This is a D&D product review that I’ve been putting off for some time. The reason for my delay is simple, when this new D&D Starter Set was released last autumn, it was supposed to signify a shift in tone for the hobby. What I mean by that is this, WotC had already announced the next version of D&D. They hinted that this new edition would be completely compatible with 5E, but that all future 5E products would start to show some mild differences in thinking. For example, when 5E was first released, it continued the long standing tradition of racial ability score modifiers. However, WotC has decided to do away with this mechanic for the next edition. Therefore, all new 5E books that introduce playable races will have this mechanic stripped so that they jive better with the next edition. There’s other design principles that are affected as well, monster challenge ratings, inclusive language, etc. I wanted a chance to really explore some of the more recent releases, so that I could see how much of these changes were also present in the new Starter Set. Well, I’ve now had plenty of time to do that and I’m finally ready to share my thoughts.
Before getting into the details of my review, I do want to clarify something. This new D&D Starter Set replaces the original. Once all of the old boxed sets are sold, they will no longer be available. But don’t worry! DMs and Players that want to explore the original Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure that was included in the first Starter Set are in luck. It seems that WotC has decided to take that original adventure and expand on it with an upcoming adventure book called Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk. So rest assured, the original Starter Set adventure is not going to vanish into the ether.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore the contents of this box:
- A basic D&D rulebook.
- An adventure
- A set of dice
- A pack of pre-generated character sheets
The contents listed above match-up with those from the original boxed set. Of course, the contents of the books are different.
I found the new basic rulebook to be a slight improvement over the original. The formatting is certainly better and the rules are bit easier to understand for new players. The contents of this book are a much closer match to what’s found in the Essentials Kit than to the original Starter Set. I have no problem with this since the purpose of this book is provide a very high-level overview of the game rules. Players that stick with the hobby are likely to end up purchasing the PHB eventually anyway.
The real jewel of this boxed set is the new adventure Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. This is an introductory adventure designed to take players from level 1-3. The adventure assumes that the players will be using the pregenerated character sheets instead of rolling new characters. Of course, it’s easy enough for the DM to adapt if players decided to create characters from scratch.
In comparison to The Lost Mines of Phandelver, this adventure is radically different. Where Phandelver felt very much like a classic D&D adventure module, Stormwreck Isle has a very modern feel to it. For starters, this adventure shies away from leveling up via experience points and instead focuses on the concept of granting levels via milestones. The adventure also puts a heavy focus on roleplaying and character personalities. In my opinion, it’s a solid adventure with a really good storyline and very memorable moments. But, it does clearly illustrate the shift from old school D&D thinking to the new “looser” tone that the game has taken on in recent years.
Personally, I’m not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, the new adventure is solid and fun. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making changes to the game so that it appeals to a new audience. But at the time same time, much of that classic old-school feel is starting to get lost in the mix. I fear that if WotC continues to water down the game, much of what makes D&D unique will eventually fade away and our game will ultimately be indistinguishable from all the other TTRPGs out there.
But, let me stop ranting and give some final thoughts on this boxed set. As far as the contents go, this box is a great value for new players. The dice set is basic, but sturdy. The rulebook is sufficient and I liked the Dragons of Stormwreck Isle adventure. All in all, this is a great way to introduce players to the game. Plus, knowing that the old Phandelver adventure is not going to be lost to antiquity means that I have no problem recommending this new boxed set to anyone who wants to see what D&D is all about.