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Are D&D Essentials Truly Essential?

“Change always comes bearing gifts.” ~ Price Pritchett18

Last week, in addition to the bombshell dropped by the new 4E Errata release, Wizards of the Coast announced the nature of the new D&D Essentials Product Line.  Now, time and again, we have heard from WotC the adamant stance about not coming out with a D&D 4.5 Edition.  However, while they do not call the new D&D Essentials a new “edition” of the game, it does beg a couple questions:

Why are they releasing what amounts to new content in a new product line?

And to whom will the D&D Essentials Line be marketed?

Mike Mearls opened the discussion with his feature article, Commencing Countdown in which he offered considerable information about the product line, and some of the design philosophy behind it:

When the new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game first debuted, our goal was to draw established players into the game.  While we designed the Player’s Handbook to be accessible to newbies, we focused on creating a game that spoke to existing players.  Now that the new edition has passed its second birthday, it’s time for us to focus more on new players.

To that end, WotC has announced the creation of a “Red Box”, the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set, which will contain “classic races (human, elf, dwarf, and halfling) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard)”, as well as a sample adventure, dice, maps, and tokens.  On the surface, this seems a brilliant idea to get new Players and Dungeon Masters interested in D&D 4E, but surprisingly, there seems to be more going on than creating a single product “gateway” into tabletop fantasy role-playing.

Did we want to repackage the Player’s Handbook material for the core classes, or did we want to try something different?  After much discussion, we decided to push forward with class designs that would appeal to both new and existing players. We wanted to introduce greater differences of complexity between classes while also creating options that would interest veterans of the game.

So rather than creating a new Product Line aimed at “newbies”, it would appear that D&D Essentials plans to market to already existing Players as well.  And considering the products planned for release, one might be suspicious that Essentials is starting to feel like a new Edition, hiding under a new name:

  • Dungeons & Dragons  Fantasy Roleplaying Game:  the aforementioned “starter set”
  • Dungeons & Dragons  Rules Compendium:  “comprehensive book contains the essential rules of the game collected in one place”
  • Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Dice: “extra sets of dice so that every player has a set”
  • Heroes of the Fallen Lands: “contains these classes—Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard—and these races—dwarf, eladrin, elf, halfling, and human”
  • Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms: “contains these classes—Druid, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock—and these races—dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, and tiefling”
  • Dungeon Master’s Kit: “essential DM product features game rules, advice, adventures, maps, tokens, and a DM Screen”
  • Monster Vault: “features a collection of monsters for use in any Dungeons & Dragons game, from 1st level to 30th level”
  • Dungeon Tiles Master Sets: “three master sets of Dungeon Tiles (The Dungeon, The City, and The Wilderness) let you create encounter areas for any adventure”

But do not we, the already established Player and Dungeon Master, have these things in abundance?  Does WotC expect established Players, who have already been buying all the sourcebooks, to start buying Essential Products as well, regardless of redundancy?

One obvious question arises as to how, exactly, the Design Team plans to “push forward with class designs that would appeal to both new and existing players”?  Mike Mearls mentions a couple of points in his article, which would seem to be a fundamental restructuring of existing D&D 4E Classes, by looking “at eliminating daily powers and simplifying encounter powers” and “to embrace something similar to the old sub-class concept from bygone editions.”  He goes on to explain that “the classes presented in Essentials are different takes on existing classes, ones that share a similar place in the Dungeons & Dragons world but that use different mechanics.”

This announcement created a firestorm of speculation on message boards and on blogsites, with many Players and Dungeon Masters wondering just what will happen to existing classes, and how these new Essential Classes will replace them.  Wizard’s Community Manager, Trevor Kidd,  was quick to allay concerns with a post to EN World Forums:

The rules for playing the game don’t change (beyond adding the rules updates into the compendium), and a party could easily have an Essentials build rogue right along side a Brawny Rogue from PH1 – that is, assuming the party wanted two melee strikers.

Well, 4E gamers did not have to wait long for an answer, as just a few days ago, Bill Slavicsek published an Ampersand Special: The Essential Classes with a Cleric Preview. In this article, he discusses more theory and design philosophy of the creation of the D&D Essentials Product Line, as well as showing us a first glimpse of the Warpriest, an Essentials Cleric Subclass.

After reading Mr. Slavisek’s article, it is pretty clear that the WotC Marketing Team for D&D Essential is truly targeting all D&D Players and Dungeon Masters to cash in on the new line – new players, current players, and former players alike!

