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An Essentials Meeting – with Mike Mearls & Rich Baker!

The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know.”  ~ David T. Freeman

The Backstory

At the beginning of July, Wizards of the Coast announced their new D&D Essentials Product Line in Bill Slavicsek’s Ampersand Archive column.   The announcement and subsequent previews were met with a variety of responses from D&D 4E Fans, ranging from nostalgia at the idea of a new “Red Box” to serious concerns about the Essentials line leading to a new edition of 4E. (The rumored 4.5E!)
I must admit, I fell more at the “concerned” end of the reactionary spectrum, fretting in my blog, Are D&D Essentials Truly Essential?, my anxieties about Essentials being a “stealth” edition change, with the possibility of inciting another “edition wars”.

So shortly after posting my blog in mid-July, and still pondering just what D&D Essentials would mean for the 4E Community and the future of the game, I sent three questions via email to Mike Mearls, Trevor Kidd, and Bill Slavicsek, in hopes of clearing up a few of my lingering doubts about the product line.  To my surprise, a couple weeks later I received a correspondence from Katie Page, a member of the D&D PR Team, who invited me to a thirty minute meeting/interview to address my D&D Essentials questions.  Needless to say, I leapt at the opportunity, and enthusiastically agreed to a meeting on Friday morning at GenCon.

The Meeting

When I arrived at the meeting on Friday morning, I had no idea exactly who I would be meeting with exactly, other than Katie, of course.  The location for the interview was to be the “penthouse” of the Wizards of the Coast booth at the Exhibit Hall – a second floor deck above the booth itself, looking down over the entire Exhibition Hall, and furnished with comfortable leather couches.  Ascending the stairs to the loft, I was met by Game Designer Mike Mearls, Senior Designer Rich Baker, and Brand Manager Laura Tommervik, along with Katie Page, who was bringing along a still-in-the-shrink-wrap copy of the new D&D Essentials “Red Box” for my examination, and the focus of our discussion.

After introductions had been made, Mike opened our discussion by inviting me to crack open the “Red Box” and take a look inside.  Now I have to say that the product has an impressive appearance, what with the bold red dragon on the cover, not to mention a real heft to the whole box.  Inside I found a pack of black polyhedral dice, a Players Book containing instructions on making a D&D Essentials Character via a solo adventure, a Dungeon Masters Book with all the rules of the 4E game, a couple sheets of tokens for both Characters and Monsters, character sheets and power cards, and a big double-sided dungeon map.

Mike started first by explaining that the “Red Box” can be used by beginning players to get their first experience with Dungeons & Dragons, even if they do not have a group yet, and how it can actually assist in helping to form a new D&D gaming group:

Mike: In the Players Book, you play through a solo adventure for making your character, and then the story that you play through that has ties to this group adventure.  So that if you have never played D&D before, you can choose a DM, and then [everyone] can all play through this short adventure.  So it’s sort of a transitional thing where you start learning the rules by playing through this solo experience, and then can transition into this dungeon.

He went on to explain that one of the important focuses of the Essentials product line is to give new D&D 4E players an “all-in-one experience” by providing what they need to really get into the hobby:

Mike: It’s really component rich to get people up and playing.  That’s the main thing about Essentials… it’s designed so that new Players and DMs aren’t stuck wondering where to get miniatures, or maps, or tokens.

At this point, I had to ask exactly who the “Red Box” was aimed at and whom they envisioned as the main buyer for a product like this.  Mike explained that is was aimed “at couple of different target audiences”, the first of which were “people who want to learn D&D but don’t have a group of people that already play D&D to learn from”.  Rich described the first of the Essentials line as an “acquisition product” to get new people into the hobby.  Although Laura also pointed out it was also a way to bring back old D&D gamers:

Laura: [It’s] a re-engagement product, for people who haven’t played in a while, and for those who want to learn 4th Edition rules, or as a way to introduce it to your family.

