Wednesday, September 22, 2010

DnD Essentials

Since the Sunday Night DnD group didn't meet this past Sunday evening there is no Thunderspire Labyrinth recap this week. There is a lot going on in the 4E DnD world however and I thought I would provide some information on the new DnD Essentials line.

Wizards is, as any good company should, looking to expand their market share and last fall announced they would be releasing an new introductory level of DnD material called DnD Essentials. This announcement was greeted with a great deal of consternation as you might imagine. Given the number of existing 4E Core and source books and the collection of errata for these already released source books there was a concern that Essentials would be the new release of a "Version 4.5E" of DnD with a whole new set of rules for that would basically make all the material already purchased outdated and invalid.

Wizards has stuck to their guns though as they have spent the last several months trying to convince their critics to come back in off the ledge. Their argument has been that if you think of 4E as "Advanced DnD" then Wizards is pushing the Essentials line as "Basic DnD" to serve as an entry level DnD product to bring in new players and introduce them to the game we have played for the past ~30 years. Wizards has encouraged its fans to hold their criticism until the new products were actually released, and finally Tuesday this week was the general release date for the DnD Essential line of products (some game stores have been selling these items for ~10 days already).

The first Essentials product to be released was the DnD Essentials Starter Set (follow the link to get all the details of what is in the box). The artwork on the box is a direct replica of the red box set released back in 1987. The new boxed set was used as part of the DnD Essentials Day this past weekend in game stores all across the country and has received generally positive reviews (example). I have seen this in both Borders and Barnes and Noble over the past two weeks, but I probably won't buy this, at least for myself, but it could conceivably serve as an interesting birthday or Christmas present for someone else.

The two other two newly released DnD Essentials products are the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Those of the you that have the Players Handbook know that the book basically breaks down into two major parts: the rules and the characters, including races and classes with all of their related powers and abilities. That is the same breakdown for these two books as well. The Rules Compendium contains all of the basic game play rules, including all of the errata from the last two years (4.1E?) To be fair, much of the errata is simple wording or phrasing changes that ensure consistency throughout the different books. Heroes of the Fallen Lands contains the basic character race and class information along with all of the related powers and abilities.

The books have a soft cover and come in a comfortable 6x9 size, both have over 300 pages of material, and both include an extensive index (something Wizards has been rightly criticized for not including in the past). The best part is these books are only $19.99 apiece, considerably less than previous DnD source books. There is a DnD Essentials DM Guide, another Heroes book, and a Monster Manual scheduled for release over the next two months as well (links included). I've been saving a Borders gift card plus I had a 33% off coupon so I picked up both of the two new books this morning. I am still reading through them and will bring them this coming Sunday.

So what does this mean for us? Probably nothing, other than utilizing the Rules Compendium. Both basic and advanced levels have their own heroic, paragon and epic level paths, with the basic level having a somewhat simplified set of powers to choose from, so I suppose we don't have worry about any kind of crossover. Having said that, if one of us wanted to DM a DnD Essentials dungeon I would eagerly play.

What isn't clear to me though is how the DDI Character Builder (CB) tool will be affected. I suppose there could be an "Essentials Only" button on the opening screen, but there has not been a CB upgrade this month and there isn't one on the calendar for the remainder of this month. The next CB upgrade will include all of the Dark Sun updates as well, so there are a lot of changes yet to come down the pike. I guess I am also curious to see if any more of the rules changes specific to the DnD Essentials line will also be incorporated across and into the advanced DnD rules.

There is also the question of now that the new Rules Compendium has been released, what then for the existing Players Handbooks? Will all of the race/class information with all of its errata be re-published, or will CB be the sole repository for this? Ditto for all the Monster Manuals and the DDI Monster tool. There is no PHB4 or MM4 on the calendar for next year, so I suppose we'll see. I guess this means that some of the worries about the books being relegated out of usefulness is at least partially true. If someone wanted to start playing DnD (and not Essentials) I guess I would have to tell them to buy the Rules Compendium and download the free CB for level 1-3 characters and then purchase CB if they wanted to go beyond level 3.

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