Saturday, September 18, 2010

Looking at the Essentials Assassin

This is an awesome picture! When I first weighed in on Dungeons &  Dragons Essentials, I wondered if we would start seeing revamped “Essentials” versions of existing classes.  With a couple of days left until Heroes of the Fallen Lands and the Rules Compendium hit the shelves, the revamped Essentials Assassin has hit Dragon Magazine.

Well that certainly didn’t take long.

Nevertheless, the Essentials Assassin is especially interesting to me because it provides both a first look into both the Essentials format and into the kind of changes we will see to the existing classes.

The New Format

It is obvious that a lot of effort went into making class descriptions much more friendly for the new player.  In the new format, at each level the player is walked through exactly what choices they need to make.  This is a small change, but one that should make leveling up substantially easier for the newbie.

On the other hand, it will lead to a lot of repetition in the books.  For example, every class description will tell you that at 4th level you need to increase two ability scores by 1.  In the Dungeons & Dragons 4E Player’s Handbook, this information was only mentioned once.  Multiply this by the rest of the redundant leveling information and you have a lot of additional pages per book.

Also interesting is that the class description refers you to Heroes of the Fallen Lands rather than the Player’s Handbook or any other source.  I suppose this makes sense since Wizards of the Coast sees the Essentials line as their new evergreen product.  Still, it seems a bit like they are trying to pretend that the older books never existed.

Changes to the Assassin Class

The changes to the assassin class are more substantial than I was expecting.  The class is much more focused on martial weaponry and poison use.  The shroud mechanic for striker damage is gone.  It has been replaced with the Assassin’s Strike encounter power, which is like a more powerful Sneak Attack which is more limited in use. 

Similar to Essentials martial characters, the assassin lacks encounter and daily attack powers.  Instead, the assassin gains special abilities which make their at-will and basic attacks more effective.

While the assassin still uses shadow magic, its use is limited to certain utility powers.  In fact, depending on what utility powers you choose, it is possible to completely avoid using shadow magic at all until ninth level.

These changes actually give the Essentials Assassin a more classic feel.  The Essentials Assassin seems like a direct descendent of the AD&D 1E Player’s Handbook assassin with a few elements from subsequent editions thrown in.  I can definitely seeing this version appealing to certain people who were turned off by the previous 4E version of the assassin.

Final Thoughts

It is hard for me to separate my thoughts about the new assassin from my thoughts on the Essentials line as a whole.  The changes it makes to the assassin class are pretty substantial, much more than I would expect out of a new “build”.  It does nothing to allay my fears that D&D Essentials is a stealth edition and that all new content we will see out of Wizards of the Coast will have an Essentials bent to it.

Still, I can’t argue that I don’t find the new build to be an improvement over the original.  I am much more interested in making an Essentials Assassin than I ever was in making the previous version.

I figure that says something.

9 comments:

benensky said...

If WOC calls the new line Essentials and does not use the term 4E any longer (except to say it is still compatible with 4E). Why can you not admit it is a new addition Hero? Heck, it even seems like they fired anyone who did not like the change to essentials and put everyone in charge who did.

A Hero said...

@benensky - Well, I wouldn't say that I won't admit it isn't a new edition. It seems to be at least as big a change in the rules as the move from D&D 3.0 to 3.5.

As I have said in one of my previous posts, what will really determine whether it is seen as a stealth edition are two things:

1) Will they retread old material and make Essentials versions of them?

2) Will all material going forward support the "Essentials" versions and not the original (e.g., will a Martial Power 3 lack any fighter daily powers).

With the Essential Assassin, I think number one is already coming to pass. We have to wait and see on number two, but I have no doubt that will happen as well.

I suppose if I downplayed that aspect in my post it is because I was trying to review the presentation of the class and talk a bit about the Essentials format without getting bogged down in the politics of what WOTC is doing. It was not my intent hide my opinion on the "stealth edition" argument though, so I will try to be a bit clearer in the future.

Red Jack said...

I hope you don't mind me taking a minute to rebut.

"Revamped Essentials Assassin" This phrase implies a few things that aren't exactly the case... The first being that it's better than the original, and the second that it replaces the original. Neither is really accurate, I feel. Brawler build fighters (Martial Power 2) for example, are neither a replacement, not 'better/worse' than the options presented in PHB1. It's an additional option, not a replacement, with all that that implies.

Format: Agree. Yes, it's a little more user friendly, but I dislike repetition within the same book. Since much of the Essentials line is aimed at new players and 'returning' players, I get why it's set up this way, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Still, with the books being printed softcover, the cost is more reasonable, and a little bit of reprinting isn't killing me. As for the references... Certain systems for Essentials classes aren't direct carry overs from previous class options. Just like you won't reference every Warpriest ability back to PHB1, you're not going to go looking up Channel Divinity Encounter Power rules in HotFL. Again, you might go looking up feats for your Brawler fighter in PHB1, but if you want ones specifically designed for that build and rules on how they work, you're probably going to look in the book the build itself is in.

