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Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Are Coming!
by Bill Slavicsek

This month, we're making my column available to everyone who wants to read it because we decided to give everyone an opportunity to hear about the exciting things coming out of Wizards over the next few months. I'm talking about the new Dungeons & Dragons Essentials products—10 products that form the foundation of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game moving forward. It's not only a great place to start if you're new to the game, but there's useful and compelling content in these products for the most longstanding members of the Dungeons & Dragons community.

I'll also take a few moments in this column to preview our presence at Gen Con Indy, tell you some more about the upcoming Dark Sun Campaign Setting, gush about the new Castle Ravenloft Boardgame, and inform you about the new line of novels set in the core Dungeons & Dragons world—the same world depicted in the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Essentials products.

Let's get started!

Appreciate Your Dungeon Master

We've decided that July is Dungeon Master Appreciation Month. Do something nice for your DM during the month of July. After all, your D&D game just isn't the same without your DM. He or she delights and confounds your player characters on a regular basis, and we wouldn't have it any other way. So, show your DM you care, that you appreciate all the DM does for you and your gaming group. If you come up with a really cool way to show your appreciation, drop us a note and tell us all about it. I'll gather the best stories and talk about them in a future column. Hmmm … I wonder what my gaming groups are going to do? Hint, hint, poke, poke.

Gen Con Here We Come!

We'll be in Indianapolis this summer for the Best Four Days in Gaming, from August 5-8. R&D staff at the show will include myself, Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins, Rich Baker, Steve Schubert, Rodney Thompson, Jeremy Crawford, Greg Bilsland, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, Bart Carroll, James Wyatt, and Susan Morris. We've got a full slate of interactive seminars happening over the course of the show, including the Dungeons & Dragons Preview Show, Monster Building Workshop, the D&D World of the Forgotten Realms, Spin a Yarn with Ed Greenwood, Design and Development, Adventure Building Workshop, D&D Encounters, A Discussion with R.A. Salvatore, Dark Sun Returns, and GAMMA WORLD.

In addition, we're hosting a special celebrity event. Watch fan favorites New York Times Bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood, and celebrated fantasy artist and illustrator of the famed D&D “Red Box” Larry Elmore as they roll dice together in an epic adventure led by “DM to the Stars” Chris Perkins. All ticketed attendees will receive a bound copy of the adventure with a brand new cover illustration by Larry Elmore and signed by all the celebrity participants. Reserve your space now! Seats are limited to 100 attendees.

Not planning to attend the show (yet)? Enter our 2nd annual “Never Split the Party Contest” to win a trip for you and your scattered gaming group. Time is running out, so get your entries in fast!

Follow this link for more information on Gen Con. Hope to see you at the show!

Dungeons & Dragons Novels

We're getting ready to debut a new line of Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of the Nentir Vale and other locations detailed in the Dungeon Master's Guide, the Essentials products, and our adventures. It starts with Part One of James Wyatt's prelude novella, The Gates of Madness. You can find the first part of the novella in the mass market edition of R.A. Salvatore's The Ghost King, on sale this month. The novella leads up to next year's worlds-spanning event, The Abyssal Plague. You'll see signs of the Abyssal Plague in Dungeons & Dragons, Forgotten Realms, and Dark Sun novels, game products, and even in the Dungeons & Dragons Encounters program, starting this fall and throughout 2011.

In the meantime, the Dungeons & Dragons novels kick off with The Mark of Nerath, written by yours truly, that introduces many of the characters that will play a part in the unfolding tale of the Abyssal Plague. Check out this link for more about the novels and this crucial Dungeons & Dragons event.

Welcome to the Castle

The Castle Ravenloft Boardgame arrives in August. If you're at Gen Con, we'll be playing the game throughout the weekend. This jam-packed boxed game features a ton of dungeon tiles and plastic playing pieces, loads of cards, and a series of scenarios that can be played by up to five players or with as few as one player. Each scenario takes about an hour to play, making this a fast, fun, and exciting new Dungeons & Dragons experience. Scenarios you can play right out of the box include “Escape the Tomb,” “Find the Icon of Ravenloft,” "Destroy the Dracolich,” and “The Hunt for Strahd.” Once the boardgame debuts, come back to the website to get additional scenarios to add to your game. Check out the box art and some of the game components, below.

