One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, July 17, 2016

5e Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set Review

Image stolen from EN World
I’ve been really craving a chance to chuck some dice lately and I’ve really wanted to see what D&D 5e has to offer for sometime now. Thus on a whim I picked up a copy of the 5e Starter Set this week and I was surprised by what a great product it was. Like some kind of RPG prophet, I felt compelled to write this review and spread the good word.

What you Get
64-page adventure book (Lost Mines of Phandelver)
32-page rulebook
5 pre-generated characters
1 blank character sheet
6 really boring dice

The Physical Product
The box itself is solid and can be used to store notes, pencils, a handful of miniatures and whatever else (a box of Junior Mints, a cigarette for that time when you TPK the group, shark repellent, a peanut butter and jam sandwich…you get the point), you might want to store away for your next game session. As for the contents the production values are top notch. The pages are glossy and thick. (make sure you take good whiff of that new book smell). The art full color and what you would expect from one of the leaders in the RPG industry. The cartography is both functional and beautiful, I particularly like the inclusion of the hex map in the adventure booklet. The set of dice included are nothing special. It would have been cool if Wizards would have put a special symbol on the d20 like they do for the Magic: The Gathering life-counter dice.  

The Rules
The rules seem to cover pretty much all the major things you would expect to do in an average D&D session. The text is very much presented in a language meant to convey how to play and adjudicate the game to new players. I can speak from experience that learning to play earlier editions of D&D was a challenge. I feel like the rules and presentation succeed at helping to teach and learn the game if you don’t know people who already understand the basics of how to play an RPG. I like that the rules seem to be consistent with the actual published rules. Too often I’ve seen intro sets try to simplify the rules so much that it is as if you are playing a completely different game and therefore you’re left just as confused as to how to play the actual game if you do decide to buy the core rules. My biggest gripe is that aside from the five pre-generated characters that are included, there is no way to actually make a character. You are stuck advancing from levels 1-5 based on what is presented on those character sheets. This might not be the end of the world but it does limit the number of players to a maximum of six (five players + a Dungeon Master) and the re-playability of the box unless you download the basic rules online or buy the Players Handbook.   

The Lost Mine of Phandelver Intro Adventure
The starting adventure is what makes this product so great. The adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms some time around 1489 Dale Reckoning (the calendar system of setting). With the exception of a foray into Ravenloft, the Realms seems to be the default campaign setting for 5e and they take this more seriously than they did back when Greyhawk was the default setting of 3e. The Lost Mines starts off fairly linear but does branch off in the third chapter providing a more open world to explore. The adventure provides a great starting village of Phandalin and an enterprising DM could easily build off of the material provided here to continue a campaign for a long time. Another thing that I really like about this adventure is how easy it is to use as a starting point for any of the hardcover campaign books that Wizards has put out over the years. The only real issue is that characters would be starting those campaigns at levels higher than expected. This can be mitigated somewhat and one of the fun parts of running a game is modifying things to fit your group. Also from what I’ve seen the campaigns that follow are meant for experienced players and Dungeon Masters so starting at a higher level might not be a bad idea for novice players.

Over all I think that the 5e D&D Starter Set is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to test out the 5e rules, or as a great place to launch a new campaign. I’ve seen a lot of starter sets for a lot of different RPGs and this is by far one of the better ones. I’d argue that the Pathfinder Basic Set is better, because it provides the tools to make your own characters and other tools (monster tokens, a reusable battle map, etc.), but if you’re looking to play 5e D&D this is still a great place to start. I think the Lost Mines provides a great framework for new DM’s on how to go about creating their own material for future adventures or as an introduction to Wizards follow up campaign storylines like the Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil, Rage of Demons and so forth. As someone who plans to introduce the game to fresh meat for the Prince of Demons a group of noobs I think this is a great

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