These 10 key products are designed to be a great place to start your Dungeons & Dragons game experience, as well as being a set of core reference tools for everyone playing the game.

Who are these products for?

If you’re a current player of the game, these provide a more comprehensive approach to the game rules, new options, and new material to add to your existing game.

If you’re new to the game, the Essentials products provide a great starting place for you to come in and experience the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game.

If you’ve been away from the Dungeons & Dragons game for a while, these products provide a perfect way to get back into the game. Many of the things we did with the new designs was directly inspired by the comments and suggestions of past players and Dungeon Masters.

I have to admit that the last comment raised my hackles a bit, as it would seem to suggest that the D&D Essentials line was being inspired and influenced by the “old school” D&D crowd.  While I count myself among that crowd, having picked up my first set of books more than 30 years ago, I am nevertheless pleased that D&D 4E is different from previous editions.  I relish that 4E “feels” like a new game with some familiar bits in it.  And I have concerns that WotC might be giving in to the “old ways”, which could end up bastardizing the current system.

The player character classes presented in Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms were designed after reviewing two years of game play.  Feedback from players contributed the most in shaping the design, but we also had to keep in mind that the classes needed to be accessible to new players and players returning to the game since the launch of the newest edition of the rules.

The overriding goal for the Essentials character designs was simple: Create character classes with easy-to-understand decision points.  A new player might not understand the difference between an attack that dazes and one that knocks an opponent prone.

Now admittedly, this point does make sense to me, particularly after watching my very veteran 3.5 D&D Players struggle with 4E Character generation.  There was an inherent failure, from simply reading the rules and Character power descriptions. to fully realize the nuances of 4E combat just from reading the rules.  In fact, back when that campaign started, I ended up letting my Players do serious editing on their Characters after a few encounters, once they had experienced how 4E combat works on the tabletop.

Tied to this was a secondary goal: Find ways to give the classes different levels of complexity.

These two points also loomed large in player feedback. Some players missed the diversity of different character class structures. They felt that the current versions of the classes looked too much alike. Others liked the ability to focus on more complex or simple character classes, depending on their tastes.

Here is where it gets scary again.  People who play MMOs can attest to what happens when a game is built too much on feedback:  MMO Character Classes “fixed” nearly to ruin by developers listening to the “feedback” presented on message boards.  Frankly, in the MMO world, many players are whiners.  They kick and fuss about “class balance” and “fairness” until their class gets a big boost, which causes players of other classes to do the same thing.  The Developers put out patch after patch, with power levels of classes shifting up and down, pleasing some players, and frustrating others.  It is not unknown for an MMOs to patch themselves right out of business, listening to their loudest and most vocal minority.

And in my opinion, it was the removing the “diversity of class structure” was one of the smartest things that WotC did for 4E, making the progression of gaining powers and abilities (At Wills, Encounters, Dailies, and Utilities) equal across all Character Classes.  Long time D&D Gamers have seen what happens to the melee classes in previous editions, compared to their arcane and divine powered comrades.  In short, over a long-term campaign, Fighters and Rogues become less significant in combat because their “class structure” was not as diverse as Wizards and Clerics.  Are we now seeing WotC back away from this design philosophy in D&D Essentials?

It’s important to remember, however, that we specifically built this to maintain compatibility with material that came before.  A knight can select fighter feats and utility powers from any source, and the same is true for all of the other classes.  The Essentials products allow us to roll out new approaches within the scope of the current game, not force you to buy new books and abandon your old ones.

Well, from a Dungeon Master perspective, that last statement pleases me.  I already feel that Players are inundated in an ocean of choices for their Characters, and adding more from D&D Essentials is not required, and can be ignored if desired.  In some respects, for existing D&D 4E Players, the Essentials Line sounds like a set of glorified Character Options, packaged with some dice, game pieces, and adventures.

Of course, the big question finally answered in this article was: “What does an Essentials Character Class look like?”  Regretfully, we were presented with only a partially preview of the Essentials Cleric, which, if anything, lead to more questions than answers.

The Essentials Cleric

The warpriest is a cleric that specializes in melee combat.  This class uses Wisdom for all of its attacks and focuses on weapon use rather than implements.  The warpriest is proficient with chainmail and light and heavy shields.  Most importantly, a warpriest chooses a domain that’s tied to the god that he or she follows.  That domain shapes the warpriest’s at-will and encounter attack powers while also providing a number of thematic class features.  A warpriest can still pick and choose from the wider body of cleric powers, but the class gains a few benefits when using thematically appropriate encounter powers.

