D&D 4E Have you ever run 4e using just Essentials?

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Before I get into this topic, let me just say that I'm not here to spark a debate. This is not about how anyone feels about Essentials, now or then. I've been working quietly in my own corner for some time now, focusing on my own thing. But I am genuinely curious to hear if anyone has some actual experience to share with me, and anyone else who reads here. This isn't just theory-crafting or speculation. I'm actually working on something like this, for myself. But I can still appreciate a different perspective.

Anyway. I've been using Fantasy Grounds Unity and learning to build modules for myself. Even though the software includes the bare-bones system to support 4th Edition D&D, there is nothing I can purchase to make my life any easier. Everything needs to be put in by hand, or parsed with independent tools, resources, etc. The latter helps, but its not always clean or perfect, and you end up with a lot more information than you need, which can also impact program performance.

Of course, I don't need everything all at once. Just enough to get things going. But it also gave me a unique opportunity to cultivate, cleanse, and streamline the game for my own purposes. And since I anticipate a number of potential players would be new to 4e anyway, I decided to go with a focus on Essentials for now. (If I do a pre-Essentials/Core option later, I'd build a separate thing for that.)

Without the burden of extra books and previous designs, I've been incorporating a few things to kinda fill out the options for players. For example, I included the largely generic Character Themes from Dragon (Issue 399), as well as the racial utility powers (various issues) for each Essential race. These add optional utility powers, giving players some added flavor beyond race/class.

I've also incorporated (and in some cases adapted) certain elements from other sources, like the Neverwinter Campaign Setting and the Player's Options series. These expanded the number of powers for many Essential classes without overloading them. (Mages are the exception, but I reserve that wizard characters are the most complex to play and should have a lot more options than the rest.)

One book that surprised me was Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, which added some new feats to go with some of that new equipment. The Strike Specializations in particular gave the Knight, Scout, and Slayer classes some much needed attention. (We'll get back to them in a minute.)

As I'm nearing the completion of this personal project, I am faced with some decisions that I still haven't decided for myself. So I hope to find outside council for additional guidance and insight. Actual experience would be more helpful, as I can guess and speculate on my own as well as the next person. Here's what I need to decide:

1. Should I allow Fighters, Rogues, and Rangers to gain Daily powers? These are typically gained at levels 1, 5, 9, and then replaced at 15 and 19. (I'm not looking past level 20 at this point.) Since they are not competing with pre-Essential builds, there is no issue of balance across that line. I'm just looking to give them a little more to do like other classes so they're not just doing "basic-hits" all day long.

2. Are Rituals still usable? I suspect the answer is yes, but they were rarely mentioned or included in anything since Essentials came out. It is definitely something I want included in the game. I just want to know if there were any changes or modifications I might have missed and don't know about.

Honestly, those are the only two I'm on the fence about. But I'd really like to know if anyone has done anything similar (or different). If so, what was your experience? Did you run into any issues? Was it even noticeable? What would you have done different?

Feel free to comment below with your own ideas, if you have any. But again, I will remind everyone this is not meant to spark a debate about Essentials, whether you're for or against. That said, I look forward to a productive discussion.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

GreyLord

Legend
I've run essentials only. I prefer to run with the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric only if given the choice as the classes of Druid, Ranger, Paladin and Warlock are much more complicated.

I wouldn't give them extras beyond what is offered in the books already.

Rituals are still usable, but if running an essentials only game, good luck finding enough to really make using the rules reasonable.

When running essentials I'll use

Heroes of the Fallen Lands
Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
Monster Vault (both the original and Nentir Vale)
Dungeon Master's Kit

Normally do not use Rules Compendium, nor did I buy it. I lot of people loved it. It is possible there are extra rules in that book that aren't in the others and make it more complex, but as I never used it, I don't know.

Occasionally I would also allow Heroes of Shadow, and Heroes of the Elemental Chaos options as well in Essentials only games.


I currently have a travel kit that if I travel with a certain group, we will play a game of essentials while we travel. That kit is in a small bag which contain dice, the two heroes books, and Monster Vault (and nothing else). In the past few years, when running essentials, that's basically all I use to run it.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
@GreyLord Thanks for the feedback! That was very helpful. I appreciate it.

