It’s been a month shy of 2 years since the last D&D release, so anticipation and expectations were pretty high for this release. I was lucky enough to get a review copy and to give the new Starter Set a run through. This review is not of the D&D Next or 5th edition rules set. That’s something that I will need the entire core books to really evaluate and give a fair opinion. This is only for the D&D Starter Set with a little mention of the D&D Basic Rules PDF.
The box has a couple of things inside. First is dice, a full set of blue dice waits in the box so that no one at the table needs to buy their own, as long as they’re willing to share. Joining the dice are paperback manuals, one covering the basic rules, and the other with the adventure “Lost Mines of Phandelver”. Finally you have 5 pregenerated characters, two fighters, a cleric, a rogue and a wizard. Everything you need to get started on your own adventure.
The rulebook is well laid out. The rules are generally easy to find and with a couple of exceptions, easy to follow the intent and meaning. The system handles a little leveling up, but not much, and it only takes you to level 5 before suggesting you get the Player’s Handbook. There aren’t any character generation rules, so the 5 pregenerated characters are all you have to work with.
The dice are blue, and they’re missing the D% out of the set. Normally I’d let this go, but this is an introduction to gaming in general, and while this system doesn’t require a D%, others do. I think it’s poor form to not include the full set of dice. I might be picking at a small thing here, but it definitely stood out to me.
The adventure looks interesting. I think the story given is a great introduction, and takes place in The Forgotten Realms, so it’s nice to see the Starter Set relying on the most popular setting available. The encouters are laid out with just a couple of notes, and I found that off putting. I miss the days of the RPGA Living Forgotten Realms adventures that had a whole write up for each encounter with tactics and the monster stat blocks listed in the write up. This just doesn’t capture that same feel and all the monsters are in the back alphabetically, so there will be some flipping back and forth.
The adventure is long enough that you should be able to get a total of 5 games, each lasting around 4 hours, out of this box. If your group is anything like mine when we learn a new system, it will take longer than that. However, there are enough monsters in this adventure to make up your own encounters after you’re done with the adventure.
I was disappointed by the monster stat blocks. The went from 4th Edition where everything was crisp and lean and easy to find, back to a 3rd Edition look, where there’s a lot of information to look through before you find what you need. It’s not the end of the world, but I don’t know that it’s the best way to handle things either.
Overall, I’m neither impressed or disappointed. This box is for new players, to D&D or to RPGs at all. Experienced players are potentially going to be frustrated with the lack of choices for their characters while leveling and in character choices in general. Want to play a human rogue, you can’t. Want to play an elf fighter, not an option. It’s a standard starter set, but it could have been more. It definitely could have been a lot worse too.
If you’re an experienced player, this probably isn’t for you. When used in conjunction with the D&D Basic Rules PDF, it’s enough to get you started, but it’s really just a huge tease for when the Player’s Handbook releases on 8/19/14. I can’t recommend this to most gamers I know, because they’ve played D&D before. If someone said to me “I want to get into D&D” this is what I would point them to. I give the D&D Starter Set a 3 out of 5.