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.
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.