D&D 4th Edition Essentials…Essential?

Having recently picked up the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands for D&D, a part of their Essentials line, the question of course begs to be asked:  How Essential is it?  The answer, dear readers, lies in this article.

What is the Rules Compendium?  It’s one of the 10 D&D “Essentials” products for the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.   4th editionRules Compendium Cover (or, as all the cool kids say, 4e) was, of course, released a couple of years ago.  In that time, the game and its rules have gone through several revisions, corrections, errata and updates.  Pages and pages of them.

The main purpose of Essentials is to introduce new players to the game, and to bring back lapsed players.  The classes in the first Essentials players’ book, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, are in many ways significantly less complicated than the classes from the Player’s Handbook.  This is perfect for new players as the options presented just in the PHB alone can be overwhelming.

But what about the Rules Compendium?  Is it useful?   In a word: yes.  In two words: yes, absolutely.  The Rules Compendium gathers all of the rules, errata, updates, revisions and corrections together, injects some new ones of its own (such as the new skill challenge system) and ties them all together into a very nice, paperbound 320 page 6×9 book.  Even if you already have other books from 4e, the Rules Compendium is extremely useful to have, unless you like playing with the non-errata’d rules.

There are dozens of subtle changes to the rules, and a few big obvious changes.  I mentioned skill challenges before.  Yes, they and the difficulty classes for skills have been redone..again.  However, this is the best iteration of skill challenges in my opinion, and the skill DC chart is brilliant, once again bringing challenge to skills, but not making the DCs too high.  There are also guidelines for improvising with skills.

Two other big changes are a random treasure system and magic item rarity.  Magic items are now divided into three types; common (which can be bought and made), uncommon (most of the magic items already published, with a few exceptions) and rare items (a handful of which are supposed to be given in the upcoming DM’s kit).  Oh, and no more will you be stuck with a paltry 20% of your magic item’s value when you sell it..now you can get 20%, 50% or 100% of the item’s value provided you can find a buyer.  Some of you might twitch at that, but trust me, it works.

Also, the Rules Compendium is very, very well organized and cross-referenced.  What Rules Compendium *doesn’t* have are races, classes, feats and equipment lists.  Those are in Heroes of the Fallen Lands.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands CoverHeroes of the Fallen Lands is the first player’s book, and it contains large sections of the Rules Compendium (the basic rules, especially as it pertains to character creation, skills and combat), the new rules for humans, elves, dwarves and halflings and the new builds for the Essentials cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard as well as the charts for equipment, feats and a few magic items.  Because it has such large sections of the Rules Compendium in it, a player doesn’t necessarily need a copy of the Rules Compendium, though I would suggest having at least one copy of the RC in a group as, even with the duplicated info in HotFL, it is indispensable in my opinion.

When Essentials was announced, the series of tubes that is the internets suddenly flared with the anger of a million raging nerds flinging accusations that Essentials was either “D&D 4.5” or that it was dumbed down 4e.  While the Essentials builds of the classes are simpler than the ones out of the core Player’s Handbook, they are not dumbed down.  As for the 4.5 accusation, that’s not accurate either.  There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that Essentials stuff cannot be used alongside “normal” 4e.  None.  Yeah, Essentials does update several things (including some very nice updates to old standby feats), but items, creatures, feats, powers, classes and anything else from 4e can be used right alongside the Essentials rules.  In fact, we played our normal 4e game last session using the Rules Compendium and it was seemless…dare I say better and more organized.

So, can I recommend the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands?  As someone that owns all but a handful of 4e rulebooks and has been playing 4e since the day 4e became available I can definitely, absolutely, without hesitation recommend these two books.

[tags]D&D,Dungeons and Dragons,games,gaming,geek,review,Role Playing Games,role playing game,rpg,rpgs,Tabletop[/tags]

12 thoughts on “D&D 4th Edition Essentials…Essential?

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  1. Very well written, I do find myself tempted to pick up the red box on a repeated basis. Some sort of nostalgia for a thing I’m not even old enough to be nostalgic for, there must be a word for that …


  2. I think it’s a testament to the strength of the modularity of 4e that you can essentially (ha! See what I did there?) take the core mechanics by themselves, clean them up and stick them back in without it causing major problems. And the Essentials classes are very plug-and-play; you can easily play an Essentials Fighter or Cleric right beside a “standard” character of the same class.


  3. This is so great! I have been running a game in 4ed and for the simplicity of the group we’ve just ignored most of the errata. This is good, but it seems to pigeon-hole race/class combinations of my group.

    I also had a few solid players in 3/3.5 that would like to come back and try their hand at 4ed. A good book of rules compendium will help with their OCD for rules and keep me honest in the new edition!


  4. Thanks for the review! That cleared up a lot of the things I was wondering about. I guess I’ll take the chance and see how using the new rules compendium with my other 4e books works out for my group.


  5. Great post, thanks for the detailed info.
    I was going to give up on 4e completely since my group and I didn’t really care for it, but now I’m reconsidering. From what I have read the Essentials line much better organized and tweaked to appeal to the people that didn’t like 4e originally. Other than some changes to powers and PC builds, I’m still not 100% clear on what those tweaks are, but I’m willing to give 4e one more shot.
    I went ahead and ordered the rules compendium. If it is as good as everyone says I will order the Essentials PHB. Then I’ll try to run a game or two and see if the group takes to 4e or if they would rather stick to Pathfinder and retro-clones for our fantasy games.


  6. Having picked up the red-box I can say that its certainly the best starter Wizards have ever put out. The solo adventure combines character creation and an explanation of the rules that’s excellent for getting new players involved.

    As far as I can tell, the powers seem to allow a lot more descriptive creativity on the part of players as well. Something which I always found lacking in ordinary 4e, and which made combat too boardgamey.

    I had found 4e as it stood before as something messed up and only continuing as a cash cow. I also hated the idea of basically being forced to run the game with Insider.

    Essentials changes my opinion entirely.

    One thing. I wish they’d put power cards with Heroes of the Forgotten Lands as they did with the starter. It makes those cards useless after the 2nd level. Heres hoping they at least release them seperately!


  7. The only problem with cards for the Essentials stuff would be that you would run into the same problems you ran into with the power cards that were released before, primarily the first bit of errata that’s put out makes the card less-than-valid (unless errata is not a concern).

    And there will be errata, I’m sure. WotC seems to love their errata.


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