First Impressions - D&D 5e Starter Set


Staff member

That's a green dragon. Yikes!
I picked the the D&D 5e Starter Set heavily discounted through Amazon Warehouse Clearance, mainly as I'm thinking of running an introductory game (or maybe mini-campaign) of Dungeons & Dragons with the kids. The copy I received had a battered box, but the contents inside were pristine.

Glossy magazine style books.

The box looks impressive, with an illustration of a green dragon that's pertinent to the introductory adventure. It contains a 32 page summary of the rules, 64 page adventure, five polyhedral dice and a set of starter characters. The books are full colour, staple-bound, but in a magazine style. The covers are no heavier in weight, and they're likely to damage.

Feeling cheated by the spacer.
The box is ~2 inches deep, but it is half filled with a spacer. That feels pretty deceptive. Of course, you could just chuck it away and use the space for your notes.

The rules are a competent restatement of the game, with some detail missed out, tailored pertinent to the starter characters presented. You do get pointed at the Basic Rules on the internet for further reference and character creation.

Missed opportunity.

The character sheets are boring, boring, boring. I'd have expected to have seen artwork for each character, but they've gone down the route of thicker white paper. They do have hooks to the adventure, but overall they're a missed opportunity. There should be something here to excite a new player.

The dice are middling quality, and will do the job. Better than the chits I got with Holmes Basic D&D back in the day.

The best part of this kit is the introductory adventure, "Lost Mine of Phandelver". If I'm honest, it was the main reason I bought this as several folks had said that it was great introductory mini-campaign. It has a decent opening, some pseudo-sandbox stages, and a decent ending. There are notes on what to do next as well. Each part of the adventure has guidance for a novice DM. This is good. At the end of it, the characters will most likely be 5th level. The game showcases different ways to gain experience, which is good.

I liked the mini-campaign; it felt very much like a satisfying introduction to D&D to me. It supports the DM much better than B2 Keep on the Borderlands did; there's actually a plot here. Definitely competently done, and probably quite memorable.

It's a solid kit. I rate it 3 stars out of 5.

Why so harsh? If I'd paid £20 then I'd have felt massively disappointed by this kit. You can get it, shopping around, for £5 less. The spacer makes me feel cheated. The book's will damage easily. You have a limited sub-set of the rules. And the Essentials Kit is only £5 more expensive. It has a bigger adventure sandbox, more complete rules, a GM screen, maps, useful cards and dice. The books are more robustly made. Essentials is the Basic D&D replacement, the starter entry. Don't buy this, buy Essentials if you want to introduce someone to this game.

Unless you want 'Lost Mine of Phandelver'. And I'd definitely recommend it, as it is written well as an introduction, and is far more like a traditional D&D module than 'The Dragon of Ice Spire Peak' in the Essentials Kit. That feels much more like a MMORPG sandbox in structure. Of course, you could combine them. Mike Shea has written a guide on his blog about that.

Recommended, with caveats.

30 March 2020

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Heh, my copy (bought new) is the opposite - pristine box, battered components. A very good introduction to the system and a nice mini-sandbox, with lots more potential once you buy the rulebooks. My sadly scattered-to-the-winds last group had great fun with it. The big box is handy because the core books fit in there, too, when you take out the spacer.