I had to admit that I had already witnessed the charm of the “Red Box” hard at work at this year’s GenCon.  On Thursday, I had spent a few hours in the Sagamore Ballroom, where all the D&D events were being played, and watched a whole family of four playing D&D Essentials at the “Learn to Play D&D” tables, and having a great time.

As for the rest of the D&D Essentials product line, Mike explained that it was mainly designed for new Players and Dungeon Masters to get them started in the hobby, which of course, is not the first time that D&D had been introduced to the public like that:

Mike: So if you think back to the original “Red Box”, to Basic D&D, you had the Expert Set that came after that, and then the B-series modules that were designed for beginning DMs… there was an entire product line around it.  We don’t just want to have someone coming in new and then you start them off learning the game, then they have to figure out where to go next.  The rest of the Essentials line is for the beginning Player… that’s where they go next.  Like the Monster Vault comes with tokens for the monsters, and you have a DMs Kit with a DM Screen… and there are also adventures in those boxed sets.

And Laura pointed out that the “Red Box” also came with a checklist of Essentials products to buy, but grouped by whether you considered yourself more of a Player or a Dungeon Master:

Laura:  We want it to be easier to let people know what they can buy next.  In the Red Box, there is this description of products, so if you are more of a Player, then here are the products you’ll want to look for next, like the Rules Compendium and the Players Essentials.  We’re just making that clear so it’s not as overwhelming anymore.

However, not all the D&D Essentials line are aimed only at beginning Players.  Mike made sure to let me know that the Design Team was thinking as globally as possible for the product line beyond the “Red Box”:

Mike:  So the other side of the coin for the existing D&D player, what we wanted to do with the design the monsters in the Monster Vault, the Character Classes in the Player’s Essentials books, like ‘Heroes  of the Fallen Lands’ – which is due out in September – there is sort of two things we wanted to do with that design: we knew that with 4th Edition being an exceptions based game, we could add new powers and new elements to the game, to make that appealing to both a beginning and advanced players.  So with the Essentials builds, we wanted an eye toward making an experience which was very good for the beginning player, but also evocative for the experienced player … something new that they could sink their teeth into.

Mike went on to relate that one of the guiding principles of the Essentials Design Team was to make the game aspects “very vivid”.  In essence, it is as if you described “what happened in a game of D&D as if it was a movie, they would understand what was happening, and they could make informed choices.”

Mike:  So you look at the Fighter… and if you want to play a Fighter, you can play a Knight or a Slayer.  And you could say to a beginner: ‘do you want to be a tough warrior, who wears heavy armor and protects your friends, or do you want to play a warrior with a huge axe or a sword, and can cleave through dozens of kobolds at a time?’  And for a beginning player that doesn’t know anything about the game, they can tell you which one appeals to them.

In fact, I learned that it was the Design Team’s desire to ground D&D Essentials in a sense of “fictional reality”, and was one of the motivations for bringing back Schools of Magic for the Mage (the Essentials Wizard build):

Mike: Say I want to play a wizard… ok, so what kind?  Well if you think of the Player’s Handbook ones, they’re a little more abstract.  Do you play a Wand Wizard and are more accurate, or an Orb Wizard, your spells are harder to shake off?  But for a beginner, they might [not] really see the difference.  But instead if you say, do you want to be an Illusionist or do you want to be the guy that blows stuff up, well then they can figure that out.  It’s just a lot more embedded about what they already know about fantasy that helps to inform them and let’s them make the choice.

So obviously, there are some real distinctions between the traditional 4E builds and the new Essentials builds, and I questioned how the two types of Characters would interact.  Rich picked up this particular discussion of the Design Team’s logic, and explained how the choice between a traditional build and an Essentials build would basically reflect different play styles:

Rich:  It’s perfectly ok if, at the same table, Joe is playing a Fighter straight out of the Players Handbook, with all of the power selections that he would ordinarily have had, and Dave, sitting next to him, is playing a Slayer, out of Essentials.  Those Characters, essentially, are built the same, and are transparent to each other – they have the same sorts of stats and same sorts of defenses.  The only difference, really, is that the guy playing the Players Handbook Fighter is thinking in terms of power usage, and what his encounter powers, daily powers, and at will powers are doing, while the guy playing the Essentials Fighter is taking a step back and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want to manage that level of decision-making,  and I’m going to concentrate on doing what I think my guy should do – which is trying to wale on people with my sword, and be the tough guy for the party!’

