Dungeons And Dragons Starter Set Review
The Dungeons And Dragons Starter Set was released on 15th July 2014, which makes this review a tad late, but the flipside is that I’ve had a chance to play the adventure and replay it a few times.
The result is, I hope, an in-depth review that will give you a very good idea on what to expect if you are thinking of picking this adventure up.
As the name of this product suggests, the D&D Starter Set is designed to introduce you to the world of D&D.
Everything you need to get started is included here, including a well written adventure spanning five character levels.
The adventure begins when you are hired by a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker to escort a wagon to the town of Phandalin.
You have been promised payment upon successful delivery of the goods and Gundren himself has gone to the town ahead of you. The journey is uneventful as you travel along the Triboar trail, but along the way you come across a pair of dead horses blocking your path…
(Some spoilers are included below)
The Starter Set comes in a box which contains the following:
- A rule book.
- Adventure module designed for four or five players.
- A bag of polyhedral dice.
- Six character sheets (2 fighters, 2 rogues, 1 cleric and 1 wizard).
Each character sheet contains all the information needed to play the character, such as pre-determined personality traits, bonds and flaws, as well as a short passage of text describing the background of the character and their goals and motivations. Some of this background information ties itself nicely to the setting of the adventure itself.
Each character also has six pre-determined ability scores that represent their natural aptitude, strengths and weaknesses. These ability scores come into play often, determining your ability to perform tasks such as opening locked doors without a key, climbing walls, deceiving guards and sensing danger before it strikes.
Some fields are left blank, such as the name of the character and the gender, so there is a little room for customisation.
The adventure included in this starter set is called The Lost Mine of Phandelver.
The book, which is meant for a Dungeon Master’s eyes only, begins by giving you an introduction to the adventure and an overview on how to play the role of the DM (Dungeon Master) effectively, including setting DCs (difficulty class) for ability checks to determine the success of a task and a quick primer on terminology used in the book.
It also gives a brief introduction of The Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and includes a beautiful map showing a small part of the world where this adventure takes place.
The player can make up their own plot hooks and reasons for travelling to this part of the world or the DM can use the adventure hook provided.
When you are ready to play, each player is encouraged to introduce their characters to the other players and their relation to the the dwarf, Gundren Rockseeker. The idea behind this is to allow each character to contribute to the story of the adventure and immerse themselves in the imaginary world created for them.
It is also suggested that the players decide on a marching order: who goes first, who is last, single file or not, and so on.
Once that has been done, the adventure begins with the characters getting ambushed by goblins. From there onwards, the players will play out the events that will eventually lead the would-be-heroes to the Lost Mine of Phandelver…
We Be Adventurers, Let Us Adventure…
This adventure is designed to be played straight out of the box, though it helps if the DM can read through the adventure beforehand to ensure the adventure runs smoothly.
The adventurers are immediately called into action, as the very first thing that happens to them is a goblin ambush.
The book gives a step by step guide on how to run this encounter, which is great for those learning to play D&D for the first time.
The game assumes no miniatures are used, though that’s not to say you can’t use them at all. Maps are provided for some of the Dungeons or areas, so they can either be photocopied or the DM can draw a rough map showing only the parts the characters can see.
As this is an ambush staged by capable sneaks, it’s quite likely most of the characters will begin the encounter surprised. However, the likelihood of this is reduced if the characters have the presence of mind to actively scan the area for trouble.
Some characters are better at detecting danger than others, so you will find that some characters will be surprised and some aren’t, although the random nature of dice rolling means that things don’t always go quite the way you would expect.
Speaking from experience, this can be a pretty tough encounter and it’s possible that one or two heroes will fall in this battle.
It’s not the end of the world when that happens, since the protagonists are not as easy to kill outright compared to previous editions. Provided your cleric is still standing, any fallen party members can be revived during or after the battle.
Assuming you survive the ambush, the adventure continues and you soon find yourselves exploring the lair of the goblins.
This is a nice introductory ‘dungeon’ that can be completed within a single session of play. As well as a healthy amount of combat and action, opportunities for roleplaying and negotiation are also present.
While it is possible to complete this adventure by hacking your way through it, staying your sword hand from time to time can also get the job done, sometimes with less effort.
Along the way, you will meet NPCs (non-player characters) that will help drive the plot forwards, so the players aren’t just left wondering what to do next once they’ve cleared an area.
In order to prevent an NPC from being just another random creature, the book suggests mannerisms that the DM can imitate and act out when roleplaying some of the NPCs and creatures to give them some personality.
In some cases, the DM is given some stock phrases a monster can shout out in the midst of combat.
All this is designed to help the players to become more immersed in the world presented in the adventure.
If you prefer a less theatrical approach, ‘descriptive roleplaying’ can be used instead.
When you reach town, you have opportunities for even more roleplaying – entering town with your sword swinging would hardly be productive.
Again, the role of the DM is to facilitate this and the book does a great job of guiding the DM by giving him or her tips on how to roleplay the NPCs and drive the plot forward if the players are stuck.
