Published on July 11th, 2014 | by Gregg Miller0
Gregg Explains: D&D 5th Edition Starter Set
Once More, With Feeling
Starter boxes for Dungeons & Dragons have brought me excitement and joy in the last two editions. 3rd edition had an impressive collection of adventures, multi-colored dice, a multi-use map, and tokens to get you started. I used the back of the map through my entire time of running games in 3rd edition, and WotC’s semi-reboot, 3.5 Edition. When 4th edition launched, we had a change in how our encounters were physically built. Each scene was a well scripted, and planned out room that you put together with sturdy cardboard room pieces.
Building Dungeon Tiles would get you excited for buying the map pack products to expand your collection. The products released definitely gave a feeling of actually being there, a “this is where you are, and what you actually see” kind of feel. While 3rd Edition’s tokens for monsters and characters could pull double duty (skeleton on one side, goblin on the other), 4th Edition had clearly marked token faces for Bloodied and Unbloodied, which means that you had one token for every unit.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (also branded as D&D Next) is on the horizon, and like previous editions, there’s a starter box to get your feet wet with the new system, and introduce new and old players to a fun group game. In a sense, each can be viewed as sort of a board game and casual style of playing D&D. Your characters are already pre-made, the rules are light and simple, and pretty much are the majority of what you’re deal with, even at max level.
This new starter set comes complete with a rules primer, a adventure book that will take the players from level 1 to level 5, a set of six dice that are all the same color, but you have one each of the various kinds of dice you will possibly roll for this adventure (a second d10 is not provided, since there is no need for a “d100”) and five already made characters that are gender neutral. There is also a more-durable blank copy of the character sheet, so you can make copies for yourself if you choose to combine the Starter Box with the more expanded rules PDF that Wizards of the Coast provided the day the box set came out.
The Starter Set Rulebook has all you need to learn about how conflict resolution is handled in this new edition. The big new mechanic is called Advantage and Disadvantage. In fact, it seems there aren’t a lot of plus and minus modifiers to the game. Instead of doing a bunch of addition/subtraction, when either of the two situations apply you roll two dice, take either the highest or lowest, depending on which applies to your character. Spells are outlined for the wizard and cleric classes within the level range the set pertains to. Gear and equipment details are also provided, since a trade hub town is involved. Another mechanic, Inspiration, is a roleplay system that rewards players with a use of Advantage in a future roll. You get Inspiration by playing your character well, both their good and bad aspects.
The adventure book, Lost Mine of Phandelver, is set in the Forgotten Realms setting, near Neverwinter. The Realms is one of the single most popular settings for the line, and there’s synergy between the two online games with this release. The adventure is great for brand new Dungeon Masters, providing pointers and help. That isn’t to say this is not important for veterans. There’s lots of side information to help you know how to help guide the players, or deal with some of the unexpected questions or actions the players could spring on you. The maps on the pages are great for marking all the secret and additional information the Dungeon Master will need to know. Traps, secret doors, hidden items, and more.
There’s not much to say about the dice. I did prefer the multi-color dice set that came with the 3rd edition set. I feel that for brand new players that don’t know that there’s other dice beyond the d6, that color coding the dice was a large help. But, they are a nice non-bland pattern and color, so they can be a welcome addition to anyone’s collection. Unless you have sworn revenge on the color blue, then you should be fine with the included dice, though you may want to grab a set that’s more appealing from your local game shop.
The pre-made characters have their races already determined, as well as the new Inspiration system choices completed. The best thing I find about these characters, is they are all gender neutral. It’s like playing Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, except the entire party can be whatever gender. It is possible to have more flexible characters, if you use the PDF rules expansion released by Wizards of the Coast. Another thing I’ve noticed, there only seems to be four classes, but a lot of customization. Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard make the roster, but there’s lots of options that seem to be available when the Player’s Handbook finally comes out.
Now for my massive and major complaint of this box set. In the previous two box sets of the game came with tokens to represent the players and monsters. In 3rd edition it was a rather thin card stock, while 4th edition had a thicker card stock meant for heavier usage. I’d honestly say the 5th Edition box set is more for a veteran Dungeon Master, who has some left-over supplies from playing in previous editions. Otherwise, you will need to round up some additional supplies to play this game properly. There isn’t even a flimsy, glossy finished paper square grid “map” that players could use to set their board game playing pieces on to have their High Elf Wizard mini square off against the hoard of goblin meeples.
For the $20 price point, this set seems okay, and it’s an okay starting point for brand new players, who this is supposed to be for. Unfortunately, I think this box set is more of a “Hey, old veterans who gave up! Please come back!” kind of set. For brand new players, I’d almost say skip this, unless you have some supplies accessible to deal with what the set doesn’t provide.