He went on to say that from a Design point-of-view, one of the aspects of the traditional 4th Edition Character Class builds that is both a strength and a weakness is how Players are “compelled to accept the same amount of complexity, because all the characters are built on the exact same power chassis.”  It has the advantage in that it encourages Players to play almost any Character Class, because they all have a certain complexity to them, which in previous editions might have only been experienced by someone playing a spell-casting Character.  But the new D&D Essentials offers another side to the play experience, by giving a choice as to the complexity level of the build for even an experienced Player:

Rich: But what if you want to play a guy that just swings a sword, and what if you want to self-manage your complexity down a little bit, and focus your attention in the game to other things besides power management?  This is where we think that there are many experienced Players, that could run Fighters very competently as ‘power-based’ Characters, but who might simply prefer to run a Fighter in what is, essentially, a more ‘classic’ sense of how the class works.

But there are actually a wide range of options for the level of build complexity for any Essentials Character, as Players can choose to add some powers and feats from the traditional Players Handbooks and Powers books:

Rich: For instance, Fighters still gain their Utility powers at the same levels as the Players Handbook Fighter gain their Utility powers.  So you might be running an Essentials Fighter, and hit 6th level and say, ‘you know what, I want to go grab that Utility power out of the Players Handbook’ [or Martial Powers], and use that utility instead.

And according to Mike, the Design Team was very careful to circumscribe the Class Powers of the Essentials builds so that they would not “break the game”.  For instance, the Stance mechanics of the Essential Fighters only apply to Basic Attack Powers, and could not be applied to traditional PHB Fighter At-Wills or Encounter Powers, which a Player might be allowed to substitute for his Essentials powers.

Now one of the questions I had also asked when I originally posed my “three questions” to Wizards of the Coast was in regards to the 4E Community’s reaction, particularly those on the internet.  I had wondered if the Design Team and the Community Support Team had anticipated the rumor and innuendo, particularly the horrible specter of “4.5”, which had erupted on the web after their announcement?

Chuckling, Rich replied, “I’d love to tell you that we were all surprised and horrified, but we kind of expected it.”

Mike went on to explain that the way the D&D Essentials products were designed was specifically to avoid it becoming, in any way, a “new edition”:

Mike: The Number One Goal back in last September when we started working on these products was ‘compatibility’.  There were times when we looked at design and said, well, we could go in this different direction, but we don’t want to do that.

As an example, Mike explained that on Thursday, there was a seminar on the theory of game design, and they were walking some of the freelancers through the philosophy behind some of the design decisions made for a product.  One of the freelancers had pointed out that D&D had Restrained, Grabbed, and Immobilized, and wondered why a game would need all three when they “look kinda the same”.

“Now we could have, in Essentials said, well let’s get rid of Restrained and have Immobilized cover that,” he explained further.  “But we wanted to make as few changes as possible that would affect previous material, and require us to update it.”  Mike concluded by saying that there were only a few exceptions to this design philosophy, and those occurred when “there was going to be a rules update anyways.”

Rich took point to explain that, on a more practical side, another of the major goals of D&D Essentials was to provide a “scheme of ten products that would define a basic D&D experience” for not only Players, and also for Retailers as well:

Rich: We want to make sure that it is as easy as possible for the Retailer to know that the ‘guts’ of the D&D experience is in one box, so that he knows what he ought to be stocking, and what he ought to be selling to the 14 year old kid who comes in and wants to play D&D for the first time.

Laura also pointed out that the D&D Essentials presents the material in a format which is not only easier to comprehend, but allows Wizards of the Coast to offer it at a “lower price point”.  In my own research on the web, retailers are already offering the D&D Essentials “Red Box”, which has an MSRP of only $19.99, for as little as $13.50 (plus S&H).  Obviously, this will be a big selling point, providing a complete gaming experience for less than the cost of the Players Handbook alone.

