Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
- HAHA! They finally did it! The set comes with a code that gives you access to the material through D&D Beyond. A digital copy is included! I hope to see this continue with future books and sets.
- Dice set with 2 D20s (for advantage and disadvantage), 1d12, 1d10, 1d8, 4d6, and 1d4. Comes with a little box you can fold together. Honestly, I don’t see myself using the box. If it had a bag like the D&D 4th edition dice pack it would be a different story.
- There is a reasonably nice map of the Sword Coast and town that the adventures take place around.
- Plenty of maps included in the adventure itself. I’m a bit disappointed it’s not dry erasable like the maps included with some of the more recent adventure map packs.
- There’s a Dungeon Master’s Screen included too. The content could be more dense, just as I said in my review of the gift set but it’s generally fine. Be aware that it’s not hard cover like the one from that set. It’s soft, and laminated.
Could Go Either Way
- There’s a coupon code for 50% off on the Player’s Handbook! Well, only if you get it through D&D Beyond. So if you wanted a physical copy, you’re getting it for full price of looking at used ones.
- The pages are a glossy finished paper in soft cover. It’s not nearly as nice as the hard cover books you’re used to. It’s also not bound like the hard cover books.
- The “adventure” included is really a skeleton at best of adventure hooks. This isn’t Mines of Phandelver. It’s best described as a bunch of small adventures that take place somewhat around the theme of a white dragon attack. For an essentials kit I’d want something far easier to run out of the box, more engaging, and designed in such a way that something exciting or intriguing happens in every session. What we have here almost feels like side content in an adventure.
- The marketing around this one seems weird. I’d expect an essentials set to have reusable components you can use in your own games. Dry erase maps, initiative trackers (or just more dice since dice make very good initiative trackers), tokens, tiles, that sort of thing. They have some of that (initiative cards, item cards, dice), but the rules, maps
- A good portion of this box is the rules printed in a little booklet. Much of this will be repeated should you go download the basic rules, the SRD, or buy the Player’s Handbook. There’s a bit of new art, and the side kicks section of rules is a nice addition, but it’s wasted page count if you already have or plan to have those other more detailed works.
- There’s nothing really here if you already have everything else currently released in this edition. I knew people who would buy the Dungeon Command and Adventure System packs just for the miniatures, card pieces and maps. This doesn’t have the same value proposition.
* Denotes nitpicking.
We’ve got another product for D&D. We’ve had the starter set for a long time, with the well received Mines of Phandelver adventure. We now have the essentials set that’s also aimed at newer players. Being that it’s really a box full of stuff it’s harder to summarize. I will say that I think my review will come off as more negative than I really feel about the box. There are many components here, which gives me a lot of things for me to talk about. I think the idea of including more than just a dice set in a package is a good idea, and makes it a better value proposition that the dice sets and nice tin for a similar price. I’d like to see this more often with shorter adventures and generally useful components. However, I think that the content of this product makes it less of an essentials box and more like a starter kit.
With that let’s just jump into the contents.
|All the things that come inside the D&D Essentials box.|
- Dice set
- Fold together box for dice
- Initiative cards
- Condition cards (explaining what they are and can be given to a player when they are inflicted)
- A several pages of magic item cards
- A booklet that is basically the basic rules as found on the Wizards of the Coast website and Mines of Phandelver with a bit of different art, and selected monster entries from the Monster Manual/Basic Rules Dungeon Master pages
- The Adventure book, which really details multiple shorter “quests” (they even have their own cards)
- Player character sheets made from a thicker stock paper
- Coupon and digital code page
The adventure is really 9 quests, each having a card, that are roughly centred around the town experiencing a white dragon attack. I mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again: this is not Mines of Phandelver. It is far more side quest feeling, not as focused, and still requires work to flesh out. The concepts are solid, but I think that for these kinds of starting adventures it’s best to make it easy to run right out of the box while leaving room for those more experiences or adventurous to put their own spin.
