Essentials, Choices, and Jams

In 2000, the American Psychological Association published a study entitled “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire too Much of a Good Thing?” (PDF). You may have seen this study referenced in a few recent books including Switch by the Heath brothers and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. During this study psychologists observed consumers’ behavior as they chose between two displays of jams. One display had 24 selections of jams while another had six. While more people gravitated towards the table with more jams, they ended up buying much less than those who went to the display of only six jams. This study concluded that while people gravitate to having more choices, a high number of choices ends up being a detriment in making decisions. Let’s apply this idea to Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.

At a certain level, probably high Heroic and certainly in Paragon and Epic tiers players might have twenty four possible choices on their turn including at-wills, encounter powers, daily powers, utilities, and items. This high number of choices mixed in with the already tactical nature of combat in 4e often leads to analysis paralysis. Players simply can’t figure out what the right move might be. I’ve seen it happen in a lot of games, I’ve seen a lot of conversations that go back and forth during a player’s turn. Analysis might never end until the DM finally moves the game forward by demanding a choice. Not all players are like this. Some are able to make choices very quickly often by eliminating options well before their turn comes up. They make decisions like firemen – the first possible option that will get the job done is the one they pick. Others, however, can get so bogged down that only when they are finally forced to make a decision do they actually make one and often it isn’t the best choice they could make. Often it isn’t even close.

Looking at Heroes of the Fallen Lands, it is clear that WotC realized the number of choices given to all character classes can get overbearing. The fighter and rogue builds are far simpler than previous builds. Limitations on paragon paths and epic destinies further focus the character in a single direction. These builds rely primarily on basic attacks modified by a hand-full of stances or tricks. These stances are easy to figure out given various situations and easy to implement. Though I haven’t played a paragon or epic-level Essentials only campaign, it would appear this limitation in choice will make for a much smoother and faster game at all levels. With limited options comes faster decisions and more focused gameplay.

The perception of choice

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely what players want. Existing 4e players will likely understand the advantages to a faster game and more focused builds but if they’re already used to having piles of encounter, daily, and utility powers, they aren’t likely to give those up easily. They want their 24 jams even if they’d be better off with 6. It personally makes me wish this was the version of D&D 4th edition that came out from the beginning. Instead, the only way we can truly capitalize off of the simplification and rebalancing of character classes in Essentials is to mandate their use. I don’t know how receptive most players will be to this but aside from some oddities (like myself) people want more options, not less. The minute a paragon-level rogue can’t take Daggermaster is the minute they’ll want to break out of an Essentials Only game. In Switch, the Heath brothers describe that it isn’t enough to convince the logical part of someone’s brain to change from an existing course, you also have to get their heart into it. You have to tap into their emotional state to show them how much better the game will run. By “Shrinking the Change” you can possibly run some one-shot paragon and epic-level Essentials Only games so players might see the advantages first hand in running simpler characters. That might not be enough, however. Beyond being far simpler to play, Essentials characters are overall less powerful than the sum total of character builds to this point.

A look at critical hits

The easiest way to see this is the elimination of critical range increases. Using just the PHB1, most character classes can find a way to critically hit on 19 and 20 rather than just 20. The lucky rogue can increase this to 18, 19, and 20. This might not seem like a big deal until you see players focusing their items and powers around these critical hits. Higher level characters also roll many more attacks than a lower level character and each of those attacks has a greater change to crit. D&D Essentials does away with this. No character build at any level is able to crit on anything other than 20. No item, no feat, no power allows for anything other than a crit on 20. Even then, there are few items or powers that offer any significant bonuses when a character DOES crit. This avoids what I like to refer to as “Matt James Syndrome” where defenders are able to dish out over 300 damage in a single round by using the right combination of items, powers, and class abilities. This look at critical hits is only one such limitation in power. Any time you reduce the amount of selections for characters, you limit their power. Any time you expand it out, power increases. If you’re running a paragon level game or above with unlimited selections in the character builder, you’re likely already experiencing this. It isn’t just for optimizers, just about any player will find powerful combinations of abilities that might end up being game-breaking.