Dark Sun Rising

The Dark Sun Campaign Setting returns in August, along with the Dark Sun Creature Catalog and the Marauders of the Dune Sea adventure. The Dark Sun world is one of savage adventure. The world of Athas has been ravaged by the wanton use of arcane magic, and it is one of the most dangerous campaign settings we've ever created. Right now, check out the Dungeons & Dragons Encounters program at a game store near you, where you can get in on some Dark Sun preview play. Then next month, pick up the new Dark Sun products. In the meantime, let's take a look at the new Dark Sun themes. Themes allow you to customize any character class, adding personality and flavor that further specializes the class you want to play. We'll start with the quintessential Dark Sun hero—the gladiator!


“I have no quarrel with you, friend, but circumstances make us enemies. Only one of us will leave the arena this day, and it's going to be me.”

Life under the sorcerer-kings is hard. But the sorcerer-kings know that even with loyal templars and vast armies at their command, they rule with their subjects' consent. To distract the masses from their misery, to divert public attention from oppressive laws and heavy taxes, the sorcerer-kings decree the incessant spectacle of gladiatorial games.

Each city-state boasts an impressive arena, with enough seating to hold most of its citizens. Each week, or more often depending on weather or political conditions, nobles and commoners gather to watch the drama unfold, cheering madly as their favorite warriors duel with other gladiators, work in teams to claim the contest's great prize, or fight en masse to defeat whatever new horror the arena masters have plucked, no doubt at great expense and loss of life, from the desert wastes.

Naturally, most gladiators are slaves. Chosen for this fate because of their strength or skill, they live and die at the crowd's favor, pitting what training they acquire against myriad foes, never knowing when they will face an insurmountable foe, never sure when their opponent will be their equal. Arena masters understand that their warriors fight with passion when they have something to fight for, and so they offer freedom, wealth, pleasure, or some other incentive to stoke the fires and keep their captive warriors eager for victory. Freedom is the greatest prize, of course—but the games are so violent that few gladiators live long enough to earn the victories they need to escape.

The life of a gladiator is brutish and brief, but it is the one occupation a slave can hold that also brings respect. Gladiators are heroes to the common people. Their trials and victories are the stuff of legend, and many slaves grow comfortable from the accolades their conquests bring.

Building a Gladiator

Some gladiators are born to the arena, raised from an early age to fight in front of the crowd. Others find themselves in the pit through no intention of their own—sentenced for a crime or sold into slavery, perhaps—only to discover that they were meant for the blood-soaked sands. A few individuals volunteer to fight in the arena, desperate (or cocky) enough to risk life and limb for a purse of high value.

The gladiator theme is a common choice for fighters, battleminds, and other defenders. The theme powers offer several good options for establishing control over enemies in close combat, a useful talent for any defender. In addition, any tough melee combatants—for example, barbarians or melee rangers—interested in locking down enemies in melee can benefit from these powers.

Gladiator Traits

Secondary Role: Defender
Power Source: Martial
Granted Power: You gain the disrupting advance power.

Gladiator Powers

The following powers are available to any character who has chosen the gladiator theme.

Disrupting Advance
Gladiator Feature
With an attack followed by a violent shove, your enemy flies backward. As it flails for balance, it loses its footing and stumbles into the creatures around it.
Encounter Martial, Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Primary ability vs. AC
Hit: 2[W] + ability modifier damage, and you push the target 2 squares. The target and each enemy adjacent to the target at the end of the push are slowed until the end of your next turn.
Level 11: 3[W] + ability modifier damage.
Level 21: 4[W] + ability modifier damage.


Go with the Flow
Gladiator Utility 2
You adjust to the shifting battlefield to position yourself where you can resume your bloody work.
Encounter Martial
Immediate Reaction Personal
Trigger: An enemy within 5 squares of you that you can see moves willingly.
Target: The triggering enemy
Effect: You shift half your speed and gain combat advantage against the target until the end of your next turn.


Savage Sweep
Gladiator Attack 3
You whip your weapon around you, cutting a swath of bloody carnage.
Encounter Martial, Weapon
Standard Action Close burst 1
Target: Each creature you can see in burst
Attack: Primary ability vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + ability modifier damage, and the target takes a –2 penalty to attack rolls until the end of your next turn. Level 13
Hit: As above, but 2[W] + ability modifier damage.
Level 23
Hit: As above, but 3[W] + ability modifier damage.


Infuriating Challenge
Gladiator Attack 5
With one precise strike you find your foe's weak spot, both physically and mentally, and put it off guard for the rest of the battle.
Daily Martial, Reliable, Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Primary ability vs. AC
Hit: 3[W] + ability modifier damage, and the target grants combat advantage to you until the end of the encounter.
Level 15
Hit: As above, but 4[W] + ability modifier damage.
Level 25
Hit: As above, but 5[W] + ability modifier damage.

