When I first saw mention of the upcoming D&D Essentials products, I thought that I had a pretty good idea about what they were going to be. As I’ve read the previews though, I’ve gotten more and more confused about what the line’s goals are.
When I first heard about D&D Essentials, my impression was that they would be a great intro package to allow new players to get into the game without needing to buy three hardcover books and other accessories like dice and miniatures. I thought that the box and accompanying books would have the core components of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual – but in different packaging (and with errata and rules updates included).
Later when I saw the art for the starter box, I started to get confused. Where I was picturing D&D Essentials as an entry point for players entirely new to D&D and role-playing, the art for the “red box” seemed aimed at nostalgic former players instead. The box doesn’t match the styling of the rest of the D&D products currently available and doesn’t look like something I picture young potential players grabbing off of a shelf. The only way I could make sense of the approach was that Wizards of the Coast was hoping that nostalgic former players would buy the box for younger children or relatives. Some of the recent rules updates, such as the change to Magic Missile to once again make it automatically hit, also seem to be targeted at this nostalgic audience rather than new players.
Most recently, Wizards of the Coast has begun to release previews of the actual mechanics used in D&D Essentials line and confused me yet again. The classes have large departures from the versions available in the Player’s Handbook despite sharing the same names. The changes have been marketed as new builds of the same classes, but the mechanics seem like more of a departure from the classes than other build options currently available. Because of the magnitude of these mechanical changes, I’m now stuck thinking that D&D Essentials are going to be a reboot of D&D Fourth Edition.
One big question I’m left with is whether source books released after the D&D Essentials line is released will continue to be based on the mechanics of the Player’s Handbook or if they will instead be based on the new mechanics of the starter box. If they are based on the older mechanics, then it seems like a waste to introduce players to a set of classes that won’t be fully integrated with future products. On the other hand, basing future books off of the Essentials line will mean that the products aren’t truly an introduction to the game but rather a reboot of the current version. I’m not sure I’d be happy with either of those outcomes, so I’m hoping that Wizards of the Coast somehow surprises me.