DM vs. player

The trouble is, they LIKE all that power. Who wouldn’t? Why would a rogue willingly give up a paragon path like Daggermaster for one with fewer advantages? That means we’re facing two major roadblocks to a more streamlined game. First, players love to have lots of choices. Second, all of those choices let them make more powerful characters. So how do we reach both the logical minds and emotional hearts of our players to convince them to abandon their choice-rich powerful character builds for those found in Essentials? I wish I had a great answer but I’ll leave you with three ideas:

  1. Don’t try to shoehorn it into an existing campaign. If you’re going Essentials Only, start at the beginning and work up.
  2. Run some one-shot games in paragon and epic tiers so both you and your players can see how it runs and how it compares. Offer to run limited-duration Essentials-only games for four to six to eight sessions. It’s less of a threat when it’s only for a short time.
  3. Highlight the straight forward advantages of Essentials-only builds. Rogues get both backstab and sneak attack, for example, on the same hit. Slayers are part fighter and part avenger with the ability to switch from one role to another with a simple stance change.
  4. Time your actual battles between campaigns with fully open character builds and those with Essentials builds. Get people to actually feel how a streamlined game can go.
  5. Get your players to understand the importance of a balanced game. Bring them into your thoughts and decisions about the best path to take for your game. You are equals in your desires to enjoy a fun D&D game.

These solutions aren’t perfect and they’re not always easy. With a more streamlined and balanced game as our possible reward, it is worth the effort to try.


  1. Great article, but nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from you.

    Beyond the idea of choice paralysis described by the jam study, there is also evidence to suggest that people who make selections from large pools of very similar options are more likely to be dissatisified with the choices they do make. “The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More” by Barry Scwartz describes a number of studies on all aspects of decision making. I used some of the information as the basis for my own discussion of how the number of choices in 4E (and other editions of D&D) can manifest itself in the form of dissatisfaction with characters and some ways DMs can recognize the problem and avoid it (“The Peanut Butter Conundrum”). The “Essentials Only” campaign is a great way to do that.

    It is important, however, to remember that some people are more healthy decision makers than others and not all players are prone decision paralysis and decision regret. These studies are averages and generalizations and there are many ways to short circuit the effect of too many similar decisions. Regardless, DMs should not be afraid to place limitations and constrains on the choices available in their games. While some players may balk, initially, you might be doing many of your players a favor.

  2. Good read Mike, I have a player who’s fiance is new to the game and she chose swordmage as her first character ever – completely new to RPG’s and the whole bit. Talk about analysis paralysis at level 3, not to mention a lot of confusion.

    I’m giving my first essentials only campaign it’s first shot this Friday. Gonna start with a bang and hope they like the streamlined classes as much as I do. Also hoping the vanilla flavored powers pry some extra RP out of them 🙂

  3. While I don’t disagree with the referenced psych articles I do disagree with the expectation that Excentials characters will do less damage and nova less. Worse classes and characters lack options to make them effective in the case of the slayer, knight and rogue in essentials only game. If you have two of a class your players are going to end up struggling to differentiate their characters unless one makes a noticeably weaker character.

    That’s without the magic item nonsense.

  4. Awesome article, Mike. There are a few point I’d like to comment.

    – Essentials adds choices, sometimes. Most people tend to focus on the fighter and rogue builds, because they bring the greatest departure from the established model. However, it’s worth mentioning that the point of Essentials isn’t to make a sweeping reduction of choices, but to offer different degrees of complexity. Warpriests are just as complex as clerics in play, even if they are built in a more straightforward way, and Mages actually outcomplex wizards by a small margin, adding an at-will, a cantrip, and a deeper spellbook. In addition, new choices have been added to other areas of the game, such as ability bonuses and racial powers for character races, or Expertise and NAD-boosting feats.

