This is Our Game: Essentials Roundup and Thoughts

Essentials has been around for a little while now. All the speculation about what it is and how it will affect Dungeons and Dragons has come and gone. What we are left with is the first half of what is supposed to be the “evergreen” & “core” components of the 4th edition experience. Everyone seems to have different opinions about essentials, what it changed and the value it holds in the D&D line up. Even here at This Is My Game we have differing opinions and feelings about the essentials line. We have decided that our monthly post would be a great place to share all of our differing thoughts.

Geek Ken: I’ve picked up very little of the essentials line. However, I had begun to see the utter mess that the current 4E books had gotten. If you were a new player, where do you start? You end up staring at an array of books and likely would seem overwhelmed. Facing that, I think WotC wisely thought out introducing a line of products to get people playing D&D.

So you have a great basic set. With everything needed to play. The character races and classes are limited to get people into playing D&D through baby steps. I think a revamped basic set to introduce people to D&D is a great idea and it looked like the essentials red box delivered.

Having all that effort just rolling out a basic set however would mean the shelf life of the product would be short. There are only so many new consumers that will want to pick up and try D&D. So I think again WotC thought about introducing other products that would appeal to the old 4E player also. Tweaks and changes to the classes and races are made, with additional builds being introduced. So now WotC has material out there both for the new 4E player, and the guy that had been at 4E from launch.

It is this point I think that makes me a little sour with essentials. I see a lot of reinforcement that essentials is a completely separate line. No mention of any other original books creeps into the text, even the rules compendium. While I get that you want a small set of products to get people playing D&D, eventually I think you would want them to check out the other books people are using.

And maybe that is the issue WotC has been skirting around. With the piles of errata out for all the old books, would they even want new players pick those up? I seriously think that a new set of core books is around the corner. Maybe even a ‘second printing’ of the rules. I imagine this is all dependant on the stock of books on hand. But I wonder as D&D moves further on will the essentials crowd merge with the regular 4E crowd, or will new products push them into different directions?

Thadeous: These days print is a short lived medium. I’m not surprised that the original “core” set of books in a game like Dungeons and Dragons has turned over so quickly. As far as essentials is concerned there is a solid amount of product that current players can adopt and plenty they have no need for what so ever. New players and DMs should fine just about 100% of the new material useful. I still don’t really see much of a place for the “Red Box” other than a way to get D&D into stores like Target.

Some of it is for me and some of it isn’t. That’s the point of this product line. The redbox and the DMs kit are not something I need. I have tons of minis and a few years of DMing experience. I don’t need to learn how to DM, and I don’t need to run through the redbox adventure to create a character. I do enjoy the new monsters in the monster vault. Or I should say I do enjoy the updated old monsters in the new Monster Vault; say good bye Monster Manuel 1&2. I love the tiles box sets, and the fact that they will always be in print makes me more willing to buy adventures that use them to make maps.

The two players books I have seen are nice, and I understand the need for redundancy in the first few chapters. I wish there was a way to do with out so each book could pack in more new stuff but it’s a necessary evil. The new take on the old classes and races is refreshing if played in a campaign along side the original content. Alone I feel the essentials classes are a bit lacking. Choice is what really drives the game for me and I feel that essentials has more focus and less options;  Not my taste but for many it’s a game changer.

Over all I’m really happy with the new line. I have incorporated most of what I have into my game with no effort at all. Nothing really changed. My players didn’t need to learn a ton of new rules, and their characters were completely unaffected. All in all I think the fears I had a few months ago are all but gone.

Arcane Springboard: First let me thank Thadeous for inviting me to join This is My Game.  My first official post will be put up this week, but here’s my take on Essentials.

I was never really concerned about Essentials being D&D 4.5.  I pretty much took the designers at their word in that Essentials was a marketing strategy to not only introduce lapsed or new players to D&D 4e, but also have a set of products that would always be in stores.

In fact, I was really looking forward to some simplification of some of the classes.  Although one of the things I really liked about 4e, despite the fact I was a DM more than a player, was that the martial classes could be as complex as the spellcasting classes.  However, the changes 4e made to the class structure made it difficult to slot in a newcomer, especially if they were there only for one night.

What I was not expecting though, was the obvious attempt by the designers to give D&D 4e a more classic feel.  From Rangers that could cast spells, to Wizards with schools, to Fighters that could deal damage rather than protect people, to Fighters and Rogues that didn’t take much though into what action you’re doing, to Druids that have animal companions.

