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D&D Essentials: Bowing to the Inevitable

Writers, philosophers, and statesmen have proclaimed over the course of many years a number of things that are inevitable, and these include change, conflict, life, evolution, and success – just to name a few.  hos 180Certainly, in the past several days, I have become acquainted with a few of these inevitable things myself, since the posting of my review of Heroes of Shadow, and my commentary about WotC’s attitude toward “Core” D&D 4E.

There was plenty of inevitable conflict over my editorial, with some folks taking exception to my stance on how Essentials was marketed to the D&D community.  There were comments on both Neuroglyph Games and EN World taking strong exception to my labeling Heroes of Shadow as a D&D Essentials product.  But given the lack of any exclusive Traditional 4E material, and a substantial amount of exclusive Essentials material, it seemed obvious to me as to the type of 4E the book supported.  I am sure that we have not heard the last of this particular discussion, which will doubtless resurface when Heroes of Shadow is made available on April 19th to all the D&D Community.

And I still stand by my original assessment:  Overall, I really liked the content in Heroes of Shadow.  I think it has great D&D Essentials material in it – which, yes, we all know, can be used with Traditional 4E.  I just wish WotC had been honest about the fact that D&D Essentials was going to become the new design paradigm for all future releases.

In many respects, inevitable change and inevitable evolution is at the heart of D&D Essentials.  Traditional D&D 4E represented a fundamental change from the old AD&D design structure, which had evolved through multiple editions, increasing in complexity and scope, and now exists as Pathfinder.  In that same pattern, D&D Essentials is the next design evolution in this new 4E design structure.  Inevitably, it will not be the last evolution in 4E we will witness as the D&D gaming market develops and changes over time.

And it is the inevitable success of D&D, as a brand name, that has motivated Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro to make the decision to evolve 4E into D&D Essentials.  As D&D Essentials was originally “pitched”, it certainly made sense that 4E needed a way to attract new players to its ranks, to replace those who chose to maintain ties to the original AD&D design structure, and move to Pathfinder.   I suppose that one could assume that D&D Essentials enjoyed considerable success during its initial publication, throughout the fall of 2010, which prompted the decision to cancel all purely Traditional 4E releases in favor of only those containing Essentials material in 2011.

Inevitable Change

Given the fact that all content going forward will be no longer contain purely Traditional 4E content, I face an inevitable change in my D&D campaign.  So as a Dungeon Master and D&D player, I am left with four choices of gaming options:

Option 1: Abandon D&D 4E altogether, both Essentials and Traditional content, and start playing Pathfinder or an earlier version of D&D.

pathfinder coverWhile I am sure Pathfinder is a good game, and I have spent years enjoying D&D in all its editions, I would not readily go back to playing a game founded upon the AD&D design structure.  As I explained in one comment to my editorial on Wednesday, D&D 4E fixed a major flaw in the old editions – the disparity of powers and combat options of the spellcasting classes versus the melee classes.  I would not go back to playing a game where melee classes had the option of just swinging a melee weapon, while spellcasters chose from an overwhelming arsenal of spectacular powers and combat effects (ie. spells).  That disparity lead to frustration in more than one of my campaigns over the years, and 4E fixed all that by offering many more combat options to melee classes, while reducing those of spellcasters to a reasonable size.   Additionally, by providing various powers for melee classes, this added “cinematic” elements to them that were previously only enjoyed by those classes who cast spells.  These D&D 4E features are not only very attractive but also a lot of fun, and I would hate to give all that up.

Option 2: Maintain a Traditional 4E game without using D&D Essentials material to create and build characters.

This is not an unreasonable option, and not difficult to implement, as all classes, feats, and powers are labeled in Character Builder by origin, so it would be easy to draw the line at having no “Heroes of…” content in a campaign.  One could argue that there are sufficient amounts of content with three PHBs and numerous “Powers” books, plus Dragon Magazine articles, to happily run D&D 4E campaigns for years.  Regretfully, this option also would close off a campaign to a lot of good material, including the Heroes of Shadow, and the upcoming Heroes of Fey due out this fall.  One must also assume that future Dragon Magazine articles will be written to be either exclusively D&D Essentials in design, or at least compatible with Essentials and Traditional 4E, making it more challenging to maintain a pure Traditional 4E content.  So while possible to do, one has to wonder if this option offers the best choice for a campaign.