    – Removing ‘trap’ choices helps a lot. One of the things that impressed me most in Heroes of the Fallen Lands was the lack of terrible feats and powers. 4E removed a lot of the system mastery requirements to build an effective character, but most books are still filled with ‘traps’, or terrible options that can detract from a character’s effectiveness. With nothing like Sure Strike or dual-stat classes (such as clerics or warlocks), the worst character that can reasonably come out of HoTFL is actually pretty decent. Cutting down on trap choices reduces complexity without affecting the number of meaningful choices, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    – Essentials builds and material from other books. In your example about critical hits, you talk about an Essentials-only context, but I think the majority of campaigns will include both Essentials and non-Essentials material. So the assumptions about power level can be a bit misleading, since E-builds in open environments won’t be significantly weaker than other classes. I understand how trying out Essentials-only games will highlight the advantages of the new builds, but once your players understand that, mixing it up with other books should offer the best of both worlds: power and variety, and straightforward characters for those who want them.

    – There is such a thing as too few options. Finally, I think it’s only fair to state that there is a point at which removing options just makes the game less fun. Following your initial example, a 1-jam display would probably be even worse than the one with 24. Likewise, mindlessly spamming a single power all day long isn’t what I’d call compelling gameplay – and I think many players are legitimately worried that Essentials will bring us closer to that. So it’s not enough to prove that a reduction in complexity will bring benefits: you also have to show your players that there is still enough strategy left for them to enjoy the new builds. And the minimum threshold will vary from player to player: I know I wouldn’t mind trying out a Thief or a Knight, but I’d draw the line at the Slayer, which looks a bit too simple for my tastes.

  5. maddogtime says:


    Good article. Food for some thought.

    Pardon humbly if I manage to mention things already considered.

    Wouldn’t it be possible to run an mostly-Essentials game and at the same time (at set intervals or as part of some other reward) dole out just a few non-E candies to, for example, spice up the life of the Slayer. At level X or upon finding a magical sword blabla, the Slayer gets, say, a Barbarian feat or an At-Will that could be modified to not unbalance the game for instance.

    Granted, I have not yet tested Essentials although I bought the Red Box Set but I have read about the complaints with regards to some of the E classes…

    Just my 25 € cents…

  6. Castlemaster says:

    Lately, I have felt like D&D needs to come full circle and work towards more depth rather than more choices. Looking at level 1 characters, they have choices of 4-6 different builds when there are 20+ classes already, and that only compounds with hybrid classes.

    Another aspect that I feel needs to be simplified is monsters. I’ve written posts before about monster complexity becoming ridiculous. It has even gotten to the point where minions now have encounter powers as written. Somehow there is a pervasive idea that adding complexity is the same as adding depth. When looking at these monsters, I feel like they could retain depth without sacrificing simplicity.

    Excellent use of scientific articles

  7. Good article, but I feel like there’s a point that’s constantly missed when discussing essentials. My understanding is that the essentials line presents new builds and not replacement builds. To the point of your article, if you want 24 jams then you can still play a pre-essentials “hardcover” character, but if you’re experiencing decision paralysis (or new to the game) then go ahead and roll up an essentials build.

    Wizards even demonstrated this point at the GenCon celebrity game by having two “hardcover” characters play alongside the three essentials characters.

  8. I feel that for the most part the options for a character are already Essentialized. Many players just don’t want to admit it.

    You can’t take Two-Handed sword powers for your One-Handed Sword and Shield defender.

    If this wasn’t true, then I wouldn’t be picking and choosing my way through 12ish powers ever time I go up a level. Most of the powers won’t work or barely function (no damage bonus for instance). Feats are equally clogged up.

    I hope that future classes are presented in the limited Essentials format. Its easier for any player to understand, and possibly even use simple paper and pencil.

    I’m also hoping for more power mixing with the newer classes and the old ones. Maybe the Essentials Slayer stance would catch on with the regular Fighters… who knows.