As for the products themselves, when they were announced I didn’t see myself buying them with the exception of the Rules Compendium and the Monster Vault.  I was tempted to buy the new Red Box, since I started with the classic Red Box 25 years ago.  However, I couldn’t really justify buying it for myself.  However, I have purchased one for the sons of a friend of mine in Dallas, Texas and hope they get the same enjoyment out of this one that I did with mine.

The two ‘Heroes’ books I was sure I wouldn’t buy, even though I do like what I’ve seen in the previews.  Ever since I bought Martial Power I’ve pretty much decided that I would get almost all my ‘crunch’ for players via DDI.

I don’t have much use for the tiles at this time, but I’m glad they”ll stay in print if I do want to get them in the future.  I do have several of the older sets, and haven’t used them much.

I’ve flipped through the Rules Compendium and although I haven’t bought it yet, I intend to.  I like the fact that the ‘rules’ are now separate from the powers, races, feats and such for the classes.  That and there has been enough errata that a consise current rulebook is worthwhile, and it’s fairly inexpensive.  In addition, I really like what they did with skills, specifically suggesting ways to ‘improvise’ with them (ie backflipping over a guy in front of you…Hard Acrobatics check).

I thought I might get the DM’s Kit, but decided against it.  I’m an experienced DM and own the DMG and DMG2, which are two of the best books ever on running D&D games.  The tokens were tempting, but with the duplication of a lot of text from the Rules Compendium, they just didn’t make it worthwhile for me to purchase.  I was excited about the changes to the rules regarding magic items, and wanted to see some of the Rare items, but again, there aren’t enough in this book to make it worthwhile.  That and I would assume that ‘soon’ we should see them in DDI (though I am disappointed they weren’t in the new web-based Character Builder).

Finally, there is the Mosnter Vault.

I. Love. This.

I don’t really care much about the format…6×9 softcover vs hardcover, I can do with both.  When at the table I’d either be using a printout from the Monster Builder or running the combat with my netbook.  However, I LOVE the tokens.  Even though one of my players has a good collection of minis, the fact that you can flip a counter to indicate ‘bloodied’ is great, and the fact that they’re numbered makes it a lot easier to keep track of which monster is which.  I do wish they had more than 4 ‘minion’ tokens though.

I haven’t done much more than skim the book and examine some of the changes (I’m still working through the Dark Sun Creature Catalog), but what I’ve seen I really like.  I love the fluff text, which seems to be even more thorough than even the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, and really like the fluff quotes that are interspersed in the text.

Some people complained that there is a lot of ‘older’ monsters in the Monster Vault.  I’m not caring so much about it.  First, many of the monsters were in desperate need of updating after the new MM3 attributes came out, especially the solos, and doubly do for the iconic chromatic dragons.   Although it would have been nice for the monsters to be updated in the Compendium, I think it was unrealistic to expect this, especially as some monsters like the solos needed more changes than simply upping their damage.

Second, a lot of those monsters in MM1 are the iconics.  They simply need to be in a book that would be the first ‘Monster Manual’ that a new player would get.

As for the changes I absolutely love the changes made to the solos, especially the dragons and the hydras (which are now viscious).  I also like that they’ve introduced some lower level versions of monsters like the Beholder.  I haven’t really examined most of the other monsters though, but I do like what I’ve heard about some of the non-solo monster updates (like wraiths).

I think the Monster Vault is a good buy.  You get a book of monsters that is actually a pleasure to read (unlike the original 4e Monster Manual), a set of tokens including each monster in the book, an adventure (which I haven’t read, but hear is quite good), and a battle map.

All in all, the gnashing of teeth regarding Essentials has been, in my opinion, much ado about nothing.  If it can succeed in getting new people into the hobby, that will be great.  But at the very least it adds some new features, expands the field of complexity of the classes (ie adds some simpler ones), and did provide a method to update some monsters that were in desperate need of updating.

DeadOrcs:  I’ve posted some of my thoughts regarding Dungeons & Dragons Essentials already on the my own site, but let me reiterate here:  I LOVE the Essentials line.  Do I need every little bit of it like the Red Box or the DM Kit?  No, probably not.  However, I’m a bit of completionist, and if WotC is faithful to their (this is all the stuff in the Essentials line) original claim, then having a complete toolkit of D&D stuff will be quite a cool thing.  I can’t go on enough about the digest format of the books.  It’s great at the table, and they look kind of sexy on the bookshelf, too.  Like Thadeous, I have (and love to continue to get) miniatures, but the tokens are just really pretty damn cool.  Of course, I’m already looking for devices that can stand them up vertically and move them about the table like you can a real miniature.

