Player’s Options – Why Worry?

The interweb has been aflame recently with the Essentials vs. Non-Essentials debate. This is largely driven by the release (today?) of Heroes of Shadow, which presents a number of new Player Character options.

I must admit that I am totally nonplussed by the whole furore, to the point that I’ve been wondering why!! But the simple answer is that I just don’t care, and I think that is because basically I’m a DM, not a player. I mean, aren’t there enough options already? It is a bit of a surprise to me that WOTC keeps on publishing so many player options. I don’t remember this ‘back in the day’; wasn’t Unearthed Arcana the only official 1st Edition expansion that added more class options? (EDIT: forgot Oriental Adventures, although you could argue that was very setting/style specific) Of course there were reams of new classes and options published in Dragon Magazine, and I know 2nd Edition came out with all the ‘Complete [Insert Class/Race] Handbooks’, but that was all totally optional. Whereas now there seems to be this fixation around ‘official’ new options continuously appearing, and being argued over whether they’re ‘right’, or ‘better’!!

In my mind, class options (i.e. Race, Powers, Feats, Paragon Paths, the whole shebang…) are simply a way of giving role-players the ability to add flavour to their character which also has a mechanical meaning in the game. That’s it, period. So to me it doesn’t matter whether you take the simpler, defined progression options of the Essentials books, or the more free-form ‘Classic’ 4E options, or in fact a mix-and-match approach.

I also just can’t quite get my head around this debate: is Essentials a ‘new Edition’? My views:

  • Do I need to know a single new rule as a DM to run a game? No! Clearly they have updated some rules (Skill Challenges, Treasure availability, etc) that have been published in Essentials books, but these are meant as core rules changes, not just for Essentials.
  • Do I need to change the way in which I put adventures together? No! There hasn’t been an adventure published in Dungeon since Essentials came out that has been impacted by the new line. The same format and statistics has been maintained.
  • Do I need to change all my monsters? No! OK, so I know they’ve brought out an Essentials line for Monsters (the Vaults) and that this includes some new versions of already published monsters, but it doesn’t change the mechanics, they’re simply new versions!

So how can Essentials be a new Edition?

I haven’t bought a single Essentials book except for the Rules Compendium, which I find a really useful size for a quick reference at the game table, and I certainly haven’t felt I’m being left behind. In any case, the Class Compendium articles now appearing on the D&D website (e.g.) prove WOTC are still supporting the Player’s Handbook classes.

All this debate and fuss should remain a sideshow – 4E to me remains a wonderful mechanical system for playing D&D, with great support and tools for the busy DM, and loads of player options to bring whatever level of flavour you want into your game.

So let’s have at it …. ‘Roll Initiative!’

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