Saturday, 6 November 2010

A look at Essentials


There's no doubt that Wizards have caused a stir in the gaming community with the release of their Essentials line, which has been met with both gleeful acceptance and wide-eyed horror.

In essence, Essentials is an effort to streamline character creation to make it simpler for new players and feel more 'classic' to veterans. This is in no way a new edition or even half an edition, it's a tweaking to various systems such as magic items and skill challenges, along with errata changes and new builds.

Wizards are releasing 10 products in their Essentials line that they see as, well, essential for play. Most of these are coming out in boxed form, such as the Monster Vault and the Dungeon Master's Kit, whilst others like Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms are just books.

People who are terrified that the new line will be a paradigm shift for 4th edition should stop cacking themselves. Essentials is completely compatable with the Players Handbooks and there are no rule changes per se. Yes, if you want to keep up with the latest errata then you either want these books, or the ones that are applicable to you, or DDI subscribers will get an updates soon on the character builder.

Although 4th edition has its naysayers, you have to hand it to Wizards for giving players plenty of options for classes. The problem is, for people who are just starting out, or those who would prefer some guidance in character creation and advancement, the slew of options can seem overwhelming. Creating a character by hand now is an incredibly laborious task, so most people use the character builder. Essentials is still allowing for optional builds, but slimming down the choices. In both Essentials player books you will find new builds that allow you to select from a much smaller palette that going on the character builder, but the classes still remain versatile and sometimes have their roles changed. For example, the Essentials Druid is the Sentinel, who is now a leader rather than a controller like the previous druid. It focuses more on healing but can also act as an off-striker, especially since you get an animal companion in the form of a bear or wolf, which can attack too. One big change that I can see is that Wizard's Magic Missile is now an automatic hit that does 2+ Int mod damage. Now that's pretty cool. For martial classes there is more of a focus on basic attacks (very old school) that are augmented by stances and aspects to give bonuses and extra effects. The new Fighter builds get no daily powers, making them feel a lot more like classic Fighters of old. Wizards have daily spells still that they prepare, but they also must prepare their encounter powers after an extended rest, too. Again, this feels more like a classic Wizard to me, having to study her spells before starting the day.

A great thing about the 'Heroes of a ...' player books is the amount of help it gives you in creating a character. They explain which race is suitable for which class and go into some detail as to why. The race sections are also beefed up with playestyles and background fluff for each of them. The whole package makes is much easier to solidify a character.

The Rules Compendium combines all the rules of the game, along with some campaign setting fluff and additional info for newbies, into a handy small book. Wizards could have definitely cut some stuff out of here, but for the newly initiated it's a pretty good starting point. Also, it's better than lugging a couple of big hardback books around if you're travelling to a game.

Essentials, to me, feels like Wizards have listened to the fans and delivered an experience more akin to AD&D. I really like some of the new classes, especially the Assassin and Hexblade, so I'll definitely be letting my group play with these new builds to see how it all goes.