Friday, October 15, 2010

The Essentials Red Box - a Non-Review

Ugh. I'm not going to review this one except by proxy. I have not purchased and will not be purchasing it. If I'm not the target audience for this I don't know who is and I think it's terrible after reading multiple reviews. I have 3 problems with it that tie up in my biggest problem of all:

1) The original red box (and the 2 prior basic sets) gave you complete character creation rules. The 1983 Red Box had an introductory programmed adventure approach to teach the game before delving into the full character creation process - not a bad idea. Making the programmed adventure THE character creation system isn't a bad idea until you make it the only system. How can we roll up a party at the same time if we have to go through a solo adventure to do it? It's ridiculous and a major departure from what it's trying to emulate.

2) The old basic sets covered levels 1 to 3. The new one goes to 2. Considering that only 4 classes are covered and that the game now runs through 30 levels total, I think a starter set should at least be covering 1-3, not going backwards.

3) Compatibility is non-existent between the classes described in this box and the PHB classes, but it's a new build, right? The full build will be in Heroes of the Fallen Lands, right? No! The builds in this box are different from the Essentials classes and the PHB classes, so you can't even carryover your character as-is! You get to go through a 10-encounter starter dungeon, level up to 2, and that's it - build a new character at level 1 if you want to continue - or rebuild it with your new Fallen Lands builds. The old Basic sets (81 & 83 anyway) rolled right into the Expert sets for the next stage - you didn't have to build a new character to move up.

Finally the value for me for this box just is not there. The 3rd edition starter set came with D&D mini's, this one comes with tokens. Older Basic Sets came with a starter dungeon of some type in the book plus a full-blown adventure module that was good for levels 1 to 3, this one comes with a 1-level adventure. Could you start a campaign with this set? I don't think so. It's basically a training product that you throw away once you've played through it. Hell, Keep on the Shadowfell is a better starting product IMO than this - it introduces the rules, let's you dive right in with pre-gen characters, and comes with a real adventure wit ha base area, some NPC's, and some nice fights along the way, and it's cheaper to boot! Once you picked up a PHB you could still use KOTS! Once you pick up a PHB or heroes of the Fallen Lands this box is useless, so why not just skip directly to the real game - it's the same price and has tons more utility than this thing!

Additionally there is for me some sens of betrayal with this one. I started on a Basic Set, many of my older friends started on a Basic Set, and when I first heard abut it I was planning on getting this for my kids to start them off. This thing looks like a Basic Set but has almost none of what made those special. An incomplete, gutted version of the rules, a 1-level dungeon, some tokens, and a map. Put a cut-down rulebook in the box and a revised Keep on the Shadowfell and you might have had something here. As it is, it's an utter failure both as an introduction to the game and as a nostalgia item. It's sad because I am a guy who is a likely sell on either of those things and I rate it a fail on both counts.

Note: There have been some disclaimers that this is not a "Basic Set" but a "Starter Set". One, it looks like the 1983 Basic Set, regardless of what you call it, so it's clearly intended to emulate that product. Two, that's a fairly small semantic difference (outside of marketing-speak) and I haven't heard anyone enumerate the differences to be expected in two products bearing those descriptions. At the most basic level, I would expect it to allow someone to learn to play D&D on their own, with no help. I suppose the new red box does that going by some reviews. The problem is that the old Basic Sets did far more than just teach the mechanics of the game, and I don;t think it does that anywhere near as well, despite dressing it up in classic colors.


Jeff Rients said...

"The builds in this box are different from the Essentials classes and the PHB classes, so you can't even carryover your character as-is!"

Okay, that's some serious bullshit right there.

Blacksteel said...

Yeah, I was very disappointed as you can probably tell. If it's only going to level 2 and you can't even continue your character from there, then just make them pre-gens and note that in the larger game you can create your own heroes. It would be a better intro to how the game actually plays and make moving up to the full game a more logical step. I'm just glad I didn't spend money on it.

I will say that the Fallen Lands book is very good and is pretty much the old-school class injection into 4th. I'll write that one up next week.