The 2010 product seminar, for the first 3/4s of the year at least, contained almost all products we heard about at GenCon. One of the biggest surprises, aside from changes in the minis line and the announcement of a boxed set 4e Gamma World, was the line known as “Dungeons & Dragons Essentials.”
During the last quarter, WotC will roll out a product line designed for new players. The game’s core is what was being called the “4e Red Box.” The prototype image was styled after the original D&D Red Box, and contains enough for a few players to play (including some tokens and maps), but can also be played solo. What was interesting to me was the “walkthrough” approach to the rules, where the book is designed to come with you to learn the rules as you play. Also neat is that the choices your characters make during the actual game determine what class you are, instead of generating a character first.
The Red Box is supposed to be the clear, introductory, “I’ve never played D&D before and want to learn” set. An emphasis was given by the WotC staffers that the bookstores (since before 4e and well into 3e) have had trouble selling D&D books because it’s not easy to recommend what new players should buy.
In September, we’ll also see the Rules Compendium which will be just the rules portions of the game available for quick reference. Like most of the books in the D&D Essentials set, the book will be $20 and a 6″x9″ softcover format. They made it a point to say that these weren’t “dumbed down” rules, but the actual 4e rules, just laid out and presented differently, so I could see this book being useful for a “4e Core” player… especially since the book incorporates the errata.
Following that are products that are clearly separated. There is the Heroes of Fallen Lands which contains rules for the players, as well as a sampling of some of the more classic classes and races. It too is designed as more of a “Walkthrough” approach to character generation instead of just picking from lists of powers and feats. They did state that the builds for the classes would be all new, and most of the feats except for some of the very essentials would be new as well, so they are still introducing new elements to the game through these products. Released at the same time, there is the Dungeon Master’s Kit, which is a big box that contains the Rules Compendium, tokens, maps, advice on how to DM, and adventures.
Then there is Heroes of Forgotten Kingdoms, which is another player book, but introduces some of the more 4e-specific stuff like Dragonborn and Warlocks as additional character options. Also included in the Essentials line are several Dungeon Tile master sets, which are sets designed to remain in-print, and will be the primary source for including maps in published adventures when they want to use dungeon tiles, so you don’t have to hunt down two of an out-of-print set to build a map they show you.
All told, the line will be 10 products this year (including the dungeon tiles), and then will be done (though I would suppose there’s always room for more depending on sales and demand.) In the Q&A afterward, it was clarified that they were not abandoning the 4e core product line/trade dress/etc. but just did not have the manpower to work on both for the end of this year. Additionally, the DDI tools (like character builder) will “work to support the analogue game line” which can easily be taken to mean there will be, at least, an “Essentials Mode.”
So that’s the big surprise product announcement from D&D XP- a small product line designed for new players. The only downside? Those of us who aren’t new players won’t get much from September to December… unless we want to go play Gamma World.
If you’d like to look back on the coverage of the seminar, you can check out Geek’s Dream Girl’s LiveBlog of D&D XP which has all the updates from the seminar in the archives.