Again, I think "Changes to the Assassin Class" is a bit misleading, as they're additional options rather than "you may never play the previously presented class in any capacity from this day forward, and never shall we support it again. So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done." I'm not sure how I feel about the 'new class' itself. The focus on the more exotic weaponry is interesting to me, but it isn't clicking with me. Then, I'm not usually the sort to play subtle characters.

As for the "Stealth Edition" thing... I'm gonna disagree for a few reasons:

1) I don't think you're likely to see an Essentials build for every variation of every class, as you did with 3.5. Essential's design principle seems to be creating versions of classes that evoke some nostalgia from previous editions, use slightly more simplified versions of 4e rules, but are still compatible with the classes already published. The fact that they're continuing to print the three core books (and others as needed) shows me that there dont' seem to be any plans to 'replace' what's currently in play.

2) The next 6-9 months is likely to see a focus on support for Essentials, but I don't think 'Divine Power 2' will support only the Warpriest and Essentials versions of the paladin. I think they'll likely include some support for them, but I'd put down folding money that you'll see new powers, builds and feats for 'standard' Clerics, Paladins, Runepriests, Avengers, etc.

3) The biggest argument is that it is indeed compatible. The aforementioned Brawler fighter can be run in the same game with an Essentials Assassin. I couldn't run a 3.0 Ranger in a 3.5 game, nor could my 3.5 wizard cast 3.0 versions of spells.

4) Dark Sun was a stealth edition! ;) The addition of themes was actually a pretty big change--bigger than Backgrounds. There's new rules, new feats, new class variants... Every PHB has included some major rules variant which was supported in later products, and occasionally had changes in it applied to older products (PHB3's race format) but no one went back and said "you can't make a human as presented in PHB1 anymore, you MUST now take the encounter power."

I will say that the marketing team seriously needs a cut in pay, as the idea of releasing it under a different 'brand name' despite it being the same game was an asinine move.

A Hero said...

@Red Jack - I got an e-mail notifying me of your comment, but for some reason it didn't post to the site. I have the text of it if you want me to post it up for you (since it was rather long and I doubt you would want to retype it).

Red Jack said...

Absolutely! And feel free to fix any spelling/grammar mistakes while you're at it. ;)

A Hero said...

This comment was originally from Red Jack, but didn't post to the site for some reason:

I hope you don't mind me taking a minute to rebut.

"Revamped Essentials Assassin" This phrase implies a few things that aren't exactly the case... The first being that it's better than the original, and the second that it replaces the original. Neither is really accurate, I feel. Brawler build fighters (Martial Power 2) for example, are neither a replacement, not 'better/worse' than the options presented in PHB1. It's an additional option, not a replacement, with all that that implies.

Format: Agree. Yes, it's a little more user friendly, but I dislike repetition within the same book. Since much of the Essentials line is aimed at new players and 'returning' players, I get why it's set up this way, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Still, with the books being printed softcover, the cost is more reasonable, and a little bit of reprinting isn't killing me. As for the references... Certain systems for Essentials classes aren't direct carry overs from previous class options. Just like you won't reference every Warpriest ability back to PHB1, you're not going to go looking up Channel Divinity Encounter Power rules in HotFL. Again, you might go looking up feats for your Brawler fighter in PHB1, but if you want ones specifically designed for that build and rules on how they work, you're probably going to look in the book the build itself is in.

Again, I think "Changes to the Assassin Class" is a bit misleading, as they're additional options rather than "you may never play the previously presented class in any capacity from this day forward, and never shall we support it again. So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done." I'm not sure how I feel about the 'new class' itself. The focus on the more exotic weaponry is interesting to me, but it isn't clicking with me. Then, I'm not usually the sort to play subtle characters.

As for the "Stealth Edition" thing... I'm gonna disagree for a few reasons:

1) I don't think you're likely to see an Essentials build for every variation of every class, as you did with 3.5. Essential's design principle seems to be creating versions of classes that evoke some nostalgia from previous editions, use slightly more simplified versions of 4e rules, but are still compatible with the classes already published. The fact that they're continuing to print the three core books (and others as needed) shows me that there dont' seem to be any plans to 'replace' what's currently in play.

2) The next 6-9 months is likely to see a focus on support for Essentials, but I don't think 'Divine Power 2' will support only the Warpriest and Essentials versions of the paladin. I think they'll likely include some support for them, but I'd put down folding money that you'll see new powers, builds and feats for 'standard' Clerics, Paladins, Runepriests, Avengers, etc.

3) The biggest argument is that it is indeed compatible. The aforementioned Brawler fighter can be run in the same game with an Essentials Assassin. I couldn't run a 3.0 Ranger in a 3.5 game, nor could my 3.5 wizard cast 3.0 versions of spells.

4) Dark Sun was a stealth edition! ;) The addition of themes was actually a pretty big change--bigger than Backgrounds. There's new rules, new feats, new class variants... Every PHB has included some major rules variant which was supported in later products, and occasionally had changes in it applied to older products (PHB3's race format) but no one went back and said "you can't make a human as presented in PHB1 anymore, you MUST now take the encounter power."