And Mike was quick to add that with D&D traditionally being “all books”, a retailer can get confused as to that they need to keep in stock to make sure that Players can get what they need to play the game.  With the reference sheet provided in the “Red Box”, and the limited number of D&D Essentials products, the line provides an easy “gateway” to steering Players and Dungeon Masters into the hobby, without frustrating them, or the retailer selling the D&D product line.

One other issue I did want to address with the Design Team was regarding the proliferation of Player-side content.  Because the Essentials products would add so many more powers and feats to a game that already has a considerable numbers of that content, I wondered if this would be increasing the confusion of beginning Players as well as experienced Players alike?

While Rich could not discuss too many specifics, he did say that the Design Team was working on ways to improve “management of information”.  There are processes at work to look at ways to define Feats better by “what they do”, so that Players can narrow their choices down to a couple of broad categories in order to come to a decision.  And then there would be steps taken after that to make the “stack of options” more manageable.

And Mike admitted how there is a move to make feats themselves more “vivid”, in the same way that the Knight and the Slayer were presented to make choices easier to make.  So that if a player wanted to make his Character tougher, or better with weapons, then the feats would be categorized in such a way as to make decision-making easier  That way, a Player is “not just looking at a list of one-hundred feats, and trying to read them all and make their choices.”

Mike: And that’s one of the nice things too for Players just coming in [to D&D], they only have to deal with one book to start with.  And then, at the right point, when they want to start adding in more options, they can maybe buy a Martial Powers or a Players Hand Book 1, and they are slowly adding more options.

So it really became clear to me that the main purpose of the D&D Essentials was not to create a new version of the game, but to provide a way to get new Players into 4E, whether they had no experience with D&D or if they had not played since a previous version:

Mike: I don’t know how many times I’ve met people who maybe play Warcraft or Everquest, or some other console game, when I said I work with D&D, they say ‘well I always wanted to try that’, but they were never sure where to start.  Or they look at the Players Handbook, which is a big book, and might be confusing.  So we really wanted to create [Essentials] as that gateway into the game.

But beyond that “gateway” to new Players, the D&D Essentials line appears as though it will have a lot to offer experienced Players and Dungeon Masters as well.  With three new “master” dungeon tile sets – Dungeon, City, and Wilderness – as well as the Rules Compendium, and the Monster Vault, several parts in this product line shows considerable usefulness to established gaming groups, and would be well worth considering.  Personally, I am very interested in getting my hands on those last two products mentioned!

And there was one last thing which I did take away from this meeting with the Essentials Design Team, and that is a little “peace of mind”. Knowing that this new product line will not foment another “edition war” like we had in the move from version 3.5 to 4th edition is definitely “sigh-of relief” worthy.  And if the Design Team members are correct, the “Red Box” has a great chance of increasing the number of D&D Players everywhere, and help keep our favorite hobby going on strong!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s NoteI would like to personally send a big “Thank You” to Katie Page for setting up this interview for me, as well as my sincere appreciation to Mike Mearls, Rich Baker, and Laura Tommervik for taking the time out of their busy schedule to chat with me at GenCon!

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.


18 Responses to “An Essentials Meeting – with Mike Mearls & Rich Baker!”

  1. Dimuscul says:

    But, if it’s not a new half-edition … why they are gonna change and “update” every power to bring it online with essentials powers?

    “And then, at the right point, when they want to start adding in more options, they can maybe buy a Martial Powers or a Players Hand Book 1″

    It’s funny to read this, knowing the books will be outdated …

  2. mbeacom says:

    Hopefully, we can finally put all this “new edition” conspiracy nonsense to rest.

  3. @Dimuscul – Actually, I didn’t get any impression that WotC will be changing and updating all of the old traditional powers to bring them online with Essentials at all.

    However, what Mike was referring to here was the ability of a beginning Player, who got their start owning only Essentials products, could buy the traditional books like PHB1 (2,3) or Martial Powers, and begin substituting some of those powers into an Essentials Character. In fact, you might notice that Mike made it a point to say that the Design Team took great pains to cause as little change to the existing powers, feats, and rules as possible during their work in Essentials.

