Posted by : David Guyll December 08, 2010

Heroes of Shadow is going to be written Essentials-style, which means that instead of giving you the basic foundation of the class and a plethora of options to choose from in order to build upon that class in a way that pleases you, Wizards will instead give you limited control over the class's abilities and provide fixed abilities that will deliver on a concept that they envision. Hopefully, its a concept that you like.

Think of it like this: a fighter has six fighter talents to choose from. Each one gives you some benefit that helps build upon a concept, such as a gladiatorial fighter, a semi-pugilist type, a sword-and-board knight in shining armor, a guy with a big fucking weapon, and more. From there, you still get to pick numerous exploits that let you do things that you envision your character doing, on top of the simple "swing your weapon" maneuver. While a few people can't wrap their heads around daily exploits, the point is that you get a lot of flexibility.

With Essentials you don't get the fighter, you get the knight and slayer, which are basically inflexible fighter subtypes that either use a one-handed weapon and shield, or use a two-handed weapon. Sure, you get to pick a pair of stances at level one, but no matter what your encounter special lets you lump on another damage die. Want to be able to hit them in the legs and trip them? Too bad. Want to be able to smash an enemy in the face and daze them? Nuh uh. It's unfortunate that I could build the exact same concepts just using Player's Handbook. The difference is that I have more control over how the character grows.

Not all the classes function like this, however. Mages get to pick a magic school, but aren't restricted on their spells. If I pick Pyromancy, nothing says I have to pick any spells with the Fire keyword at all. This is really strange because you'd think that if they were going to pigeonhole you by school that there'd be at least some restrictions. I don't subscribe to the belief that only spellcasters need to be complicated (a level 1 mage has to pick nine spells, by the by), and I think it's great that 4th Edition allowed non-magical characters to have interesting actions and powers that they could use on a round-by-round basis.

Some people like this new direction. I'm more in the middle ground. I like a few of the classes out of the Essentials books, but namely the hexblade. Partially because it delivers at least two solid concepts, but partially because you get more say on what you can do. In other words, encounter and daily powers. Lack of daily powers, a preset encounter power that isn't even an attack, and the fact that I'm doing the same basic melee attack virtually the entire time are the reasons why I'd be bored to tears playing a knight or slayer. I like variety, and the Essentials spin on martial classes seems like more than a few steps back.

Fortunately, the necromancer and nethermancer seem to be mage schools, or at least based on the mage. This means that they'll actually get to pick stuff. The blackguard seems to be based on a paladin, like the cavalier, so she'll also get to choose more powers, as well. Would I have preferred Heroes of Shadow to be presented in the Player's Handbook format? You bet. Give me more options any day. Thankfully, when it comes to spellcasters, the Essentials format hasn't really done anything to change how they work.

{ 12 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. When I fist saw this, I was super excited that they were finaly going to get back to Players Handbook format. I could not wait to try out an all new Necromancer class! Now? I dont think I will go near it. Not a fan of essentials besides the Hexblade and the Rules Conpendium, so unless this book blows me away, I'll pass.

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  2. I agree, and I find the singling out of the martial classes, again, as the "this has to be the class for stupid fucks, so it can't have many different abilities" to be really disappointing.

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  3. @Wyatt you could also think "this class is for someone who doesn't much like options" and not appear so dismissive. Some people do choke on options. The fighter would give them a class that they can build up without much frustration.

    Plus, I'm quite certain that the idea of WotC is of Essentials as an _entry_ _point_. Soy you buy these books (which are, by the way, cheaper), and then the Player's Handbooks, once you actually feel constrained. Just as the idea was to buy the other Essentials books after you were done with the Red Box.

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  4. I understand your criticisms, but as an old timer raised on 1st edition I really enjoy the old-school feel of essentials martial classes. If you REALLY want to see limited options, take a look at the 1e martial classes which are still adored by many gamers today. When compared to 1e, essentials martial characters have many more options but still have that 1e feel. This is just my opinion of course.

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  5. I agree with Anonymous & Moranar. The idea of Essentials is to have classes with limited options in order to evoke the old-school feel. Personally, I really enjoy the simplicity of the new martial classes. It's analogous to choosing an item with a static bonus over an item with a power.

