photos provided courtesy of Welch and WotC.)
BC: Hey Kate! For those not familiar with your career, tell us about your prior work in gaming.
KW: The bulk of my career before D&D was in video games! I spent four years working on and shipping Guild Wars 2, did some freelance work for Double Fine, then spent a few years working on a competitive shooter title at Amazon Game Studios. Most of my work has been in web and user interface design, which luckily involved learning quite a bit about general game design — you really can’t make great UX or UI unless you thoroughly understand the entire product, end to end.
BC: How did the opportunity come about for you to work for Dungeons & Dragons?
KW: Someone I followed tweeted about the job being posted, and I immediately emailed Chris Perkins in a fit of excitement and asked if it was real. He said it was, and he was not lying (FOR ONCE). So I applied through the website like everybody else.
BC: What was it like when you first joined the team? What have you been working on?
KW: From the first day, I have felt like I was valued. The team immediately welcomed me, and within a few weeks, it felt like I’d been here years. The first thing I worked on was Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, though only for the last couple weeks of its production — largely proofreading and copyediting. But at the same time, I was starting work on Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, as well as other unannounced products. They didn’t throw me in the deep end, but they have given me an enormous amount of responsibility since the very beginning.
BC: What’s the creative process like for you when taking on a new task and implementing it?
KW: No matter what the task, I almost always start with research. That’s doubly important here, since so much of the relationship we have as game designers to the game and to the players is that of a steward. We aren’t here to reinvent D&D; we’re here to keep it D&D, to be true to its core and its magic. Research helps me understand that core and that magic, and it helps keep the rails on the project. The second step of my creative process is to ask Jeremy Crawford a ton of nitpicky questions every day for the rest of his life. Third step is, obviously, fame and fortune.
BC: Having been a player and a fan, how is it for you seeing something you make become lore in the game?
KW: Listen — it is bananas. It’s exactly as bananas as you think it would be. I haven’t even invented anything from whole cloth yet; I’ve just tweaked something here or there, and it is such a thrill every time.
BC: Without giving too much away, what are some of your favorite moments of being involved in the creation of the books that are coming out this year?
KW: The review process behind the scenes of Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage was an absolute blast. Chris Perkins sent over every chapter of the book; I read it and marked up design questions, then we’d sit together for hours and go through everything chapter by chapter. Now that I’m writing it out, it sounds tedious, but it was full of laughter and goofiness. Chris, in particular, is an extremely talented writer whose sense of mischief pervades these books. If you find yourself giggling at some goofy nonsense in the Waterdeep adventures, there’s a 90% chance Chris Perkins wrote it.
BC: How do you think players will take to the new system in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist of having the seasons affect when you do the adventure and what’s available to you?
KW: Without giving away too much, I think that it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s unlike any mechanic I’ve ever really seen before, and I think it’s absolutely ingenious. Time will tell!
BC: Any final thoughts you’d like to express to fans about the game and where it’s headed?
KW: Being able to see this team and this process from the inside has been eye-opening for me. Sometimes studios talk the talk without walking the walk; I’m delighted to report that D&D is not one of them. This tiny team has been patient, thoughtful, funny, and kind — and somehow they also make books on an insane schedule. And they look good doing it. I don’t know, I think it’s wizardry.