D&D Essentials: Will It Make Me Take a Second Look at 4e?

Several readers have asked me my opinion of the upcoming D&D Essentials from WOTC and if it would make be consider playing D&D 4e. I wasn’t planning on talking about D&D Essentials, but as several people are asking my opinion, I will say a few words.

First, I have the original three D&D 4e books and I have played in a few games. Reading the books and playing in a few games only confirmed that I liked 4e even less than I like 3.x. My major complains about 4e are (and have been):

* Class abilities are almost entirely limited to combat, most of the non-combat abilities that classes had in every previous edition of D&D are gone.

* Combat takes far too long. In the old school versions of D&D I enjoy, the average combat takes 5 to 10 minutes. Most groups report D&D 4e combat takes as long or longer than 3.x combat, averaging 40 minutes to an hour, even longer for some groups.

* Combat requires all players to learn fairly detailed rules and use those rules tactically. Players who have little interest in doing so (or just aren’t good at applying rules tactically) have no simple “I roll to hit” options that are effective enough given the assumptions in encounter design that all players will be optimized fighting machines nor any easy way to play a non-combatant character.

* Combat all but requires minis, battlemats, and lots of status markers.

* The rules are so “gamist” that lots mechanics are completely disassociated from the game world. Some people like this, I can’t stand it.

From what I’ve read of the D&D Essentials line from the PR stuff WOTC has been releasing on the product line, D&D Essentials does little or nothing to fix any of the issues I have with 4e. Therefore, D&D Essentials is unlikely to interest me at all, let alone enough to play 4e. Does this make D&D Essentials a bad product? No, it just makes it a product I have no interest in buying or playing — like 90% of the other RPGs on the market.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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Appreciate the run-down. It saves me the time researching Essentials myself, just so that I could crucify it. Thanks.


Over the weekend, I was at a mall out in the 'burbs which features a decent size comic/game shop. I ask the fellows at the counter if they've 'heard anything' about 4E not getting another printing. They know nothing about that. I ask about Essentials, and they've heard of it but don't know anything about it replacing the 'big books of 4E' as they've heard two more big books are in the pipeline. I noticed the dry erase board calendar on the wall behind the counter, so I ask how regular are their D&D games. Nothing regularly scheduled, but 'from… Read more »


While your points mostly match my experience I will defend 4e on this…in the campaign I played once we learned the system combat, while not as short older editions, was faster than 3.x. Given I think that 4e does better at what both tried with combat, a high quality tactical wargame, I think 4e deserves a lot of credit for delivering what it claims to.


Everything that I've read about about 4th "Essentials" is that it's simply a gimmick to try to capitalize on the mass surge of OD&D style games and the return of box sets (aka Dragon Age). However, again TSRWOTCHASBRO wastes an opportunity t6o create a slimmed down, rules lite version the the 4th rules to try to bring back some of the lost (and very verbal) old school players to the brand, they instead have simple tried to duplicate the physical look of the original D&D (ie various boxed sets and folio rules books). It just re-affirms my conviction to not… Read more »


@Herb – 4e certainly delivers combat-balanced classes and well-balanced tactical combat encounters. If that's what it promised, that's certainly what it delivers. However, it doesn't feel like the D&D I know and love. Of course, 3.5 didn't either.

@Nachtwulf – Your guess about what WOTC is doing is as good as anyone else's. My guess from reading the sometimes contradictory PR stuff they've put out over the last couple of months is that their left hand has no idea what their right hand is doing.