Essentials is not a Porsche

Few people would disagree that the Porsche 911 GT2 is a fantastic car. With iconic looks, decades of award-winning history and heart-stopping speed and acceleration, it well deserves its place in the Motoring Hall of Fame.


The D&D Essentials line is not like a Porsche 911 GT2. For a start, it’s not a car. It’s a lot cheaper too.

But it is like it in several respects. For a start, D&D Essentials is a concept stripped down to its barest elements. Just as the GT2 is the essence of motoring with all the usual niceties, gadgets and gizmos stripped out, D&D Essentials is the essence of Fourth Edition D&D without the CD Multi-Changer or iPod socket. Essentials is designed from the start to be fast and simple to play. It lacks the almost overwhelming range of options found in full-blown 4e but should you require them they can easily be fitted in with minimal effort. I would argue that, just like the Porsche, Essentials plays best when you don’t mess with it though, but it’s nice to know you can fit an iPod socket should you want one.

Secondly, Essentials is a gamer’s game, just like the Porsche is a driver’s car. Any driver (provided you’re used to a manual gearbox) could sit inside a Porsche 911 and take it for a spin. The same isn’t true of many sports cars these days what seem to require a PhD and 3 month training course just to be able to operate the GPS or find the starter switch. Essentials is designed to be played, not studied or kept in the garage. It is a game that sets out to be accessible to new player and old grognard alike, and certainly deserves more love and credit than too many old schoolers are prepared to give.

In comparison, 4e D&D is a Mercedes SLK – a huge comfort blanket of a game that’s still surprisingly fun and agile but comes with all the bells and whistles you could possibly imagine.


The dodgy Photoshop wheel blur is an added extra

Finally (and crucially) just like the Porsche I’m happy that the D&D Essentials line is there, but it’s not for me. The motoring world would be a poorer place without the Porsche 911 GT2, but I don’t want one. I’ll take the huge comfort blanket, thank you very much. That’s not to say the Porsche is a bad car – far from it – but that I recognize that something can be both “good” and “not for me” all at the same time.

It’s the same with D&D Essentials. Metaphorically speaking I already have the Mercedes SLK. Why would I want the Porsche? I like the wealth of options, thanks very much. I do have the Red Box, but that’s as much as I’m happy to get. I don’t need the Monster Vault; the 4e Monster Manual works fine for me and I’m happy to house rule the hit points totals in my head, and I feel that the Rules Compendium would cause more confusion than it solves. Using both the DMG and the Compendium would be like wearing two wrist watches and never knowing the right time. I’ll stick with the DMG and have the errata for page 42 and Skill Challenges on two post-it notes. That’s quite enough for me.

Thankfully D&D Essentials is not a car. If one of my players wants to play an Essentials character in my game (and a few have already) then they fit right in. I don’t need any extra books or supplements at my side of the table to facilitate that. Imagine trying to fit a Mercedes component into a Porsche. It just won’t go.

One day, perhaps, I will want to run an all Essentials campaign. Maybe I’ll do it just for the experience or to introduce a whole new batch of players to the game right from the start.

When that day comes, you’ll find me in the Porsche showroom.

10 Comments on “Essentials is not a Porsche”

  1. I’d compare 4e to a machine so complex that it’s operator can’t do anything to re-arrange anything without the participants getting an axe ready to kill the operator.

    Not a Mercedes.

  2. Elton… Maybe its too complicated for you…

    The kids I’ve introduced to 4e (12 and under) have just started a school D&D club using 4e.

    1. @Uhf: You didn’t get what I said. Just because I described something as complex doesn’t mean that I don’t understand it.

      I understand 4e well enough to Gamemaster it, even to tweak it, and even to get into arguments with players over how I run the game. It is because of said arguments that I don’t run 4e anymore.

  3. Heh, as a Porsche fan I like the analogy, Robin. I’m using the Rules Compendium as my go-to resource for 4e, and the monsters from the Vault (and MM3) as reference, going forward. The modifications made to 4e mechanics make it a more dangerous and entertaining game, IMO.

