So, like many an eager gamer I was up late last night so that I could be there to pick up the shiny new Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set at midnight. This product is meant to be an introductory game for new players. Since it is also the first official look we’re getting at the finished, final D&D 5th Edition ruleset, I think that a lot of gamers are considering picking this up, even if they’ve been playing D&D for twenty years. Should they?
Note: What follows is my review of the product. It is not a review of the ruleset; I will do that with Basic D&D and the new Player’s Handbook.
The Starter Set comes with the following
- 32-page Starter Set Rulebook
- 64-page Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure
- A set of 6 polyhedral dice [d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20]
- 5 pregenerated characters
- A blank one-page character sheet
The rulebook and the adventure book are both printed on glossy paper without a cardstock cover, just like Murder in Baldur’s Gate and the other print Sundering adventures. I do think that this makes them feel a little cheaper than it would if they had a sturdy cardstock cover. The printing is gorgeous, though, with bright colors and clear text. I’m not 100% sold on the new page look, but it could still grow on me.
The Starter Set Rulebook has four chapters and a one-page Conditions appendix. There’s a basic How to Play chapter, a chapter of basic combat rules, a chapter of non-combat rules (like resting and rewarding XP), and a chapter of Wizard and Cleric spells. As expected, there is no chapter on character creation, or race, or class, or feats, or backgrounds; any necessary information about those areas has been placed on the pregenerated PCs. If you’re playing with just the starter set, you’re playing with PCs provided or not at all.
I haven’t yet had a chance to read through all of Lost Mines of Philandear, but a quick skim reveals it to be a pretty standard D&D adventure. It takes place near Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms, which is WotC’s new go-to city for the setting. The very first encounter [spoiler alert!] is a goblin ambush, which is probably one of the most common first encounters every new gamer faces their first time out (the other one being the kobold ambush, of course). From there, the PCs are given old ruins to explore, bandit camps to infiltrate, dungeons to delve and, yes, even a dragon to fight.
The dice set is of standard quality and is useful for anyone who doesn’t own a set of polyhedrals, but I think anyone who wants to play through the entire adventure campaign will quickly want to add to their collection. There’s only one of each die in the set, and no 10’s place percentile die. I am surprised that they didn’t at least choose to include two d20s, since advantage and disadvantage are such core concepts in the rules. I like the pearlized blue they chose, though.
The pre-generated PCs are on a nice, heavy paper that should withstand a few trips through the copy machine (because of course you’re not handing these originals over to the players). The blank sheet is limited in its usefulness if all you’re playing with is the Starter Set; it’s best for recopying characters as they level.
So, here’s the vital question: Should you by the Starter Set? Honestly, if you’re an experienced player or DM, there’s nothing here that’s really going to add to your 5th Edition experience. What is the Starter Set giving an experienced DM and a gaming group full of seasoned players? The Basic Set will have more, fuller rules. So what is the Starter Set giving a seasoned gaming group? Well, the Starter Adventure is interesting and it’s always good to have new written material, especially for a brand new edition. I highly doubt, however, that most DMs will ever actually RUN it, so it’s $20 reading material, nothing else.
I suppose you’d at least getting a new set of dice out of it (she says halfheartedly, looking at the giant jar of unused polyhedral dice on the shelf nearby).
This is product made for new players, and it’s a very good product for new players. I bought it, and I am glad I did, because I have a few ten-year-olds whom I would like to introduce the game to and the Starter Set saves me a lot of time and gives them a much easier rulebook to navigate. I also know boys and girls that are about to have birthdays, turning ten or eleven or twelve, and I think this will be a gift I give some of them. That’s why it exists, and it’s well suited for that, and so I commend WotC on a fine first product for the next iteration of D&D.
Now, hurry up with the good stuff! August seems so far away …