The Saving Throw
D&D Essentials: Rules Compendium 2010
Breaking rocks in the hot sun. I fought the law and the law won.

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Overall Review
published by Wizards of the Coast reviewed by Scott Wachter
320 pages, 2010, $19.95
Game Setting 2
Art 4
Character Generation 1.5
Game Rules 2.5
Intelligibility 4
Review Scoring

The D&D Essentials Rules Compendium is very good at providing a service that may not be completely necessary for the 4th edition game line, while simultaneously doing a bad job at providing a necessary service for the Essentials series of books. The text is torn between being a rules lawyer's wet dream. It offers a definitive ruling for nearly any case imaginable, and being a quick and dirty replacement for a Dungeon Master's Guide in the same way the Heroes of books were to the Player's Handbook, and it suffers for that.

The majority of the text is dedicated to rewriting the rules of 4th edition as unambiguously as possible, taking the time to explain in painstaking detail corner cases and odd overlaps of different mechanics. This is dry as toast in most sections and approaches redundancy in the case of defining some terms like 'creature' or 'target' or 'dead' in great detail. Anyone who has been seriously concerned with how multiple movement speeds interact or what order to resolve ongoing damage effects should strongly consider this book. In addition to all this the text is well organized with one section progressing to the next logically, all while being heavily cross-indexed. The book also features a handy glossary of common terms and even recurring rules phrasings. All this makes the rules reference aspect of the book incredibly useful.

The skill section is just as dry, but well explained, as the rest of the book, with some really great tips on how to use each skill in a non-standard way. This is refreshing in an introductory D&D product when skills are assumed to be entirely self-explanatory. Frequent readers of Saving Throw will notice that the previous sentence was copied and pasted from the review of Heroes of the Fallen Lands, but considering that the skill section in The Rules Compendium is word for word identical to that book it is a fair for me to recycle as well. It’s understandable that the designers have to cover the same material across multiple books but busting out the ctrl+c in the same gameline, particularly one where the expectation is to buy the entire line, is just shameful. Also included are a few simple tables of traps and treasures. While it is just enough to run a game but not quite enough to really get creative, it is still nice to have them.

The book does offer some game mastering advice, but compared to the wonderful advice section of 4th edition's DMG it just comes across as shallow in comparison. What the advice chapter does right is the setting section. The setting of the Nentir Vale itself is the boring vanilla fantasy typical of D&D, but unlike many other D&D settings the majority of the setting is left open specifically for dungeon masters to fill in with their own ideas. What it also does is fully outline 4e's setting design principles, something not done since the pre-release materials. Not only do these principles fully embrace the D&D's implied setting, but enumerating them gives would-be DMs a better grip on how to create their own material within 4th edition's style and tone.

The production values, as with most WOTC products, are unmatched. The art is astounding, with full page action spreads that leap off the page demanding attention. The diagrams and charts are well-placed, clearly legible, and always useful for demonstrating the intent of the rules text.

At the end of the day, The Rules Compendium excels at being a quick easy rules reference; as it is well organized and clearly written. If a rules ever dispute ever arose at my table I would reach for this before a Player’s Handbook or DMG. However, its occasional ventures into game mastering advice feels somewhat out of place and woefully incomplete, and much like Heroes of the Fallen Lands it compensates for this lack by reminding which book that should have been bought if you’d wanted that sort of thing, and would have been better off left out of the manual entirely.

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