It’s not what you say, but how we read it

Ah Mr Mearls. You sure do have a way with letting your well meaning and well written words cause controversy, don’t you? The Commencing Countdown article which serves to officially introduce the D&D Essentials line and begin the big push to launch took off on the intertubes like a backfiring rocket with all and sundry bemoaning that…. well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In short, the last couple of paragraphs dropped a bombshell. Or at least, appeared to.

It was all going so well too. This is, after all, the product I have personally been waiting to see from D&D since… well, the first Red Box set. It’s what the D&D Starter Kit should have been, and then some. The article went into more detail about the line: The Red Box contains everything you need to play: sample adventure, character generation for four core races and four core classes, monsters, DM guide, the lot. The rest of the Essentials line continues that; it’s a re-presentation of D&D in a manner that is designed to be easily accessible and usable for beginning DMs and Players alike.

Brilliant! I’m stoked. Where do I sign up for this awesome package? It’s Dungeons & Dragons Ambassador Program 101. Love it!


After much discussion, we decided to push forward with class designs that would appeal to both new and existing players. We wanted to introduce greater differences of complexity between classes while also creating options that would interest veterans of the game.

… we looked at eliminating daily powers and simplifying encounter powers.

… we could produce a “new” fighter with new mechanics without having to change the existing fighter class.

… The only real changes rest in wizard encounter spells (they have miss effects now), and those changes are almost entirely additive in nature. Your burning hands spell is the same spell as before, except now it deals half damage on a miss.

Waitaminute. What? What??!!!

The Interweb went crazy. Core classes changed? Dropping Daily Powers for Fighters? Completely new mechanics for Wizard Encounter Spells?

“This isn’t a newbie-friendly edition of D&D – it’s a whole new re-write of the game!” they said, “It’s 4.5e D&D!” they cried. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Babies went unfed. War was declared on Korea.

Ok, I’m exaggerating just a tad, but you get the picture. Stalwart 4e D&D fans (myself included) weren’t happy. Wizards goes and fecks up yet again. Dammit. And we keep on so wanting you to get things right, first time.

Then the voice of calm was heard through the fog of fury.

And that voice had a name. It was the very soothing WoTC_Trevor over on the ENWorld message boards. And he did say unto his flock:

And seriously, new builds is what I would liken the crunchy bits in the Essentials players books to. You’ve got the basic PH1 Fighter, you’ve got the battlerager, and then you’ll have the Essentials fighter build. You have the Bow/Two weapon ranger, you have the beast ranger, and you have the Essentials ranger. The rules for playing the game don’t change (beyond adding the rules updates into the compendium), and a party could easily have an Essentials build rogue right along side a Brawny Rogue from PH1 – that is, assuming the party wanted two melee strikers.

And lo! There was calm.

The Essentials build don’t replace anything. Not a darned thing. They’re new, optional, Builds of the Classes designed to be simpler to play and understand. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t take anything from your existing characters, but can play alongside any other Build should you so desire. That’s a perfect solution if you have a new player – give him an Essentials build of a Core Class and he can join in right at the table.

That’s cool. Very cool, in fact.

Y’all can go and feed your babies and make peace with Korea now.

Moving on.

13 Comments on “It’s not what you say, but how we read it”

  1. I understood from the article itself that both versions would be compatible, and was wondering wether it would be a new class that could play alongside the old or a new build.
    There is one great thing about this: they are dropping (more than with the PHB3) the needless symetry between classes. I never understood why every class needed to gain the same kind of powers in the same levels.
    Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the Red Box will ever be translated to my language, so it’s not so big a deal for new players (who may not speak English).

  2. I’ve got a number of players at my table who would love Essentials builds of their characters. They’ll be playing alongside powergamers, so it’s good to hear that Essentials is akin to an alternate build.

  3. I think his post can be summed up best by the following:

    “The Most Important Thing to Remember

    If you’re already playing a Dungeons & Dragons game, there’s one very important thing to remember—the Essentials products matter only as much as you want them to.”

    …ah, yes! The very definition of the word “essential” is something easily disposable!

    They need to have a serious talk with the marketing dept.

    1. Lol!

      You make a good point very well.

      Think of them as “Essential”, but…… “Optional”.

      Yeah. Optionally essential. That would work.

      Or Essentially optional. Take your pick.

      1. I took the name to be ‘Essential’ as in the phrase ‘Just the Essentials’. Ie. The rules essential to playing D&D. Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, Thief. They probably could have gotten away with reprinting those essential classes from the player’s handbook but I think a lot of buyers would have avoided the product rather than going for the ‘real’ game in the books.

  4. That’s fine until those new players want to play with a group who aren’t using essentials rules. It’s not going to introduce them to D&D 4e it’s going to introduce them to a different game. It’s re-creating that D&D/AD&D problem. A player of one thinks they can player the other and is soon lost.

    1. That’s the whole point – they can play. A Rogue created using D&D Essentials would work perfectly well in a game mixing it up with a Fighter created with the Core rules – or another Rogue for that matter. They’re “essentially” (pardon the pun) different builds, that’s all.

      Sure, their powers and abilities are going to be perhaps a little simpler that one of the Core class builds (and definitely simpler than a build from the splatbooks) but it’s no less valid or less D&D. The rules are the same, just easier to understand.

      That’s the theory, anyhow. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like in full…..

  5. I think me and the Essentials Compendium are going to be very happy together.
    Hmm, if we’re running an Essentials rules only game what do we call it? Essentials? “Hey, you wanna play some Essentials tonight?”…Sounds like it should be said with a deep voice and a glass of Courvoisier in hand…What could we call it…hmm…


  6. I’m still playing 3.5 actually. If my current group goes in any direction other than 3.5, it’ll be either be PRPG or M&M (3e if i can hold of long enough lol) fantasy.

  7. Amen, brother!
    I’m seriously disappointed by this, and I’m not one of those people that like 4e. I was under the impression that we were getting some sort of Holy Grail of combined D&D rules, but now it turns out we’re getting D&D For 5’th Graders (a.k.a. D&D 4.5, a.k.a. The System That Should Not Have Been).
    Dang it, I’m frustrated now! Maybe I should just buy Pathfinder and officially renounce WotC, now that Star Wars RPG is dead. Buy my Dark Sun books first, though… ;)

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