What's the difference between the new "Essentials" line and the original 4th ed D&D books?
July 25, 2011 5:40 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between the new "Essentials" line and the original 4th ed D&D books? If I was to buy 4th ed books today, which should I buy and why?

It's all the same system & rules apparently but I'm a little puzzled at what the difference is between the "regular books (Player's Handbook & DM's Guide) versus the new "Essential" books (Rules Compendium, DM's Kit, Heroes of X, etc). What's the overlap and what's the difference? Can you just buy the newer books or do you need the 4th ed "holy trinity" of DMG, PHB and MM in all cases?
posted by GuyZero to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)
Not quite the same, but they are compatible. I'd suggest the Essentials for establishing your core mechanics and classes/critters and then cherry pick from 4th ed where you see kit, making conversions/adjustments as necessary.





As a former D&D 2nd Ed and current Pathfinder player, 4th ed (to me) is especially focused on making combat fun, and the Essentials line takes that even further with some rules refinement and bundled cardboard minis/map tiles. I find the tokens so convenient, I bought the 4th Ed DM's Kit for a weekend Pathfinder game.

If you are just getting into D&D, I'm sorry to say that buying lots of rulebooks and errata is inevitable.
posted by Wossname at 6:13 PM on July 25, 2011

I can't really speak the the essentials line, as we've been using the trinity in my game. I do know, however, that the monsters have been changed significantly since the first 4e monster manual, so the Monster's Vault may be a more valuable resource in that area. (Generally, monsters have had their hitpoints slashed and their damage increased, this is to help counteract the tendency of 4e combat to drag out.) There are several pages on converting monsters out there, but if you're just starting, you might want to look into the vault first.

On the other hand, the number of monsters given in the Monster's Vault is under 100. Which is still a lot, but they cover most levels and so that's no more than 4-5 a level. So if you want more variety, the trinity books are the way to go. I'm under the impression that the same is true of the player books as well.
posted by Hactar at 12:45 AM on July 26, 2011

The "Essentials" line is Wizards' attempt to rebalance the content and improve accessibility. One excellent change is that the Rules Compendium now contains just that - the rules of the game without including any of the class or feat information that you need for specific characters. It's mostly the same content as the rules sections of the PHB (with a little DMG mixed in) and a handy index. You probably need one at the table, with a couple of page-stickies in the commonly referenced sections (skill uses, conditions).

For DMing the Monster Vault is good, as is MM3. MM2 is less good and MM1 is pretty crap - they've recently debuted a series of Dragon articles from Logan Bonner updating the MM1 monsters. It turns out that six hundred hit points and a bunch of boring melee attacks makes for a lame encounter. The DM's kit by all accounts is crap, the Essentials DM screen is nice, and the DMG and DMG2 are both useful if you plan on running improvisational games or writing your own adventures. Environmental hazards (terrain and traps) are really useful in 4E combats and lots of powers can synergize well with them. Adventurers Vault and Adventurers Vault 2 are basically the definitive treasure sources.

From a player perspective it's harder. Players make up the bulk of the D&D purchasing spectrum, and get the lion's share of content. Probably the most invaluable resource is access to the D&D Compendium (or a scraped version of it as provided by some helpful hackers). For less-experienced players or a new group, the Essentials books pack up a number of good character options into one package - and you really can build a pretty fun character just out of one of those Heroes books and maybe dipping into a little Dragon content. For experienced folks things get a little crazy. In my current group we've run the gamut, and now mostly rely on online sources as a matter of necessity. Each of the players is using content from one or two of the three PHB books, a couple of the "Power" series plus content from Dragon articles. We've dropped the pretense of bringing those books to game - you bring printouts of or iPhone access to content that you need. I couldn't even tell you the source of half the feats and powers on my character at the table.

Overall the Rules Compendium and some of the DMG content is just about the only thing you can't do better with the online compendium than with the books. Our DM thumbs through the monster manuals from time to time but mostly just uses the online tools for building his encounters and loot, likewise we players have come to basically rely on it for character creation and leveling.
posted by lantius at 1:25 AM on July 26, 2011

Adding to what lantius has said (which is pretty spot on), a lot depends on how much you enjoy in depth character creation and having tons of options for how to build your characters; essentials really cuts down on the effort you need to put into making a character, but does so by cutting out a lot of the options you have available to you. The essentials characters generally play great at the table and are well balanced powerwise, you just don't get to pour over a dozen books, years of articles and so on to find that perfect power or variant. You do still get to pick lots of stuff, just not as much.

We play with pretty much everything in the mix in one way or another.

You can easily play with just essentials stuff and unless you derive a lot of your enjoyment from the mechanical aspects of character creation, I'd suggest starting there.

(also, the highly illegal CBLoader is awesome for character creation no matter the exact rules books you start with)
posted by teishu at 9:05 AM on July 26, 2011

I'm a big fan of 4e, and I personally like what they've done with Essentials - though I'd be a lot less happy with it if the other stuff wasn't part of the complete game. Iantius pretty much covers it. Essentials is in large part specifically designed to be the new evergreen entry point for D&D. For the most bang for your buck, I'd grab a Rules Compendium, Heroes of the Fallen Lands (to start you off with some classic, easy-to-use and impossible-to-botch character creation), Monster Vault, and a subscription to DDI.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:44 AM on July 26, 2011

« Older When to use the hub lounge in Seoul Incheon...   |   Celebratory charity? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.