The Starter Set for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released on Thursday, July 3rd to Wizard’s Play Network-affiliated game stores and the Basic Game PDF was made available for free download at Wizards of the Coast’s website (https://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/basicrules).
That a new edition of the game was coming shouldn’t be news (unless you’re new to gaming and just happened to stumble upon this blog instead of the myriad more well-known sites). I downloaded the Basic Game as soon as it was available and picked up the Starter Set on my way home from work. I’m not going to do an in-depth review because there are many other sites out there who have already done it faster and more comprehensively than I will. These are just my thoughts on it coming from a gamer with D&D experience stretching back to 1982.
At first glance, the game is imminently more approachable than 4E was. It also firmly establishes the Forgotten Realms as the default setting. The Basic Game even uses a character from R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy as the sample character created during character creation. While I have mixed feeling about the Forgotten Realms, I do like that the setting is less nebulous than what was presented in the initial materials from 4E. I never got a decent sense of what the world was supposed to be in 4E, other than a town here, a village there, and all of it surrounded by dangerous wilderness. A big part of what I like about Dungeons & Dragons is exploring the rich histories written for their fantasy worlds, and 4E’s Points of Light world seems almost like an afterthought to me.
The box is sturdy and should hold up to years of use. There’s a thin cardboard insert inside to take up space; this can be discarded if you want to store more things in the box. It includes a 32-page rule book, a 64-page adventure, pre-generated characters (1 of each class, plus a second fighter), a few advertisements, and DICE! These are better dice than my first D&D boxed set came alas, but sadly, new gamers will not know the dubious joy of coloring in the numbers with a cheap crayon.
The characters provided include the information you’ll need to level them up to level 5, since character creation rules aren’t included in the Starter Set. The adventure itself is designed to take characters from levels 1 – 5 and if your group only meets a few times a month, should last you until the core rule books are available.
Of course, if you can’t wait, there’s always the Basic Game. The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game has everything you need to create Fighters, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards of human, elf, dwarf, or halfling persuasion. There’s even a few sub-races included if you aren’t satisfied with being just an elf or a dwarf. As I mentioned earlier, the character creation example references a character from the Forgotten Realms novels, and other examples reference other D&D worlds, such as Dragonlance, Planescape, and I think I saw a Ravenloft reference in there. The Basic Game is on version 0.1 right now. The plan is for the document to be updated as the core books are released. I assume not all of the options available for GMs regarding playstyles will be put in the Basic Game, but monsters will be and probably a few class options as well.
As far as the rules themselves…they’re not bad. I was pleasantly surprised. It feels like an update of AD&D with some modern design ideas incorporated. They obviously took lessons from d20/3.X and 4E, but the feel of the game (based on a reading of the Basic Game) is very much AD&D. Whether or not it retains that feel in play, well, I will find out shortly since I am running two sessions of it before Gen Con.
I loved 3.X when I started playing it, but after 5-6 years, I was burnt out by the complexity and bloat. I like Pathfinder’s presentation and fluff, but it has the same complexity (arguably, Pathfinder is even more complex). 4E…I tried it and just didn’t like it. At all. There were a few good ideas, but it just didn’t click for me. When I first read the book, I did not want to play it. I eventually did, of course, because I couldn’t make a fair evaluation of the system otherwise (and it didn’t seem fair to judge it based on one disastrous Gen Con DCCs tournament). I’m hoping minion rules will make an appearance in the DMG; those were always good for large battles where the PCs can feel badass by wiping out dozens of them at a time. I would peg this edition as rules-medium right now. I could see myself enjoying this. If it’s as modular as they say, and I can easily control the rules bloat…yeah, it’ll be a good game.