    Essentials is just a gateway to get a Player started in D&D, with the expectation that he or she will then keep advancing in their rules knowledge, and move on to purchase the rest of the “traditional” product line. Now Bill Slavicsek did mention during the D&D Preview and Q&A Seminar that there will eventually be a reprinting of all the core books to accommodate the errata that has already come out, but he also mentioned that they were working to keep the errata changes to a minimum.

  4. Razz says:

    Heh, WotC is using some vast oratory skill just to NOT call this 4.5e when it CLEARLY is a 4.5e considering the VAST amount of changes I have seen already.

    These changes are NO DIFFERENT than the changes 3.5e made to 3e.

    And wasn’t 4E built from the ground up to be “pick up and play” and “easier for people coming back to D&D AND people new to D&D”? They stated this a dozen times. Now they’re saying D&D was dumbed down enough with 4E, they have to now dumb it down even further!

    If it quacks like a duck, it’s a freaking duck. Stop trying to hide the fact it’s 4.5e, it’s getting ridiculous. People can’t be THAT stupid.

    Wow, WotC, just sell the damn IP to someone more competent. You’re killing this game so agonizingly slow.

  5. Daeldil says:

    I’m delighted reading your post as I had my own aprehension regarding the essential line of products. Now, it does seems like this might actually add-on to the rest of the material published for 4E so far.

    What I am still concerned about is redundency, however.

    For instance, the rule compendium and the monster vault. Now, the compendium could potentially be useful in terms of compiling all the erratas (and we know how many of theses there are) and having a complete up to date rulebook (until new erratas come out that is). That sounds useful. But it’s also redundant to most of the information found in the PHB and DMG I et II. Sure, PHB got all the classes going on extra. But what of the DMG? Wouldn’t buying the rule compendium kill most of the value of what is found in the DMG?

    What about the monster vault? Now, if theses are all new monsters and this turn out to be some kind of Monster Manual 4 (or, as I see it, old monsters but with new variants) that might be interesting. But if they just take monsters from the MM1, 2 or 3 or even the E-zines… then won’t that make the vault completely useless for anyone owning the core product and DnD Insider subscription?

    So, all in all, there are some products in the new line where it’s clear experienced players don’t need to bother with if they have bought all the other materials (red box comes to mind). Some other products are clearly adding on to the game regardless of what you already own (essential characters books comes to mind) and some others, like the vault of the compendium seems to be on a line where it’s hard to figure out if they are worth it or not for the experienced (core books owners) players.

  6. @daeldil – Actually, redundancy is less of an issue than you think. The Rules Compendium is going to combine all the rules for playing D&D in one small 6×9 inch booklet. That means that you will no longer need to go to Monster Manual to look up what intangible does, or to the PHB to see how concealment functions: all those rules – except for chatacter powers and feats – will be put into a single compact booklet, which will include all available errata as well. While it’s true that those rules appear elsewhere, and you can choose not to buy the Rules Compendium, I am personally loving the idea of having a single reference book at my table.

    As to the Essentials Monster Vault, Greg Bilsland said at the D&D Preview that only about 25% of the monsters in it have appeared in previous books. The rest are entirely “new”, or are different builds of existing monsters. But even with the little bit of redundancy,I like the idea of the monster vault, particularly because of the “bonus” extras in it, such as the monster tokens and the exclusive adventure.

    Obviously, not every gamer is going to want to pick up every part of the Essentials line, but I like the concept behind the 10 products, and think it will definitely help get new players into D&D.

    @Razz – Having seen the product up close, and played with Essentials Characters at GenCon this past weekend, I can comfortably say that it is not 4.5 edition. Essentials Characters are just new builds, Razz, and they simply take less decisions to play, both during the creation process and in how they run at the tabletop. Traditional 4E (which is how I heard one member of the Design Team describe pre-Essentials content) will still be supported by Dragon and Dungeon Magazine, will still have products released for it (Heroes of Shadow sounds awesome btw), and will still have all the feats, powers, and class abilities that they have always had.