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials

The action takes place mostly in your imagination, but you need a few things to play the Dungeons & Dragons game. These Essential Products form the foundation of the roleplaying game line moving forward, providing a starting point for new players and new material for longtime players. These products debut in September and roll out through October, November, and December.

Essential Products for Players and DMs

  • Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game. This essential boxed set contains everything you need for a group of players to start playing the Dungeons & Dragons game. It contains game rules, dice, maps, tokens, and an adventure that takes characters from 1st to 2nd level.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Rules Compendium. This comprehensive book contains the essential rules of the game collected in one place, taking a campaign from 1st to 30th level.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Dice. The Dungeons & Dragons game and other games using the D&D Game System require a special set of dice. Pick up extra sets of dice so that every player has a set.

Player Essential Products

  • Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Create and play clerics, fighters, rogues, and wizards.
  • Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. Create and play druids, paladins, rangers, and warlocks.

These player books feature the essential elements of the game from a player's point of view. Look for more details as we roll out our previews throughout the months of July, August, and September.

Dungeon Master Essential Products

  • Dungeon Master's Kit. This essential DM boxed set features game rules, advice, adventures, maps, tokens, and a DM Screen to help elevate the level of your ongoing campaign.
  • Monster Vault: Iconic Creatures for All Campaigns. This essential DM boxed set features a collection of monsters for use in any Dungeons & Dragons game, from 1st level to 30th level, and includes monster tokens and an adventure.
  • Dungeon Tiles Master Sets: Three master boxed sets of Dungeon Tiles (The Dungeon, The City, and The Wilderness) let you create encounter areas for any adventure. For use with Dungeons & Dragons tokens and miniatures.

I want to start off our series of Dungeons & Dragons Essentials previews with something from the new Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game—the new “Red Box.” First off, we've designed the outside of this starter set with nostalgia in mind. Specifically, we made it look just like the “Red Box” from the early 1980s, including using the classic cover art by Larry Elmore and the original D&D logo. Inside, however, it uses the newest version of the game. It includes a player's book, a Dungeon Master's book, dice, a battle map, and tokens representing characters and monsters. We've come up with a cool solo experience that allows each player to create his or her character while getting immersed in the story, leading in to the group adventure run by the DM. Here's a sample right out of the player's book to show you what I mean.

Part 1: Goblin Attack!


The wagon rattles and creaks as it rolls along the old trade road. Traevus, the dwarf merchant beside you, guides a team of mules with a steady hand, more interested in the road ahead than in your attempts at conversation, but that's part of dwarven nature. Though the sun is low in the sky, you should reach the town of Fallcrest before nightfall.

To your left, the Moon Hills stretch off southward and reach up toward the darkening sky. The fall air grows cooler with night's approach.

What awaits you in Fallcrest? Think for a moment about what your character hopes to achieve. You might imagine your character riding on the wagon, thinking about what lies ahead. Are you setting out on a life of adventure on purpose—or about to stumble into one by accident? Are you heading to the town to see someone you know, or perhaps to pay your last respects to a relative who has died? Is Fallcrest your final destination, or will you move on from there to someplace farther west—perhaps Winterhaven or some more distant settlement? Or perhaps you're looking for something and don't know where to find it, and Fallcrest just seemed like a good place to start.

Suddenly, a noise shakes you out of your reverie—the twang of a bowstring, coming from the shadows beside the road. Traevus cries out as an arrow sinks into his shoulder. With a shrill cry, a pack of goblins—short, ugly creatures with green skin and fang-filled mouths—run toward the wagon, brandishing weapons. (The illustration on page 5 shows what goblins look like.) You can see another goblin pulling an arrow from a quiver on its back. It's clear these creatures mean to steal the wagon—and that probably means eliminating both you and the merchant first!

It's time to leap into action, but that can mean different things for different kinds of fantasy heroes. How do you imagine the hero in your mind reacting to this situation?

  • Do you imagine pulling a weapon from the back of the wagon and leaping down to fight the goblins? Go to 2.
  • Do you imagine casting a magic spell to blast the goblins? Go to 3.
  • Do you imagine drawing a dagger, using the wagon for cover, and sneaking around to pick off the goblins without putting yourself in too much danger? Go to 4.
  • Do you imagine tending to the merchant's wound, perhaps uttering a divine prayer to restore his health? Go to 5.
  • Or do you prefer hiding in the back of the wagon until the fight is over? Go to 6.
  • Do you have a different idea about what to do? Go to 42.