Why This Is the Class for You: You like playing a character who fights in the thick of combat while wielding magic and healing allies.

So aside from a new Class convention, domains, and the use of a weapon rather than an implement, how does this class truly differ from a standard Cleric?  From what I could see, it does not sound as though much has been altered at all.  In some respects, it sounds like a divine, rather than psionic, Ardent, who is often in the “thick of combat”, hitting critters and healing allies.  Did we really need a whole new product line just to introduce domains?

Analyzing the progression table of the Warpriest, it reminded me quite a bit of the way the old 3.5 Class Level Table was laid out, which does not exactly instill a lot of confidence in this new Product Line.  Maybe others like the “retro” feel of it, but I cannot say I am a fan of seeing the 4E line take its cues from 3.5.

And at level 1, with the exception of adding the as yet, undisclosed, “Domain Features”, the Warpriest looks an awful lot like a Cleric – having Healing Word, Channel Divinity Powers, and a Daily Power.  So apparently, this is not one of the classes where the designers were looking at “eliminating daily powers” as Mike Mearls suggested in his article.  They also add a few powers, which again have not been revealed, such as “Holy Cleansing” at 4th and “Resurrection” at 8th.  Of course, any standard 4E Ritual Caster can can already perform a Raise Dead Ritual at 8th Level.  Can one infer that a Warpriest is “simplified” by granting him the ritual as an ability, without all the annoying confusion and diversity of letting him be a full ritualist?

They do add a Smite Undead Encounter Power, which inflict heavy weapon damage to a single undead and pushes it away a few squares and immobilizes it.  Not a bad ability for a Warpriest, but it bears a striking similarity to the Channel Divinity: Abjure Undead that Avengers already have.  The only real difference is the damage (2[W] vs. 3d10), and the Avenger pulls the undead toward themselves, whereas the Warpriest pushes the horror away, before both immobilize it.  Is a Warpriest essentially a Cleric with a smidge of Avenger lurking beneath the surface?

I really do not think that bringing new Players into D&D 4E requires this huge, and potentially game-changing, mass-marketing effort.  From my own experiences, in one of my 4E games I have 2 Players with only limited D&D experience, and in both games, none of my Players had played 4E prior to me starting my new campaigns.  To start their play experiences, it did not require a massive outlay of funds and new “red” boxes, but merely a trip to the store for some dice – although my more experienced Players bought themselves a Player’s Handbook.  That and a D&D Insider Subscription later, and we had two campaigns all set to play.

Admittedly, as a DM, I was the one to buy all the new books the Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual in addition to the Player’s Handbook.  But for the rest, battle mats and dice I had from long years of play and as a “learner” dungeon, for both DM and Players, we used the Loudwater Adventures from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide.  It certainly did not require the outlay of a 10 item Product Line to get the campaigns off the ground!

And from my own experiences over the years, new Players are usually introduced to the game by already established DMs, surrounded by already seasoned Players.  They are usually the minority in a gaming group, so that they can be helped to get up to speed by everyone around the table.  In many respects, D&D recruitment has almost been like the old apprenticeship system, where a new apprentice was immersed in the company of journeymen and masters at a craft, and helped to learn the trade.

From the hype, the D&D Essentials Line would seem to be aimed at a pack of newbie Players lead by a newbie Dungeon Master into the amazing world of D&D, and frankly, I just don’t see that happening too often.  Players will be drawn into playing D&D by friends and family members that are already experienced and well-versed in the game, and the D&D Essentials line is not going to be of much help to them – unless the group they play with is heavily into Essentials themselves.

Despite their promises, I believe that WotC is marketing the Essentials Line as another “must have” product for already established 4E Players and Dungeon Masters to spend their hard-earned cash on.  And while not calling it a new Edition, are making some pretty substantial changes to 4E Character Classes, and that sounds like a new Edition to me.

Are Wizards of the Coast trying to save themselves a horrendous “edition” backlash, by simply making Essentials Characters and previously existing Characters compatible with each other?  After all, if WotC Designer make the new Essentials Character Classes enticing enough and just a little more powerful than their previous  Classes, it will not be long before Players clamor at Dungeon Masters to add them to existing campaigns, and will have essentially created a stealthy new edition changeover without anyone complaining.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Artwork courtesy of the Player’s Strategy Guide by Wizards of the Coast.