I've run essentials only. I prefer to run with the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric only if given the choice as the classes of Druid, Ranger, Paladin and Warlock are much more complicated.
I hear ya. But since I am creating a rules module for Fantasy Grounds, I decided to go all-in so I would only need to do this once.
I wouldn't give them extras beyond what is offered in the books already.
You're probably right. I don't believe doing so would upset the balance, but it may not be worth the trouble. Some players might enjoy feeling less burdened by having fewer options. If I end up seeing a lot more clerics and wizards, however, I may revisit that.
Rituals are still usable, but if running an essentials only game, good luck finding enough to really make using the rules reasonable.
None of the Essential classes gets the Ritual Caster feat for free. That, to me, signals that rituals were not intended for Essentials. Or at the very least, they were optional.

I think that is a good way to keep it: as an option for players. If a player wants to use rituals, they take the feat. And rituals will be made available at a cost. If not, it doesn't upset the game and no one will miss them.
Normally do not use Rules Compendium, nor did I buy it. I lot of people loved it. It is possible there are extra rules in that book that aren't in the others and make it more complex, but as I never used it, I don't know.
Its convenient having all the rules in one book. That's all.
Occasionally I would also allow Heroes of Shadow, and Heroes of the Elemental Chaos options as well in Essentials only games.
I did scrape those for some additional stuff. Funny enough, I used to be very down on the Shadow book. But now I find there are a lot more options I am willing to allow. Maybe I'm growing up as a DM? (Nah.)
I currently have a travel kit that if I travel with a certain group, we will play a game of essentials while we travel. That kit is in a small bag which contain dice, the two heroes books, and Monster Vault (and nothing else). In the past few years, when running essentials, that's basically all I use to run it.
That is refreshing to hear! I already created both Monster Vaults for FGU, so I am almost set!

Now I'm curious. What do you use for treasure (magic items)? Those books don't offer much by themselves. And are you using the random parcels from the DM kit, or the earlier ones from DMGs?
 

GreyLord

Legend
@GreyLord Thanks for the feedback! That was very helpful. I appreciate it.


I hear ya. But since I am creating a rules module for Fantasy Grounds, I decided to go all-in so I would only need to do this once.

You're probably right. I don't believe doing so would upset the balance, but it may not be worth the trouble. Some players might enjoy feeling less burdened by having fewer options. If I end up seeing a lot more clerics and wizards, however, I may revisit that.

None of the Essential classes gets the Ritual Caster feat for free. That, to me, signals that rituals were not intended for Essentials. Or at the very least, they were optional.

I think that is a good way to keep it: as an option for players. If a player wants to use rituals, they take the feat. And rituals will be made available at a cost. If not, it doesn't upset the game and no one will miss them.

Its convenient having all the rules in one book. That's all.

I did scrape those for some additional stuff. Funny enough, I used to be very down on the Shadow book. But now I find there are a lot more options I am willing to allow. Maybe I'm growing up as a DM? (Nah.)

That is refreshing to hear! I already created both Monster Vaults for FGU, so I am almost set!

Now I'm curious. What do you use for treasure (magic items)? Those books don't offer much by themselves. And are you using the random parcels from the DM kit, or the earlier ones from DMGs?

On travel games, I mainly use what is in the Heroes books.

If expanding on that, I'll use all resources, including things I make up off the top of my head. An example: One particular Item I like to award to high level characters comes from AV2 (so not essentials) but I don't use the items in the book, instead I just make it off the top of my head using the Jagged property to increase the critical range by x2 (so, 19 or 20 normally).
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
Allow rituals through scrolls, is my advice. They can be fun to find and use. After the characters have advanced a few levels, an adventure hook might be finding one of the last scholars who can teach ritual casting.

The rules compendium had the final rules for DCs and skill challenges and such, and the alternate rules for generating ability scores. You could probably find this info…somewhere…free of charge, though.

