The Appearance: Handbook-size (6”x9”) softcover with 320 pages. Cover has D&D Essentials logo across the top with a red dragon. Interior layout is easy to read. Artwork is in same vein as cover and generally complementary of the surrounding text. Some is too small (especially maps) to be useful.
The Content: As the back cover relates, the Rules Compendium contains the Core Rules in a portable, easyily referenced format. The 320 pages of content is divided as follows:
- “Introduction” which introduces what D&D is and a history of the game
- “Chapter 1: The Basics” introduces the core mechanic for checks and the background for the D&D setting
- “Chapter 2: Adventurers and Monsters” covers how those creatures are described, how an adventurer is generated, and how levels are gained
- “Chapter 3: Understanding Powers” describes what powers are and includes keywords used to describe such
- “Chapter 4: Skills” explains skill check modifiers and how to use skills including the concept of Difficulty Classes; Skill Challenges are also explained
- “Chapter 5: Exploration and the Environment” defines how creatures explore and generally relate to their surroundings; also covered are traps and hazards
- “Chapter 6: Combat” is the single largest chapter (76 pages) and covers all the rules of combat
- “Chapter 7: Equipment” covers the terms that define armor, weapons, and other items
- “Appendix 1: Building a Combat Encounter” focuses on the role of monsters in an encounter
- “Appendix 2: Rewards” defines how to gain rewards and expereince points as well as treasure
- “Appendix 3: Terrain Features” describes different terrain
- “Glossary” and “Index” cover key terms and an alphabetical listing for easy searching
The Verdict: First off, let me say that although I have played RPG’s since 1979 I have NEVER played D&D (heretic you say!). My personal interests travel more to sci-fi; Traveller has always been my favorite system. However, with young spawn in the castle that are more attuned to fantasy I am looking to give them a taste of RPGs. I have a complete set of Star Wars: Saga Edition and we all have played Star Wars Miniatures. At first glance, the Essentials line seems tailor-made for my needs; a lower cost entry to the setting.
(On a sidenote, I find the whole “Essentials” concept interesting because this book seemingly goes out of the way to NOT say D&D 4th Edition. The closest it comes is in the History of the Game where they refer to a third edition followed by this “latest.” Why are they afraid to say 4th Edition?)
I previously had bought the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set (this was the predecessor to the current “Red Box” Starter Set) so with that in hand I was looking to expand. For this purpose, the Rules Compendium is very useful. However, I wish I had studied just what the Essentials line really is. My greatest disappointment was finding (after purchase) that the concepts of Character Generation are covered in the Rules Compendium, but in order to generate a character you need to buy Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms player books. This in spite of the back cover claiming the Rules Compendium covers “the complete rules of the game…as well as information on…character creation….” In hindsight, “information on” means “the process” and the not “the ability to.”
The Rules Compendium is certainly useful because it has all the rules of the game. However, you cannot play a game without at least one (and possibly both) players books and the Dungeon Master’s Kit and maybe Monster Vault because these books apparently have all the chargen and equipment and weapons and monsters and the like you need to use with the rules found in the Rules Compendium.
Of course, all this information is available on the D&D website, and if you are a D&D player you likely will know all this ahead of time. But if you are not a D&D follower (like me) this marketing approach can be very confusing. I find this distressing given that the Essentials line is aimed at potential players like myself. This seeming lack of forthrightness makes me feel “taken” by Wizards of the Coast and am not sure if I want to make the further investment necessary (at retail costs I will need to spend around $100 more for just the books mentioned above). Once again I am reminded that the old adage “buyer beware” is still alive today.