Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Debut MSRP: $19.99 USD, $23.99 CAD
After a middling launch of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Wizards of the Coast had borne fierce competition out of rivalling tabletop RPG companies, striving to bring back the creative RPG sensibilities that were captured at the heart of D&D 3.5 Edition. The shift of moving from a hardcore RPG mindset to one that would try to capture the MMORPG audience was a mind-boggling one; a move that had left its mark on the company. I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to something new coming out of the company.
Not only did Wizards of the Coast fully deliver in rekindling the Dungeons & Dragons experience with the 5th Edition Starter Set, but found an excellent means of laying out the foundation of the tabletop RPG that lets anybody and their grandmother jump into the fun and get the basic tenets of the game.
What’s In The Box??!?
The Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set comes with the bare necessities required to start a prepared mini-campaign adventure, keeping in mind the startup time required to understand and begin to play once the box has been opened. Inside the box contains a 64-page adventure book, titled “Lost Mine of Phandelver,” 5 pre-generated characters that include the 1st page of the full-form character sheet and a writeup about your character’s class and race, a 32-page rulebook explaining the core of the starter set gameplay (plus general rules) and 6 game dice. Also, there’s some neat stickers if you’re into that sort of thing.
At $20 (in the US), it’s the perfect price point for accessibility. Newbies who’ve never played the game can read through and understand their characters and what it means to roleplay using your imagination, especially with the game’s new personality and backstory-related gameplay mechanics. Better yet, 3.5 Edition holdouts can look at all of the rule changes that exist and decide for themselves whether or not they want to continue forward without dropping money in the third digits.
5th Edition seems to be an ode to the past, opting to use the best parts of previous editions and aggregating them into one collective works.
However, when I mentioned “basic tenets” before, I really meant it. Compared to other starter boxes for other tabletop RPG games, the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set does not come with a battle map, nor any sort of miniatures. Most of what Dungeon Masters (DMs) will be doing to illustrate the settings and battle arenas is to write it out on scrap pieces of paper, with characters represented by foreign objects, or by using your own maps and miniatures acquired from previous play. I would have preferred a $30 option that at least has a basic battle map, optimally, but the $20 Starter Set serves its purpose well at its price.
Playing Out An Adventure
In order to test the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set out properly, I asked some friends to join me one evening to start out the box’s pre-determined adventure book in a live setting. It consisted of a “seasoned” player and two who have spent all but three collective sessions between them playing tabletop RPG’s in any manner. Among my usual group, I had usually been a player that served as the “rules lawyer”, keeping the balance of the game’s nature in check. I had not often acted as the DM of a campaign before, only trying my hand once before my ne’er-do-well group had taken the wheels off the story and burned into chaos.
Thankfully, the Starter Set’s adventure book made it easy to act as the DM, providing a backstory for the characters, why they were travelling as a group and where their “intended” destination lied. Our time involved a goblin ambush, fighting through a hideout and exploring the town of Phandalin. The 5th Edition battle system is explained in simple terms that let the new players understand how to organize a marching order, who attacks what and how to question enemies by knocking them out without killing them. Mainly, it seemed that Wizards’ goal was to have new players understand that even in combat, Dungeons & Dragons is a roleplaying game, not a hack-and-slash-with-imagination game.
This is best explained by the quest lines available in town. Helping out others, confronting banshees to answer delicate questions and more allows the players to deeply integrate themselves in the story, while earning the XP and equipment rewards that a video game player would normally want to earn by bashing objects. Additionally, by injecting the basic rules made available online by Wizards of the Coast, the playing party were able to solve problems using creative means of approach.
Click “Next” to learn more about the set, as well as my final score.