I’d vote “no” on dailies for martial characters. You might allow them some other benefit—such as allowing them to use two action points per encounter. A house rule that I’ve considered is that PCs that do something cool without using a power (such as swinging on a chandelier to push an enemy into the fireplace) would get an immediate action point that must be used before the end of the encounter. Maybe only martials get that.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Allow rituals through scrolls, is my advice. They can be fun to find and use. After the characters have advanced a few levels, an adventure hook might be finding one of the last scholars who can teach ritual casting.
That's not a bad idea. If nothing else, it saves me some extra work before I find out if players are interested in that option. Thanks!
The rules compendium had the final rules for DCs and skill challenges and such, and the alternate rules for generating ability scores. You could probably find this info…somewhere…free of charge, though.
I have several sources for that, including my physical books. For anyone else, you can find it for free (and legal) in the official Errata updates for DMG and DMG2.
I’d vote “no” on dailies for martial characters. You might allow them some other benefit—<snip>
I've heard a lot of "no's" on this, but I have yet to hear any substantial reasons why not. In my mind, I don't see that an extra daily power or three is going to skew anything. Least of all if the only other classes in the party are also Essentials.

I'd really like to hear a case against the idea that explains why its actually a bad idea (i.e. how it negatively affects the game itself, or the enjoyment of it). Despite what other people have told me (in the most insulting and unhelpful ways possible... not here, of course), I can and do read into these details about the game quite extensively, and give it more than adequate consideration. It is, in fact, when I fail to find any downsides or flaws in my ideas that I look to outside perspectives to make sure I am not missing something.

So, if you or anyone else please, help me find the flaw in this. Or help me find a solution to make it work. At the very least, be open to explore the idea and not just shut it down because <reasons unknown but widely accepted by the anonymous majority>.
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
I say “no” because of personal preference, that’s all.

For me, it’s like adding a trailer hitch to the back of a sports car. Yeah, it probably has the horsepower to pull a trailer, but that’s not the purpose of a sports car.

The essentials martial classes were designed to be sleek and fast-running, in my opinion. Adding daily powers thwarts the purpose of those classes.

I agree with you, though, that they probably won’t mess up the playability.

I don’t know how you are going about implementing these rules, but is it possible to implement daily powers through magic weapons or items? A “sword of brute striking”, for example?
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
I don’t remember in which book (or Dungeon/Dragon magazine article) they are found, but I recall that there are some things called “martial practices” that add elements to a character. Also, boons.

Narratively, you could have the slayer or knight impress some elder warrior who then trains them in his special maneuver, which grants them a daily power. In game terms, when the eFighter reaches particular levels, a daily power is either gained or improved.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
I say “no” because of personal preference, that’s all.
I can accept that answer. Every time.
The essentials martial classes were designed to be sleek and fast-running, in my opinion. Adding daily powers thwarts the purpose of those classes.
Agreed. But they also had the goal of blending seamlessly with the core classes. So players have the option to play a simple fighter or the more complex version. Since I am removing that option, I wanted a compromise to make sure all classes had a little more oomph!

Let's look at it realistically. Every class gets their daily powers at the same levels. In the heroic tier, its 1st, 5th, and 9th levels. In Paragon, they replace their 1st level daily powers at 15th, and their 5th level daily power at 19th. (Epic tier is too far out for me to worry about at this point, but it follows a similar progression).

So by level 9, a character will never have more than 3 dailies to deal with. As a martial character, your main attacks are basic weapon attacks with passive modifiers from stances, a few class features, and possibly some feats. Then there is the all-pupose boost powers, like power strike, that you use again and again during an encounter.

Does the 3 extra one-off powers make it too complex? I don't think it will. It is still less complex than the cleric or the wizard, which I think is a good spot for fighters and rogues.

Furthermore, I don't intend to open up the entire library of all powers ever written. Like most classes in Essentials, I'd only want to include 3-4 picks for each level, most likely those introduced in the first PHB (and updated in the Class Compendium series).

Truly, I am still on the fence about it. But I wish to hear different opinions (and stronger arguments) besides my own.
I agree with you, though, that they probably won’t mess up the playability.
I really don't see how it could. Even if it did skew things a bit, 4e isn't so tightly wound that a DM couldn't compensate easily for any adjustments.
I don’t know how you are going about implementing these rules, but is it possible to implement daily powers through magic weapons or items? A “sword of brute striking”, for example?
Hmm... I really need to give that one some thought.
 

