I’m really excited about this product.
That being said I am, to a certain extent, troubled by it. For the skinny I highly recommend you check out the previews that have been running over in Bill Slavicsek’s Ampersand column (handily linked here for your convenience):
Now, before I go on, I should say that WotC has been very very careful and insistent that this is not a new edition. Nor does it supersede the originally published 4e material. While I’m willing to concede the former, though it definitely lays somewhere between the kind of large scale change of 3.5 and something new entirely, the later I find a tougher sell; though I’m not wholly unconvinced. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that what we’ve seen in the Essential previews won’t work in your average 4th Edition game but I do wonder if it should. While the core mechanic in Essentials remains the same there is a step backwards (in time at least) towards a more basic use of attacks modified by class abilities and powers from the power-centric approach indicative of 4th Edition.
Indeed from the upcoming re-release of Dark Sun, the pending resurrection of Gamma World, the Tomb of Horrors remake, the inclusion of more fluff in the Monster Manual 3, and the planned Gazetteer for the Nentir Vale it seems very obvious that WotC is looking backwards to direct their strategy going forwards. A quick glance at the 2011 product line reveals a bevy of titles that include a number of box sets (Monster Vault, DM’s Kit, Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale) and old settings given fresh life. All this I love and yet I am still slightly concerned the impact that the Essentials line will have on 4e as a whole. To be fair it is the anxious excitement that is part and parcel of anything new.
Something to note about the adventure is the abundance of opportunity to explore and interact with the environment. Runes need to be understood, crates need to be busted open, and bodies need to be looted. This sort of detail fills my heart with joy. Similarly, they present skill challenges in a way that promotes conversation and the integration of challenges within the story line rather than as something that pulls the players out of immersion.
Which has me pretty excited as well. This is something the encounter centric philosophy behind most 4e games has been lacking and I’m excited to see how the Red Box encourages this type of stuff for new (or experienced) players. Over at Neuroglyph Games there is a lengthy interview with Mike Mearls and Rich Baker on the Red Box. While it doesn’t divulge anything all that new it does help enlighten some of the design philosophy behind the new product line. Last but not least the always awesome folks over at Critical Hits have actual Red Box play on their latest podcast (which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet).
All of WotC’s recent product decisions and upcoming releases, be they success or flop, have done perhaps the most important thing: reinvigorate my interest in the game. Dark Sun, Essentials, the Rules Compendium, the Ravenloft Board Game, and the bevy of material in the pipe for 2011 has me as excited as ever to roll me some d20s and have some laughs with friends.
Now if only WotC would start selling a box set of free time…