Here is where you can read the first part of this entry and my thoughts on traditional 4th Edition D&D play in Epic Tier
When Essentials first came out I was very cautious about jumping on the bandwagon. At first I thought it was a clever marketing ploy to pass 5th edition off on players without actually branding it “5th Edition”. I was exceedingly unsure of how I felt about the new direction WotC was taking D&D and what they planned on doing with the game in the long run. Now that some time has passed since Essentials premiere we have seen a good deal of material and support offered and I admit that I am really impressed about the changes WotC has made, where D&D is going, and if there will be candy when we get there.
If you take the time and read the first part of this two-part entry then you would probably be under the impression that I would have welcomed Essentials with open arms, but this was not the case. Though I do have a problem with the overly complex and elaborate way encounters work outside of Essentials, what with so many immediate interrupts, reactions, and conditional bonuses that make my brain bleed, I still was hesitant to believe Essentials to be what WotC was marketing it as, a new version of the Red Box for a new generation of players. At a cursory glance I assumed Essentials to be what most others had presumed and still may allege it to be; a simple, dumbed down version of a bigger and better game. Many see and or saw it as becoming just another board game on the shelves among the throngs of other games in your local Target or toy store.
Though I have come to find this untrue, the initial feelings of a poor man’s D&D game are not unfounded or without their own merit. With many classes such as the Executioner Assassin, the Hexblade/Warlock, and Thief (Rogue) getting minimal to no options when it comes to selecting powers I can see where the opposition is coming from. The opposition feels like there is no way to make that character you want to play significant or customized. With many players metagaming and munchkining the crap out of the current 4th Edition system I can sympathize with the plight of those who stand opposed to Essentials.
However I think there is a bigger picture to be seen here that many either cannot see or simply refuse to accept. Wotc is trying to re-gear how D&D is played from within. Ever since 4th Edition came out it has been ridiculed for pandering to a broader demographic, namely the video game and World of Warcraft crowd. I think that Essentials is Wotc’s attempt to correct this misguided assumption.
With power choices stripped down to their bare minimum and feat choices reeled back significantly players can no longer rely on their power choices to define who they are. It’s a back to the roots approach of the old school D&D mentality that I think, given time, support, and acceptance, will work marvelously. Players must now rely on their in game decisions, backstory, role, and overall style of play to define their character. Characters no longer need be determined to pick the powers that maximize their role in the group, or that do the most damage and can now proceed down a more flavorful and character oriented path.
This isn’t to say that those who still wish to play their games in the traditional 4th Edition style cannot continue to do so. Many, if not all of the current Essentials builds allow you to pick from previously offered powers and feats along with the Essentials ones so the need to throw up arms and abandon ship to Pathfinder need not be upon us as some are claiming.
As it stands, Wotc has done a phenomenal job at putting out quality work thus far with their Essentials line up and they show no signs of stopping. With the “Heroes of Fey” book coming out in the future, weekly Dungeon and Dragon Articles supporting Essentials and promise for more Essential support on the horizon I see a composed sea of adventure ahead that shall take us safely to our next adventure. So drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.