I say “no” because of personal preference, that’s all.

For me, it’s like adding a trailer hitch to the back of a sports car. Yeah, it probably has the horsepower to pull a trailer, but that’s not the purpose of a sports car.

The essentials martial classes were designed to be sleek and fast-running, in my opinion. Adding daily powers thwarts the purpose of those classes.

I agree with you, though, that they probably won’t mess up the playability.

I don’t know how you are going about implementing these rules, but is it possible to implement daily powers through magic weapons or items? A “sword of brute striking”, for example?
Weird how Essentials casters didn't need to be "sleek and fast-running".
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
Weird how Essentials casters didn't need to be "sleek and fast-running".
shrug

The designers, as I understand it, were trying to placate certain types of players.

As others have pointed out, the essentials mage was a bit more complicated than a core wizard, because the mage got two encounter powers to choose from instead of just one. However, take out ritual casting, so maybe it’s a wash.

I would rather play a core fighter than an essentials knight or cavalier or slayer. Some people prefer the latter.

With the slayer’s bonus based on DEX, one could have the “archer fighter” that he or she always dreamed about.

Of course, a core fighter with one-handed weapon talent could use a thrown weapon really well. Javelins had a 10/20 range, and were heavy thrown weapons, so STR was the attack bonus.
18 STR meant a (4+1+2) attack bonus, with a javelin.
 

shrug

The designers, as I understand it, were trying to placate certain types of players.

As others have pointed out, the essentials mage was a bit more complicated than a core wizard, because the mage got two encounter powers to choose from instead of just one. However, take out ritual casting, so maybe it’s a wash.

Nobody used rituals in core 4e so not really.
I would rather play a core fighter than an essentials knight or cavalier or slayer. Some people prefer the latter.

Those people.wrre all playing Pathfinder by 2010 so it was a pointless exercise.
With the slayer’s bonus based on DEX, one could have the “archer fighter” that he or she always dreamed about.

That's called a ranger.
Of course, a core fighter with one-handed weapon talent could use a thrown weapon really well. Javelins had a 10/20 range, and were heavy thrown weapons, so STR was the attack bonus.
18 STR meant a (4+1+2) attack bonus, with a javelin.
Again, you would just play a ranger.
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
Nobody used rituals in core 4e so not really.


Those people.wrre all playing Pathfinder by 2010 so it was a pointless exercise.


That's called a ranger.

Again, you would just play a ranger.
Well…yeah.

Some people still want to play slayers. Some people can be stubborn, like that.
 

GreyLord

Legend
Nobody used rituals in core 4e so not really.


Those people.wrre all playing Pathfinder by 2010 so it was a pointless exercise.


That's called a ranger.

Again, you would just play a ranger.

?????

My parties when using the older books used rituals all the time. Rituals were actually pretty sweet. They needed more of them though.

I had people that are interested in playing essentials today even. Of course, it may be that's because it's what is in my travel bag. Still, these folks seem to enjoy it.

Interestingly enough, I DO have a swap out bag with the Pocket editions of Pathfinder 1e, but I have not had as much success with them on travel as I have had with the Essentials. Perhaps it's the travel aspect and those who I travel along with and their personal tastes. There may be a future day where my PF1e travel bag gets used. Haven't had takers for it yet though. I DO have the bag packed and ready to go.

I DO have PF1e games at home though. Presently running one.

I played PF1e AND 4e AND essentials. I think it's hard to categorize who did or didn't want or like the core or essentials classes.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Yeah, me too. :rolleyes:
My parties when using the older books used rituals all the time. Rituals were actually pretty sweet. They needed more of them though.
Agreed, though I don't know how many more were really needed. In Dragon 398, they compiled them all into an index by ritual type that was almost 15 pages long. But that included rituals from all sources, including the magazine so that might not be useful (or applicable) unless you owned all the content. (That, IMO, was one of the great downfalls of 4e; they expected everyone to buy everything.)