The book itself lays out 14 locations, which are references and used in those 9 quests. This is part of what makes the adventure quite odd for a new Dungeon Master to run. It requires a lot of work to fit together into something coherent, even compared to published adventures. Many characters that act as central players for quests will need to be filled in by the Dungeon Master. Each one of those location descriptions I mentioned has no more than 6 pages or so. Now, the locations include nice maps and the typical room by room details you’d expect for a dungeon crawl, but I would like to see more glue connecting the locations in what is meant as an adventure for new players.
What If I Want Homebrew?
What if you want your own campaign set in your own world? The dice, the rules, the initiative cards and the Dungeon Master’s Screen and the item cards will naturally carry over. However, the maps and adventures probably won’t. You can somewhat get around this by picking your favourite quests from here and using them as side content, but for something that calls itself an “Essentials Set”, I’d want as much as possible to carry over easily and enhance the game.
This is one of the bigger weaknesses that I find in this set. Ideally you’d have a bundle of super useful stuff for enhancing D&D sessions. Monster tokens, mapping tools (software, tiles, or dry erase), dice, tracking aids, that sort of thing. They have some of that, but if you run your own campaign you lose the adventure book. If you already have the Player’s Handbook or used the basic rules, the rule book mostly goes away (except maybe the side kick rules).
The Art and Build Quality
Generally the booklets are not the same quality as the hard cover books. They are thinner and glossy finished soft cover books more similar to a magazine than the hardcover rule books we are used to. Think Starter Set instead of the core rule books.
The dice are decent dice. The colours on them aren’t as eye catching as the start Starter Set (they are a solid translucent red colour), but they work well and we get two D20s. YES! This should be the standard for every D&D 5th edition product that includes dice because of the advantage/disadvantage mechanic. Since it’s rather heavily used in this edition, this should’ve occurred from day one. Keep it up, I’m happy to see this.
The suggested retail price is $25 USD and $33 CAD. I’m sure with time the price will go lower, and if you find it for roughly the same price as a set of dice I think it’s a good value proposition. I know I saw dice sets more expensive than that at hobby stores, but I also saw cheaper ones too.
What I felt was Missing
Though the rules don’t require the use of battle maps, I love using them. They make it easy for players to have an idea of space, and often leads to interesting questions. “Are these crates on the map?” “Could I hide behind them?” “If I squeezed against the wall, would they be able to hit me from the window above?” I would like to see this set include something to make that easier for new players right out of the box. I’m not sure exactly what that would look like. Maybe they’d further develop their online tool that used to help you design maps using tiles from their sets so you could print them. That way there’d be a CD so you could pop it in and use it. I don’t know. But something to make that process easier for new players.
Please Link The Basic Rules
Physical books get damaged. Please provide a link somewhere on the first page or inside the cover with the address to find the basic rules on your website. This would make life far easier for players to find their other digital resource. Nice thing about that PDF is that it doesn’t require accounts of logins either. Even if they prefer to use a laptop with the PDF while playing because it’s easy to ctrl+f through it, you could argue there’s value to having a box you can just pull off the shelf if the power is out and you never downloaded the rules. However, I think having the link to the digital basic rules in the set is useful, and doesn’t cost anything.
Well, if you paid for the set, would you consider a code for a digital copy free? Still, I am happy to finally see this. Please keep this up going forward. It is incredibly convenient to have both versions at my disposal and decide which is most convenient as I try to play. This way I get the best of both worlds instead of buying things twice.
A Good Idea
I think the idea of lower priced products with essential elements or extremely useful additions for D&D sessions is a good idea. I’d like to see them experiment more with this format. It allows for more innovation and due to a lower price lower risk of buying something you didn’t like. However, I think the adventure component in particular can use more refinement.
At it’s price, it’s got a decent number of components from dice, to mini-quests/adventures, to magic item cards. However, I think the adventure structure isn’t as focused as I’d like. I want an easy to run focused experience more like Mines of Phandelver. I also think that it’s a hard sell for more experienced players. It’s not like Dungeon Command, where you got a new game, and 12 miniatures for your campaign. Scroll to the top of this review and look at What’s Included. If you like what you see, you’ll probably like it. However, if you’ve never played D&D before and want to run it for your friends, you’re probably better off getting the Starter Set.