Thursday, September 2, 2010

Have I been too hard on Essentials?

Plus, I am a huge fan of the Rules Compendium format 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.

Final Thoughts

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.


wrathofzombie said...

Amen brudda! I was pissed about 3.5, but bought the books and was happy with the changes.

I was not thrilled with 4e, and still am not.. I see essentials as a money grab.. But that's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I like the new Str+(Con or Wis) style ability scores because they remove an unjust penalty. The players most likely to choose a subpar race+class combination are those who are most into roleplaying, and thus probably the most invested in the characters they create. Because of the mechanical disadvantages of their subpar choice, their characters are the most likely to die. Thus "most invested in your character" -> "most likely to lose your character".

Sure, some games don't work that way because the DM never permanently kills characters. Well, that's what they say -- I haven't actually met a DM like that yet.

benensky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
benensky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
benensky said...

Two posts in two days, I had to pinch myself, I thought I was dreaming.

Let me state the obvious again. The D&D part of Wizards is a book selling company. These changes are to sell more books.

Changing up the experience: Now as a DM I need to know all the funky crap about these weird character classes. What I liked about 4E is the simplicity. I could set a few new players down and explain how to use powers and away we could go. When playing together, my fighter that has been playing a month could help my newbie wizard on using powers. These changes are not making it better experience for me or the new players I have. It is a pandering to the 3.5 pathfinder rebels hoping they fall in love with essentials to sell more books.

More Options on Placement of Ability Scores: I do like that.

Magic Item Rarity: This may put a major kink in my LFR play. I am saving my gold to put together a magic item set for my dwarf artificer Kendrik. I hope that they did not make any of the items rare that are not in the modules. Likewise, I hope I can play the module that has my rare item in if it exists in a module. If I am lucky, they have exempted LFR from this. Also, they had mechanisms to prevent overuse of magic items that are now going to be written out of the game. This again is probably pandering to people complaining why they did not play 4E hoping they fall in love with essentials to sell more books.

On the other hand, the more I think about it the more I think 4E is dead. This may be a test to see if these changes are made in 5E if the Pathfinder players would come back to Wizards’ D&D. In addition, they may be testing to see if soft-back book would be preferred for the lower price point to hard backs. I am starting to smell 5E in 2 years or less.

A Hero said...

@wraithofzombie - Hey, you won't get an argument from me that Essentials is a bit of a money grab. From a financial point of view, nothing ever sells as well as the core books, so finding a new way to sell us the core books again is a no-brainer.

@Anonymous - I confess that I have killed the occasional character in my time. So you still haven't met a DM like that.

@benensky- RE: Posting- I currently have a wager (well, a gentlemen's agreement), to see how much I can post in September. So assuming work doesn't derail me, I should be a lot more active than I have been.

@benensky- RE: changing the experience- I can see your point on changing up the experience. I still put it in the "pro" column myself... but I hope too many odd mechanics are not introduced. I also wonder what it will do to hybrids as well.

@benensky- Magic Item Rarity- I can see it being a problem not only for LFR play, but for integrating into an existing campaign as well. I know in my Scales of War campaign, the players will suddenly have an awful lot of "rare" items.