Inquisition: Do You Like Essentials?

We haven’t done an Inquisition of the Week in a while, and though we don’t plan on doing them every week I will simply call this an Inquisition as we will be doing one every now and then. Today I’d like to ask all of you about the Essentials line of products for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition that are releasing this month, starting with the Red Box (which Phil reviewed here) that is already out and continuing for the next few months with the limited run of products. This month we see the release of the D&D Rules Compendium, Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon, and Heroes of the Fallen Lands that introduces new rules, builds, and options for the most iconic D&D classes – the Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, and Rogue.

Though a lot of what is being introduced with Essentials falls into the category of new options, there is also new errata that includes a handful of changes to the base game that bring things a bit more in line with some of the design philosophies behind Essentials. I am still on the fence about some things that are presented in Essentials but for the most part I like the changes being made to parts of 4E that I have been struggling with for the last two years such as magic items. One of the big things I am still reserved about is the new builds for classes such as the Slayer Fighter that changes the role that class fills, meaning you can have a fighter in your group that is a striker.

As always I am going to have to wait until I’ve experienced playing with the majority of these new rules to really make a judgment, but we can at least talk about how we feel just reading about the changes and see what the consensus amongst you guys, our readers, looks like.

[poll id=”167″]

It is very tough to come up with a good set of answers for a poll like this, so if your exact opinion isn’t reflected well in one of the listed answers then try to look at the first four answers as a score for Essentials: Yes = 4 stars, Mostly = 3 stars, Not really = 2 stars, and No = 1 star


  1. Essentials are a great set of products. Wizards of the Coast (in my opionon) really NOT done a good job in explaining what these products are and how they integrate with existing 4E products. Which is to bad. The key howevert is that they Integrate with existing 4e products. Don’t be scared of these products. If you don’t need/want them that is one thing, but don’t keep anyone from your gaming table because they built their character with an Essentials product.

  2. I’m in an interesting position. I’ve been critical of “militant 4e-haters.” I would reply to them, “If you don’t like 4e, don’t play it.” For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone cares what someone else is playing. Play what you like, and let others do as they please. Well, I’m not a fan of Essentials at all, but so what? It doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the game one bit. If I’m at a 4e table, whether as DM or player, and another player rolls out an Essentials character, it doesn’t matter to me any more than it matters that someone pulls out an ultraoptimized character that always hits. I’m focused on what my character is doing and how he or she is contributing to the mix. As long as I may play what I want, I’m going to continue playing at the table.

    Let that be a lesson to the militant 4e haters. Not that they’ll listen, but it’s worth a shot.

    So, no I’m not a fan of Essentials, but all that means is that I won’t be rolling up an Essentials character. My dwarf might take the feat that let’s you second wind twice per encounter, but that’s about it. I *do* like that WotC is giving people more options, though. Fortunately, not everyone thinks exactly as I do, and if Essentials is your thing, go for it.

  3. I’m thrilled so far. I bought a Red Box for my wife and I’m trying to get her hooked. We’ll see…

  4. I don’t really care for it, which is disappointing because I was kinda excited and thought I’d jump back into the game with it. But the idea behind the new Fighter (making it “simpler”) and Rogue didn’t seem very impressive to me at all, and while the new Wizard is cool, the Wizard’s always been cool. I guess I wanted a bigger change (I honestly would’ve welcomed a 4.5) but didn’t get one, or got the wrong kind of one. Not that it matters terribly much, as the product was never intended for the purpose of getting money from someone like me anyway.

  5. Overall I like what they’re doing (based on the reviews I’ve read.) In a sense, I have a little bit of envy for those who are going to be hopping into 4E with it. I already own so many books for the edition now, I’m not really interested in re-purchasing the rules (even if they are the “updated” rules.) What I will be happy with, though, is once the new builds hit DDI, my yearly subscription will pretty much pay off.

    And personally, I’m happy to hear about the Essential Dungeon and City Tile sets, and I like the DM box set. Those I’ll snag for myself.

  6. I haven’t played 4E before but I purchased the Starter Set to try with my family.

  7. I’m not thrilled with the starter set but I have hopes for the main books. One thing I’m very glad about is the idea of keeping certain sets of Dungeon tiles in print. I’m pleased that they have these simpler characters as there would be more opportunity for new players to experiment in role playing and imagining the game world. I think that while power cards are nice, they can be a bit daunting for new players.

  8. Rupert Gilliand says:

    I like that with the Essentials line, the rules are being tidied up. Mostly I’m actually just interested in the non-Essentials Rules Compendium. Having looked at the previews, none of the Essentials builds for the classes appeal to me.
    That said, I don’t dislike their existence. A lot of gamers will find a great deal of use for them and I’m sure that the products reach out to a section of roleplayers who otherwise might not be interested in 4e, which is great!