  9. I have a weird conundrum at the moment. My players currently rely on me to do all their character advancement so they don’t make many choices at all, however I get the feeling that moving to essentials will cause some consternation because of the lack of dailies. Right now I’m debating whether to go all Essentials especially as the Class Compendium will arrive at some point and then I would expect follow up products for the other PHB classes. Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms has me very curious to say the least as the druid animal companion seems quite similar to the beastmaster ranger. I’m also curious about this and other classes (notably the cleric and mage) as they tend to present two choices in one class and hint at other possibilities. Are these missing blanks going to appear later in a compatible format? Clerics for the other domains, mages and their schools and druids of Fall and Winter?

  10. Bloodwin, the additional options for Essentials classes will likely be presented through Dragon magazine. Last month we saw a new weapon option for knights and slayers (the staff), and the pyromancy school for mages; for this week they have announced a cleric build for the Earth domain. More domains and schools, and the druids you mention seem to be just a mater of time.

  11. On the basic premise, I don’t really see choosing amongst jam options to buy and choosing powers as analogous. The jam study is really based on too many choices increasing the chance you will not buy anything. In D&D, you will practically never turn down a standard action. While the length of a turn has a cost, we generally find ways to deal with it and I don’t see it as a huge hurdle to the game.

    What your article really seems to say is that too much choice creates broken power, which is itself a difficulty for the game (and the DM). That is true. Since Skills & Powers this has been a big part of D&D. Certainly you will see more power creep when you have more choices (more combinations = more broken), but a lot is about WotC wanting to find cheese. So far, they have neither mastered understanding what is cheesy nor have they operated in a way to stop it. They keep introducing cheese the same way MMORPG games add new powers and deal with the consequences later. I could argue that this is a very good model for consumption – cheese sells. What doesn’t seem to work well are the many updates. The high frequency and breadth leave many feeling that the game is not dependable and that “their fun” will be curtailed.

    Does essentials solve power creep? A lot hangs in the balance of the upcoming book that provides conversion rules between 4E classic and 4E Essentials. Depending on how that works we may see just as much complexity as ever and more powerful builds/combos than ever. I agree with the comment that Essentials is not going to stop power creep. After all, there was a very limited amount of broken when the PH was first released.

  12. For those DMs/players who want to see a comparison, it’s been a learning experience (in a good way) for us while running the current season of D&D Encounters. Although some of my players [at my table] grumbled that I insisted it be an Essentials-only game, and since they can’t get Essentials characters built in the Character Builder, they must run [only] the pregens for now.

    At the same time, by “narrowing choices” to Essentials [and pregens] only, it has been remarkable to watch them enjoy these builds. A few sluggish players, who crawled through Dark Sun’s season of Encounters, now choose faster on their turns. A few older players grasped the builds quickly, and after we ran Week 5 last night, I asked three of them: “Do you miss your Dailys”? All three were like, “Oh, yeah, I forgot these characters didn’t have them…the stuff they do have works great.”

    In my home RPGA game (vs. my homebrew FR campaign) I’ve allowed one Essentials Knight. The “old” and “new” builds at least worked fine there. I’ve run Sunderpeak Temple, the Red Box Game Day, for several groups just to demo the Essentials builds. (Yes, with a little tweak of errata to the yellow cards.)

    In my homebrew October yearly “Ravenloft” conversion, using 4e, I have one Essentials and 5 others. I’ve encouraged only Essentials races in that game, and I also was involved in character building closely, to do exactly what Mike suggested… I reduced their choices, and streamlined some of their concepts for character designs.

    Overall, I hope the trend continues. As an RPGA DM I got tired of Alpha-strike rounds. In my homebrew, I tended to create Encounter 4 or 5 into tricking the PCs into burning their Dailys, so that the next few encounters, including often a climax before the end encounter(s), had a better challenge balance. I often have heard myself saying “Do you trust me?” and then, yes, I do limit my players’ choices. I feel like, if I did not, I would have to become flexible enough to handle all kinds of crazy builds and power creep… but by putting some boundaries, then turning around and making sure they understand all the cool things they *can* do, I get the level of fun I desire.