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


30 Responses to “Are D&D Essentials Truly Essential?”

  1. Perico says:

    Great article – you sum up pretty much all the information that has been released on the Essentials line, and make some very interesting points. There is a thing I’d like to comment, though.

    >D&D Essentials Line would seem to be aimed at a pack of newbie Players lead by a newbie Dungeon Master into the amazing world of D&D, and frankly, I just don’t see that happening too often.

    I think that’s part of the point. You don’t need a specific product line for introducing new players that have a veteran DM to teach them and sell them the game. For that matter, you might not even need a marketing campaign for that. But spontaneous generation of gaming groups can, and should happen!

    I’ve seen it in action – in fact that is how I got into RPGs. I was a little kid who got a rule book, and decided to become a DM and lure my friends into it. The game needs this kind of audience in order to survive and, although it is not rare for older players to DM for their kids, there is a vast market of potential younger players without such cool parents ;)

    Now, 4E does a great job in managing complexity, but at the end of the day, it can still be an overwhelming experience for an aspiring player without external help. I think the new Red Box is attractive and cheap enough to attract many new players, but having them graduate to the complete game is a different matter, and will depend on the quality of the introductory books.
    .-= Perico´s last blog ..Broken Bits- Battlefield Archer =-.

  2. Bartoneus says:

    I can definitely understand a lot of the concerns you brought up, but I’m hoping these new builds will be along the same vein as the way Psionics were handled in 4E. It’s not a change like a new edition of the game would be, it’s just a new option for the Wizard class or other classes that make them feel more unique than the other classes as far as structure is concerned (again just like psionics was done). As long as it’s not horribly overpowered when compared to the old builds, which I imagine it won’t be, then I think the Essentials line will be fine.

    It is a shame when you think, “well now they’re just coming out with books that we all want to buy!” but in all honesty that’s the root of the job for WotC, to keep selling books and hopefully provide us with exciting and new content we really want to use (while hopefully keeping the game balanced, fun, and interesting). If they manage to do this and provide an easier way for new players to get into the game, it’s difficult I’m sure, but that’d really be a win for everyone involved!
    .-= Bartoneus´s last blog ..Interview- Steve Townshend- D&D Freelancer and Co-Author of “Demonomicon” =-.

  3. pdunwin says:

    I’m not concerned. If nothing else, for me a DDI subscription will keep me up to date. What I do like is the possibility that we might be getting a set that will make it easier for me to explain the game to my daughter and niece, or other people who are new not just to D&D, but to roleplaying games.

    I share the concern that whining by a minority has led to many of the changes we’ll see. I believe complaints have already led us to the hybrid system, of which I am not a fan. On the other hand, the reactions of WotC to the community voice has also led to a lot of updates I _do_ like. I remain confident that overall the changes to the game will continue to be positive.

  4. Eric says:

    I was not a fan of 4e at all, did not want it, and did not like the direction the games was heading. Essentials however has got me courious and it seems I will be dropping the coinage to by this “edition” of the game.

    I have always thought that the unspoken rule of the new Hasbro/WotC D&D line would be 4e would be the “last” edition. That not unlike Magic the Gathering simple transitions into new rule sets, that 4e would simple be dropped and the game would simply be called D&D. The Edition wars would end as no “new” editions would ever be released, only new rule sets slipped in slowly over time. Not really unlike the erratta updates of the past few years.

    It seems Essentials is a natural evolution of the D&D brand. The game will no longer be refered as 4e but simply D&D. Isnt this what WotC want anyways? And if WotC can heal some of the still open wounds of the Edition wars with Essentials isnt that a “good” thing?

    Like I’ve said I will be picking up Essentials more than likely.

  5. Hewligan says:

    Very good article. I don’t agree with every single point you make, but regardless, this was a well constructed piece of writing, and I enjoyed the 10 minutes I spent here. Thanks!

  6. Richard says:

    This pretty much sums up how I feel about Essentials too. I need to check out the rest of the previews but I’m really not keen!
    .-= Richard´s last blog ..Black Horse Parsantium Campaign Session 50 The Great Hall =-.