  9. I like a lot of the design decisions Essentials seems to be taking. Things like not giving everyone the same number of at-will/encounter/daily powers–I love that Martial classes are all about picking different at-wills, and (theoretically) Arcane classes could rely more on encounter-long dailies (like summons, etc). I’m happy with a lot of the mechanical cleanup–stuff like re-tiering feats and fixing implement proficiency. I’m even pretty happy with the item rarity rules; I’m not a big fan of item-based characters, and so having items move closer to being a DM resource is fine by me.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE that they finally fixed the Skill Challenge DCs, so that they actually make sense!

    That said, I’m not sure how excited I am about particular implementations. The Slayer looks kind of nifty, but (as I haven’t seen the whole class) I’m not sure if only having a few at-wills and only 1 encounter power (even if you can use it multiple times per encounter) will make for a less interesting character. Just like everything else in D&D (any edition), there aspects that I like and some that I’m ambivalent about.

    WotC has done a pretty bad job explaining what they’re doing with Essentials. I get it and I approve, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be excited about every aspect of the implementation. In the end, the core pieces of the game will go on as normal.

  10. Even though we just kicked off a new campaign, one that we plan to take to level 30, I will not be buying any new books. Don’t get me wrong – I like 4E, but not to the point where I have to keep updating. Nope, I’m good with what I have, including the online tools (them are the best!).

  11. I own a lot of the 4E books already, but I picked up the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands last friday and so far I really like what I’ve been reading. I think the new classes are exactly what was needed – remove the complexity/book-keepin but keep the depth. And severing the Class->Role binding is nothing but good.

    Heh, I’m also enjoying both the 6×9 soft-cover digest format and the ‘fluffier’ content in the books. They just feel good in your hands and are nicer to read. These ones feel more like the gaming books I grew up with, and less like a text book.

    Even simple things, like the changes to Treasure Parcels (now just called Treasures) feels good – they’ve brought back some of the dice rolling – so you could potentially roll gems, art, coin & a magic item for all 10 treasures per level. I’ve never found the items to be that swingy (though to be fair, we don’t carry character optimization very far) so it doesn’t frighten me to have a lot show up if that’s what the dice yield.

    Anyways… there’s nothing in here that anyone has to ‘fear’. It’s 4E.

  12. The products are great for the gaming community. As someone who’s tried to demo 4E for noobs, I can attest that simpler builds are a boon. All the rules updates are great too (except for magic missile, boo).

    What is unfortunate is the marketing strategy probably won’t be a big success in getting a new generation to play. Mistakes include:
    1. Red Box isn’t fun and easy enough, but it’s a good idea and is the strongest offering of Essentials for noobs.
    2. Making D&D less intimidating by having “only” a dozen Essentials products. Uh… too many. There should be 3-4 essentials products max (Red Box, DM Kit, D&D Heroes). Dungeon tile sets, for example, that don’t go out of print are brilliant, but those things are for us, not for new folks. They just clutter up the essentials bucket.
    3. Today’s generation needs digital content. Stronger digital support, like a video game disc (X-Box, Wii, etc.) that provides character building, visualizing, and mapping, would be a really strong Red Box alternative for today’s tech savvy youth.

  13. I think the product line is a truly great idea to help get more folks involved in the game, and for those of us already eyeballs deep in 4E, we can cherry pick the parts of Essentials we want to add to our already existing campaigns. Certainly the “Red Box” is not a must-have big-seller amongst the veteran 4E gamers, but the Rules Compendium, Monster Vault, and tile sets are going to be darned useful regardless of your experience level with 4E.

    As far as the Character builds go, I am not sure they are ever going to be as popular as the traditional 4E build, and even amongst the 4E newbies I ran through Red Box in preparation for my review, they felt the classes were fun but… And that “fun but” kinda speaks volumes doesn’t it?

  14. I feel that essentials adds enough errata, that they really really just needed a new player’s handbook. But I think the market would view that as a failure on their behalf.

    I do feel let down as a 4e fan, in that this is really another munge of rules being dropped in. I’m not keen on the way they are rolling stuff out. i.e. if I want a Drow in an Eberron Campaign, I need to buy the Forgotten Realms Players guide? hmm….. (Is anyone else picturing a greedy man rubbing his hands?)

    On the other hand I do have young kids around and they will undoubtably find a use for the books. Its clearly Basic D&D done 4e style and its not far off paper and pencil. I have already convinced 4 neighborhood kids to buy the Red Box, and they are definitely into it.

    As for me… I have character generator. When is all this going to be in there?

  15. I play with all new-to-D&D people, and even they were horrified by essentials. It reads like “D&D for slow people”. We are all ex-WoW guildmates who grew to hate the dumbing down of that game, and now we’re feeling Wizards is making the same move. I think we’re switching systems, we just haven’t decided what yet. I hate to do it, but I will probably pick up the red box out of curiosity.

