Essentially Unexciting

I’ve been playing in the current seasons of Encounters, in part to satisfy my craving to sit on the other side of the DM’s screen, and in part to see what all this fuss about Essentials is. My verdict: Essentials is really absolutely not “4.5e” as so many are ranting about. It’s not even 4e simplified. I find it feels like just another supplement to 4e. Hardly different than adding psionic classes, or any of the power books. What grinds against me about it is when the player is restricted to “Essentials only” – then it masquerades as “simplified” because you are simply denied the ability to build anything more complex than a basic race/class combo. Supposedly this will be solved as more Essentials material is released – but by continuing to impose an “Essentials only” rule on Encounters they continue to drive a wedge in the community and reinforce the belief that Essentials is an attempt to construct a 4.5e.

I think Encounters would be greatly improved if they allowed all D&D material – with an incentive for Essentials. In previous seasons you were rewarded a renown point if you made your character on the Character Builder, or if you used PHB3 race or class. So reward a renown point for an Essentials class, and of course all the pre-mades be Essentials builds. Simple. The folks that want to make their own – if they make them in the store they can be guided to make Essentials. Everyone else can make their thri-kreen seekers or their shardmind ardents. And you know what? Those new players sitting at the table with their boring Essentials elf wizards will see these interesting and dynamic characters and be curious – and then they’ll buy those books. Those that aren’t curious or prefer stereotypical fantasy tropes will stick to buying Essentials.

So Essentials is fine, and it is clearly not targeted at my demographic. It’s targeted at a newer demographic and while that strangely agitates some people, I don’t find myself getting my panties in a knot about it.

6 thoughts on “Essentially Unexciting

  1. I’m a fairly new 4E player and DM (started in Oct. 2010). I like the look of the new books and products (I came from 1st Edition in late 70s, early 80s), but I’m confused about which books I actually need as a new DM.
    There are 2 DMGs, 3 PHBs, 3 MM, Monster Vault, a DM Kit and 2 Heroes books (Fallen Lands and Forgotten Kingdoms), as well as other supplements and players options, etc.

    So far I got the DM Kit and Monster Vault for the tokens and the 2 Heroes books to let my players use, a Rules Compendium, a couple modules and other stuff. My players are my kids and my son’s friends. They are all 13-14 and under and can’t afford to buy these books, just like when I was their age. But I want players dammit! So I sprang for a few books and enough minis to get us going. I bought some super cheap army men at the dollar store to get us some extra minis, I figure I can number them 1-8 for groups of similar monsters like orcs or kobolds or something. you know this stuff all seems to add up. I figure I’ve already probably spent $200 easily.

    So my question: Do I need a DMG, and if so, which one? Do I need a PHB, and if so, which one? Do I need a Monster Manual, and if so, which one?
    Keeping in mind what I stated I already have in hand (Rules Comp., Heroes books, Monster Vault, Character builder program).

    I really haven’t seen this spelled out anywhere.

    • Hey Brian, welcome to the hobby!

      You’re on the right path and it seems like you’ve already chosen wisely – everything you listed sounds perfect to start with. To answer your question: You do not need the DMG, PHB or MM. For you, they are optional elements, not requirements. Focus on the materials you currently have because you really have an excellent combination of starter’s materials there, I couldn’t have made a better shopping list.

      When you do feel like adding options, the DMG 2 has some useful advice concerning the role of the DM, and theme books like Open Grave, the Dragonomicon 1 & 2, or campaign setting books like Dark Sun, can supply you with new monsters, environments, or story ideas. The other Monster Manual books will supply you with more monster stats, but you don’t need to rely on purchasing them, especially not when it gets easier and easier to reflavor and/or build new monsters the more experience you have.

  2. Thanks! I really don’t think I or my players will read any of these books completely, but I do want the kids to have a taste of creating a player from scratch, with dice, like I did in the olden days. That is where the rubber hits the road for the committed gamer.

    I do have to say that I love having the Character Builder program for the new player. It makes all the material accessible in one place even if you haven’t read all those Dragon articles or bought and scoured all the books. I think it levels the playing field for all players. But it sucks that it is no longer going to be updated and the new version is subscription-based (expensive) and web-based (not always accessible).

    I was talking about the Character Builder with a couple of guys. What I came out of it with is that if the Character builder sold for say $50 bucks and had a yearly maintenance fee of $15 or $20 and was stand alone like what I have now, it would be the most important purchase for a player. Think of it being the primary product a new user bought. Then add the books as needed to fully read up on a subject.

  3. I personally have not enjoyed playing with essentials characters, and i do see what demographic this is made out to, but it is just too much. I agree with you that regular characters should be accepted in encounters.

  4. I read an article by this season’s writer and he said he wanted to put more puzzles, skill’s challenges and more rp, as encounters has been largely combat oriented in the past. Has he, from your experience, done any of that ?

    • I honestly cannot say. As you can see, I wrote this post back in January when I was playing last season’s games. I played a handful of sessions since then and I played one session in February – the first session of the newest season. Since it was more essentials, I decided to sit out Encounters until whatever it is they’ve hinted at for September comes along.

      If I wasn’t already in three other games, I wouldn’t have minded playing more Encounters, but after playing & DMing in the last few seasons (I DMed Dark Sun like boss!) the never-ending heroic tier is feeling very jaded for me. I wanted to get back into paragon levels, and I’m studying up on epic tier too.

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