  7. Geek Ken says:

    Great post. I’ve thrown up my quandaries and feelings on the essentials. I can see the marketing aspect of making a product that both new and old 4E players may want, but I think it misses the mark. In the end I see this creating more of a divide for people that play D&D, rather than bringing them together under one product line. It’s a shame they just didn’t focus on releasing a bare-bones, finely tuned introduction box to D&D. Sounds like they want to roll out something that the 4E veteran will want to use in their game too.
    .-= Geek Ken´s last blog ..Lack of fluff in 4E and MM3 =-.

  8. [...] This post was Twitted by cintain [...]

  9. Cedric says:

    Well, as a regular on BoardGameGeek, I can safely say there *is* an audience for the “newbie friendly” Red Box sets: Nostalgic Dads who wish to give their children or nephews an introduction to D&D. Certainly the release of a second Basic Set for D&D 3.x, must have meant there was a market for these entry-level sets.

    Considering that the current way of making money for D&D seems to be one thin $30 hardback after another, I guess a “newbie friendly” set of books is a good enough alternative to repeated attempts to suck money from a small hardcore audience. And it seems that the Essentials player classes are quite optional — if you like the Cleric as it is, no need to buy an Essentials version (unless you’re looking for crunchy bits, I suppose).

  10. Cyric says:

    Great reading. You did a very thorough walk through all current information and sum it up in way that made it easy to foolow. Thx!
    .-= Cyric´s last blog ..AD&D 2nd – ab 1507 als Neuauflage =-.

  11. Matthew says:

    I have to disagree. You come across from the begin as highly suspect. As a long time player but also one who frequently introduces new players to the game I know how challenging it can some times be to bring newbie players up to speed on how to play. It is certainly useful to have experienced players to help but you can always sit and explain everything to a new player all at once. The usefulness of having a more cohesive starter material that a new player can purchase to help themselves get up to speed should be looked favorably on instead of with suspicion.

  12. Well I’m certainly not opposed to WotC trying to put out useful starting material for new Players. And there are several comments that would suggest that folks want to see something like that from WotC. However, the Essentials line is going WAY beyond what is needed for a “starter” pack, and that is what makes alarm bells go off for me. Logically, creating a starter pack should be leading new Players and Dungeon Masters into investing in the books that the rest of us have already dolled out hundreds of dollars on. But WotC, by their own admission, is targeting the community already hooked on 4E to dig deeper in their wallets to buy a set of books just to get more options. To me, Essentials looks an awful lot like a product line devised by a marketing team rather than a design team.

  13. Rob says:

    I’m a bit worried as well that the existing 4E line will be EOL’d with essentials picking up the baton.


    WotC is promoting their new line while waiting for the big reveal (GenCon) for the continuation of 4E.

    I for one LIKE the idea of the red box, but FEAR it’s the new edition, hidden within an edition.

  14. DM baloo says:

    I really don’t see essentials as a new edition at all, but a new product line that introduces new changes without overriding existing mechanics, that been said, i hardly think of them as a “Must Have” line.

    I’m toying with the idea of getting the red box for nostalgia of sort, i wasn’t around when the first boxed sets where sold and i guess i see this as an opportunity of getting something cool for the collection. I am looking forward though to the DM kit, if there is a significant packaging of tokens and maps would be a great addition (depending on pricing)

    Great post bro ;)
    .-= DM baloo´s last blog ..Dungeons &amp Dragons Essentials 101 =-.

  15. Patricio says:

    May be we must stop thinking of D&D as a game whose rules are stable, like chess or monopoly.

    Until now every edition gave us a sense of stability, as in “this is all you need to play”, but it was false because every day you have new spells, monsters and classes.

    May be we need to embrace the “software version” mentality, and approach new rules as we do new versions of MS-Word. “Do I need that new fancy ribbon? Probably not. My friends can send me files un 97-2003 Format? Cool!”

  16. UngeheuerLich says:

    Hi, you sum it up quite good, but i think you are too suspicious… maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that this essential line is really a great playe to start.