    The change from 3.0 to 3.5 was vastly different – new rulebooks were released to replace the 3.0 books, support for 3.0 went away, and a 3.0 Character could not function in a 3.5 game without conversion and a re-write. Essentials Characters and Traditional 4E Characters will be seen in the same adventuring parties, fighting alongside one another, because they are both 4E Characters. I’m happy to report all claims of a “noisy waterfowl” are highly exaggerated.

  7. @Razz: The “changes” introduced in Essentials products are nothing like the changes from 3e to 3.5e. Having written the 3.0-to-3.5 update guide for a third-party setting, I spent quite a lot of time looking at changes in spell lists and skill lists, and the Essentials products are not introducing any changes of that sort. As the article above and by now many other sources have made clear, the “Essentials” tag is just a branding/marketing convention, like a “Read Me First” badge. All of the content in Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms could just as easily have appeared in a Player’s Handbook 4 or a Dragon magazine article with nobody hollering about “a new edition.” Players have been asking about reprinted Players Handbooks with incorporated errata; in some ways, that’s what we’ll get in the Rules Compendium (though not with the class-based stuff like powers). The “changes” in the Essentials products are the same kinds of changes we’ve seen in every new Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual.
    .-= Icosahedrophilia´s last blog ..Icosahedrophilia Podcast- Episode 93- Well Met in Markathesh- Part 2 =-.

  8. doctorhook says:


    Razz! It’s good to see you; I haven’t seen you around ENWorld in a long time! I was starting to wonder if you retrained all of your Internet Troll substitution levels, but I can see that a tiger doesn’t change its stripes. How’s the fight against “$E” going? Not great, I imagine, if GenCon 2010 is any indicator. Don’t you ever get tired of being wrong? I still don’t understand why you STILL (three years later) bother to troll threads about D&D. One gets the impression that you prefer bitching about “$E” and WotC to actually playing D&D.

    I’ve always wanted to ask you: in real life, are you a bitter old man? If you quack like a duck, you must be a freaking duck, right? OTOH, I read somewhere once that you’re only, like, 22 or something — is that true? Does it get lonely in your mom’s basement?

    As a parting word, Razz, I just want to point out that lots of intelligent, affable fans actually LIKE what WotC is doing for D&D, and that the same intelligent, affable fans mildly resent the implication that they’re “STUPID” for doing so — although the blow is softened by the fact that the person insulting them is an obnoxious loser that even other internet trolls don’t like.

    See ya around, Razz!

    – doctorhook

    PS: After reading some of your YouTube comments (*shudder*), I’ve concluded that you must be sexually aroused by stirring up internet drama. My advice? Get a girlfriend (or boyfriend), dude.

  9. Scotty B. says:

    To say it won’t foment a new edition war is a bit too optimistic, but only because people will make a fuss about anything (especially anything they haven’t actually seen in action). I can’t say I agree 100% with how they’ve made what few changes to the base game that they have, but it’s really not that big a deal. I get the impression that Mearls et al are really comfortable with how 4e works (they designed it, after all) and that maybe it takes a certain perspective to be at ease with it.

    What they hinted at with feat organization was awesome, too. My favorite game updates are definitely with regards to presentation.

    It looks like your GenCon experience well exceeded your desires. :-)

  10. MartianAlien says:

    I totally recognize that Essentials is a marketing vehicle rather than any changes on a 3.0-to-3.5 scale… but it still has that “New Coke” aura around it… :-P

    What I haven’t heard is how much of the forthcoming material post-Essentials will be supporting Essentials-style builds versus “traditional” 4e builds? (The only class they acknowledged for 2011 that I heard was the bladesinger in the NWCG, but said nothing about styles of builds included.) They keep saying things like, “going forward, this is how we’re doing class design,” about the Essentials builds. And, frankly, I don’t see the Essentials-style builds as being interesting to me – they seem to be steering in a direction of a lot of the things I *didn’t* like about 3/3.5e (e.g. generic basic attacks, spell schools, pre-defined class features). It seems to be more of a “3.9e” than 4e…

    It’s one thing to say, “There will be new material for all types of builds going forward.” It’s another to say, “New material will be focused on supporting Essentials-style builds going forward, but a subset of that material you can use with the ‘traditional’ builds because the mechanics are compatible.” I haven’t heard anyone actually say the former, which makes me suspect it’s the latter case because saying the former would push aside a lot of the anxiety people have about Essentials.

