Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is a new RPG Starter Set from Wizards of the Coast.
With much anticipation, the release of the 5th edition of the classic Dungeons & Dragons is upon us, with the first teaser product on the shelves – the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I was not a huge fan of the major changes in 4th edition nor was I a fan of the abandonment of the SRD/OGL. I liked 3rd edition a lot, although I admit over time it got bloated with way too many rules, feats and classes. I am a fan of Pathfinder but it is running into the same problem D&D 3.5 did, in my opinion. I also did not play a lot of 1st or 2nd edition when I was younger, simply because there was not a lot of opportunity. I played other things like Star Frontiers and Powers & Perils.
Being that the only version I am competently familiar with is 3rd in its various incarnations, I am going to probably make more comments from that perspective. Based on my age, you would assume I would be familiar with 1st and 2nd, but like I said I did not have as much opportunity to play those versions. I am certain that there are similarities between this edition and 1st and/or 2nd, but I am not going to pretend to know them. I hope my review is comprehensive enough that those that are more familiar with 1st and 2nd can spot them.
I think it is time for a fresh start with Dungeons & Dragons. I had fully planned on giving it a chance and this Starter Set set is a perfect read of the market by the D&D design team to do just that. Also, it is priced very well for that purpose. I had tangentially been involved in the play test and community side of the development, but many of my friends were more involved with it than I was. When we play-tested the Starter Set, I got a lot of good feedback from them.
Also released was the Basic D&D PDF, which was free online. The Gamer’s Codex will have a review of that fairly soon but I may reference it here as an extension of my review of the rules.
From the website:
“Everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game.”
Starting with the rulebook, by the page count alone, you can guess it’s not as comprehensive as a standard RPG rulebook. It gives you just enough to play the adventure in the box set and maybe just a little more. At the same time, it is not a “dumbed down” version of the rules either. Everything presented in this rulebook is true throughout the rules set, according to the Wizards podcast I watched about it.
The rules start out with the obligatory explanation of RPGs and how they work, great for new players to the RPG hobby. Following this is the short explanation of the core rules. They kept the basic d20 mechanic from 3rd edition – roll d20 and add modifiers, and then compare to a Difficult Class or Armor Class to determine success. However, as I learned in play-test, there is far less math and the numbers have been scaled down. There are fewer numbers to reference back and forth and they introduced new mechanics to replace some penalties. There are much fewer things you have to remember when making rolls.
The core six abilities are also retained, with the 3 to 18 value converting to modifiers. There are hit points, but they are fewer. Skills and Saves are handled similarly to what I vaguely remember from 4th edition, however. Each abilities score has a Save associated with it so instead of the 3rd edition Fortitude, Reflex and Will, there are Constitution, Dexterity and Wisdom Saves. There are also saves for the other 3 ability scores.
Attack Bonus and skills are rolled up into Proficiencies, a throwback to what I can remember of 2nd Edition. Proficiencies are something of interest at least to me as they basically replace Attack Bonus as well as Skills. Every level has a Proficiency bonus and that bonus is applied to everything that the character has a Proficiency in. They gradually go up differently for each class (as shown in the PDF). There is no real indication of that in the Box rules. They simply brush over the subject and leave it to future publications. Since the characters in the adventure probably won’t level to the point that the proficiency bonus would change, they left it to the Player’s Handbook.
Gone, from what I can tell, are the “Powers” of 4th edition. There is some indication in this book that there may be Feats but I am being told that they will be very different from 3rd edition Feats. Unfortunately, you have to wait for the Player’s Handbook for that because there is nothing about them in this Starter Set. Classes have abilities as do races.
The Box set has 5 pregenerated characters which is a good thing because the rules in the box do not provide a means to generate characters. However, the PDF does. Thus, the Starter Set is lacking in explanation of things like Background, Class, Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws. They are listed on the character sheet, and without explanation, they are basically flavor text giving you more insight into the character. The PDF gives some explanation for some of these but I will leave that to the PDF review.
A key mechanic that is new to the system is the Advantage/Disadvantage dice system. This has everyone talking. Basically, certain situations, special abilities, or spells grant an advantage or a disadvantage, and the player gets an additional d20 to roll for the task. In the case of an advantage, the player takes the highest roll and the opposite for disadvantage. This can also be granted at the discretion of the DM.