    If you don´t need those books, don´t buy them. But in my opinion, a new player should not be bothered with chosing an at-will and an encounter, when he has no experience at all in RPgaming. Especially when in PHB1 there are obvious choices (thankfully suggested in PHB 1,2 and 3). Still, it is a lot easier for a beginner to select a class and a race and start playing, making important choices from level 2 on…

  17. John A. Smith says:

    Based upon this and the recent “D&D Encounters” events that WotC was putting on I find myself wondering whether more is going on behind the scenes than we suspect. WotC’s current strategy seems heavily weighted toward bringing in new gamers and luring back those of us who turned our backs on 4E (I admit to some prejudice in that area, so feel free to take my comments with a container or two of salt). It seems to me that if WotC was satisfied with the popularity of 4E they wouldn’t be following such a course — some observers might even note a hint of desperation in their current actions. I agree with the author that WotC appears to be trying to have it both ways — a simplified new “edition” of D&D to draw in new players, but also including new rules that will attract existing gamers. If the suggestion that they’re going back to certain aspects of 3.5 proves true (and unlike the author I have no objection to this, as I never stopped playing and have no real problems with the game as it stood), one could possibly make the case that 4E isn’t doing as well for WotC as they’d hoped and that they’re now trying to get back some of the audience that they lost.

  18. Cedric says:

    Saying that 4e is a failure for WotC because they’re reaching out to new and old audiences is stretching the claim a bit.

    If WotC wants to entice lapsed 3e players, why wouldn’t they create some features that they were clamoring for, as long as it doesn’t impact the basic structure of 4e (which has been pointed out repeatedly, the essentials line won’t). Unless of course, people are of the opinion that WotC actively hates their previous 3e customers.

    And as for reaching out to new audiences…what has that to do with anything but sound business practice?

    I’m not saying that 4e is or isn’t a major success. But I really do think claiming that the existence of the essentials products has anything to do with that is stretching it a bit.
    .-= Cedric´s last blog ..Amulet Of Cold Comfort =-.

  19. Bill Slavisek seemed a might exasperated in his recent Ampersand Special, where he states:

    Not a New Edition
    No matter how I write the words or how many times I say it, confusion abounds. Must just be the nature of the internet, I guess. Well, here I go again …

    The Wizard Preview is very disconcerting, and adds unparalleled versatility to a 4E Character Class. By using a “Spellbook”, a Mage can change out its encounter, daily, and utility powers every time it takes an extended rest! I must say that as a DM, I am not in favor of this change, and will not allow it in my game. It seems ridiculously overpowered compared to other Class abilities, and breaks down the fundamental benefit of making a change or “swap” to a Characters feats and powers when they gain a level.

    Does anyone else feel they are trying to 3.5 their 4E?

  20. Eric Kiefer says:

    re: The Wizard Preview

    The 4E Wizard already has a spellbook that allows him/her to swap out the daily and utility powers during an extended rest. The “Tome of Readiness” build from Arcane Power allows the swap of en encounter attack power as a encounter “free action”. Every time you gain access to a new level of encounter powers, you can change the power stored in your tome to one of the new level effectively giving you two encounter powers of the highest level and you can each encounter, choose which of those two to cast.

    Many of the magical Tome implements in Arcane Power and Adventurers Vault 2 add two more Daily powers that you don’t have to prep. You instead “spend” a daily power of the same or higher level as a free action to use one of the daily powers that were chosen when the tome was created/bought/found.

    Right now, I’m playing a 4th level wizard with the Tome of Readiness class feature, and who has a +1 unspeakable tome of the replenishing fire (unspeakable is a superior implement type from PHB3). He can swap his utility and daily powers at each rest (choice of two per level of the power), and can swap “in combat” the highest level encounter (tome of readiness class feature) and dailys (for the two fire powers in the magic implement). As I level up, and collect more magical tomes, I’ll have even more dailies that I could potentially “combat swap” like that if I don’t sell the older tomes.

    So, this is not that much more powerful than builds that already exist in 4E. I would argue that making me choose the encounter power only after an extended rest is less powerful than what I’m doing now.



  21. Jeff N. says:

    Personally, while I might (initially) allow a mingling of the Essential classes and the current classes in my games, I do like that it has a retro/classic D&D flavor to it since, if for nothing else, I can throw these books at every person who gripes that 4ed “doesn’t feel like D&D anymore”.

    As for the Essential Wizard preview (”Mage”), I don’t think it’s terribly wacky and the wizards in 4ed have always had more versatility than the other classes. The current wizard already have the ability to swap out their dailies and utilities after each extended rest (i.e. long rest). And the current wizards can use the Tome of Readiness implement mastery to add more versatility to their encounter powers, plus there are feats like Improved Tome of Readiness (from Arcane Power) and Expanded Spellbook to increase that versatility.