    That said, 4e D&D still requires too many actions from players for too few moments of awesome by characters. 4e is like a 7-series BMW, with iDrive in all it’s knob-spinning, confusing glory. Essentials is, well certainly pared down, but it’s still a lot of work to “drive” it ’round the Nordschleife.

    Watching my players use the system, they tend to slog through the tactical- and bookkeeping-heavy stuff because they enjoy putting the hurt on monsters and taking their stuff. And the ones that love to roleplay unique characters they’ve lovingly crafted? They sigh and put up with the fact that a Wizard just feels a little too much like a reskinned Fighter, and vice versa.

  4. The problem with Essentials is that there’s no audience for it. Hard core gamers want all character building options. New gamers (or gamers wanting simpler rules) aren’t as intimidated by character options as they are all of the game situations in which they are used. Essentials is the same as 4e, just with less options, not easier to use rules.

    WOTC really should consider a rules light game, one that doesn’t require multiple hardback books (or paperbacks for that matter), minis, or booster cards. There are plenty of concepts in 4e that would make it very new player friendly, they just need pare the rules down to basics and let imagination and inventiveness fill in the blanks.

    If WOTC can’t make money off it, give it away as a pdf, and tell gamers to sell the game to newbies with it.

    1. I agree that Essentials isn’t for hard core gamers, but for new gamers Essentials is ideal. Part of that is the simpler, more friendly layout than the PHB, but also because it’s very easy to create a character by hand using Essentials. Not that creating one with the PHB is hard – it’s only when you add in the Power selection from all the other books that it starts to need the Character Builder to help you.

      The Red Box is the rules light game you’re looking for. Just one box with everything you need to play, no other books required.

      I’ve have liked them to make a decent one-book solution that contained character generation for the four core races & classes to level 10 complete with DMG and mini Monster Manual, all in the same cover. They came close with the Essentials line, but not close enough.

      1. “I’ve have liked them to make a decent one-book solution that contained character generation for the four core races & classes to level 10 complete with DMG and mini Monster Manual, all in the same cover. They came close with the Essentials line, but not close enough.”

        Wow GW, you’re reading my mind.

        The best thing that could be said about Essentials is that it’s close to the game that WOTC should have released first to introduce 4e.

        Red Box is unfortunately a two level rip off. I know the original was only three levels (I owned one), but that was before the Internet, where you can download entire fantasy rpg’s for free. A physical product is going to have to have better value than a just a sampler.

  5. I liked Essentials much more than I did original 4e. I still can’t quite put my finger on why 4e bothers me so much as a game, but it does. Even with the tweaks made to Essentials it took about 1 month for me to get bored with the game and go back to Pathfinders. Maybe it is just my familiarity with the rules but I think Pathfinder is just as easy, if not easier to GM than 4e or Essentials.
    Both 4e and Essentials are solid and I am not bad mouthing either of them or the people that like them. I however do disagree with the idea that Essentials is somehow not as good as 4e and has no audience. I know a lot of people who do prefer “simplified/streamlined” options in Essentials. Not trying to start and argument, just putting my 2 cents in.

  6. I could not disagree more regarding Essentials. My entire gaming group and I have been playing since 1st Edition and have liked every edition except 4th, with which we all sold our books after trying it.

    The problem was EVERY class had the same mechanics, same number of At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers, and every role performed the same mathematically. Boring and over-sterilized.

    To me, Essentials is a reachout to people who have liked every edition except 4E (and there are a lot). The fighter classes play very different from casters, with a return to the melee basic attack, modified by stances. Mages once again have schools of specialization. Most melees lack powerful daily attacks, but feature more powerful damage in their basic attacks, capturing a feel very much like previous editions. Essentials brought my friends back to the table.

    Now, if only WoC could properly market these great changes.

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