Option 3: Drop all Traditional 4E content, and choose to run with only D&D Essentials for the campaign.

dnd essentials productsAs D&D Essentials is now the primary design paradigm, as discussed in Option 2, it would actually be easier to drop Traditional D&D 4E and use only Essentials material, rather than the other way around.  But having playtested D&D Essentials with players already used to Traditional 4E, there was a definite dissatisfaction with how limited Essentials characters are in their build options – and in the cases of the melee characters, even combat encounter options.  With the removal of daily powers from many melee classes, as well as the limited number of power choices at each level, Traditional 4E gamers I invited to my “Essentials trials” were, frankly, underwhelmed, and in at least two cases, the words “boring” were used to describe their combat experiences.  So clearly, while this option is easier to implement than option 2, it has the potential to lead to player dissatisfaction by creating that same disparity of options between melee and spellcasting classes that AD&D design paradigm had.

Option 4: Use a hybrid of all D&D Essentials and all Traditional 4E content when designing and creating characters.

This final option is the easiest to implement, as Character Builder already considers it a foregone conclusion anyways, and would allow players to decide if they want to play an Essentials character or a Traditional 4E character with a selection of powers and feats from all sources.  And some players might elect to choose to go ahead and use an Essentials melee class, despite it having less combat options, out of expediency, or to enjoy a particular role-playing experience that Essentials class/build might evoke.  However, this is still not a perfect solution either, as creating a massive power and feat pool from all of Traditonal 4E content along with all of D&D Essentials content can offer untold opportunity for “min-maxing” and the creation of potentially game-breaking characters.

As Bartoneus from pointed out in one comment I read on another site (and pardon my paraphrasing here) – while D&D Essentials content is compatible with 4E, it is not always a perfect fit, with some powers and feats referencing specific mechanics found only in Essentials builds.  For example, some Wizard spells reference the Expert Mage build chosen by the character, which only an Essential character build would have.

And in other cases, some feats and powers are designed more powerful for D&D Essentials than comparable ones from Traditional 4E.  For instance, compare Weapon Expertise (Axe) to Axe Expertise – both provide a +1 feat bonus to attacks, but the Essentials Axe Expertise Feat also allows you to reroll a result of 1 on the damage dice – which is virtually making all axes Brutal 1.  There are many other examples of powerful D&D Essentials feats, which are used to make up for the more restrictive class design in Essentials builds.  Placing those same feats in a Traditional 4E character, which does not have the same design restrictions as an Essentials character, gives that character an increase in power, and opens the door to further min-maxing.

So while choosing this option is by far the easiest, and allows for future product releases to be used and enjoyed by a campaign, it also presents the greatest challenge for the Dungeon Master.  A Dungeon Master must now analyze even more powers and more feats, and consider their synergistic effects, to prevent a character from being over-optimized and min-maxed – which can be inherently encounter breaking, if not game breaking.  Further, players creating Traditional 4E characters will have to peruse nearly twice the content when deciding feats and power selections, slowing down the character design process considerably.

So inevitably, life must go on, and I feel the best course is to present these four options to my two D&D gaming groups.  My personal preference, despite a few reservations, is Option 4 – and I pretty much accept that this is what WotC planned all along when it designed D&D Essentials.  I can only hope my players agree with my assessment, and are comfortable with the final decision.  Perhaps bowing to the inevitable has its rewards, and my gaming group and I can find more fun than frustration in this newest “evolution” of D&D.

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.


14 Responses to “D&D Essentials: Bowing to the Inevitable”

  1. Alphastream says:

    I doubt you worry excessively about what others say, but for what it is worth, the majority of people likely read what you write not because it is always correct and perfect but because it contains valuable insights and perspectives (including places where you are to some degree incorrect or don’t represent a reader’s perspective). Continue to do the things that so many appreciate.

