It has been nearly half a decade since the first starter set was released. Five years of introducing players to the wonderful world of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s about time for an updated starter set, a new welcoming invitation to the world we know and love. Enter the Essentials Kit. The Essentials Kit aims to provide new players with the resources needed to start their own game of Dungeons & Dragons. How well does this kit achieve that goal? Let’s take a look and find out.
When opening the Essentials Kit, the first thing you’ll lay eyes on is a set of dice. The tools on which you’ll build many adventures. While the dice themselves aren’t remarkable, being a standard translucent red, what is noteworthy here is the number of dice. Whereas previous sets have only included six dice, this set offers eleven. The extra dice include a d20 for advantage and disadvantage, three d6 for character creation, and a percentile for rolls of percentages. It’s a small addition, but one that makes a lot of sense. The extended set of dice is great, and something I’d love to see become standard in the future.
The next part of this kit is the rulebook. While it does not contain every option for creating a character, the book does contain everything you’ll need to run an adventure up to level seven. The book lays these out in an organized fashion that’s simple for even the newest of players to track. The only rules explanation that is missing is using miniatures and maps for combat, instead opting for theater of the mind. While this is easier for new players to wrap their heads around, I would’ve like to see the idea teased a little just to open that door of exploration.
A new rule in this kit is the one on one variant. This rule allows you to play a game with just the dungeon master and one player by giving them a sidekick. This creates an interesting dynamic while also covering the main weakness of a one person party. That weakness being the lack of social interaction while in the thick of the adventure. The rule is very simplistic, only having sidekicks go up to level seven, but it holds a lot of promise. This rule is great for couples, people looking to introduce a player to the game, and even a backup plan for if your current group’s plans fall through. This is the part of the kit that existing players should be excited about.
After the rule book you’ll find the adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak. This adventure runs from levels one through seven, taking players once again through Phandalin and the surrounding areas. Unlike the original starter set, however, this adventure has a more open approach. Players can take on quests at their discretion, exploring the world through their choices. The world in question has been fleshed out fairly well. There are a host of places to explore, and a few interesting characters to meet.
The way this adventure is set up, I can easily see each playthrough being different. Between the different quests, random story hooks, and the random movement of the story’s antagonist, there are a lot of moving gears set up. However, it never feels like too much to track, which should be top priority here. The adventure will take a bit for new players to wrap their head around, but I wouldn’t say it’s hard to run at all. It hits that sweet spot between complexity and simpleness to create an experience that is exciting and easy to run.
With the bulk of the kit out of the way, we come to the extra goods the kit provides. The DM screen is a new addition. While the art is gorgeous and completely evocative of the d&d experience, the quality of the screen is a bit lacking. It’s not going to rip apart on you any time soon, but it may blow over at a slight breeze.The kit also includes a variety of cards to hand out. Initiative trackers, condition and combat explanations, sidekick bios, and magic items all make up a large deck of handouts for your players. They’re even printed on a nice cardstock and come with a carrying case. The kit also includes a map of the region you’ll explore throughout the adventure, with a zoom in to Phandalin on the other side. The last physical bit of this kit is a stack of character sheets, nicely printed and double sided.
The final pieces of this kit don’t actually come in the kit itself. Rather, they are tools for you to bring your game into the digital realm. The kit includes a code to unlock the adventure on D&D Beyond, a service that makes the adventure easier to run with tools such as indexing and popup statistics, among other tools. Included alongside that is a code that allows you to purchase the player’s handbook on the site for half the price. I had not used D&D Beyond before testing this kit, and I’ve got to say I’m pretty impressed. The ability to search and jump to what you need at a moment’s notice is a luxury you don’t realize until you’re using it. D&D Beyond looks to be the future of digital toolsets for d&d, and having this gateway to the service is incredible. It is another trend that I hope they continue in future products.
Overall, the Essentials Kit provides all the essential pieces of a game of dungeons & dragons, and then some. While there are some places for improvement, this kit is still leaps and bounds above its predecessor. It is a true masterclass in design, and a fantastic tool for the hobby as a whole. I’m excited for all the new players that will come to the game thanks to this kit. It does what it sets out to do, and does it well. I’d even venture to say it’s a worthy purchase for veterans of the game. The adventure itself, along with the one on one rules variant and extra bits make up for the price of admission, though there’s not much more than that for existing players. So for them I’d rank this set a solid 7 out of 10. But for its intended purpose, as an introduction to the game, I’m ranking it a high 9 out of 10. If you or anyone you know is interested in playing, now is the time and this kit is the how.
So what do you think? Have you played with this kit yet? Do you know anyone who is on the fence about playing? Show them this kit and let me know their reaction down below! And as always, keep those dice rolling high!