Game Review: D&D Starter Set

“The Lost Mine of Phandelver”

A starter set… for Dungeons & Dragons? I couldn’t figure out what exactly that would be, because as long as I had known D&D, all you did was create a character, grab a game module, get some friends together and play. What could a “starter set” possibly offer? Turns out, a lot.

To start, let’s break down what you get in the D&D Starter Set. But, before listing off a bunch of things, it’s important to understand that the Starter Set gives you everything you need to play D&D. You don’t need a Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual. In fact, you don’t need anything extra at all in order to jump in and experience the game.

First, you’re given a 32-page rule book, which is more or less an abridged version of the Player’s Handbook. So, if you already have a Player’s Handbook, this component of the Starter Set is unnecessary. But, if you are new to the game or don’t have a handbook, then you’ll absolutely need to read, review and reference the rule book. It’s well done and has all the key rules and stats that you’ll need for now (eventually you will want/need to have a Player’s Handbook).

Next, is the dungeon module, “Lost Mine of Phandelver.” Unlike most modules that you see in a game store, this is a relatively short (64 pages) paperback adventure. The first few pages are in essence a mini Dungeon Masters guide, which walks you through how to run the adventure and key terms that you’ll need to know.

At this point, you may feel a bit underwhelmed, because all that’s left are five pre-built character sheets and a set of 6 dice (d20, d12, d10, d8, d6 and a d4).

Side Note on Character Sheets

Personally, half the fun of D&D is creating a character. So, IMHO, it would have been great if the Starter Set included blank character sheets so that players could create their own characters. That being said, creating new characters from scratch can be daunting and time-consuming, so having pre-built characters makes starting the game much easier for novice players.

As well, if you are new to 5e, or haven’t rolled a character in ages, having the pre-built sheets makes for a solid template and reference guide.

The Adventure – Lost Mine of Phandelver

This is where the Starter Set shines. Clearly a lot of effort went into the planning and the development of this adventure, which is ideal for new players as well as new Dungeon Masters (DMs).

There are several really good things to point out here:

  1. Simple start – Phandelver is written so that a new DM can easily work through common game mechanics, such as combat and spellcasting. These are critical elements to know, so kudos to the game developers for making the start of the adventure easy to work through and build upon.

  2. Storyline – You are quickly immersed in a story line that evolves, which drives intrigue and new developments. What’s REALLY cool is how Phandelver weaves parts of the adventure into other, future adventures. So, once you get used to the Triboar Trail, know that you’ll see it referenced again, along with the Neverwinter, Phandalin and much more!

  3. Adventure – This module has it all. They do a great job in setting up new monsters, new venues (outdoor, caves, castles, etc.) and new objectives. There’s something here for any D&D player, and surprisingly there are some very cool loot drops (if you can survive long enough).

  4. Diversity – As the adventure progresses, you (as the DM) are offered side quests, which makes the whole experience dynamic and flexible.

  5. Leveling – It’s worth pointing out that Lost Mine of Phandelver is limited to cap characters out at level 5 (other adventures tend to bring characters from level 1 to 8; some even to 13). But again, this is a starter adventure, and the whole point is to get players familiar with the function and process of leveling, which is very fun and easy to do in this adventure.

  6. Appendix – This is going to sound nerdy, but the appendix is AWESOME. All the magical loot items and monsters that you will encounter are all listed in great detail in the appendix (so, no need to buy a Monster Manual for this adventure).

What could have been better? It’s hard to quickly list what things could have been better with the Starter Set, but two thoughts come to mind. First, having blank as well as additional pre-built characters would be nice. The five you get are: 2 fighters, 1 rogue, 1 wizard and 1 cleric. Why not include a pre-built Ranger, Bard or Warlock?

Secondly, it would be nice to have a stand-alone printed map. There is a fair amount of travel, which is hard to visualize. With a map, players could see where they are (or have been) in relationship to other places that they will travel to.

Other than that, there’s really not much else that could improve the adventure, or the Starter Set as a whole.

In conclusion, the D&D Starter Set is a masterpiece for new players and first-time Dungeon Masters. If you have been wanting to get into and play D&D, this is THE way to start. Not only is it a really good adventure, but it gives you the confidence, skills and experience to take on much larger adventures, like Tyranny of Dragons or Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

#DnD #DM

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