    On the topic of Essentials, I don’t really see a problem at the table. While Essentials has increased the cheese level the game still plays fine. A DM or organized campaign can simply increase the ratio of MM3, MV, and DSCG monsters or update monsters and everything will largely work fine. They can further place safeguards into the adventure – easy bits that allow rapid scaling if needed (a monster surrenders if the combat is excessively too hard or a new one walks in if it is unreasonably easy). When it comes to players, they are smart enough to choose Essentials if they find it fun and to not choose it if they find it boring. While Essentials is often simpler, the products are amongst the best written for 4E in terms of the way they are written. They help communicate the RP in the RPG in a far better way. Heroes of x books are far better than PH1, for example, in flavor. MV is a sea change for the better as compared to MM1.

    Further, while WotC has said Essentials is their new design paradigm, and I do have some issues, it is a flexible enough system that the revised Essentials warlord is really not very different at all from the traditional one and close enough that bloggers can disagree over what is classic and what is Essentials. That actually bodes well for the system as a whole.

    My thanks for the great content and reviews you provide. Keep up the good work.

  2. anarkeith says:

    I recently had a player come to the table and, before play began, announce that the new daily power his character had chosen (upon leveling) was probably “broken” with his character build. During the session he obliterated an NPC three levels higher than he was in two shots (the ongoing damage from the “broken” power was massive, but didn’t really play a part in the problem.)

    The trouble (in my mind) with the Alexandrian Library-full of power options that now make up D&D, is that there is no way to accurately verify that this sort of thing won’t happen. There are too many variables. So, again in my opinion, placing limits on players seems reasonable. It’s certainly ideal to discuss with your players what those limits will be, but in the context of the full history of D&D rules, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to impose some.

    Perhaps limiting Essentials-builds to Essentials options, and doing the same for “core” 4e? I just looked back at the Rules Cyclopedia from 1991 that collected all the materials from the various iterations of D&D up to that point and presented them in a (relatively) cohesive format. The “powers” that the character classes have are laughable. Yet we had fun with all of it, none the less.

    Deciding that PCs aren’t worth playing because they have a sub-optimal collection of combat powers is missing much of the point of the game, I think. It is a role-playing game, after all. While combat is a part of the game, the emphasis placed on it by 4e, and 4e-players, has distorted the game.

    It’s up to you what you want to prioritize in your game, but agonizing over which pool of combat powers to draw from is rather like trying to decide between equipping yourself with a halberd or a two-handed sword before you set off on a tropical island vacation.

  3. Warden says:

    There can be too much emphasis on balance sometimes. Balance between players is perfectly fine, but no game allowing for every possible action imaginable can stay perfectly “balanced.” If your party is able to take on higher-level encounters than normal, is that such a bad thing if they’re having fun? Future encounters can be ramped up more to deal with their awesomeness. If the players enjoy themselves and everyone is able to feel like an equal member, then the game is balanced.

    I recently had a DM upset because a reach weapon turned a close blast 1 into a close blast 2. He insisted it was wrong, but we couldn’t find anything restricting or embracing close attack powers with a reach weapon. He said that power was too strong and was “broken.” The player was new to our game and rolled single digits all night. He really enjoyed taking out 4 minions with one hit because of a reach weapon. We enjoyed seeing him enjoyed. But this perception of something being too powerful, even though there was no reason to believe otherwise, gave the DM the impression it was wrong. If the players are happy and everyone is balanced at your table, then Essentials and Original/Traditional/Core 4e will be best buds.

  4. @alphastream – Thanks, I really appreciate your compliment, and I’m glad to have you as a regular Reader. Yea, I’m of the mind that there is no reason I can’t provide a challenge to my party with available materials, regardless of what the part mix is – Essentials and/or Traditional or a mixture of both. But really I don’t think that Essentials characters are better or worse for creating flavor or personalities – experienced RPers can make a character out of just about anything – but I do agree the HotF* books were written with newer players in mind, so they upped the RP text to help stir the newbie players’ imaginations. Comparing HotF* and the 4E PHB, you can feel how the PHB was written from the perspective of “here’s the new edition guys… you’ve all played D&D for years, have at it.”

