D&D Essentials – 4th Edition meets classic D&D

We tend to stay to stay away from D&D reviews here at GFG, not because we dislike D&D, but because so many blogs out there already do a really admirable job of discussing the various products and what is possible with them. That being said, lately we’ve touched on a few releases that seemed to be geared towards low level campaigns or players new to D&D as a whole. D&D Essentials is an interesting product, which tends to reside in the latter’s territory.

The Essentials line just launched, and currently consists of  four products. The new version of the starter set is called the Red Box, and is modeled after the classic D&D Red Box in terms of visual design. There are two new sourcebooks, the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Finally, the fourth product is a collection of dungeon themed tile sets that were previously released separately, and are now bundled at a lower cost. Unfortunately, having a huge box of dungeon tiles already, this is the one product I didn’t shell out for, so if you are looking for information and opinions on the tiles, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Right off the bat, the production quality of 4E is apparent in the Essentials line. All of the products, including the Red Box are printed in full color on high quality paper. The Red Box itself contains a sheet of full color, glossy cardboard chits used to represent heroes and monsters for your game, multiple sheets of power and item cards, and a double sided poster map with two half size maps and one full size dungeon map. You also get a set of dice and two sourcebooks, containing all you need to know about the character creation process (which is presented as a choose your own adventure style excursion), as well as a fairly lengthy adventure and brief rules compendium.

The Rules Compendium is about 320 pages of unified rules. This one product contains nearly all of the rules (outside of specific class and race mechanics) that one would need to refer to during the course of any given D&D game. This is also paired with information about the D&D setting and guidelines for the DM’s use in creating adventures. This one $20 book is hands down one of the most useful D&D releases since 4E hit the marketplace, and any player, new or old, would do well to pick up a copy.

The other book released currently is Heroes of the Fallen Lands. This volume is similarly priced to the compendium, and for a player it contains many of the rules you would need to refer to through the course of a game. In a pinch you can play as a player with this book only. Inside you get rules and information for taking four different iconic classes from levels 1-30, as well as for creating characters of the traditional D&D races: human, dwarf, halfling, and elf/eladrin.

The best part of all of these products? They are 100% compatible with existing 4E products. Not to get ahead of myself, but for long time 4E players, you would be well served by picking up the Rules Compendium despite the Essentials banner just for the utility alone. That being said, are these products for existing 4E campaigns or hardcore 4E players? Probably not. There aren’t new rules presented here, and the classes themselves don’t deviate too much from the version presented in the 4th edition PHBs.

So who is this product intended for? In my experience so far, two groups of people would get a lot of play from this new branding of the D&D line. Those who want to add new players to their group, or are coming to 4E fresh will get a lot from these releases. For groups adding a new player who doesn’t have their own D&D library to drawn on, it is really refreshing to make a single affordable purchase (outside of a set of dice) to join an existing campaign at any level. $20 gets you all you need to take a Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, or Wizard through an entire 4E campaign arc. You also get an abridged collection of rules, generally focused on combat and the use of your skills, as well as a fairly comprehensive selection of standard equipment and the accompanying rules. You even get a small collection of various magical items, in case you are creating a character starting above level 1.

For those completely new to D&D or just to 4th edition, the Red Box is a great value. The box contains everything required to run the game through levels 1 and 2 for a group of four players and one DM. You get a bunch of full color chits, attractive booklets, and a quality full size, double sided poster map. Though the map contains some reprinted material from earlier out of print D&D products (specifically the Miniatures line), a group of new players would never know the difference. New players also benefit from the cool choose your own adventure style character creation method, which lays out common rules and information in a fun and easily digestible way. This set is really only for a brand new group of people who haven’t already started their patch down the 4E road. Current players, unless they just want to collect the Red Box, will get nothing out of this that they don’t already have access to. You can’t deny the cool retro presentation though.

Finally, outside of these two groups, you have the naysayers and hum-bugs that scoffed at the At-Wills and unified rules systems of 4E. This product line is also for them. While all of the classes here are presented in a way as to fit into the 4E framework, the classes themselves are designed in a way to bring them in line with previous editions. For example, rogues here are extremely mobile and as part of their class features they are able to train in several skills, similar to 3E. Wizards are able to select several spells to work from, simulating the spellbook mechanics from earlier editions. they also get to choose a school of magic to follow. Don’t get me wrong, this product is probably not intended first and foremost for old players who haven’t moved to 4E; I still see it as a great entry for new players.

All of the products are extremely high production quality, well priced, and very exciting for D&D fans new and old. Are these products for you and your group? That depends on the situation. New players can find a lot here through the entire product line. Existing players will get a lot of use out of the Rules Compendium. The final verdict can’t really be passed until the still pending releases (DM’s Kit, Monster Vault)  hit market. The bottom line is: if you are interested in D&D, the Rules Compendium is a must-buy. If you want to get into it, the Red Box is fun and cheap for an entire group to use. At $20, its $4 a person. And if you want a trip down D&D memory line, Heroes of the Fallen Lands includes everything you need to make a classic character compatible with the current edition of D&D.

Sure it’s 4th edition. Its also what you remember D&D being like as a kid. Plus, it won’t break the bank, and it’ll fit easily into your already full gaming bag.


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