Promoted heavily this year was Gen Con’s first ever keynote address. Unfortunately, it turned out not really to be a keynote address as the featured speaker, Greg Leeds, President of Wizards of the Coast, barely spent any time on stage. Instead the event was mostly a scripted panel discussion about D&D Next with Mike Mearls, Jon Schindehette, and Ed Greenwood of WOTC, and hosted by Kevin Kulp of EN World.

Still, in terms of D&D Next, the presentation was fairly informative. Mike Mearls estimated that the playtest process would take another 2 years, meaning the release of actual products will probably take place at Gen Con 2014. According to Mearls, 75,000 people have signed up for the playtest so far.

One of the teasers in the promotional material for this event was an announcement about the “re-birth of a fantasy setting.” This had a lot of people speculating about what old TSR campaign setting might return. Instead though, the re-born setting turned out to be a new incarnation of the Forgotten Realms. Much of the presentation focused on how the changes to the Forgotten Realms, called “The Sundering”, would be revealed in a series of six novels by authors R.A. Salvatore, Paul Kemp, Erin Evans, Richard Lee Byers, Troy Denning, and Ed Greenwood. Kevin Kulp described this as “the story that’s going to set the Realms right.”

Not much detail about The Sundering was revealed (“There will be war”). However, Greenwood and Mearls made pains to emphasize that the Realms would again become a place where the actions of the players’ heroes will be the focus. Once the initial products have been released, WOTC intends to survey players and have the results of local campaigns reflected in the future release of Realms materials. In fact, those initial Forgotten Realms products—two adventure modules—are actually scheduled for launch in 2013, before the new D&D Next rulebooks.

For those, like me, who were hoping for the return of Greyhawk, Mearls also announced that starting in early 2013 WOTC will once again make its entire back list of Dungeons & Dragons products available in electronic format. A source told me that WOTC is currently in the process of negotiating the details with One Bookshelf (DriveThruRPG & RPG Now).