    @anarkeith – Yea, the Library at Alexandria is a great image for what Essentials + Traditional 4E content is going to feel like, and it is a bit daunting. But I have already chatted with two of my players, and they have a great perspective that the DM should not have to be the sole arbiter of min-maxing. They feel that they can “police” each other and make sure that no one is bringing an over-optimized pile of powers to the gaming table. They want to have fun, have good role-playing, and not let the character content get out of hand – I almost gave them a standing ovation! I thought about doing that – keeping Essentials separate from Core 4E but allow both, but with a book like Heroes of Shadow, that line is completely blurred. As a few gamers pointed out (loudly) after my HoS review and commentary, all of that book can be used with both types of 4E – and even though there was no Traditional 4E exclusive content – they were technically right. So at this point, the best option seems to be to throw both old and new 4E Character content together, and let players try it all.

  5. OnlineDM says:

    As one of the commenters on your EN World review, I’m encouraged after reading this follow-up. I personally think that if a DM wants to restrict a 4e game to non-Essentials material, the best way to do it is to not allow anything published after Heroes of the Fallen Lands in September 2010, because everything written since then (including most Dragon magazine content) acknowledges the existence of the Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms options. If a DM wants to exclude those options, they’ll probably have to freeze the game as it stood in September 2010.

    If a DM really wants to do that, well, they can! There was a ton of good material released between the initial launch of 4e in 2008 and the publication of HotFL in late 2010. That version of 4e is a complete game, and a limitless number of awesome campaigns can be run with just that material.

    Personally, I see nothing wrong with the content published since then, and I welcome it alongside the older content at my game table. Yes, WotC is assuming, both in the online Character Builder and in everything that they write, that DMs will be allowing pre- September 2010 and post-September 2010 content in their games. Why wouldn’t they assume that? Did they write material after the publication of Martial Power that assumed DMs would be excluding that book? What about PHB2? PHB3? Arcane Power?

    WotC assumes (but does not require) that D&D 4e games will have access to all previously published material when they publish new material. To assume otherwise seems silly to me. Now, if they write a bunch of material that ONLY works if you purchased Martial Power 2, well, they’re going to lose potential sales because not everyone bought that book. You wouldn’t buy Psionic Power if you didn’t have PHB3, most likely. Same goes for HotFL – material that requires that book will probably not sell as well as material that works with that book but also works without that book. But I think they do a pretty good job in general of walking this line – including something in most books for players with just PHB1 as well as players with every previous book they’ve published.

    Where I get confused is when players or DMs treat Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms as a new half-edition that breaks with the rest of 4e and that deserves serious consideration for exclusion. I see these books as being like PHB2, PHB3, Divine Power, etc. They’re expansion books, which some players might use and some might not. Yes, the format is different, and they have some radically different builds – but also some builds that are pretty darn similar to previous structures. PHB3 also had some radically different builds with the power point classes. What is the big deal? If a player or DM doesn’t like those builds, exclude them. But if there’s other good stuff in the books, might as well make it available. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Anyway, it seems that you’re coming to a similar conclusion, but your poll on EN World showed that a significant number of DMs run “no-Essentials” campaigns, and I must admit that this confuses me to no end.

  6. @OnlineDM – Glad you like my follow-up commentary. You mention wondering why so many DMs are running no-Essentials campaigns, well, saldy WotC has only themselves to blame for that. Marketing Essentials as ten products designed to be a gateway to “start” Players on the road to playing “Core” 4E gave a lot of DMs the idea that Essentials was like D&D Basic Game – and kicking the Essentials line off with the Red Box just simply reinforced the perception that Essentials was D&D 4E with training wheels. That was certainly my perception – and that’s after interviewing Mike Mearls, Rich Baker, and two members of the PR department at GenCon!

    So I think many DMs took the attitude that they did not need to include the “Beginner” material in their D&D campaigns, and that’s why they run no-Essentials games. But now we know the reality is much different than that – Essentials is the next step in D&D 4E’s evolution.

  7. FlashbackJon says:

    Neuroglyph, I typically love what you write (see also: Alphastream’s comment) but the thing that really bug me about the review and this post (as well as a couple others) is that they’re based on a perceived conflict between Essentials and a different version of 4e, which is not a conflict that exists in reality. Essentials classes and “Traditional” 4e classes function differently, yes, but no moreso than PHB1 and PHB3 classes function differently. When I read these posts, I feel like you’re building up a non-existent obstacle just to tear it down, and that frustrates me. :(

  8. OnlineDM says:

    Thanks for the follow-up. I’ll admit that if I thought Essentials was “D&D with training wheels” I still wouldn’t ban it from my game – some players would probably appreciate the training wheels! But I understand that others felt differently, and I appreciate you taking the time to explain where you were coming from.