  16. Love love love the new Rules Compendium. The price point and digest size are spot on.

  17. The starter box didn’t interest me at all – I don’t have any nostalgia for the red box (I started playing with AD&D 2E), and don’t have any need for an intro to the game. I did pick up the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands over the weekend, and think they are both well done. The rules changes were for the most part things I like (item changes, streamlining the presentation of masterwork armor, etc), but I’m not sure yet about some of the changes in class design philosophy (such as the Fighter builds).

    I’m still a little concerned about how Essentials fits into the overall D&D 4E ecosystem. WotC has done a good job mapping out the path of a new player through the Essentials line, but where they go next is a mess. The PHB, DMG, and MM are all out-of-date and largely redundant. The builds in the Power books, and other sources, are based on the PHB classes so moving to them seems awkward since it won’t be clear what class features you should have.

  18. I am not a big fan of Essentials. I am a big fan of the simplicity and cooperative nature of 4E, which they seem to be trashing. I am not going to refuse to play it or let any of my players use the classes in my game but I do not plan to buy many of the books. I am going to buy the rules compendium to get all the new edition rules. (If it was not a new edition my old PH & DM guide would still be good.)

    However, I also have a gut feeling this is testing for 5E which we will see in a couple years. The initial bulge of the new edition excitement has worn off and sales are tapering down. Now they are testing to see if they can attract back the people who rejected 4E and keep the current 4E players with this more complicated game with a more retro feel. Else, if people preferred the simpler game and this move is not going to attract any of the 4E rejecters. They are playing with the format too. They may have a higher profit margin on these paperbacks and they are testing to see if people accept them.

    We will see what happens.

  19. Matt Ferrara says:

    I found a store selling the September 21 releases (Red Box, Rules Compendium, Dungeon Tiles, Dice, and Heroes of the Whatever-Its-Called a couple weeks early. I thumbed through the Heroes book. Not much in there I’d spend 20 bucks to own when my DDI subscription will give it to me via the compendium, but overall it looks okay. I do like the rethinking and reorganization and reclassification of feats. One of the basic assumption, when making 4e, was that they wanted classes like, say, fighters, to be able to do interesting things on their turn. I think back to earlier editions. It would be my turn and I’d invariably say, simply, “I swing at him,” or whatever. Now they’ve turned back to focusing fighters on melee basic attacks. I know it’s a simplification for new players but it seems like the wrong direction. I bought the Compendium and the Tiles. The Compendium is great. I like the digest size. My only complaint is that the rules for Companion Characters isn’t included in it. I know it’s not really an “essential” rule and that they need to ensure people still buy their other books, but it’s the only thing, other than what’s in the book, that I ever need to look up on a regular basis so it would have been great to have it there. The tiles set is great, too, all reprints but a great collection, and also the box and its lid are tiled, too, making them quite useful themselves.

  20. Well, it’s odd. I’ve been playing 4E since it came out, and I own most of the 4E books. That being said, I am critical of the “militant 4E defenders” to borrow some terminology from above. ^_- I honestly prefer 3E’s system design and philosophy, although there are elements of 4E I really do enjoy.

    I picked up the Rules Compendium and Essentials last week, and I really like them both. Without the Character Builder, I might find integrating the various options a bit more complex than normal character creation, but with the Character Builder update in October I find myself fairly hopeful that it will be well integrated. I like the new options.

  21. Bookworms Unite! says:

    I’m cool with 4E, don’t play it, but I’m okay with recognizing that it’s an evolution of the game. I do have an issue with WotC just slapping a new coat of paint on the same old products and calling it “essentials” like “YOU CAN’T PLAY D&D WITHOUT THESE! YOUR CHARACTER WILL SUCK! YOU’LL BE A LAUGHING STOCK! BUY! BUY! BUY!”…meh, whatever. Sounds suspiciously more like “ESSENTIALLY, you need to give us more money.”

  22. I just got my 2 Essentials books(RC & HoFL) and I have to admit that I like them. I’m actually planning to run a little game this weekend for my family.
    The Essentials books are better organized and are a better read than the original Core Books. I still have some issues with the mechanics of 4e, but they honestly there is a sense that everything is more “cleaned up” than in the original Core Books.
    If everything goes well this weekend, the DMG and PHB will become decorative fixtures on my gaming shelf. The Rules Compendium and the 2 new PHBs will be my new core books.
    Of course it could just be that these books are just all shiny and new, with better presentation than the originals. If that’s the case I’m out less than $30(Amazon Prime is a wise investment) and I definitely won’t be giving up on my Pathfinder/3.x books.
    If I do become a 4e convert, I plan to run the Realms and Dark Suns in 4e. Then keep running my Eberron, Dragonlance and Goalrion games in Pathfinder.