Finally, last Friday, Wizards of the Coast did the unthinkable and changed the face of D&D 4E forever! They released, in a Rules Update Format, all the changes that D&D Essentials were going to make to “traditional” 4E in order to synch up all the rules.
[Editor’s Note: See Changes Coming in Essentials for the download of the impending rules updates.]
And with the new rules release, it does appear that what WotC had been saying all along is true. Essentials is not so much a new version of the game, but is simply a lot of rules clarifications and new builds. Now having perused the changes this past weekend, it does appear that the Design & Development Team has taken to opportunity to made quite a few rules tweaks, but nearly all of those were discussed in the two Countdown to Essentials articles: Powers, Implements, Feats… and Magic Item Rarity – although we did not know some of the details until now!
The Players Handbook… Defunct!
It would appear that the majority of the rules changes and clarifications appear to be aimed at the Players Handbook. As one of the first 4E books released, it has suffered the most ravages at the hands of new errata and rules updates which have accompanied the “evolving” game design philosophies seen in this version of D&D. Sadly, without a trusty and recently updated version of Character Builder at your fingertips, using the Players Handbook to create a Character would be a nightmarish endeavor, requiring a considerable amount of sifting through Rules Update documents to create it properly.
All of the original races, for instance, now have expanded options for starting stat bonuses, which definitely expand their ability to be optimized for a particular class. For example, the traditional Players Handbook Dwarf has had the following update to synch up with Essentials Dwarfs:
Page 36: When adding up your ability score bonuses, you now gain a +2 bonus to Constitution and your choice of Strength or Wisdom.
Just by this one small change – adding an option for a bonus to the Strength rather than a bonus to Wisdom -now allows Dwarf Characters to be more slightly more optimized as Fighters, Warlords, Barbarians, Sorcerers, Wardens, and Swordmages! And of course all the other Players Handbook Races will have similar enhancements based upon the new statistic options. Humans are an exception to the rule, but do get an option to add an Encounter power called Heroic Effort in place of the bonus At-Will, which allows them to add a +4 to an attack or saving throw after they miss their roll. I think this Encounter power will look pretty good to Players who have trouble with bad dice luck!
The other sweeping change Essentials is bringing to the table is to the Wizard Class. Many of the powers employed by Wizards from the Players Handbook and the Arcane Power supplement are seeing some major changes, often for the better – but not always. Nearly a score of Wizard Powers are seeing new clarifications and updates due to Essentials, ranging from minor edits to ranges to major changes in damage and combat effects!
There are also a few Feats that are being changed and clarified due to Essentials, but most of those changes seem to be made to make them easier to use for the most part. For instance the Non-AC Defense feats of Great Fortitude, Iron Will, and Lightning Reflexes now scale with level, rather than having a replacement Feat in the Paragon and Epic Tiers. This should come as a welcome change to many Players who had to swap out NADs Feats to keep up with monster attack powers.
Although it is worth noting that one Class Feature is being changed by Essentials – the Rogue’s Sneak Attack just became much more potent. Rather than just a once per round ability, Sneak Attack may now be used once per turn, allowing a Rogue to do significantly more damage in a round should opportunity attacks or a Leader’s powers present additional chances to add in Sneak Attack dice!
And finally, the new rules governing Magic Item Rarity will have considerable affects on the original items presented in the Players Handbook. By the new Essentials changes, all magic items in the Players Handbook are considered Uncommon, although there are a sizeable list of exceptions for items that are considered Common and can be created by Player-Characters.
But if there is one thing that D&D Essentials can be blamed for, it is in putting the final coffin nail in the first printing of the D&D 4E Players Handbook. With so many changes having been made, it becomes pretty obvious that WotC needs to seriously consider a reprinting of the 4E Players Handbook – and soon – to incorporate all the various rules updates, clarifications, and the new Essentials changes to the book.
Of course, in the minds of some Players, a need for a new Players Handbook reprinting constitutes a new version! But I don’t think that is an accurate assessment. D&D 4E is a dynamic and evolving game, where rules and content have been improved with each new book released. The new Character options and builds, the new game mechanics, and clarifications have made the game more enjoyable to play and have done a lot to maintain balance between the classes. For my part, I am pleased to see the game changing as time passes, with better Character designs and better Dungeon Master tools being made available to gamers. It has without a doubt done a lot to enhance the overall D&D 4E Experience!
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!