Sunday, September 12, 2010

So What Did Essentials Actually Change?

If you haven't had a chance to pick up the new Essentials books - the Rules Compendium and Heroes of the Fallen Lands - you can check out my review of HotFL here from a couple of days ago. As you can see by the title of my review, there's been some discussion about what Essentials means for 4th Edition and if this is a sneaky way for Wizards to launch a whole new line of slightly changed rules and powers that require a whole-new buy in. First, if this were to happen, 4th Ed - like all those before it - has an incredibly deep line of books that would make for fun, variable games the rest of your life.

Anyway, I was inspired by this document Wizards has produced to help make it glaringly obvious what changes were actually made to 4th Ed. with the Essentials rules update. First and foremost a lot the changes that were made in Essentials weren't actually made for Essentials. That is to say that the updates are actually just incorporating the errata and hundreds (thousands?) of questions sent to the Q&A squad over at Wizards. Keep Reading for the details!

The document is only five pages long and mostly explains a lot of clean-up work done between previous books and the Essentials line. Here's how Wizards describes the document, "The revisions presented in this document add clarity to older powers or are representative of philosophical changes in our design process." With that in mind, I'm not going to touch on everything, just the stuff that's actually interesting to me.


The five races covered in HotFL (Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Halfling, and Human) all another option - expanding the number of classes they can be awesome in. Other than human, the races get one of their ability score modifiers as a choice between two different abilities instead of being a static modifier. Dwarves get strength or wisdom, Eladrin get dexterity or charisma, Elves get wisdom or intelligence, and Halflings get constitution or charisma.

I really like these changes as it opens up a lot more options for the races. Dwarven Fighters now become much easier to pull off. Elven Wizards are a natural fit. Halflings are now able to draw on a huge amount of options for characters with their choices.

The interesting change, however, is the options human characters have to make. Humans gain an extra At-Will power at character generation, but now we have the option of giving that up in favor of a new encounter power. The power, Heroic Effort gives the human character a +4 to a failed attack or saving throw after the roll has been made. It's a huge ability and is something I think a lot of people will be giving humans a second look as a result. The only annoying thing is that this option is not explained in HotFL. I had to find it in the pdf to see that humans get a choice. Why this wasn't given an option in HotFL is not clear - players should have the option to choose an extra At-Will or Heroic Effort, and it should be clear in HotFL that Heroic Effort does not replace the extra At-Will but is just another option. It is not.

Powers, Feats, and Items. Oh My.

There were several interesting changes made to specific class powers and features. First, Sneak Attack can now be used with a shortbow. This is a tiny thing (pun intended), but it means that Halfling Rogues just got a big boost for free. I like the change a lot. Prestidigitation got a tiny nerf in that it losses one of its powers - it can no longer move 1 pound of material. There are a lot of ways I could see this developing into a problem with bypassing a lot of traps and challenges with this little telekinetic power. Fireball got an increase in damage - this is never a bad thing and I'm happy to see it.

The feats Great Fortitude (+2 to Fort Defense), Iron Will (+2 to Will Defense), and Lightning Reflexes (+2 to Ref Defense) all got the paragon restriction pulled off of them and now scale with tier level. I like this change a lot as it allows for a character to make up for a weak ability score set and make their defense not just utterly suck. It's a good change and gives players more options (always good!).

I really like the simple change to the Rapier - it's now a Military Melee Weapon instead of a Superior Military Weapon. It never made sense that the Rapier was so hard to get (needing a feat before to use one effectively). I could see a lot of rogues now wielding rapiers for this close-quarters sneak attacks.

The big item change was the cleaning up of implements and how multi-classing works with them. Now all non-weapon based implement feats that allow a character to multiclass also grants the proficiency with the requires implement. Sure you still need to carry around a small lockbox of your various implements to use the powers, but you're automatically proficient with the implement.

There are a ton of power changes with a lot of them clarifying or changing their keywords, but the nice thing is that a lot of powers that didn't do anything when you missed the attack now have an effect. Even if it's just half-damage, being able to do something with an encounter or especially a daily is a really valuable gamey aspect that makes your character never feel useless. There are some classes that have had this for a while now, but this just makes it so that a lot more powers and classes have access to a miss effect.

The Best Part

A lot of times when rules get updated and errata gets incorporated to a game it's a hassle. You're never sure if everyone's playing with the most updated rules changes and are all on the same page. If you want to keep track of everything that's changed you have to print an ever-expanding errata document and make sure that is up to date as well. Wizards has set up an infrastructure online with the D&D Insider that allows them to seamlessly integrate these updates. The worst thing you'd have to do is log into the Character Builder and check out your character for changes. Print out the five or six pages of your character sheet with the updates, and you're ready to go!


  1. Thanks!

    That is not a big document at all.
    I have been tracking all the blogs I know and their reactions to the new 4E Essentials line at I included a link back here.

    Thanks for all the details.

  2. I wish with small updates like this they would let it be a free non-subscription required update to the character builder. For example, I think it totally fine to pay in for active membership to get something like a new player handbook added to the builder, but an update this size just doesn't compare.

    I suppose you have to get money somehow... but the D&D Insider char builder doesn't completely handle updating your things as smoothly as it could unless you throw money at it.


Noble Knight Games

Wanna support The Hopeless Gamer? Shop at Noble Knight Games via the banner below!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...