Monday, 21 July 2014

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set – the unboxing!

Company: Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro

Year: 2014

Well, the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has finally arrived. I’m still yet to play 4th Edition, but at this late stage it seems very unlikely that I’m going to. Never mind – on to bigger and better things with the new Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set!  
So, what’s in the box?

It includes:

*a 32-page booklet – the “Starter Set Rulebook”
The starter rulebook is for players and DMs alike. It seems the basic rules are more or less the same as I’ve been familiar with previously (i.e. roll a d20 and add a modifier) but there are a couple of new mechanics like “Advantage and Disadvantage”. Character creation rules aren’t included, but you can get them into the Basic Rules download, which will take you all the way up to level 20.
It looks easy enough for existing players to pick up, and reasonably friendly for new players. But for anyone who’s never played before, it’s still probably best to have someone take you through it.       

*a 64-page booklet – an adventure called “Lost Mine of Phandelver”
This adventure takes players from levels 1-5, and is set in the famous Forgotten Realms, along the Sword Coast. Greyhawk was the default setting in 3.5, but given that there’s now been around 49823592375903749235957903 sourcebooks and novels published in the Realms, it’s quite possible that they’ll change it over. We’ll see when the Player’s Handbook arrives in September.    
Both books are softcover, with glossy paper and stapled together. They’ll crease and crumple pretty quickly, I assume, but they should last at least the next few months.  

*5 premade characters – Two human fighters, a High Elf wizard, a Halfling rogue and a Dwarf cleric.
From a cursory glance at the rules and the Basic Rules download, it looks like the number of basic races and classes have been culled back from 3.5. As a barbarian player, I’ve got mixed feelings about this, but then again, there may be a fuller complement of character creation tools included in the Player’s Handbook.
Hopefully they don’t try and split these character classes across a bunch of supplements. The thing I really liked about 3.5 was that it played up fantasy archetypes very well – 4th edition had too much faffing about with weird creatures and classes. New players might say “I like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings – playing as a ranger sounds good!” I don’t think any new player has ever said “Yeah, I want to be a half-dragon who specialises in throwing axes and I a bit of a fighter but mostly a spellcaster who specialises in ancient orc spells!” I exaggerate, but it was one of the things that bugged me. Hopefully the new edition leans more to the 3.5 end of things.        

*6 dice – a d20, a d12, a d10, a d8, a d6 and a d4. They’re a midnight blue colour, with a lighter shade of blue marbled through. They’re nice, and it’s always good to have another set of dice.
There’s also a flyer for D & D Encounters, which seems to be something that you do down at your local card/games store. Probably something like Friday Night Magic, I assume. This is probably a thing that’s been running for ages, but has passed me by. 
Everything comes packaged in a black, slightly glossy finish box. The illustration is great, with a massive green dragon taking on a warrior. It’s a nice mix of retro and modern fantasy art. This illustration is replicated in smaller form on the book covers, and is a little more zoomed out.     

The Verdict
At first glance, the Starter Set seems a little bare-bones in comparison with the 4th edition Starter Box, or the revamped Red Box. But closer examination shows that while it lacks some of the cosmetic extras, the adventure that’s included is substantially larger than previous starter sets I’ve seen. I’ll take this over nice – but unused – map tiles any day.

Actually, the absence of map, tiles or tokens may indicate that Wizards is moving away from the miniature-based gameplay that 3rd (and from what I’ve seen of 4th) encouraged. As someone who’s never really been a miniature-based player (or DM), I tend to think this is a good thing, though it’s bound to upset a few players. It will be interesting to see if the Player’s Handbook that’s coming in a couple of months includes the relevant rules, or whether it will be relegated to a separate expansion book further down the line.

Overall, the whole presentation of the box is great, and I hope it encourages many new players to join. I’m keen to get into trying out the new rules, and running the game with a group of players. But will it tempt me away from my beloved 3.5? Well, we’ll see when the core books – and specifically the DM’s Guide — arrive in the next few months! 
(Just as a side note, Liv Tyler seems to have turned up in the rulebook too)


  1. Liv Tyler also seems to watch a lot of 'Ancient Aliens'...