I picked up the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands Essentials books this week ahead of switching to the Essentials rule set for an upcoming pnp game. Wondered what other people thought about the books?
I know there's been some controversy over whether the Essentials line is sort of a version 4.5 of the rule set. It's really more of an update to 4th incorporating recent rules changes by Wotc, but I have to say it sure does seem like a bit of a new "base line" edition for the game. It's not that you can't mix 4e and Essentials, especially since the 4e rule set is really fairly basic. When I was reading the Rules Compendium it really felt like "common sense RPGing" to me, it was like I knew the rules even before I knew the rules.
I know there's a lot of 4e hate out there, I personally have enjoyed my 4e experience (mostly at Gen Con, admittedly.) I'm thinking that Essentials is a mix of a rules update, marketing campaign and an attempt to sort of detach the current rule set from the 4e hate.
So, my two cent reviews of the books:
- Excellent artwork. I really enjoyed the art in the books. I've read that there's some recycled art, but that's fine with me.
- Nice packaging. The smaller footprint makes the books more portable and the softcover design feels very nice.
- Book shelf looks nice. One of my biggest complaints about D&D over the years has been the way the books stack next to each other. I've personally felt the hardcovers end up looking like a series of Time Life books, with some weird odds and ends that make it unattractive on the book shelf. I like the consistent look of the books, hopefully Wotc sticks with the design.
- Nice price point. $20/book seems like a reasonable entry price for me.
- Overall a very nice book. My only complaint is that some of the classes feels half-complete. For example, people without the 4e core books but with Essentials have only the Wizard (Mage) to choose from, and even then they limit school choices to only two: Evocation and Enchantment (I think?) I would have liked more options for feats, skills and spells in particular. I kind of think of Essentials are being the "core" set for the current game (at least that's how it's being marketed.) Having such limited class build options feels like they are holding back the good stuff to make me buy non-"core" books.
- There might be a bit TOO MUCH fluff/story in the book. I heard they added a lot more fluff in response to criticisms in the core books, but honestly the book could be reduced about 100 pages and still contain all the relevant info and choices. I would have preferred them having a few less pages saying "think about how to play your character" and replace that with more spells, skills, feats and build options.
- Cleric, Fighter, Wizard, Rogue. That's it! No barbarian, ranger, bard, etc until the 2nd essentials book coming out soon. Feels like a double-dip, sorta.
- However, despite these criticisms, I overall had no problem building my first 4e Wizard and am looking forward to checking it out. As an entry into the game for newer players, this will do very nicely.
- I said this above, but I really like the look and feel of the books, they just feel and read great.
- Best book ever? I know nowadays pnp groups are all like, "what's this paper doing here? My laptop is better!" but this book really will serve as a great, portable rules bible for 4e Essentials. Nicely indexed and organized, well written, good explanations, etc.
- I also like the setting in the book. I'm not sure how this setting compares to the older 4e core setting, but I like the Astral-to-Earth-to-Underworld story behind the setting. Beautiful image of the universe as well. Spurs the imagination in a great way. Personally, I'd love to do a 4e Eberron campaign, but as a basic "generic" campaign setting I think Wotc did a really nice job on this.
- Criticisms: Not enough treasure or items to buy. No example of a monster info block, which would really help a new player understand how the numbers work in combat. Especially since the Essentials Monster Vault hasn't yet been released.
Only other complaint at this point is D&D Insider. They promote it several times in these books, but the current character generator doesn't work for Essentials builds due to changes to characters and other changes (for example, my wizard was unable to select the proper feats and spells according to how they fell in the book, and got powers and stuff that wasn't mentioned at all in Essentials.)
My biggest concern is confusion, even at the game store the guy behind the counter told me, "I can't figure out what Essentials is. Is it like 4th Edition?" Wotc seems to want Essentials to be everything: rules update, entry point for new player, something they want current players to buy and yet be compatible with 4e while being different enough that an Essentials-only books player and a 4e-only books player will find multiple points of confusion. As a way to keep the D&D game alive in the wake of 4e economic sluggishness I'm all in favor of it, just wish they didn't feel the need to "PR" the Essentials line to meet all bullet points at the expense of actually being clear about what they are trying to do.
Highly recommended on the new books if you want to start playing the newest version of D&D. Highly recommended for first-time would-be D&D players. If you already own all the 4e books, I'm not sure there's much here for you other than the rules changes, which from what I understand is available with D&D Insider.
For people buying the Essentials line, I WOULD NOT recommend subbing to D&D Insider for a while, at least until it's updated with Essentials content.