As for incorporating Essentials into the rest of my D&D stuff?  No sweat.  The updated rules and monster designs I’ll use when creating adventures.  In addition, if players wish to use a “regular” 4e character with some Essentials characters, I’m okay with that.  You can probably crunch the numbers and come up with this or that power claim.  I don’t care about that.  Fact is, the two can play side by side.  I look to Essentials as my core game, and all the other books as compatible add-ons to do with as I wish.

DreadGazebo: Now that I’ve had some play experience with the essentials line actually at the table, instead of just doing a bunch of theorycrafting I can honestly say that it’s a great addition to the hobby. I’m currently running an all Essentials campaign set in Barovia, and I must say that the ‘classic’ feel of the classes blend easily into the Ravenloft setting. The redbox should be a hit for those looking to pick up the hobby as long as someone in their group knows at least a little about RPG’s, and the monster vault seems to be doing a great job of bringing back some of the most classic monsters that have been re-tweaked to near perfection. The Rules Compendium was immediately an indispensable tool at my table due to it’s great index/glossary, overall readability and small size as our gaming table isn’t too grandiose.

As for the HotFK/HotFL books I must say that I really like most of the classes contained within the pages (Scout – I’m looking at you), I would have liked to see a bit more of a magic item selection in both of the books and perhaps something on rituals, being that both books contain classes that are ritual casters in other builds (wiz/druid). If these books are meant to be ‘essential’ to a new player I would think that leaving out such a big (and fun) part of the game such as rituals seems to be quite a shame. Rumors of the new “Player Option” book(s) are supposedly going to offer up an “alternate” ritual system, so perhaps this is their reasoning for leaving it out? Regardless, it was something I would have liked to see covered in the material.

Though Essentials is great, I do have a few qualms such as the Essentials builds being listed as entirely new classes within the character builder. It’s a new build for an existing class, if they are stressing that so much and trying to avoid version number wars this isn’t helping their cause. Secondly I do not like tokens, sure they are easy for traveling DM’s and take up way less space and supposedly cheaper, but I digress. I like miniatures – I like the art involved in miniature models and the 3 dimensional aspect of them, I’m an adult now and mini’s are like ‘action figures for grown ups’ in my eyes.

Though the minor flaws within the Essentials line are no setback for me, just minor annoyances if anything. I’m currently running an Essentials based campaign and have really enjoyed it so far, it’s shaves down combat times immensely and I imagine perhaps this might even go down further if I were to be picking some monsters from the Vault. There is built in role playing value with using basic attacks, I find it encouraging my players to allow their creativity to flourish more in combat which has often in the past become a lull of “24 vs AC, does that hit?” “Yep” “Okay *dice rattle* 15 damage”. Not to mention that the Analysis Paralysis factor outlined in many articles wherein things like peanut butter and jam are used as reference points. In summary, and at least in this case I can honestly say: less is more.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Jerry resides in the placid cornfields of Indiana with his Wife and 2 goblinoid minions. His geek credentials sport a Masters in Video Gameology and Computer Geekery. His obsession with D&D started by spending an inconceivable number of hours playing Baldurs Gate and the rest is history. Outside of the gaming world he's an IT Professional & Social Media guy, budding writer, gaming advocate and wannabe designer. You can visit him over at www.dreadgazebo.net or follow him on twitter (@DreadGazeebo)


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About DreadGazebo

Jerry resides in the placid cornfields of Indiana with his Wife and 2 goblinoid minions. His geek credentials sport a Masters in Video Gameology and Computer Geekery. His obsession with D&D started by spending an inconceivable number of hours playing Baldurs Gate and the rest is history. Outside of the gaming world he's an IT Professional & Social Media guy, budding writer, gaming advocate and wannabe designer. You can visit him over at www.dreadgazebo.net or follow him on twitter (@DreadGazeebo)
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13 Responses

  1. Great set of reviews guys!

    @deadorcs I think you can buy slotted minis bases and just slip the token into the slot, thereby making it stand on end. Here is a link to one such product: http://www.warehouse23.com/item.html?id=W23-9004

    Cheers!
    DMSamuel

  2. I’m a fan of the Essentials line myself. Overall I like it, and I own everything but the boxed Dungeon Tiles sets (I own multiple copies of almost all of the original DT sets so I don’t need the new ones.)