    I know, DMing may have never meant to be juggling, micromanaging, and like…trying to style hair all at once. I think sometimes I forget that “Wizards of the Coast” or “D&D” does not have one AI brain that makes these decisions, but often one group of designers with one vision, then is replaced by a new group. Rob Heinsoo, let’s say, sees D&D [4e] differently than Mike Mearls. And you and I, players and DMs, may have even more differences. I feel like Essentials is trying to do some good things, and we had some good things, and if we pick, choose, guide, teach, and inspire… and above all use these tools to make sure at the end of the day… we have FUN… then we got it right.

  13. I agree with George, the omission of dailies from martial characters actually helps with adventure management. Nothing is more heartbreaking than busting your ass designing an awesome boss monster, only to have him eviscerated in the second round because all the strikers decided to save their dailies and unload them at once. It’s to the point to where I have to design a version of the boss for if my players have their dailies, and a version for when they don’t have their dailies. Obviously the latter is weaker than the former.But my core campaign just hit Paragon, and it would be impossible to get my players to convert at this point, especially with only four classes. Maybe once this game ends (hopefully in a year), we may try a campaign with Essentials builds only. Most likely by then the non-Essentials options will probably be obsolete. Wizards has ways to make that happen 🙂

  14. I hear what you two are saying.

    At the same time, I work collaboratively with my players. Dailies aren’t assured to be broken. Plenty of builds have very strong encounter powers. As a DM if any power creates an issue we talk about it. Either I will escalate difficulty or they will help me review the power/thing.

  15. Unfortunately, I must disagree with the majority and say that I don’t think Essentials is the better game. Only the martial classes are being streamlined with a reduction of power choices, while the warpriest has nearly a full complement of traditional 4E powers, and the mage is nothing more than another 4E build with some unusal quirks, but with the full range of encounter, daily, and utility powers. So all you have really done is stifled and neutered the powers of the melee classes, and left the caster classes with just as much alleged indecision as any other traditional 4E class.

    To me, this is a throwback to one of the major design inequalities of the previous edition – the lack of combat options for non-caster classes. While I have not played a Paragon Tier Essentials game either, I think all we’re going to see is a return to having the non-casters make a few swings of a sword each combat and maybe kill one foe, while the mage and warpriest decimate the opponents with a barrage of attacks, many of them AoE.

    Perhaps some players might be content as a slayer or rogue watching their mage annihilate multiple foes with twisting lightning and cones of cold, while they poke one opponent with a sharp object, but I don’t think I’d be one. And how patient will those slayers and thief characters be while half the party slows down the combat with their spell-choice indecision-making after they have made their one meager combat attack? I imagine there will be some really unhealthy character-envy going around those gaming tables in a short period of time.

  16. @neuro

    “while they poke one opponent with a sharp object”

    I get what you’re saying, but I think you may be waxing melodramatic with comments like this. The E-martial builds can do some pretty cool stuff. The slayer can dish damage every bit as well as the sorcerer, or other strikers for that matter. The knight is actually a very deep build, I highly recommend you play one if you haven’t. They are fun to play and offer defender support incredibly well. The thief is also quite a nice striker and the tactical changes made to the design stand up well.

    It’s really not fair to characterize these builds as weaker or puny (“poke one opponent”), even though they may be simpler. You may not like how they achieve the results, but lets be clear, the Slayer and thief will be dealing damage with other strikers of their level without a problem. In fact, you may see jealousy in the other direction as traditional strikers wonder why they have to juggle all the powers properly to try to get the same damage yield the slayers and thieves will be getting, all the while the slayer and thief making it look more streamlined and dare I say, elegant.