Drawing a weapon and leaping into battle sounds like something a fighter would do. Fighter is one of the four main character classes in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Your class is the primary definition of what your character can do in the world of the game. Fighters wear heavy armor and wield swords or axes with great skill. If your character is a fighter, you might have trained as a soldier or studied with an expert duelist. You don't wield magic, but over time you'll learn to perform feats of strength and agility no ordinary mortal could accomplish. You're probably very strong and tough, and fairly quick as well.

Does this sound like what you have in mind for your character?

  • If it does, go to 7.
  • If it doesn't, go back to 1 and make a new choice.


Casting a magic spell to blast the goblins is what wizards do in the Dungeons & Dragons world. Wizard is one of the four main character classes in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Your class is the primary definition of what your character can do in the world of the game. Wizards wield powerful magic instead of weapons, and they don't wear much in the way of armor. If your character is a wizard, you probably learned magic from an older wizard, though you might have taught yourself from ancient tomes in some dusty library. You must be very smart, and you have a natural aptitude for magic. You're probably nimble and fairly wise as well.

Does this sound like what you have in mind for your character?

  • If it does, go to 14.
  • If it doesn't, go back to 1 and make a new choice.


You're ready to fight, but not willing to rush headlong into battle—that makes you sound like a rogue. Rogue is one of the four main character classes in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Your class is the primary definition of what your character can do in the world of the game. Rogues rely on skill and training, including both acrobatic feats and a certain amount of stealth, to gain the upper hand against their enemies. You probably learned to rely on yourself from an early age, maybe living on the streets and surviving by your wits and luck. You're almost certainly nimble, with quick reflexes and a fair amount of strength. You're also probably intelligent, though cunning might be a better word to describe your street-smarts.

Does this sound like what you have in mind for your character?

  • If it does, go to 25.
  • If it doesn't, go back to 1 and make a new choice.


The masters of the healing arts in the Dungeons & Dragons world are clerics. Cleric is one of the four main character classes in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Your class is the primary definition of what your character can do in the world of the game. Clerics are servants of divine powers who wield the magic of the gods to heal, inspire, and lead their allies. If your character is a cleric, you probably studied at a temple or monastery, and your training culminated in a ceremony in which divine power was bestowed upon you. You must be wise to wield such power, insightful and perceptive, as well as quite strong.

Does this sound like what you have in mind for your character?

  • If it does, go to 35.
  • If it doesn't, go back to 1 and make a new choice.


Hiding from danger is not the sort of thing that most characters in heroic fantasy do! The Dungeons & Dragons game is about playing a hero. Though hiding from the goblins might seem prudent, it's not the heroic course. Besides, the goblins are going to steal the wagon, so they're bound to find you sooner or later. You might as well face them now! Though the odds seem steep, these are only goblins, after all.

back to 1 and choose a more heroic course of action.

Next Week

That's right. I'll be back next week because there's more I want to show you and tell you about concerning the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials products and other things we've got cooking for the months ahead. Next week, Mike Mearls will also provide his own introduction to the Essential products, and I'll be back to show you something out of the Heroes of the Fallen Lands player's book. Until then …

Keep playing!

In Case You Don't Know Him

Bill Slavicsek's gaming life was forever changed when he discovered Dungeons & Dragons in 1976. He became a gaming professional in 1986 when he was hired by West End Games as an editor. He quickly added developer, designer, and creative manager to his resume, and his work helped shape the Paranoia, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and Torg roleplaying games. He even found some time during that period to do freelance work for D&D 1st Edition. In 1993, Bill joined the staff of TSR, Inc. as a designer/editor. He worked on a bunch of 2nd Edition material, including products for Core D&D, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, and Planescape. In 1997, he was part of the TSR crowd that moved to Seattle to join Wizards of the Coast, and in that year he was promoted to R&D Director for D&D. In that position, Bill oversaw the creation of both the 3rd Edition and 4th Edition of the D&D Roleplaying Game. He was one of the driving forces behind the D&D Insider project, and he continues to oversee and lead the creative strategy and effort for Dungeons & Dragons.

Bill's enormous list of credits includes Alternity, d20 Modern, d20 Star Wars, Pokemon Jr., Eberron Campaign Setting, the D&D For Dummies books, and his monthly Ampersand (&) column for Dragon Magazine.

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