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- 4th Edition vs. Essentials
On both the Wizards.com and RPG.net forums there're plenty of topics concerning Essentials: aside from both forums having their own stickied threads, there's also threads that ask if its successful, is it 4.5E, is it compatible, is it better, etc. While I can't say for certain if it's been successful--though I have enjoyed all the products to an extent--I can comment on the rest.
When people ask if Essentials is 4.5E or if its compatible, I wonder what the hell they're reading. My semi-local store gets books out ten days early, occasionally ratcheting it up to eleven, so it's entirely possible that maybe Wizards shipped out revised sets of books between then and the other release date. It also reminds me of a similar discussion that I had with someone else a long time ago who didn't like 4th Edition, but for some reason enjoyed content out of the Essentials line--even though there's no difference between the game rules, only some of the class design (and even if you try to count stuff like races getting floating ability score bonuses or magic item rarities, it's been errata'd anyway).
I've ran and played games that mix Essentials content with not-Essentials content, and you know what? I didn't have to implement rules variants to make it work. The slayer still rolled a d20 for her attacks, and the warlord was able to use the +1 lifedrinking greataxe (even though it was a level 3 uncommon) from The Twisted Halls without having to convert anything. When the players settled down for a short rest, they all got their encounter powers back and could spend healing surges to restore lost hit points. When they took an extended rest? Yes, not only did each of their Action Points get reset to 1, but their healing surges also got replenished.
The only appreciable difference is when you look at the classes, many of which I find to be largely unsatisfactory because of their rigid progressions. If you play a slayer, you get power strike. If you play a mage, you get magic missile. If you play a sentinel, you get combined assault. Now, this isn't a problem as long as the class delivers a solid concept that you also happen to like. For example, I like the hexblade because I like everything that the class offers. Slayer? Not so much because I'm stuck making routine basic-fucking-melee attacks, with the exception that once during a battle I can mix things up by lumping on some more damage.
Yes, I know that they have stances that modify their basic attacks, but you know what? Those are just roundabout ways of performing the at-will exploits that fighters get. I also know that basic attacks are usable with opportunity attacks and charges, which makes it easier to apply those bonuses, but a fighter's (amongst many other classes without the Melee Training feat) basic melee attack is good enough that I can confidently employ it during the rare opportunity that a monster tries to attack another player, or run from me (usually when the DM is trying to end the encounter faster).
I've also read that because classes like the slayer don't have exploits that specifically allow them to smack someone with a shield, that somehow it's okay to swing from chandeliers or slide down stair rails (sometimes both!). This mindset is frankly baffling, given that in Dungeon Master's Guide page 42 provides a solid foundation for this sort of thing, while Dungeon Master's Guide 2 provides rules for terrain powers. Perhaps their DM is allowing them to treat sliding down a rail like its a charge attack, which means that they have to use their basic melee attack, which gets modifiers that fighters simply wouldn't have--if they didn't have access to exploits that can be used on a charge, that is.
Now if I were behind the screen and a player declared that they wanted to slide down a stair rail, I'd probably call for a skill check, granting the character an attack or damage bonus on a melee attack they made, not just a charge (and make them fall on their ass if they fail the check). Is it overpowered? No. It's just a situational bonus, contingent on a skill check, with an annoying penalty for failure. But, the player is aware of this. They know what they are getting into. Also, it's not like stair rails are everywhere. I'd prefer to make it worth their while when the opportunity presents itself instead of giving it a lame bonus that will probably make them shrug and say, "fuck it, I'll just stab the monster." You know, like grappling rules from 3rd Edition.
Which type of classes are better, Essentials or otherwise? I prefer the older style because I like having options. I like being able to choose from a variety of class features and powers in order to build the type of character I want. I'm a big boy, I can weed all of ten options in order to pick out a few that fit the concept I'm trying to build. I'd rather have a fighter than five different fighter subtypes that all dictate what I get, leaving me with a smidgen of customization as if to say, "I guess I can trust you with this much not to hurt yourself." I'm hoping that class design doesn't revert back to the days of 3rd Edition monks, but this is certainly a step in that direction.
In the end though, they are the exact same game, it's just that some books have different build progressions than what we're used to. You didn't hear people bitching that the druid got three at-wills, or that psionic classes only usually used power points, did you? Okay, you did, but they (probably) weren't on the streets preaching that it was 4.5E.