Dragon 405 had a great article on Heroic-tier rituals that added Ritual Mastery feats and a lot of new rituals to round out the lower levels.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Friend of mine wanted to run a one-shot adventure he'd gone on at a convention. One of our friends was on board, but was suffering from 4e burnout after playing many sessions of Scales of War with his Pacifist Cleric, and wanted to play something simple.

He was introduced to the Slayer. Others in the group felt that the Slayer couldn't really hang with the other 4e classes, so I had this idea. "Hey, let's all play Essentials classes!"

The DM looked alarmed for some reason, but everyone was soon on board. And there we were, Knight, Slayer, Thief, Cleric, and Wizard.

The adventure was....interesting, to say the least. Actually, it was dirty, mean, and unfair (I believe it was called "Beyond the Door"), and included one fight where the group was teleported into the eye laser range of a Beholder, forcing us all to suffer it's effects on turn one.

My Thief was a nuisance, and the DM tried with all his might to pin me down, but I wasn't having it. The Knight's ability to "mark" any enemy that got near him proved effective in some fights. The Slayer...went down a lot. And of course, the Cleric and Wizard were basically indistinguishable from their non-Essentials counterparts.

But we made it to the end, and while we had fun overall (save for some truly messed up encounter design, like the Beholder fight), afterwards, all the DM could say from that point on about Essentials was "I hate it". And hate it he did, with all the fury of a dying star.

He couldn't articulate why he hated it (sure, most of the classes were dumbed down nonsense, and regular 4e was certainly better, but it wasn't irredeemable, IMO). He just did. And he said that the way we "ruined" his adventure was part of it.

Though he refused to elaborate exactly what we'd done, so to this day, I have no idea what earned his ire. Unless it was just our success?
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
@James Gasik That was a great story, and some very good first-hand experience. I appreciate you sharing it. I suspect this is all coming down to personal preferences, which I can get behind. So I might be better off waiting to ask my own players what they want to do when the time comes. Thanks again for chiming in!
 

I would start without integrating rituals into the VTT since you can run 99% of them with just a skill check or two and it does a thing that is mostly non-combat anyway.

Like the (3 different) water breathing rituals: OK, the party can breathe water now. Great, let's roll for initiative vs. the sahuagin.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Aside from everything that's already been discussed, I thought I would share some of the changes and additions I made for my Fantasy Grounds Essentials module. Keep in mind, I have particular goals and parameters that may be different than everyone else's. Here's a brief list:
  • I want to create a single player module with all or most of the available character options for my campaign. That means I also need to take into account how the module will affect program performance and load times, especially when shared with my players. Needing multiple modules opened would be just as bad, or even worse.
  • I am sticking primarily with Essentials-based classes and options. Core 4e classes will not be included or considered regarding issues of balance or play-ability. They simply do not exist in these games. If I wanted to use them, I'll create a separate module to exclude Essentials. That's just my preference.
  • My campaigns will not likely go past level 20, if they even get that far.
  • I'm not focused on creating new material or content. I have tons of both that are accessible and sufficient to meet my needs. There's enough work already without having to create more.
Feel free to borrow, steal, or modify any ideas you see. I would also be happy to hear more ideas and suggestions you might have.

THE CHARACTER CLASSES
Cleric (Warpriest)
The Warpriest is probably one of the best expressions of what Essentials was about. A return to domains, which were a defining aspect of what every cleric was about in previous editions. Just had to get used to the idea that Wisdom was an appropriate ability for swinging a weapon. (It's not that hard, actually.)

More Powers: The class is untouched, but I included more utility and daily powers from the PHB (updated in the Class Compendium article) and Heroes of Shadow. Melee weapon powers for clerics that used Strength were changed to Wisdom like those of the warpriest. Otherwise, most powers carried over without change or alteration.
Total number of Cleric Powers: 137

Additional Domains: I included the Death domain (from Heroes of Shadow), and the Earth domain (from Dragon magazine). I also adapted three warpriest domains from Neverwinter Campaign Setting and renamed them. Each domain was also assigned to a specific deity as the best fit. Thus, clerics can choose the following deity with the associated domain:
  • Death domain (The Raven Queen)
  • Earth domain (Moradin)
  • Fey-folk domain (Corellon)
  • Knowledge domain (Ioun; originally Oghma)
  • Order domain (Bahamut; originally Torm)
  • Storm domain (Kord)
  • Sun domain (Pelor)

