Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Essentials Essential?

Wizards of the Coast just recently started coming out with a new group of products for D&D called the Essentials line. It was created as a means to get new players into the game by simplifying the way certain things worked in the game and also smoothing out some of the language and the more complex rules. It started with the release of a new beginner's set in a red box - reminiscent of the red box the original version of D&D came in. While I don't have the boxed set myself, I have heard from people who do have it, and it is full of goodies - a map, plenty of counters for monsters and PCs, basic rules for PCs up to 3rd level, and an introductory adventure reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book - every decision you make in the adventure guides you along the character creation process, and if what I've been told is true, it turns out to be quite an ingenious way to make a character, to develop the character in a simple and easy fashion.

After that, though, the Essentials products start doing some things I'm still not sure if I like. The main player book, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, introduces new builds for the most basic of D&D character classes - Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard. There are two Fighter builds, the Knight and the Slayer. The Knight is a standard defender; he creates an aura around him that causes monsters to get penalties to attack anyone but him. The Slayer, though, is a new animal - a Fighter build for the Striker role. The Slayer wears heavy armor and does heavy damage, and that's it. Neither Fighter build has Daily power anymore; they were removed from the martial classes, as some people thought it odd that a class that relies solely on physical ability would have abilities they could only use once per day. This applies to the Rogue, too; now the Rogue build, the Thief, gets not new Daily powers, but various movement powers that let the Thief move around the battlefield more easily and in new ways. The Cleric build, the Warpriest, is essentially two builds in one, as you choose either to utilize the Sun or Storm domain. Each has different powers; Storm is more offensive, while Sun is more healing oriented. In the interest of simplification, the Warpriest has little choice of powers available; you can only choose Daily powers and Utility powers. The Wizard build, the Mage, is similar; you can specialize in one of several schools of magic, and they will effect what choices you get for Daily and Utility powers. The choosing of feats, too, has changed; now feats, at least in Essentials material, are not restricted to the various tiers of character advancement, but they are all available to anyone, as long as you meet the requirements.

I'm all for simplification of things for new players; sometimes the crunchy aspects of D&D can seem very intimidating when you are trying to get someone new to try it out. And I like the Cleric and Wizard builds, because the power choice, limited though it is, seems solid and flavorful, and very iconic. The changes to the martial classes, though, I am more worried about. Does WotC really think that players will be so turned off by their having Daily powers that they'll abandon the game? The cinematic aspect of a warrior or rogue busting out that one truly cool power at the best possible minute is one I find easy to visualize. But the removal of the daily power isn't what really worries me; what worries me is that they took a Fighter build and changed it from its normal Defender role to the Striker role. Now, I like the idea that Fighters can be flexible, but what if it spreads to other classes? Will we have Wizard Defenders, or Rogue Leaders? That will mean either a truly ridiculous number of class builds, or a confusing mix of options that dilutes everything until no class is unique anymore, where every class can do everything. And this won't be an isolated thing; the Heroes of the Fallen Lands book confirms they will have several more such role-jumping class builds in the advanced player book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.

So I'm very worried about the Essentials products. I don't want 4th Edition D&D to become a horrific, incomprehensible mess because they decided suddenly that all classes can be all things; niche protection of certain roles is part of what makes D&D the game it is. I'm still hopeful, though, because this comes so soon after the great products that are the 4th Edition Dark Sun books; surely, if they can do something like that, they can keep something like Essentials in check, not letting it go too far. Or, at least, that's my hope.

1 comment:

  1. Do we know if this is a new iteration of 4th or merely a stand alone guide? I flipped through the Essentials book at work and was trying to figure out just what it was trying to do. If this is meant to be the new 4.5 then I'm somewhat hesitant.