I will say that the marketing team seriously needs a cut in pay, as the idea of releasing it under a different 'brand name' despite it being the same game was an asinine move.

A Hero said...

You know you have hit a red button topic when you have one commenter complaining that you are not taking a hard enough line on the "Essentials is a New Edition" tact and another who thinks you are overstating the case.

@Red Jack - You make good points. I suppose my major points about Essentials as a pseudo-edition (hope that is less provocative than stealth) would be:

Essentials is an attempt to repackage/resell the core books. There is really nothing new in Essentials. Instead it will provide alternate versions of classic monsters, new builds of existing classes, modified powers, and modified races.

Because of this I would argue Essentials has some substantial similarities to the relationship between D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5.

Now what about compatibility with the existing D&D 4E product?

Well, I would argue that D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 actually were substantially compatible. We were in the middle of a campaign when D&D 3.5 came out, so for awhile our party consisted of a mix of 3.0 and 3.5 characters. Even more tellingly, we had several 3.5 characters using 3.0 prestige classes (at least until updated versions of these classes came out).

Now since D&D 4E is an exception based game (i.e., the base rules are simple with each power providing exceptions to that rule), it is not surprising that it should be even more compatible. Any other discrepancies that crop up can be handled by rules updates (like magic item rarity, changes to powers like magic missile, etc.)

I guess my main point, without using polarizing words like "stealth edition", is that Essentials is introducing major changes to the game which are on par with the type of changes seen when D&D 3.5 was introduced.

On the other hand, because of the way they are introducing these changes, DMs should be able to moderate how much these changes affect their game.

Red Jack said...

Well, who doesn't love red button topics? They encourage discussion, and as long as the discussion remains civil, that's never a bad thing.

"Pseudo/Stealth" it's kindof semantics, although I'll admit Stealth does have a lot more negative cache in the community.

"Essentials is an attempt to repackage/resell the core books. There is really nothing new in Essentials. Instead it will provide alternate versions of classic monsters, new builds of existing classes, modified powers, and modified races."
[Emphasis mine.]

And yes, after I just made a point about arguing semantics, I'm going to argue semantics. ;)

I think the bolded words are the most important part of this. "Alternate" Could have easily been substituted for the rest of them (although the sentence would have looked a bit repetitive.) and been just as accurate. Again, I'm going to draw parallels to books already in print:

- All of the "power" books provided new builds of existing classes.
- PHB2 specifically added further depth to race by adding racial paragon paths. It may be the first instance of the +2 (stat) and +2 (stat or stat), which was carried further in PHB3--and left some of my players and myself thinking "you know, that's a damned good idea I hope they do that with the old... Oh, they are"
- Errata has rewritten powers on a pretty consistent basis, and one could argue that each addition in the "powers" book did the same by releasing powers that were very similar to ones already in play, but with very minor variations.
- If I crack open MM1, and 2, both have entries for goblins. Pretty sure there's more in MM3. (once again, no books at work) These were alternate variants, but they don't replace the old ones, it's just another pre-made option for me to use.
- The modified races boils down to giving players a choice they should have had from the start--and one I house ruled in after getting my hands on Ebberon. As a point of note, most of the stats I chose as viable alternates seem to be the same ones Wizards picked out.

(double post because I am a long winded jerk)

Red Jack said...

Was 3.0 compatible with 3.5? To a point, yes. on the other hand because of the complete rewrite and abolishment of certain feats and spells, and the heavy-handed change in some of the core rules (which I'll actually say were good and necessary as a whole,) you could use a 3.0 prestige class as a stop-gap measure until they reprinted it in 3.5 format, but a lot of them wound up requiring a bit of house-ruling, additional modification, or could be easily converted but wound up kinda gimped because the rules they relied on for their effective coolness went out the window.

Maybe my experience was different... the group I was playing with was pretty stringently power-gamey/rules-lawyery. If they'd ever heard of such a thing as "optimization boards" they'd probably have looked at it with an interest bordering on the obscene. "Seriously, I'm not letting you roll initiative until you log of those forums... and put your pants back on."

I'll admit, there's been some hefty changes to the game inspired by Essentials production. Saying otherwise would be kinda silly. I think the difference here is that these updates don't require book purchase. I don't have to throw out my three core rulebooks now, then throw out the rest one by one as all the material is reprinted as you saw with the 3.0->3.5 transition. (And then again with the 'we're not saying this stuff was broken, but here's fixed versions of it' books later in 3.5.)

My errata updates are free, they make sense, and they don't include sweeping changes to the base rules of how the game is played. (3.0->3.5 had exactly those kind of changes) The builds previously available are viable options, as are the new ones. Do the characters play differently? Heck yeah. On the other hand, Psionics plays differently from Arcane plays differently from Primal plays differently from Divine. Each has their own specific build rules that carry across the associated classes, but they still conform to the base rules of the game.

You just put the together differently. ^_^

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