Rory and Paul on D&D Essentials

Hey Rory! I heard the sky is falling!

Quick! Look outside!

Oh no! the sky is gone!

Paul, did you actually look out the window?

No, I just went to weather.com.

huh, weather.com says the sky is falling?

Well, I didn’t read it on a weather.com story. I read it in user comments.

Now that that hilarious piece of satire is out of the way, let’s talk D&D Essentials. By the time I’m writing this, I’ve gotten enough assurances from Wizards of the Coast that this is not D&D 4.5, and I believe them! What it does seem to be, however, is a chance to see what the original classes would be like if they designed them now, with two years of experience under their belts.

With essentials, some classes (such as fighters) don’t have daily powers! Class diversity is great, but I do have some concerns about this change in design philosophy. If some classes have daily powers and others don’t, the number of encounters per day becomes an important balance point.

If there is just one encounter a day, presumably the classes with dailies suddenly have a big edge over those who don’t, since they can burn through all their awesome daily powers in one encounter. However, if there are, say, 10+ encounters a day, someone with awesome reusable powers has an edge since their tried and true technique of hitting things with a sword wins out over the few battles someone with dailies can dominate.

Now, this probably won’t break the game or anything, but it does place more burden on the DM to balance how many encounters they run in a day so that everyone feels useful and important.

I think the subtle differences in character power will make the most difference to people who play their characters optimally. I like the idea of simpler classes, with less powers, both for beginners and for people who aren’t very interested in tactical thinking. And also for a third category of people: me. Sometimes I want to spend every round poring through 3 pages of powers, and sometimes I just want to say “I hit it with my axe.” I’d be happy if I could trade half my powers for a handful of static bonuses.

My memory is often pretty bad, and i forget to use situational bonuses a lot. I’m hoping that a lot of the new class features are very easy to use. (In other words, some of them do not contain the words “When” or “If”.)

I am a little worried that simplifying things may become a little too attractive! I already see a lot of D&D builds that capitalize on doing the same thing over and over again because of a few feats and class abilities that make it a really optimal move. Now granted those combos are overpowered, and hopefully these new builds in essentials won’t be (from what we’ve seen of the fighter so far, I’m not particularly worried), but it would be a shame to see a lot of gravitation towards simple direct choices as introduced by these new classes over the more nuanced choices currently available.

To put it simply: It’s a lot more fun for a complicated build that uses a bunch of powers and abilities to be a little overpowered than it is for a really straight forward build that hits things over and over again!

True. As in any game, it’s more fun when an ornate, multipart strategy dominates than when a zergling-rush shortcut strategy dominates. But I think there’s room for straightforward, low-decision build. If it can’t be completely balanced, it would be better underpowered than overpowered. Casual and new players won’t notice or care, and optimizers deserve the fun of complicated optimizing.

There’s something else I like about D&D essentials: the price point. The basic set is $13 on Amazon right now. Sure, it’s only for levels 1 and 2, but that’s a great price for a mini-PHB, DMG, Monster Manual, dice, and tokens. I bet it’s cheaper than the 80’s red-box set which had comparable page count and contents.

The other book I’ll probably buy is the Monster Vault. One of the big letdowns of 4e for me is that so many of the fights feel like marathons. I like a lot of the improvements in Monster Manual 3: the order of powers is easier to read, and the creatures seem to do more damage. However, I’m a Monster Manual 1 type of guy. I like fighting orcs. I’m willing to pay again for a redesigned Monster Manual 1 with fixed numbers. Add in the monster counters and it seems like it’s definitely worth $20.

Agreed, some higher powered goblins, orcs, giants, and trolls should be awesome!

Hmm, an interesting consequences of the new fighter that uses all basic attacks is that suddenly those feats that improve basic attacks become a lot more powerful! Also, the warlord commander’s strike becomes more powerful too, since fighters get some benefits to go along with their basic attacks.

It was mentioned somewhere that all wizard encounter spells do half damage now. Wacky! I wonder if that makes them an even more powerful choice now, though I guess you can do a lot with encounter powers and it won’t screw up the game too much. Interesting consequence: area effects and high damage encounter spells will become slightly better choices, while those with crazy effects will become less good, since the damage will still go through on a miss but the effect won’t!

I just noticed one way the 80s red box is better than the 4e Essentials Starter Set. Essentials comes with ~100 pages of rules, tokens, character sheets, map, and dice. The 80s Red Box came with ~100 pages of rules, dice, and a dice crayon. How am I going to read my dice without a crayon?

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