The background information on the character sheets mentions a few names to help keep the story rolling along. For example, the cleric’s background suggests you should seek out a contact called Daran Edermath who has some information on one of the factions present in the town of Phandalin.
Seeking these contacts out will open possibilities for more adventure, exciting encounters and side quests which is great for gaining experience as well as some much needed income. Even the greatest heroes have to eat, after all.
Without giving too much away, it would be in your best interest to seek out more NPCs in the town other than the ones mentioned in your character sheets in order to prolong the adventure.
Explore the town fully and get to know the community – now is not the time to be shy. It will pay dividends in the long run.
Combat in the game can be kept minimal by groups who favour roleplay. On the other hand, nothing quite beats the satisfaction you get from cracking a few skulls along the way and showing just how awesome you are.
Not every creature in the adventure can be reasoned with, so sooner or later you’re going to have to fight.
Combat in D&D 5e is fun and far more streamlined than in previous editions of the game, yet it can also be challenging and rewarding.
Typically, each dungeon will have its share of minions that serve an overlord or leader, comprising relatively straightforward encounters for characters who know what they are doing.
Other encounters are more challenging and may consist of a mix of creatures, tougher race of creatures or a single powerful unique creature.
Resource management is important as it is relatively rare to come out of most battle completely unscathed.
Charging headlong into danger is rarely a good idea and the greatest satisfaction can be gained from doing a little scouting, planning your strategies beforehand and executing it all to perfection.
Then there are the leaders and unique creatures that you need to be deal. Occasionally, you may not need to face these in combat at all if you can avoid it and some of these creatures may even try to avoid you.
Every character is useful in combat and it’s very rare that a character will be left standing around with nothing to do. Unlike previous editions of D&D, a wizard who has run out of spells can still contribute adequately using a crossbow or cantrip.
Knockouts can be very frequent, though death itself can usually be averted to the cleric’s ability to preserve a dying character’s life with a simple cantrip.
Even without a cleric, the chance of surviving is still quite relatively high compared to earlier editions of D&D. The death roll mechanic means that a character has 50% chance of either surviving or crossing over to the afterlife.
However, it’s worth noting that a monster can hasten your character’s death by kicking him while he’s down, so it is best to avoid getting knocked out entirely.
Overall, combat in this game is adequately challenging, yet forgiving enough to serve as a gentle and fun introduction to the game of D&D 5e for new players – not so lethal as to put off the players from playing the game again, but not so easy that players should expect to overwhelm all enemies before them.
- Does a great job easing new dungeon masters into their new roles.
- Very easy to look up rules, monster and item entries, etc.
- Very good value for money.
- Good replay value.
As mentioned before, the story and action rolls along nicely and the rulebook is a handy quick reference guide for when you get stuck and need to know how to adjudicate a rule.
There is a healthy amount of content in the Starter Set for the price, so you will get your money’s worth.
In addition, a sign of a well-made product is the replayability value and the Lost Mines of Phandelver is an adventure that you may find yourself going back to a few more times after the first.
Once you become more comfortable in running the game as a dungeon master, there is a lot of room for creativity. Certain things in the adventure can be altered and revised as you wish, and should the characters live long enough to see the conclusion of the adventure, there is enough inspiration here to help you create your own ‘sequel’ adventures.
- The book itself is quite flimsy and easy to crease, tear, etc.
- Difficult to slay the PCs.
- It’s too short :).
Perhaps it is to be expected when the price of the Starter Set is relatively low, but you will find that heavy use of the material here will inflict a lot of wear and tear very easily. Given its replayability value, there’s a very good chance that your new Starter Set will be more than a little frayed along the edges after only a few months of use.
While this is more of a criticism of the rule system than the Starter Set itself, it is not easy to keep a good party down. A cleric can restore a character in short order and even if the cleric himself is knocked out, there’s still a reasonable chance that the whole party will survive the most difficult encounters.
Now this is not to say I advocate lethalness for the sake of it, but I found I really had to go to extremes to make sure a party stayed dead. Other than that, I found that the characters included in the Starter Set were able to handle pretty much everything that was thrown at them, even if, in my opinion, the characters are not the most optimised characters I’ve ever used.
Then again, the goal of D&D ought to be about collaborative storytelling rather than a competition that pits the dungeon master against the players.
And let’s not forget that this is a ‘Starter Set’, designed to ease new players into the weird and wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons.
The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set does a great job of easing new players into the game and helps them get a good feel for how the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules work and how the game ought to be played (i.e. good mix of exploration, roleplaying and combat).
In that sense, the Starter Set has performed it’s intended function well, as well as being a lot of fun to play.
Everything is laid out and presented well, so you can start playing the game out of the box without extensive preparation.
If you are new to Dungeons and Dragons 5e, the starter set is a great way to kickstart many months or years of tabletop gaming using the new Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules.
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If you are interested in checking the Starter Set out, you can buy it here.