I got my grubby hands on this book, and well, what can I say about it? First, that my poor DMG1 will go off to the back of a shelf somewhere, never to be seen again. This book makes my DMG completely irrelevant. And it does the same for the non-classes portions of the PHB1 as well. And since I have DDI, well, that book is now irrelevant too.
A lot has been said about Essentials, and for the most part I’ve stayed out of the whole thing. I’m not going to give an opinion about things I haven’t really seen. But now that I own the Compendium, guess what? I’ll give an opinion. It’s 4e. It’s the same exact game. The rules are the same, but presented in a better way.
The first thing that stood out was the format of the book. It’s a 6×9 softcover, reminiscent of an indie game or something similar. I love this format, especially for a book that’s meant to be flipped through over and over again at the table. This book is a must at your table, do not underestimate how useful it is.
So I’ll give an example of how some content’s presentation has been updated. Lets look at Skill Challenges. Skill Challenges are the same, they range from a complexity of 1 through 5, same number of successes vs. failures, but they add a few new things to the presentation of it. Now, the Skill Challenge table shows what kind of checks you should be using when designing Skill Challenges of varying complexities.
So for example, a complexity 1 Skill Challenge will typically be made up of 4 moderate DC’s, while a complexity 4 (10 successes) will be made up of 7 moderate and 3 hard DC’s. Having this info at hand makes designing the mechanics of a Skill Challenge a little easier.
They’ve also added something to the design of Skill Challenges: advantages. I’ve never seen this mentioned before, so I’ll assume it’s new to the Rules Compendium. Advantages are meant to be ways that the party can gain an upper hand during high complexity (3+) challenges. They present four advantages, and state that “for each success beyond 6 required in a challenge, one of the following advantages should be available. An example advantage would be “A success against an easy DC counts as a success against a moderate DC”. It seems they’ve tweaked Skill Challenges, yet again, and made it easier for a party of adventurers to succeed on higher complexity ones.
Another neat thing I found in the book was in the skills section. Each skill now includes a sidebar with ways that a creative player may want to use that particular skill, and the DC type involved. So for example, the Religion skill can be used to “Soothe grief-stricken or panicked peasants by chanting a hymn (hard DC)”. This falls under the idea that although 4e has a limited skill selection when compared to its predecessor, the skills are usable if the player gets creative, and the Rules Compendium shows that.
There are also a whole bunch of charts now. There is a random element to the treasure parcels, and interestingly enough the term “treasure parcel” isn’t used. The much talked about magic item rarity rules are in here as well, and yes, whether a party finds a common or rare item is a random roll as well.
So in closing, this book is a must not only if you are going to be running Essentials-type 4e, but regular 4e as well. All the errata has been incorporated, (I finally understand mounted combat) and it is laid out in an easily absorbed manner. I highly recommend picking up this book, and putting away the good old DMG and PHB1’s that you have laying around.