    It looks like the “Mages” get that power versatility for free (or rather directly integrated into the class), while losing the free rituals and the implement mastery. They do gain a school specialty though.

    Like I said, nothing wacky and it looks like AD&D. Simple and straight forward enough for a rookie to pick up and play, plus enough retro feel for old skool player to appreciate.

  22. As someone who was a huge 4E cheerleader up until a few months ago, I agree that the Essentials line is an odd duck, and for my money, I would far rather have seen a re-release of the original PHB (Revised and Expanded!) including all the errata and updating the character classes/races to be more in line with the rest of the game products post PHB2.

    Instead, they are creating a product line that strays even farther from the core of 4E. Beyond that, despite all claims of the designers that “nothing is going on” it certainly appears that they are trying really hard to convince us that “nothing is going on.” And though they’ve shown a little bit about the classes to make that case, I wonder about the races included in these products. If they are exactly the same as in the Players Handbook, why bother rewriting them and making customers pay for pages they already have? If they are not the same, but reflect the flex-stat-style found in PH3 (and other changes) then do you honestly think that they won’t replace the current versions?

    Too much hassle, too much trouble and the game is growing increasingly to slant toward a style I don’t enjoy at all.

  23. @morrisonmp – I think you’ve summed up nicely the logic behind why I posted the editorial in the first place. It seems that a lot of material is going to be rehashed, reprinted, and republished just to try to attract a stray 3.5 Players that are on the fence about 4E. I have to wonder how many 3.5-to-4E fencesetters there really are, and if all this change to make Essentials more 3.5 friendly is really going to entice them?

    Personally though, instead of a new and revised PHB, I’d rather see WotC invest cash in looking to publish their source books electronically, so that errata could immediately be “patched” into them with a simple download. I’d love to be able to prep my game completely from my laptop, having all books and materials right on my hard drive, rather than having to sit here still surrounded by books and a computer while I prepare my 4E games.

  24. I see the new classes as a comparable with the existing ones but much simpler to pick up and play, so new option and less book for people that want to try the game

    so no new edition but a try to get a wider audience

  25. :Fabio:
    I don’t see how the new Wizard will be simpler to pick up and play. If anything, having to choose which encounter powers I have prepared is more complex than the existing design.

  26. Colmarr says:

    I must admit that I fear essentials will be very much a regression towards v3.5.

    Gaining new class features at higher levels? Check.

    Wizard spells per day chart? Check

    Auto-hit magic missile? Check (ok, it’s not essentials but the timing is suspiciious).

    Wizard spellbook applying to encounter powers? Check

    What scares me the most is a mention that was made somewhere in a WotC article about making changes so the (paraphrased) game made more sense. What’s the bet that leads to martial character classes losing their daily powers?

  27. David Vega says:

    I see too much repetition to not read this as a new edition and that really gets to me.

    I would have expected them to finish all their books to #3 before pulling out a new Essentials Line.

  28. destrachan says:

    I didn’t like the essentials line before I read this article, and i like them less now. the current rules are fine, and wizards does not need to be mucking around where thing are already fine. i will not be buying these products, as i think they are idiotic and purposeless.

  29. Great look at the Essentials line that pretty much mirrors my thoughts on it.

    On my forum and online I have been calling it 4.5 since these products first showed up on the release calendar. I’ve changed that now, and I can see why they aren’t calling it a new edition. That’s because it’s a step backwards. This is more like 3.9 then 4.5 (I use 3.9 as most people use 3.75 for Pathfinder). I really do think they are trying to sell us some snake oil designed to attract the 3.5 players who didn’t change to the new edition.

    The new Wizard powers directly address complaints I have heard over and over from 3.5 spellcasters – no choosing spells, less options, no specialization. The Cleric complaints were similar – we are all the same now and that’s lame, where did the domains go? The new fighter has been simplified back into a die roller as well (not sure who this one was supposed to please).

    The one thing I would really like to know though is how this will affect RPGA. I see on the WotC site two different sets of character creation rules. One for Living Forgotten Realms and one for RPGA. Is LFR getting the boot? I also wonder as a RPGA DM if I will need to pick up the Essentials line due to players showing up with Essentials characters? Will new essentials monsters show up in RPGA modules? If I want to continue to run events am I forced to buy new books even though there isn’t a new edition?

  30. [...] Are D&D Essentials Truly Essential? from NEUROGLYPH Games ( [...]

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