  17. dreamshade says:

    One thing worth noting about the Essentials characters is that while they have limited options they do not feel weak. I built a custom dwarf rogue from the new Essentials books to use with the Encounters sessions. This rogue can gain combat advantage pretty much every turn that he wants to, either by moving and attacking a monster that doesn’t have any allies next to him or by shifting 3 squares before attacking to get into position, using the at-wills I’ve chosen for him. With the pregens, I’ve heard stories about a 9-year-old boy who came to the gameday and used the rogue pregens to knock a dragon prone every turn.

    The strongest member of our group appears to be the slayer, who can put out tremendous damage with a one-handed weapon while still cowering behind a shield. Even sillier is that because Essentials focuses on melee basic attacks, that halfling can have balanced NADs by using melee training with a different score, ditching strength but keeping a high constitution. Then our warpriest has been known to do a lot of two-handed weapon damage on attacks that target Fortitude rather than AC while still protecting party members. And the mage has a close burst 5 attack that doesn’t hurt allies, which makes him feel satisfied about getting to punch nearly every bad guy on the board.

    So yeah, if you’re trying to entice people to give up some of their multiple options in favor of the more stripped-down Essentials paths, you might want to mention that some of the Essentials characters can rock the house pretty well on their own.

  18. Welcome to why psychology is tricky subject.

    At no point in the original example, does it say that the people who bought more jam enjoyed their jam more.

    At no point in the original example, does it say that the people who had to choose from the 24 had a bad or unpleasant time or were struct with a analysis paralysis.

    It says that when laying out your shelf to sell jam, you probably don’t want to overload your consumers with 24 kinds of jam right beside a display of 6 kinds of jam if you want for them to buy jam from the display of 24.

    I really don’t see how that applies to dnd. Here’s an example, no one’s buying anything. You don’t even look to the main example to see if the behavior with the jam’s existed independent of the two displayings being showed at the same time ( What happens in your example if only 24 kinds of jam are displayed). Science is a fickle friend, and before you go letting it inform your gaming or foreign policy, you should really think about what is being said before running headlong into questionable extensions.

    As for Essentials, I was kind of woogy on it, I really enjoyed the decision and available material, that said the new essentials classes are great Thematic and Mechanic classes. They do have less material (I would peg them somwhere in the line of half a build or something like that) but thats not a terrible thing (it helps inforce that thematic thing). Aside from a handful of questionable errata (cough retcons, im looking at you melee training and magic missile). they fit in just fine, their damage and design space doesn’t come from the same old mechanics but rather the new ones (hello assassin poison and druid animal companions both of which seem to operate a bit differently then you might expect just given the phb1). Regardless, I really think its a tangent to the main point (Jam!) which was weak in its own right and probably why you branched out so harshly.

    Best wishes, Logos7

  19. The problem I have with the concept of the Essentials-only game is what it closes off. Sure, you can have a cleric, but he has to be a melee cleric; no holy lasers allowed. Sure, you can have a druid, but he has to have an animal companion; no shapeshifters allowed. (I played a druid in 1e and walked around as a bear all the time, so I’m very fond of that concept.)

    It’s good to only have six jars of jam to choose from during combat, but when I’m creating a character or leveling up, I’d like to have all 24 jars, please.

  20. @Logos,

    “At no point in the original example, does it say that the people who had to choose from the 24…were struct with a analysis paralysis.

    It says that when laying out your shelf to sell jam, you probably don’t want to overload your consumers with 24 kinds of jam right beside a display of 6 kinds of jam if you want for them to buy jam from the display of 24. ”

    Actually, if you read the study, they address those very points. The jams were not displayed simultaneously. They EITHER saw the 6 jam table OR the 24 jam table.

    The fact that people bought more jam from the 6 jam table IS the proof of analysis paralysis. The analogy is very apt.

    “I really don’t see how that applies to dnd. ”

    It applies to D&D because it demonstrates that if a customer is presented too many choices, it’s an inhibitor. A better question is, how many choices is “too many” in an RPG? Did 4E surpass that number? Is Essentials the “right” amount?

