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July 14, 2010 / JBencomo

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials 101

Starting in September Wizard of the Coast is releasing a new product line called D&D Essentials… and there has been some controversy about it, mixed with a lot of confusion of what this products are and what their intent is, so I tried to make it simple and did a little overview of what Essentials are as a point of reference and address my point of view in the controversy about them.

What is D&D Essentials?:

Made simple, its a new line of content based on the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, created with the main objective of attracting new players to D&D game, in order to do this they focused on several new characteristics such as rules simplification (related to character creation/management), packaging (Introducing a “basics pack” with all you need to start playing out of the box) and pricing.

Many of us have been playing D&D from past edition, and ended up playing the newest installment of the game, but imaging you are a new player, somebody talks to you about this awesome game you have to play, then you hear you need to buy a book to learn the rules to play, a book to create a game, one to have a great repertoire of enemies, then you need to buy maps, then some miniatures…. This might sound simple for long time players, but it might turn out to be upsetting for new ones, specially the ones that aren’t used to reading. Now lets back up a little, I tell you the game comes in this box that includes game rules, dices, maps, tokens and a ready to use adventure… yeh I think I’m going for the box.

D&D Essentials Products:

The following is the list of products WoTC has announced to be part of the Essentials product lines

Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying game: This Essentials boxed set (also known as the red box) contains everything you need for a group of players to start playing a D&D game: game rules, dice, maps, tokens and a Lvl 1 to Lvl 2 adventure.

Dungeons and Dragons Rules Compendium: This comprehensive book contains the rules of the game collected in one place for campaigns from 1 to 30th level, including the updated and revised versions.

Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying game dice: extra sets of dices.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands: create and play characters from these classes—Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard—and these races—dwarf, eladrin, elf, halfling, and human.

Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms: create and play characters from these classes—Druid, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock—and these races—dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, and tiefling.

Dungeon Master’s Kit: This essential DM product features game rules, advice, adventures, maps, tokens, and a DM Screen to help elevate the level of your ongoing campaign.

Monster Vault Iconic Creatures for All Campaigns: This essential DM product features a collection of monsters for use in any Dungeons & Dragons game, from 1st level to 30th level, and includes monster tokens and an adventure.

Dungeon Tiles Master Sets: Three master sets of Dungeon Tiles (The Dungeon, The City, and The Wilderness) let you create encounter areas for any adventure. For use with Dungeons & Dragons game tokens and miniatures.

Does Essentials introduce a new installment in the D&D series?

The short answer is no, but let me elaborate a little more. D&D Essentials are products designed to simplify the game experience to new players, as well as introduce new content to existing players, then again, all content in this products was developed with the following list of priorities in mind:

  • Compatibility: The only mechanical changes included in this product lines where the ones intended to be introduced even if the Essential line was not created, making references to the new approach of the racial stats in PH3 and the Monster Damage increase in MM3, in Essentials was a design goal to make players endure as few changes as possible while clarifying existing rule problems
  • Player Choice: In order to make character creation/development more intuitive and appealing they kept in mind during design the goal of imprinting a sense of importance into the decisions players make during the creation process
  • World Flavor: Classes, features and powers, all needed to remain true to the D&D world, needing compatibility and justification for their existence and the way they where.

Thus, with this hierarchy in place, we understand there is no replacement on the rules of the Core system (beyond those where intended to be introduced Essentials or not) this means that, although there are new approaches to the game mechanics (as in the case of class design) this is but a complement and expansion on them.

D&D Essentials equals D&D 4.5?

There has been quite a debate about this lately and i wanted to provide my opinion.

The way i understand D&D Essentials is simply this: A repackage core line. In no way does this make the old core rulebooks obsolete, but instead presents a new options for new and old players alike, including the revised updates the system has generated in the past 2 years of existence and adding new material.

One of the things that calls the most of my attention is the fact that people are directly relating “Rules update” with Essential products, this might seem rather obvious at first but here is why I think its a mistake: the main aim of Essentials line is not to create a place where all updates can be found, but to address a different market, new players. WoTC has taken a compromise of updating/improving rules rather often (every 3 month or so) with 4th edition, addressing issues like technical errors, clarifying rules and improving game play, if you will, these periodical updates are patches to the game system yet, nobody addresses them as “4.1 edition”… so why would be this new line be acknowledge as such?

As i said earlier on the post, the inclusion of the rules updates is a small part of what Essentials line intents to accomplish and is but a logical and very opportune place to give players a chance for a hard copy of the updates rules of the system.



Leave a Comment
  1. Tourq / Jul 14 2010 8:53 pm

    Thanks for that. I’m really not interested in getting any essentials books, and your info supported my decision.


    • DM Baloo / Jul 15 2010 11:44 am

      Glad to help :) As the folks at WoTC said “The Essentials products matter only as much as you want them to …Aside from the rules updates introduced over the past few months, of which the relevant pieces are included in the Rules Compendium, little (if anything) on your character sheet has changed”

      I´m thinking on maybe getting the DM kit and/or the Monster Vault because of the tokens/maps depending on pricing ^^

  2. Neuroglyph / Jul 15 2010 12:43 pm

    Good post. I posted a news analysis of D&D Essentials myself and I really don’t see a need for the product line. In fact, I have some concerns about it being little more than a “stealth” edition. I think it’s important for the community to give WotC feedback regarding our concerns about their product lines. After all, we’re the ones expected to pay for them. Are D&D Essentials Truly Essential?

    • DM Baloo / Jul 15 2010 1:03 pm

      I’m right there with you regarding the feedback, i think wizards truly pays attention to this and tries to improve accordingly, ill make sure to drop by and check your post, sounds interesting :)

  3. boccobsblog / Jul 15 2010 1:24 pm

    I’m most excited that they all have tokens. I never understood why they didn’t make those for resale. Great post.

    • DM Baloo / Jul 15 2010 1:30 pm

      I would love a product just focused on tokens, sadly i came to the conclusion that they wont do that because that would lower the minis sells :P

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