Related to this is Inspiration, which is briefly mentioned in the Box set rules but expanded upon in the downloadable PDF. For those familiar with the Savage Worlds system, these act as bennies. Characters can only have one at a time, and they are earned through role play and other ways that the DM thinks worthy. These can be spent to gain advantage as well as make a re-roll. I am sure they will expand on this a little more in the Player’s Handbook.
Magic has changed some, but the basic idea is the same. In the Starter Set, there is a Cleric and a Wizard. That is all that is basically covered between the Starter Set and the PDF. The Starter Set describes Known Spells, Prepared Spell and Spell Slots per level. Wizards and Clerics have a number of spells known and spend a spell slot equal to or greater to spell level. Spells can be cast at higher levels to get a greater effect but you must use a higher spell slot to get that greater effect. There are also spells with the ritual tag, which means not only can they be cast as a prepared spell, they can also be cast unprepared as a ritual spell. Ritual spells take longer but they don’t have to be prepared.
Spells themselves have been tweaked and changed, I am told. I don’t know all the spells by heart so I can’t tell you the specifics. But comparing 3rd addition Magic Missile to 5th edition, there are some differences. The new Magic Missile is a first level spell and casts 3 missiles that do 1d4+1 each. Magic Missile can be cast at high levels by spending a higher spell slot, for an additional missile. I am really impressed with that part of the new design.
From the website:
“Explore subterranean labyrinths! Plunder hoards of treasure! Battle legendary monsters!”
In our little play test, we ran the first part of the 4-part adventure in the box, Lost Mine of Phandelver. The first part is a simple 1st level adventure pitting the players against a group of goblins and their bug bear leader. I ran that part and the group had a great time. It has enough action to level each character to 2nd level. It builds from a very interesting storyline. The art is well done and the cartography is also.
The adventure then takes the party deeper into a multi-phase small campaign that involves a lost mine and the treasure within. It also sets up a bad guy that competes for the treasure. It is set up in a linked fashion, each phase leading to the next. But it’s not the railroad type of adventure. It gives a lot of branching options in the middle and has a lot of potential.
In conclusion, the D&D Starter Set gives me a lot of hope that D&D is back. The design team went through a lot of painstaking design, working with the D&D community to create this new version. It really looks like they took many elements of the various past editions to create a very good edition. In the box set rules, they focus on a lot of the role play elements. From what I hear, they worked on many facets of the game including role playing, rules and tactical. Each will be modularly introduced as the rules are released. Well done!
For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG Starter Set “Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set” check them out at their website http://www.wizards.com, and at all of your local game stores.
Codex Rating: 18
Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Type of Game: RPG Starter Set
Lead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Based on the original game created by: E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, with Brian Blume, Rob Kuntz, James Ward, and Don Kaye
Drawing from further development by: J. Eric Holmes, Tom Moldvay, Frank Mentzer, Aaron Allston, Harold Johnson, Roger E. Moore, David “Zeb” Cook, Ed Greenwood, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, Douglas Niles, Jeff Grubb, Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Richard Baker, Peter Adkison, Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, and Rob Heinsoo
Contributing Authors/Editors: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee, James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell,Michele Carter, Chris Sims, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Christopher Perkins
Adventure Design by: Richard Baker, Christopher Perkins
Cover Art by: Jaime Jones
Additional Art by: Eric Belisle, Wayne England, Randy Gallegos, Matt Stawicki, Karen Yanner, Miek Schley (Cartographer), Daren Bader, Mark Behm, Conceptopolis, Tomas Giorello, Ralph Horsely, Aaron J. Riley, Tyker Jacobson, Vance Kovacs, Dniel Landerman, Raphael Lubke, Brynn Metheney, Steve Prescott, Ned Rogers, Carmen Sinek, Ilya Shkipin, David Vargo
Number of Pages: 96 total pages (32 page rulebook, 64 page adventure)
Game Components Included: 64-page adventure book, a 32-page rulebook for playing characters level 1 – 5, 5 pregenerated characters, each with a character sheet and supporting reference material, and 6 dice.
Game Components Not Included: complete set of D&D 5th edition rules
Retail Price: $19.99 US)
Reviewed by: Ron McClung