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Commencing Countdown!
Countdown to Essentials
By Mike Mearls, Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Group Manager

As we roll out the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line of products, plenty of people have wondered what exactly “Essentials” means. The answer is a little more complex than normal for the typical Dungeons & Dragons product. It all goes back to the initial idea behind the line.

The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game provides endless hours of fantasy and adventure. These Essential Products provide a great place to start.

Essential Products for Players and Dungeon Masters

  • 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. This essential player book and its companion volume feature the essential elements of the game from a player’s point of view. This volume contains these classes—Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard—and these races—dwarf, eladrin, elf, halfling, and human.
  • Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms: Create and Play Druids, Paladins, Rangers, and Warlocks. This essential player book and its companion volume feature the essential elements of the game from a player’s point of view. This volume contains these classes—Druid, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock—and these races—dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, and tiefling.

Dungeon Master Essential Products

  • Dungeon Master’s Kit. This essential DM product 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 product 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 sets of Dungeon Tiles (The Dungeon, The City, and The Wilderness) let you create encounter areas for any adventure. For use with Dungeons & Dragons game tokens and miniatures.

In the Beginning

When the new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game first debuted, our goal was to draw established players into the game. While we designed the Player’s Handbook to be accessible to newbies, we focused on creating a game that spoke to existing players. Now that the new edition has passed its second birthday, it’s time for us to focus more on new players. There are two approaches to introducing new players to the game.

First, a new player needs a book or game specifically designed to serve as an introduction. The new Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set (also called the Red Box) fills that role. It contains a solo adventure that guides a new player through the character creation process. The set also includes a sample adventure and material for a new Dungeon Master to create his or her own adventure. The Red Box focuses on the classic races (human, elf, dwarf, and halfling) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard). It supports characters of 1st and 2nd level, which gives enough of an experience to players to hook them without overwhelming them. Finally, it includes all the dice, maps, and tokens needed to play.

That last feature ties into the next step with the Essentials line. If you bought a new boardgame, you’d probably be surprised to find that it lacked a number of important components needed to play. It would be irritating to buy Axis & Allies only to find that you need to make or find your own miniature tanks and ships to go with it. You paid good money for the game, and you wanted a complete package.

The Dungeons & Dragons game has traditionally faced problems in this area. A new player buys the rulebook but then needs to figure out what to use for miniatures and a battle grid. The Essentials line aims to change that.

With the Monster Vault and the Dungeon Master’s Kit, we include maps and tokens for all the monsters and adventure areas covered in them. This approach ensures that a new player has everything necessary to start a Dungeons & Dragons campaign right out of the gate. In addition, the rest of the line offers easy, obvious ways to expand the game. The Essentials Dungeon Tiles Master Sets are a good example of this. They come with a selection of the basic tiles needed to build the typical dungeon, wilderness, or urban encounter area. A new player doesn’t need to hunt through the back catalog of Dungeon Tiles sets to find what he or she needs.

Things Get Interesting

As you can see, the Essentials products aim to bring a new player into the game as quickly as possible. However, that’s only half the story. We knew we needed to create additional products for a new player to move to after the Red Box. The Dungeon Master’s Kit and Monster Vault were obvious products for a new Dungeon Master, but what about a new player?

As we moved forward with 4th edition, it became increasingly clear that we could produce classes with different rates of class feature and power acquisition without harming the game. The psionics power source in Player’s Handbook 3 pointed the way. In that book, we introduced a system by which psionic characters had access to at-will powers that they could boost using a pool of power points. By spending power points, an attack could deal more damage or gain an additional effect. After each short rest, a psionic character regains power points.

When the first psionic classes hit the pages of Dragon magazine, we were happy with the positive reaction to the system. Players liked that psionics felt different and offered a new type of character to play. Once we saw the reaction, it was clear that players liked having classes that were new, different, and interesting.

Essentials Classes

When we sat down to design the Essentials classes, we faced an important decision. Did we want to repackage the Player’s Handbook material for the core classes, or did we want to try something different? After much discussion, we decided to push forward with class designs that would appeal to both new and existing players. We wanted to introduce greater differences of complexity between classes while also creating options that would interest veterans of the game.

Taking a cue from Player’s Handbook 3, we broke down the basic math of character classes in a similar manner. This time, though, we looked at eliminating daily powers and simplifying encounter powers. That approach would allow us to create a character class that is simpler to use while still offering a compelling array of choices during play.

We decided to embrace something similar to the old sub-class concept from bygone editions. The classes presented in Essentials are different takes on existing classes, ones that share a similar place in the Dungeons & Dragons world but that use different mechanics. By embracing this approach, we could produce a “new” fighter with new mechanics without having to change the existing fighter class. After all, plenty of people already play and enjoy the current fighter. Why mess with that?

We’ll go into more detail on the classes later. For now, think of the new approach as a tool that allows us to produce different progressions of powers and features within the same class.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

If you’re already playing a Dungeons & Dragons game, there’s one very important thing to remember—the Essentials products matter only as much as you want them to. We very carefully designed the new classes and added more options to the races in such a way that existing characters remain unchanged. Aside from the rules updates introduced over the past few months, of which the relevant pieces are included in the Rules Compendium, little (if anything) on your character sheet has changed. The only real changes rest in wizard encounter spells (they have miss effects now), and those changes are almost entirely additive in nature. Your burning hands spell is the same spell as before, except now it deals half damage on a miss.

This point bears repeating—Aside from rules updates and changes to one category of wizard spells, the character you are playing today does not change in any major way. It was crucial to us that someone playing a dwarf fighter today didn’t need to rebuild that character once the Essentials products were released.

Next time, we’ll examine the Rules Compendium in more depth. Until then, good gaming!


About the Author

Mike Mearls is the Group Manager for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. His recent credits include Player’s Handbook 3, Hammerfast, and Monster Manual 3.

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