Review: D&D Starter Set

D&D Starter Set Cover

Review by Guest Blogger Kelly Davis

The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Box (MSRP $19.99, Preorder Amazon $12.65 at time of this review) is worth the price for groups wishing to try the new version of D&D.  I would recommend only one box purchased per group, as the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules are available as free download from the WOTC website.

The large starter box is mostly filled with air, but your printed copy of the basic rules might help fill the empty space. Inside, you will find a 32 page rulebook, a 64 page adventure book, 5 pregenerated characters, one blank character sheet (intended for use in the D&D Encounters organized play program) and a set of polyhedral dice.   The rest of the space is taken up by a cardstock spacer.

The rulebook covers what you would expect. A brief introduction to the hobby of roleplaying, dice conventions and a brief introduction to all the rules, equipment and spells that the players would ever need to complete the 4 adventures in the other booklet.

The Adventure booklet contains 4 linked smaller adventures, each probably playable in two 4 hour sessions depending on how your group operates. They are written to help the new DM, with hints at enemy tactics, hooks on getting your characters into the adventure proper, and the back of the book features a mini-monster manual for any creatures found in the adventures. The four adventures are designed to take a group of 4-5 characters from 1st to 5th level.

The adventures are decent. They give the characters options, it’s not simply a set of encounters done one after the other (like 4E published adventures seemed to be). There are consequences for actions – perhaps being too noisy alerts the enemy, or catching them by surprise allows for some tactical advantages.

The game comes with 5 pregens. 2 very different fighters, a dwarven cleric, an elven wizard and a halfling thief. Each character has a few sentences that describe their personality, background and some character flaws that, if roleplayed, gain minor advantages later on. The reverse side of the character sheets feature info on the race and class  of the given character and the pre-selected improvements that occur with each new level. This takes a lot of the guess work out and allows people to play without even looking at the basic rules or the forthcoming Players Handbook.

I really like these pregens! They are likable characters who are well thought out. Some of your players may want to keep them rather than build their own once you get into the Basic rules.  There is also one single sided blank character sheet with a blurb about the Encounters program on the other side. With the popularity of Living Campaigns and Pathfinder Society, can you blame WOTC for starting 5E’s organized play program before the Player’s Handbook is out?

The dice are nice, too. They are a marbled blue with white inking. They are slightly more ‘precision edge’ than your typical rounded/polished dice, although they are very light – perhaps made of a cheaper plastic?

All of this in a study box (like the old days!) for a small price.  What could have been added? Maybe some stand up cardboard minis?  Sure, but the new approach to D&D makes ‘theater of the mind” OK again, so don’t want to send the wrong message.   I would have liked the two booklets to have more substantial, cardstock covers , too.

So, I recommend this as a purchase for your group. Everyone doesn’t need one. Only one box – for the DM of your group , should be fine.

Kelly Davis has been playing roleplaying games for most of his 40 something years. Most of that time has been spent as a game master.  He works as a contract system analyst for General Motors and is happily married with two creative kids who he is hoping will take up his hobbies.  His favorite games include D&D (all editions), Gamma World, Savage Worlds and Dungeonslayers!