Somehow I thought – I didn’t really think; rather, my non-thoughts were unexamined – that the D&D Essentials DM’s book would have to start with a big section of rules info, after digesting which the DM would be ready to run an encounter. I should have known better from the way the Player’s Book was structured.
The DM is running an encounter – two goblins and two wolves attacking the party – by the third page of the book. Any rules are explained as they become necessary: first the map and tokens are explained, then the DM is walked through initiative, and then the monster’s statistics and tactics are described.
There are a lot of rules tucked in this encounter’s two-page spread. Combat advantage is explained (simplified because everyone is Medium, but complicated because the encounter’s wolves can pull people prone). We get difficult terrain and battlemap tactical movement. The goblins have immediate reactions.
The DM is given tactics to run the monsters. The goblins “try to flank characters, since they do more damage when they have combat advantage,” which is pretty brutal, because two hits with combat advantage will drop the wizard, but luckily “they spread out their attacks to different characters rather than ganging up on one character.”
Jumping right into an encounter and walking the DM through common tactics for the first few rounds definitely seems like the right approach. It is interesting that WotC might actually live up to their promise of sitting down and getting ready to play within 15 minutes or so!
I also like that the combat, while easy, doesn’t look like a total bore. The monsters do reasonably intelligent things, like try to get combat advantage and they have immediate reactions, so you’re starting to see some of the complexity of an actual D&D game without it being overwhelming.
Granted, the DM is told to split up the attacks of the goblins, which is obviously bad strategy, but it is probably good not to knock someone unconscious on the first or second round as their first taste of D&D (though left to my own devices, I’d probably do it. TRIAL BY FIRE!).