    The only complaints I have, off the top of my head, are:

    1) I despise tokens. I really hope this isn’t WotC’s plan for creature representation going forward. I want my plasticrack!

    2) I was a bit upset that it wasn’t made more clear that once I already owned the Rules Compendium that the DM Kit’s book would be relatively useless. There’s really nothing in that set that does any good for me. I guess the map might be okay, but while I haven’t opened it yet, what I can see of it so far is too cartoonish.

    Otherwise I’m happy with the new material. If only I could get my group to buy into it.

    • Is there anything important in the Rules Compendium that isn’t in the DM Kit book?

      • No.

        If you are a new player/DM get a “Heroes of..” book and the DM’s Kit. Don’t worry about the Rules Compendium.

        Maybe later once you are more fluent with the rules you might get the RC just because it presents some things a little more clearly, but to start with everything in it is in 1 “Heroes of” book and the DM’s Book.

  3. @DMSamuel. Holy crap! You know, I hadn’t even thought about that. The slot would have to be the right size, but it’s a good place to start. I’ve actually been going through coin-collecting supply sites. Lots of great options there, too.

  4. Thanks for this set of reviews. I’ve bought the two “Heroes” books and the Rules Compendium, and I do agree with the sentiment that there’ll be something for all 4E players in those books – especially the Compendium.

    I’ve been holding off buying the Monster Vault as I would have preferred to just have a book of monster stats. One of the other members of the group I play with has a lot of minis, so tokens are less of use for me and would be a lot harder for me to store – I don’t know what to do with all my SFB and Car Wars counters, let alone add more from a new game.

  5. @DeadOrcs – the only thing I’ve found is this German game supplier – they have the little plastic bases that used to come with games. Check it out, under “miscellaneous material”:
    http://www.spielmaterial.de/english4/
    You can actually get the colored bases domestically, (www.mrchips.net) but the German site is the only place I could find the clear ones.
    (It’s funny that I was just looking around for the same type of thing for a totally different purpose…check out my blog on Friday to see what I use them for…)

  6. Nice analysis by all. Thanks for the mention, Dread, though I do want to mention something because the “analysis paralysis” thing is a hot topic. The results of several studies, including the jam jar study, have been called into question lately by social scientists and analysis paralysis may not be as big an issue as it was once thought.

    However, in my article, I also discuss several other studies cited from a book, on what I think is the real problem: decision satisfaction. While it is possible to get tripped up making a decision because of too many options, even those who don’t experience the paralysis can find their ability to make good choices and feel happy with them ruined by the psychological effect of choosing from too many similar options. Anyone interested should follow Dread’s link to my article: http://angrydm.com/2010/08/playing-mind-games-the-peanut-butter-conundrum/ or seek out The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz here: http://tinyurl.com/2dh4vze.

  7. I will jump in with something quick. I’m a fan of tokens. Yeah, minis are super cool but I just can’t shake the idea of using proxies for monsters (i.e. ‘This orc is really a gnoll’). Somehow, with tokens I don’t get bent out of shape with this. I’m weird like that.

    I’m very happy WotC has made an effort to promote the use of tokens with their products and pushed the miniature line as an optional purchase. Overall, I think it will help get a lot of new players into the game and not appear as another financial hurdle having to buy a ton of minis. One great move from WotC to get 4E moving off the shelves and onto players game tables.

    • This is a really good point. I hadn’t really considered the impact that not having minis would have, considering that I’ve been playing for so long.

      So the tokens are an even bigger deal than I was thinking.

  8. I love my minis! But I agree with Geekken if I don’t have the right minis I would rather use tokens. I think the tokens are a great move on the part of WotC as far as making the game more accessible. New DMs shouldn’t feel like they need to drop $100-$200 on minis to make their game work . I know there were options before but now having and official WotC backed option is key.

  9. My problem with tokens is really simple: knock one prone.

    Essentially (heh) tokens are hard to mark with status effects, minis are really easy to mark with status effects (just take that ring of your empty soda bottle that is left behind when you take the cap off, viola instant condition markers, drink different flavors for different colours.). That said, it is much easier to carry around a bunch of tokens than it is miniatures “just in case”.

    I’ll probably continue to use miniatures when I am sure there is a fight coming up in the game, but carry around tokens for those sessions when I wasn’t planning to have a combat (or even DM) so that I have the bases covered.

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