  11. [...] this type of stuff for new (or experienced) players.  Over at Neuroglyph Games there is a lengthy interview with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker on the Red Box.  While it doesn’t divulge anything all that new it does help enlighten some of the design [...]

  12. mbeacom says:


    ““There will be new material for all types of builds going forward.””

    That’s pretty much EXACTLY what they’ve said.

    The essentials builds are just that. Builds.

    I often play a ranger, but I ignore the beast master build.

    I’m 100 percent certain there will be further support for the beast master build, and the builds that I play, as well as any new builds.

    No different here.

  13. @Martian – I too was concerned about the “retro-fitting” of what seemed to be 3.5isms, like wizard schools, onto 4E classes. And in fact, I asked about that, and that’s when Mike explained about finding ways making the builds more “vivid” for beginners. I tried to include some of those comments in my blog, where Mike discussed how difficult it can explaining to a beginner the nuances of “wand vs. orb” build wizard as opposed to “Illusion vs. blow things up”. I think it actually has real merit for helping “newbies” get into the swing of their first D&D experiences.

    With regard to the “generic basic attacks”, it again fits into creating that vivid experience that a beginner can understand by utilizing a different class mechanic. For example, the Slayer in our Essentials demo could attack using a generic basic attack, or take on one stance (Berserker’s Charge) which would do a little more damage but be more accurate, or a different stance (Unfettered Fury) and not be as accurate but do heavier amounts of damage. I think those stances are pretty nifty for evoking an image in a new player’s mind – ‘I can swing this axe, or stand like this and swing it more accurately, or stand like this and cleave things apart!’

    Sadly, I wish we’d have had a Slayer back when I ended our long-running 3.5 campaign to move to 4E. One of my Players tried to make a PHB Fighter as a Striker, and was terribly disappointed with the results. I think he would have loved the Slayer class, and made his transition from 3.5 to 4E a considerably more enjoyable one.

  14. MartianAlien says:


    They explicitly said, “We’ve charted a new direction in class design with the Essentials products. It’s a direction we intend to use from here on out.” (In the Ampersand with the Essentials Cleric Preview) They’re loudly proclaiming compatibility while making ambiguous statements about the direction they’re taking post-Essentials. And the first post-Essentials release is Heroes of Shadow, which is 6+ months away. So, frankly, I remain skeptical that they’re going to continue with the same degree of support for existing builds, and will likely remain skeptical until they can prove otherwise.


    I agree that there wasn’t a great weapon striker at the release of 4e (the only great weapon capable classes being Fighter, Paladin, and Warlord), but releases since then have pretty effectively filled that role: Avenger, Barbarian, and you can do it with a Ranger now (who could maybe use either a specific class feature or another At-Will to use besides Marauder’s Rush). But I find the heavily armored great weapon wielder to be a concept that comes from older D&D editions, instead of the lighter-armor-wearing Celtic/Germanic/Viking “barbarians” of a semi-historical origin (often filtered through the lens of pop culture) or Conan (et al) from movies. (It’s not that armored great weapon wielders didn’t necessarily exist historically – some landsknechts used zweihanders – but it’s not drawing on portrayals in wider popular culture in the same way.)

    The problem I have with the “vivid” argument is that I feel it’s a false distinction. Those descriptions are more vivid to *players of previous editions*, not “newbies”. “Newbies” aren’t going to have the long-time associations to those concepts that players of previous editions will have. They could easily have said, “Wand is point-and-boom, Orb is mental control, and Staff is placing obstacles in their way,” and made the distinction for Wizards just as well, but they latched onto 3e-isms for the nostalgia factor. And in my experience, I’ve found nostalgia is only a good design tenet if you’re in marketing – not product design.