Druid (Sentinel)
Not many changes that fit the Sentinel design. If I have time, I would probably expand the seasonal options to make Autumn and Winter available. Other than that, most of the new powers from Heroes of the Feywild were added.
Total number of Druid Powers: 48

Fighters (Knight and Slayer)
I covered this extensively elsewhere and came to the following decision: I am reserving daily powers as an option subject to further playtesting. Otherwise, no changes or additions were made.
Total number of Fighter Powers: 43

Paladin (Cavalier)
No changes or additions. However, I opted to include the Blackguard as a playable class. Usually, I will balk at a non-heroic character as a player. But after reading the book more closely, I could get onboard with the idea of an unaligned blackguard serving the likes of Kord or the Raven Queen. At least this paladin isn't tied to a mount.
Total number of Paladin Powers: 57

Rangers (Hunter and Scout)
This is in the same boat as the fighter. No changes or additions. Waiting to see how the daily powers work with fighters before entertaining a similar move with these.
Total number of Ranger Powers: 39

Rogue (Thief)
See Fighters and Rangers above.
Total number of Rogue Powers: 25

Warlock (Hexblade)
Admittedly, my least favorite class of every edition is the Warlock. But Hexblade fills a particular niche (the only other controller besides wizard, the only other arcane class besides wizard, and its very gish). Plus, there's a lot of support material for it. So I added new powers and pacts from Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Elemental Chaos. Plenty of options for one class.
Total number of Warlock Powers: 78

Wizard (Mage)
The wizard is probably the best supported class in all of 4e. Just adding Encounter, Daily, and Utility powers from PHB (updated in Class Compendium article), Heroes of Shadow, Heroes of the Feywild, and Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, gives mages a TON of spells to fill their books. Shadows also introduces two new schools of magic. I did not include the Witch or Shai'ir sub-classes for a couple of reasons, even though I included the powers designed for them. Wizards have enough options already. And they can play a "witch" by taking certain powers without any of the other stuff. No need to overload one class.
Total number of Wizard Powers: 222

OTHER CHARACTER OPTIONS
Racial Utility Powers
Sticking with just the Essential races (I know! I know! Whatever.), I've included the racial utility powers from the dragon articles. These are basically optional utility powers that players can choose based on their race instead of the normal ones they might get from their class.
Total number of Racial Utility Powers: 54

More Feats
I've compiled a few extra feats that are on par with Essentials from a few different sources. First, the updated feats from PHB (updated in another Class Compendium article). There's also Ritual Mastery feats from a Dragon article that also added more heroic-tier rituals. A handful of feats regarding new equipment was introduced in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, as well as the Strike Specialization feats for melee characters with the Power Strike feature (i.e. Fighters and the scout).
Total number of Feats: 116

Character Themes
From Dragon issue 398, four articles presented a dozen character themes that were generically suitable for any typical D&D campaign and work with any class. They are entirely optional, but if used, they can "help flesh out a character and provide some interesting options for developing their background" (or so the articles say).
Total number of Theme Powers: 60

TOTAL NUMBER OF POWERS: 763
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
I would start without integrating rituals into the VTT since you can run 99% of them with just a skill check or two and it does a thing that is mostly non-combat anyway.
I agree. There's a lot that can be done within a good VTT without the need for everything to be written into the program.

My concern, however, is new players and players without access to the game materials. Players still need to know what their options are and how things work. If I were able to purchase ready-made content, I am allowed to share information and resources with my players in the VTT. This is actually one of the driving factors for me to create this reference manual, which I failed to mention in my previous posts.

So here's what I did. In the player's manual I created, I included Ritual feats, the general rules for Rituals as presented in PHB, and an index of rituals by level that I am making available. For the rituals themselves, I created an individual module with nothing but rituals. Rituals aren't actually a factor for Essential-only games until 1) someone takes the Ritual Caster feat (none of the Essential classes get it for free), or 2) it comes up in the game itself, either as a scroll or ritual book. So it's there, but not entirely. I can just activate the optional module as needed.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top