    For what it’s worth, I think there’s an important difference between running a “no-Essentials” game because you haven’t bothered to add the Essentials books (thinking that they were just not worth spending time on) and running a “no-Essentials” game because you’ve specifically decided to ban the Essentials books. In the first case, if you were to look at Heroes of Shadow and really like the book, you’d allow it without question if it seemed like it would add useful and interesting options for pre-Essentials characters. In the second case, if you were to look at Heroes of Shadow and like it, you might have a hard time deciding whether to add it or not because you weren’t sure it should qualify for the ban list or not. From your review, it sounds like you were really in the second camp – it wasn’t that you hadn’t bothered to add Essentials, but that you had specifically ruled it out, and THAT is what confuses me.

    In the end, though, it’s been illuminating to see your thought process in action. You originally thought Essentials was not worth looking at because it seemed like the “simplified” game, so you ruled it out without finding such a decision controversial. Upon seeing Heroes of Shadow, you decided that this was really an “Essentials” book but that you liked its content, and you’ve therefore re-thought your position and decided to include Essentials where it feels appropriate in your game. THAT makes total sense to me.

  9. @OnlineDM – You’re pretty much spot on, except on one point – it wasn’t that I thought Essentials “was not worth looking at”, but it is more appropriate to say that, based upon my interviews I had with WotC staff, I believed that I, my campaigns, and my players were not its target demographic – because we were not beginners! Sure we could use Essentials material, but why would we want to? Adding the HotF* material to the already copious amount of original 4E material seemed like “overfilling the sink”. Incidentally, suddenly discovering, via Heroes of Shadow, that Essential was not “D&D for beginners” but was instead the new design paradigm from this point forward was what brought out my ire toward the way Essentials was marketed. Worse still, I felt a bit used as “cat’s paws” to quiet the D&D community concerns about Essentials – if you look back at my GenCon posts and the subsequent reviews of Essentials products, you’ll see how I was writing and reviewing based upon the misinformation I rec’d – meaning that I had helped spread the misinformation, and that didn’t make me feel too good as a blogger.

    @FlashbackJon – I’m afraid that I must disagree with your assessment of PHB3 classes being just as different as Essentials ones. I will concede that the PHB3 introduced a new mechanic – the Psionic Power Point – which removed Encounter powers and “bundled” them as part of the At-Will. And because of that one mechanic change, PHB3 psionic classes had to be slightly modified in the number of at-wills, but otherwise, generally conformed with the standard 4E Character “chassis” of an equal number of powers as other classes of the same level. (Note that the Seeker – a PHB3 class – is built exactly the same as classes from previous PHBs)

    But Essentials classes are built with a radically different design structure. Consider that melee classes lose all daily powers and use MBAs with stances instead of normal at-wills; all classes are limited in the number of powers a player can choose from when they gain them at certain levels; and at other levels, a player’s choice of power options is completely replaced by substituting a new class feature instead of a power.

    But FbJ, I hope you will realize that I am not throwing up the mechanics or functionality of Essentials classes as a conflict or obstruction to their use in a Traditional D&D campaign – my conflict is with how Essentials was marketed as a road to get new players into “Core” D&D play, only to discover, with the advent of Heroes of Shadow, that it was intended to become 4E’s new “Core” instead.

  10. [...] than anything else. Any other review of 4e I did at this point would just really annoy 4e fans. Other sites do better reviews of 4e stuff than I do [...]

  11. Hunterian7 says:

    So, my question is this: why did they decide to go with Essentials? I know the typical answer of ‘it’s for new player.’ But, no, really. Why did they abandon core?

  12. @Hunterian7 – well, there has been no official word from WotC as to why exactly they have abandoned Core 4E, but there are quite a few clues one could put together based upon various blogs and articles coming from staffers at Wizards.

