I have talked a bit about the upcoming D&D Essentials on this blog before. Mostly about how I think it is a stealth edition and how I think the rules updates are coming a bit too fast and furious nowadays. What I haven’t spoken much about is what I think about the proposed changes that we have seen so far.
I actually think most of the changes that Wizards of the Coast has shown us are positive ones.
Considering my complaining about the Essentials products so far, this may seem a bit odd. So let me talk a bit about what I like.
Changing up the play experience while keeping it balanced
In my opinion, one of the most valid complaints about D&D 4e was that in striving to maintain game balance the character classes became a bit too interchangeable. In essence, there was little mechanical difference between playing a fighter or a wizard.
I think the changes they are making to the way martial classes like the fighter run primarily off of basic attacks (as opposed to powers) are a good thing. It makes playing different classes feel different while (hopefully) keeping the math balanced. Not to mention it addresses a complaint I heard from many traditional fighter players when they first played D&D 4e: “Why can’t I just hit him with my sword?”
More options on placement of ability score bonuses
In D&D 4e most of your powers run off of a single key ability score (or possibly two). From a pure math point of view, you want to boost that ability score as high as possible. Of course, the easiest way to boost an ability score is to choose a race which gets a +2 bonus to that score.
The problem is that it skewed the importance of racial choice when choosing your class a bit too much for my tastes. Since most races were built with a fixed +2 to two ability scores, it really meant there were just a handful of viable options built into the rules.
(Not that this stopped me from making a few less than optimal racial choices for roleplaying reasons. I was just very aware of what I was sacrificing to do so)
The new model is a little more flexible. By giving each race a +2 to one ability score and a +2 to one of two ability scores, the number of viable builds have opened up substantially.
Magic Item Rarity
I have to admit I was somewhat ambivalent about magic item rarity until I read Mike Mearls article on the subject. I am now a fan of rarity for one big reason: It eliminates the limitation by milestone on magic item daily powers.
I always thought that this mechanic was a bit on the clunky side. It was a difficult concept for some of my players to wrap their heads around and it added a layer of bookkeeping which didn’t need to be there.
Limiting the number of magic items with daily powers in the hands of the players accomplishes the same thing and avoids several headaches for me. I am always in favor of that.
My problem has never been with the content of D&D Essentials, just with the way it was presented to us. Wizards of the Coast acted as if the fans were crazy for seeing Essentials as another edition (or at least .5 of an edition). I stand my my earlier posts when I say that the changes are at least as substantial as the ones that occurred between D&D 3.0 and 3.5.
Of course, I thought the changes D&D 3.5 brought to the game were mostly positive as well, even though I saw D&D 3.5 as a pretty blatant money grab. So maybe my somewhat schizophrenic attitude about D&D Essentials is not that surprising.