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  6. i have a girl in my group that can spend 2 hours (no joke) choosing between at will powers, she gets so overwhelmed with the choices that she cant simply choose. Essentials became our lifesaver.

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  7. I can't say that I'm too impressed with the direction. While I like that Essentials has put the old races to the standard set in PHB3 onwards, I'm not a big fan of the way they handle martial classes, for example. I'll be waiting for PHB4.

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  8. But it is not an "entry point" or simplification. There is absolutely no reference to any material for previous 4ed books (except settings books FR, Eberron, and DS)which would be the case if it was the 'entry' point that led to 'more complex 4ed'. Also the mages by using vancian magic for encounters, actually increase the complexity of wizards. It is a different road not an on-ramp. maybe heads to the same destination, but a different road.

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  9. @ThePlaneswalker: Dayam. O_O

    @BaadJim: I'm also not a fan of the martial classes, either: I'd have preferred something else instead of power strike, or at least more options, or at least having your weapon giving you something else at higher levels.

    @Anon: It IS an entry point, as has been stated by Wizards numerous times: new players can opt to stick to Essentials for a fraction of the cost of trying to buy all the other books. You can also play the game just fine using only Essentials products. Ergo, a different entry point.

    Also, since Essentials classes are mostly restricted, there are less options to choose from, and you are free to pace yourself by picking up additional handbooks/power books to expand your options later, if you so choose.

    Finally, mages and wizards BOTH use a "semi-vancian" system, as they both have at-will, encounter, and daily spells. The only difference is that mages can specialize in a school, wizards can master and implement, and mages can also swap out encounter spells (if I recall correctly).

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  10. @Antioch An 'entry point' means eventually you will get to the same place as everyone else. But in Essentials it is not possible. There is NO reference to any pre-essential material. If you only have essentials, you are not led to other pastures (i.e.PHBs, splatbooks, etc.). And if you grabbed one, you'd be completely confused as the rules at release of PHB1 are very different than that of 2+ years of errata

    Exactly with swapping out encounter spells. How is adding more complexity with wizards having vancian on Daily and mages having it on both Encounter and Daily make it simpler? It does not. The mechanics of the game (I.E. the very good Rules Compendium) are the same for both 4ed and 4ess. But if you are new and get essentials, you in no way have any reference that there is 4ed out there. None. Essentials may not be 4.5, 3.95, or 4.01, but it is a replacement. They harped on how it was '10 products', but with Heroes of Shadow and Monster Vault: Nentir Vale being in Essentials format, it clearly shows that essentials is a replacement, not an entry point.

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  11. @Anon: Saying that it's both not merely an entry point and is a replacement for the game, goes against everything that's been clearly stated by Wizards--multiple times--during all those pre-Essentials Ampersand columns, as well as personal experience. It IS an entry point. They can just pick up Essentials-only content and play the exact same game as everyone else out there, the ONLY difference is that their classes follow a different structure and progression.

    Now, I do agree that if an entire group were exposed to D&D through an Essentials book, were not informed of other books, and had no way of outside communication, that they’d not be “lead to other pastures”. Fortunately, even if they went to a local game store (or book store), somehow missed all the other D&D products on the shelf, AND didn’t bother asking anyone about the game while they were there (strange for someone new to the hobby), information is incredibly easy to come by: the URL is printed inside the front and back of the book, along with a DDI logo, so you’re wrong about not referencing other non-Essentials content.

    Also, why are you focusing on wizards and mages as proof that Essentials is somehow more complex? Unless you're freely allowing all content, then mages cannot multiclass, hybrid, use rituals, and have less than HALF the spells that wizards do (only 74, in fact). Why don't you compare the slayer to the fighter, or the sentinel to the druid?

    Finally, I disagree with your statement that Essentials is a replacement based on all of two future releases that we are aware of. Also I don't take Wizards doing a boxed set as an "Essentials format", but for what it is: a boxed set.

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  12. Dang. Anon just got served. Goooooo Antioch!

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