    Personally, I think that WotC still casts an eye toward the 3.5 players that they lost to Pathfinder when they created Core 4E. For those D&D gamers, the design structure of Core 4E frustrated them, because it had left the AD&D base structure, and created a completely new one. D&D Essentials attempted a return to a more AD&D-like structure, by making melee classes have less combat options and powers, basically swinging a weapon and doing damage, while leaving more involved spell-like powers to caster classes. Essentials reintroduced mage schools, spellbooks, and clerical domains, which were all elements of 3.5 and Pathfinder but had been stripped from Core 4E.

    When I interviewed Mike Mearls and Rich Baker, and the PR folks at GenCon, they hinted that the Red Box, in addition to being the “on-ramp” for new players, would hopefully be a way to get old gamers to at least try 4E, be making Essentials a system they were more familiar with. Of course, following GenCon, there were other clues that WotC was considering Essentials to be the new way to go, over Core 4E. Such as the Mike Mearls Interview on The Escapist where he wanted to design D&D “to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time”. And his subsequent posting on the Legends & Lore column suggesting that Core 4E had too many things to do and decisions to make during character than older versions of D&D – and, of course, Essentials character gen is quicker and simpler than Core 4E.

    And it is not just Mike Mearls who seems to be hinting that Core 4E day has come and gone – there was a post done by Greg Bilsland called Asymmetry in Games which points to the benefits of an Essentials style of asymmetrical character design (melee having less combat choices than casters) over the Core 4E design. No offense to Mr. Bilsland, but that was another disheartening message from a WotC designer that suggested to me that Core 4E days were numbered.

    But there is one nice thing that WotC did do for us – at least when they switched over to Essentials, they made sure that the a lot of the content was [mostly] backward compatible with 4E. In an earlier post, I had called Essentials 4.5, comparing it to 3.5, which I’ll admit now was a bit exaggerated. Third edition characters had to undergo a serious conversion process to be used in a 3.5 campaign, and I do remember the angst some of my players went through from 3.0 to 3.5. Core 4E works with a good amount of Essentials content, with a few odd exceptions, and you don’t have to use Essentials character classes if you prefer the design structure of Core 4E.

    But anyways, my summary for why WotC dumped Core for Essentials is a hope to capture part of the market share that Pathfinder took when Core came out. Of course, selling a bunch of new character books, DM guides, and rules compendiums to 4E gamers probably didn’t hurt their cash-flow either. So what else motivates a company – market share and cash-flow… am I right?

  13. Hunterian7 says:

    I appreciate the insight to my question. I have to say I agree with you. I wonder if it worked for them. Did they get a chunk of the 3.5 crowd from Pathfinder? I hope the risk of alienating their home base fans was worth is. That is probably exactly why they incorporated core into Essentials, to keep from losing core players to 3.5 players. I suspect that there were some major changes they wanted to do with Essentials but didn’t want to upset a lot of buyers who’s books would become totally obsolete. I’m thinking specifically of healing surges. Gamma World’s rules on second wind make combat dicey and what not.

    I just wish they had done Essentials after the PHB 4 was released with the shadow power source. I like HoS a lot. But it feels like a skeleton compared to the fat I got with the core PHBs. This leaves room for thought if there will ever be a 4.5. I think Essentials is what we got instead of a complete mid edition change. My money is so vey much on them working 5th edition right now.

    Maybe that’s why Andy Collins left, due to the change. Even though he oversaw Essentials he might have felt 4th had gone a different route. But, that’s speculation. I just know I miss him and Heinsoo. I’ll still support Wizards throughout 4th- I even just renewed my DDi subscription for a year. I hope they will be a bit more upfront on their true motives in the future.

  14. Yes, Hunterian7, I’m bummed as well that the shadow source was handled in Heroes of Shadows, as Essentials content, rather that given the lavish attention it deserved as a PHB 4 book. Considering how they could have created Shadowfell Class Themes which would apply to all classes, included the Core Assassin along with additional content to fix some of its lackluster mechanics, and included all the new powers and feats for Wizards, Clerics, and Warlocks- and maybe considered making the Essentials classes like the Blackguard and Binder as full blown Core 4E classes, it would have been one heck of a book. Where are the Shadowfell specific rituals, magic items, artifacts, etc? All that could have made for a full and complete PHB 4 experience, but instead we get an Essentials book, and a short one at that.

    BTW, I would have done the vampire as a character theme – it would allow one to play any race, any class, and also a vampire as well!

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