If you are Wizards of the Coast, one of the things that you want to do is to make the entry into the game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) as easy as possible. We’ve looked in the past at the excellent Beginner’s Box, which came out in 2014 and has all the things you need to get started, including a solid adventure, pre-generated characters and more. That set is a best seller for a reason.
But what about if you want to do a bit more? This summer, first as a Target exclusive but now widely available, Wizards has released the D&D Essentials Kit.
The Essentials Kit is basically the next level of the Beginner’s Box. There are lots of places where they are very similar. In fact, the adventures contained within are in compatible areas, so that you can easily play them back to back, or if you are an adventurous GM, mix and mash them up.
The Beginner Box’s Lost Mines of Phandelver is great and the Essentials adventure The Dragons of Icespire Peak is a really good adventure that can easily take characters from level 1-7.
Which leads into one of the more interesting parts of the box: its expansion and ties into DnDBeyond.com. If you are unaware, DnDBeyond.com is a software suite that you can have a membership and download new D&D content when it becomes available.
There are tiers and subscriptions and there are arguments against it. As some people will point out, you are paying for content twice if you want a book and a DnDBeyond copy of materials. But, it is, without a doubt, the partner with Wizards of the Coast. And that partnership shows up in 2 ways in the box.
First, there are additional adventures that can carry characters all the way through level 13 when partnered with The Dragons of Icespire Peak material. All of it is available with a code that comes inside the box of the Essentials Kit.
Second, there is a coupon code for 50% off the cost of a Players Handbook on DnDBeyond. For first time players to be exposed to character creation and design digitally first, it will be interesting to see how this could impact the game, not to mention the digital tools that are available on DnDBeyond for new Dungeon Masters. If you have strong feelings against DnDBeyond, then it would be understandable to see this as a negative. But the combination of making this easy, available as a starter kit makes me see this as more win than problem.
But there is much more in the kit. The practical pieces are all well done.
- There is a DM’s Screen that is like 2/3 size but is adequate, elevated more by the material on the inside of it and the excellent art on the outside.
- There are cards for conditions for players to have, which is great. It is hard enough for veteran players to remember what “restrained” actually means and this makes it easier still for newbies.
- And the dice set is actually really nice, with a red dice with white lettering that contains both 2 d20s (for advantaged rolls) and 4 d6s (for character creation rolls).
In terms of rules, we get a good walk through of character creation versus a bunch of premade characters, which is good when you have more creative people wanting to start their first D&D character. While you easily could also give them pregenerated characters, this feels more like you are starting a campaign process versus running a one shot for new players.
Lastly, there are some dynamics that are only in this set. A few months ago, Wizards used their testing program called Unearthed Arcana to test some rules for how characters could have sidekicks. A great deal of the speculation was that the rules would turn up in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh pirate themed book but instead they show up in this volume along with notes on how to play with just 2 people, a Dungeon Master and a player.
Now, while that style of game has existed as long as there has been old brothers and annoying little siblings who wanted into the game, this is the first time I recall Wizards actually giving it a frame and allowing sidekicks to essentially help round out a hero’s party without needing more PCs at the table. It is helped with the Sidekicks cards that come with the box and it is a rule set I am looking forward to playing with in the future.
So, all in all, this is an excellent successor to the Beginner’s Box. Coming 5 years after the first one, it does some upgrades really well, advances into digital tools in a way that makes perfect sense, and expands out the world and adventures so that a new DM and players could have massive amounts of fun as they follow the adventure and its subsequent sequels.
The D&D Essentials Kit is definitely worth checking out! You can get it here.