    The theory is that 4E with it’s multitude of choice and class options even in PHB1, is the 24 jam table. The Essentials builds are generally simpler and offer fewer choices, this is the 6 jam table.
    Assuming the lesson of fewer choices converting more prospects to customers, the Essentials builds should bring more newbies into the game than traditional 4E did. We won’t know that for a few years, if ever. I’m sure WotC has a way to measure this sort of thing with their sales data and surveys, but it may never be published. The best proof we’ll have is when we see 5E come out.

    “You don’t even look to the main example to see if the behavior with the jam’s existed independent of the two displayings being showed at the same time ( What happens in your example if only 24 kinds of jam are displayed). ”

    Yeah, this is pretty much exactly what they did. Read it. It’s good stuff.

    “Science is a fickle friend, and before you go letting it inform your gaming or foreign policy, you should really think about what is being said before running headlong into questionable extensions. ”

    As long as we’re giving advice that comes off as a bit patronizing, I’ll recommend we all actually read the linked study before we write it off or call someone elses extensions questionable.

    I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but you’re blasting the OP of the article and his analysis of a study you didn’t read.

  21. You can’t strip context from a study. The context is about consumption – you might think that a store providing a huge selection will do better than one with a smaller selection, but that isn’t true. That is what the study is about (and like any study, surely has some sample bias, incorrect conclusions, poor methodology, etc.). Having a lot of consumption choices can create a negative effect – when you can’t make up your mind you are more inclined to not consume. Of course, every store still wants to provide what the customer wants – the perfect choice. How do you provide perfect choice tailored to the customer without overloading them? That’s just part of what the study is about.

    Another one I like is where they take the same coffee, and in one setting they surround it with all sorts of add-on niceties… except the niceties don’t go with coffee. Things like a silver cup with pickles, or a nice salt shaker, etc. Then they sample how people felt about the coffee. The ones presented with the coffee surrounded by seemingly nice but completely unusable stuff rated their coffee much higher. They were tricked into liking it more.

    However, we aren’t talking about consumption. We are talking about the enjoyment of a game we already decided to play. We are talking about, in D&D specifically, speed to make choices, enjoyment, and cheese.

    Sure, the more choices, the more time to select one. That isn’t quite the jam study effect, though it is related.

    Cheese is just about recent D&D being focused around stacking effects. The more of these you have and the less the developers/designers do to to control/edit for cheese, the more cheese you will have in your game. (Compare to Warhammer where there is a hard rule limiting the number of stacking effects that can impact any roll). This has nothing to do at all with the jam effect, and is really about product design. While Essentials has fewer choices, there is no clarity that the PCs won’t end up just as cheesy as core/old 4E ones.

    The last bit is enjoyment. Enjoyment is really subjective and not directly related to this jam effect. We can probably say that a much bigger factor is the game you know well. Another is how you personally like or don’t like having a lot of choices. Another is the classic level-based approach (where each PC level brings specific capabilities) vs the freedom of levels providing wide categories of capabilities. I again feel it is too early to tell, especially when a product will come out soon that bridges both systems. What we will see at the table will probably end up being a spectrum between those paradigms of class design. Will that be confusing? Maybe. It won’t be jam. It may or may not be your cup of tea.

  22. Now I’m hungry.

  23. WOTC is putting out a book (and likely this is the first of many) that will take five classes from the PHB and put the original builds for them into Essentials format. I.E. Essentials rogues will have the option of Artful Dodger and Brutal Scoundrel. “It features rules that allow D&D Essentials characters to select non-D&D Essentials powers, and it grants non-D&D Essentials characters access to class features from Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. In addition, this book presents feats, rituals, and rules for multiclassing.” A bridge between the two systems. So the analogy seems to me more like this: We had 24 jams (Original 4e). We then get 6 jams instead (Essentials). Now we’ll have 30 jams (Essentials + Original 4e).


  1. […] 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 […]