Few people would disagree that the Porsche 911 GT2 is a fantastic car. With iconic looks, decades of award-winning history and heart-stopping speed and acceleration, it well deserves its place in the Motoring Hall of Fame.
The D&D Essentials line is not like a Porsche 911 GT2. For a start, it’s not a car. It’s a lot cheaper too.
But it is like it in several respects. For a start, D&D Essentials is a concept stripped down to its barest elements. Just as the GT2 is the essence of motoring with all the usual niceties, gadgets and gizmos stripped out, D&D Essentials is the essence of Fourth Edition D&D without the CD Multi-Changer or iPod socket. Essentials is designed from the start to be fast and simple to play. It lacks the almost overwhelming range of options found in full-blown 4e but should you require them they can easily be fitted in with minimal effort. I would argue that, just like the Porsche, Essentials plays best when you don’t mess with it though, but it’s nice to know you can fit an iPod socket should you want one.
Secondly, Essentials is a gamer’s game, just like the Porsche is a driver’s car. Any driver (provided you’re used to a manual gearbox) could sit inside a Porsche 911 and take it for a spin. The same isn’t true of many sports cars these days what seem to require a PhD and 3 month training course just to be able to operate the GPS or find the starter switch. Essentials is designed to be played, not studied or kept in the garage. It is a game that sets out to be accessible to new player and old grognard alike, and certainly deserves more love and credit than too many old schoolers are prepared to give.
In comparison, 4e D&D is a Mercedes SLK – a huge comfort blanket of a game that’s still surprisingly fun and agile but comes with all the bells and whistles you could possibly imagine.
The dodgy Photoshop wheel blur is an added extra
Finally (and crucially) just like the Porsche I’m happy that the D&D Essentials line is there, but it’s not for me. The motoring world would be a poorer place without the Porsche 911 GT2, but I don’t want one. I’ll take the huge comfort blanket, thank you very much. That’s not to say the Porsche is a bad car – far from it – but that I recognize that something can be both “good” and “not for me” all at the same time.
It’s the same with D&D Essentials. Metaphorically speaking I already have the Mercedes SLK. Why would I want the Porsche? I like the wealth of options, thanks very much. I do have the Red Box, but that’s as much as I’m happy to get. I don’t need the Monster Vault; the 4e Monster Manual works fine for me and I’m happy to house rule the hit points totals in my head, and I feel that the Rules Compendium would cause more confusion than it solves. Using both the DMG and the Compendium would be like wearing two wrist watches and never knowing the right time. I’ll stick with the DMG and have the errata for page 42 and Skill Challenges on two post-it notes. That’s quite enough for me.
Thankfully D&D Essentials is not a car. If one of my players wants to play an Essentials character in my game (and a few have already) then they fit right in. I don’t need any extra books or supplements at my side of the table to facilitate that. Imagine trying to fit a Mercedes component into a Porsche. It just won’t go.
One day, perhaps, I will want to run an all Essentials campaign. Maybe I’ll do it just for the experience or to introduce a whole new batch of players to the game right from the start.
When that day comes, you’ll find me in the Porsche showroom.