04 February 2010

Turns Out the 4e D&D 'Basic Set' is yet more 'Crippleware'

Well, it certainly looks pretty and, um, familiar, doesn't it, gentle readers?

However, it looks like the D&D 'Essentials' box set will be yet another pointless 'starter kit' from Wizards of the Coast. It will only cover characters up to level 2 (and not 5, as was my initial impression). So, just like the 3e, 3.5e, and earlier 4e 'starter kits', we have a piece of 'crippleware', essentially an expensive piece of advertising, not a true game. Consequently, I have abandoned all interest in this product.

Now I realize that the Holmes, Moldvay, and Menzter Basic D&D Sets all went up to only level 3, and 3 is only one number higher than 2. However, character progression was much slower in earlier D&D than it is in 4e. Consequently, one could run a campaign of 6+ full adventures before characters reached level 3. Indeed, my summer Swords & Wizardry campaign lasted a few months, and at the end of it the highest level PCs were only level 3. In contrast, in 4e characters progress far more quickly. So there might be something like 10 'encounters' before the resources of this box set are exhausted. Meh.

In short, I should've known better than to have been intrigued by this product. Turns out it's just more shiny rubbish.


  1. I feel your disappointment. Actually I am wondering what made alot of people thought it was going to be levels 1-5?

  2. The original blurb stated that the game was for 1-5 players. It was misread by many people (including myself).

  3. Given that Wizards produces one of these for every iteration of the D&D they've published to date and they rarely vary in terms of the possible range of character development, someone must be buying them. Well-meaning but mistaken parents, maybe, but someone.

  4. As I posted on Grognardia, WOTC still has time to the right thing here, and make it levels 1-3 or even 1-5.

    But let me say that I am highly doubtful that they will do so.

  5. Yeah, we all know the 13-year-old this set is aimed at is going to be scarred for life when he's faced with unexplored caverns in what's been a thrilling adventure so far...but he can't level his player up!

    His only choice will be to curse gaming, throw his mini, and walk away from D&D forever.

    WOTC evildoers!

    Or, maybe on the other hand what *might* happen is what happened to another 13-year-old kid who had his first D&D session with the Holmes set many years ago, and was so stunned by the experience, immediately went out and bought anything AD&D he could get his hands on -- even before his first Holmes character ever had the chance to level up for the first time.

    A new basic set is a Hasbro marketing ploy? Of course it is. But give kids more credit. They won't need to level up multiple times to know whether they're going to fall in love with this game the rest of us obsess over.

  6. Akrasia,
    I'm guessing that Wizards doesn't have you or I in mind when they came up with this one. I've purchased their "starter" sets for 3 of my nephews and they are totally into D&D now. They've played on the D&D days and in several delves. But, I can't afford to buy 3 PHB's, DMG's, and Monster Manuals etc. Something to bridge the gap before they are ready for the big books is needed and will be appreciated.

  7. Tony, I don't recall claiming that anyone would be "scarred for life" by this box set. I just think that it is a disappointingly half-arsed product. With very little additional effort, WotC could have produced an actual 'basic' version of the game.

    As for the Holmes Basic Set, I suppose that kids these days have a lot more money than I did in 1980, but I definitely could not have "immediately" purchased everything AD&D-related that I could find back then. It took me a long time (or so it seemed to my ten year old self) to save up enough money to purchase the three AD&D hardbacks (PHB, DMG, and MM). In the meantime, the Holmes Basic Set kept me going. The same cannot be said for this box set.

  8. See I don't see this like that at all.

    This is an introductory set, aimed at people that don't know how to play yet and don't own any other books.

    Yes if you have D&D4 then there is nothing here for you, but you weren't the target audience anyway.

    See I was thrilled to see this. I have kids and a wife that want to learn how to play and don't want to learn a ton of rules. Yes, I could teach them something simple, I do have every D&D rule set there ever was, but this is perfect for them.

    There are some useful things in the box for the grizzled old vet like me, but not a lot.

    Levels 1-2 make sense in terms of the power structure of the game. Yes 1-3 would be nicer, but it's not a show-stopper. You can still get a lot of play out of two levels (which would by Wizard's def be about 20 encounters).

    I applaud Wizard's efforts to get more people into gaming and seeing that sometimes you need a product like this to do it.

    We are already here, we don't need to be introduced.

  9. They don't progress that much faster.

    And the other 3.5 basic sets didn't include character gen. There was a 'starter' set with a paperback PHB but it wasn't anything like this product. I don't think it had anything for the DM in it.

  10. Akrasia, If WOTC truly cared about what a handful of old-schoolers thought of the new red-box, they would embrace the expressed criticisms and find a way to bridge the expectation gap.

    But I think we both know: they do not, and therefore, will not.

    Tim, as you rightly point out, we're not the target demographic. WOTC isn't after our money.

    Besides, I've already ordered my Swords & Wizardry boxed set, why do I need another one?

  11. At whom are your comments directed, Dar? I certainly thought very little of the 3e starter sets, most of which did not even include information on creating characters. That's not the comparison class I have in mind at all (and I certainly do not consider 3e 'old school'). Rather, I have in mind the Basic D&D Sets of the 1980s (the Holmes, Moldvay and Mentzer sets). Those were real games. And character progression in classic Basic D&D was much slower than it is in 4e.

  12. I realize that this box set is not aimed at us old fogies (although the cover definitely seems to be trying to appeal to a sense of nostalgia for the old Mentzer Basic Set -- kids obviously would not make that association). Nonetheless, a set that ends at level 2 seems like a rip off to me (I know that if I were a kid I'd probably feel ripped off). . Maybe I'm not familiar enough with the way that 'encounters' work in 4e, but a game that lets you play through only 20 encounters strikes me as rather lame.

  13. I think the people who are saying it's old school, or borrowing from the OSR, or retro, or anything like that are really doing a disservice. The art is a call out to the old "Red Box", obviously, but aside form that this isn't being aimed at old school DnD gamers. It's being aimed at people who aren't gamers, or at least aren't DnD4e gamers, and who are interested in trying the game. It's a single purchase item for them to pick up (or be given) and to see the game.

    There's a lot of assuming/vagaries that go into determining how long it will last but as an example of the "average" group lets work it out. According to what little research I've seen (totally unscientific I know so, here is some salt) it plays once a week for 4-5 hours and will get through 2-3 encounters in that time. So that is somewhere between 7-10 game sessions worth of pre-packaged material, or around 2 moths of gaming. That's generally on par with an average video game and plenty of time to either get hooked or determine it's not for you. Which really, is what this set is for. I might feel there should be more in the books, but I don't know that ripped off is the right way to put it.

  14. I have the 4e box set that contains the 1st three books and I honestly have found them difficult to digest. I have wanted to try 4e ... I really have ... but the core books have proven to be inaccessible for me. I am really hoping that this beginner's set solves that problem and shows me a game that I can actually play.


    Jeff Moore

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).