    And in terms of vivid, which paints a better picture: “You swing your ” or “After each mighty swing, you bring your shield to bear and use it to push your enemy back”? They seem to be saying that the flavor text present with every single power isn’t doing its job. So, again, it seems to me that it’s really only vivid to players of previous editions, not to those who would be new to D&D.

  15. @Martian- Oh absolutely, they are hoping for the “vividness” factor to appeal to older D&D players, who in past editions played big armored guys with two-handers chopping their way through encounters. And anything that gets some of our more stodgy brethren off their 3.5 pulpits and at least TRY 4E before disparaging it to the rafters is awesome by my standards. But the vividness factor does have its play with new players – particularly those from an MMO like WoW or to readers of fantasy literature. For instance, I can say to a WoW player for instance: “The Knight build of a Fighter is similar to the Prot Spec Warrior, while the Slayer is a Arms Spec or maybe even a RIP (Rogue In Plate)” and they would totally get the builds. And I can say to someone familiar with fantasy: “An Illusion Mage is more like the Deryni is Kurtz’s novels, whereas the Evoker Mage is a bit more like Harry Potter” and again that person would get the distinction.

    As to the traditional Class support, I think it’s going to still be there – proof positive is the article in this month’s Dragon on the Blade Channeling Class Acts. Great stuff, and very much aimed at the traditional class builds. But admittedly, traditional material is gonna be reduced for a while as they bring Essentials Character builds up to speed, and finish launching Dark Sun. Oh, and I would not be surprised to see some content space in Dragon and Dungeon being taken up by Gamma World starting in October.

  16. evilbob says:

    It’s interesting that so many people are wary of “edition wars” – I’ve never actually worried that this was a “stealth 4.5,” and everything WotC has said continually reinforces that. It’s just a re-packaging of their base product, designed for a) people who play WoW (complete with starter areas and white, green, and blue items), and b) 3.5 folks who felt left behind (we changed Magic Missile back just for you!). It will also be interesting to see if they somehow manage to please both crowds without alienating anyone.

    Unfortunately, I will admit that the more I hear, the more I feel confused as an existing 4.0 player when it comes to what I might purchase for myself. Restarting their product line means new things to buy, but I wonder how much of this content will also be available with a DDI subscription? How much is new, and how much is just stuff I already own? Is it worth my money for a “75% new” monster catalog? I already own dice, minis, and a battlemat: should I get a Red Box or is that mostly redundant? I am wary of the trend of WotC releasing more tangentially-related merchandise that isn’t necessary to play the game (power cards that are outdated by the time they hit the shelves, for example), and I wish it was easier for someone like me who has already invested in their product to simply pick up the new bits that I am interested in without wasting cash on stuff I already have.

    And lastly, like the first poster mentioned, I will call shenanigans on someone purchasing a PHB to expand their D&D game after the Red Box. That book is so horribly out of date it would only confuse a new player beyond belief. It no longer has value as a reference material – it is better suited as a writing board.

  17. [...] release that might be viewed as an attempt to synergize the two product lines. This interview by Neuroglyph I think lays out their intention fairly clearly and succinctly, and probably better than the drips [...]

  18. mbeacom says:


    Skepticism is fine. I’m with you there. But you’re kind of holding up examples that don’t really hold any water, as if a certain sentence here or there is the truth, while the dozen sentences that came before and after can be ignored. That seems more like conpiracy, than skepticism.

    Also, whenever they start introducing new builds, they get the love for a while. Older builds are more mature and have been repeatedly tweaked. In most cases, they don’t need much. The fact that essentials builds will include things that can be used by other builds, means that traditional builds are still evolving.

    This whole discussion just seems silly really. So now there are builds with stances. So what? Everything is fully compatible. You can use your build you like. I can use mine. Newbies and lapsed gamers can decide for themselves. Its pretty good design IMO.

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