Posted by : David Guyll August 29, 2010

"Red Box", "Essentials", whatever. The point is that thanks to Shazbot's tip I was able to get ahold of this $20 gateway drug well ahead of time. The Starter Set (as it's officially labeled) comes with a book for players, a book for DMs, several sheets of power/magic item cards that you have to punch out yourself, a sheet of tokens for monsters and characters that's easy to punch out, some dice you won't use, and three one-sided character sheets.

Getting the negatives out of the way (because I'd prefer to end reviews on a high note), the art is recycled and the paper quality of the books and cards is suspect; it's too damned light and none of them will last through repeated use. I would not be surprised if they fell apart from getting slightly moist. I intend to use the tokens in typical play and write down the effects of any powers on other cards if a player or myself want to use them until they're in Character Builder.

The Player's Book does not list classes in the traditional manner, instead having you go through a choose your own adventure story based around a goblin attack in order to determine your ability scores, class, and powers. The first question determines your class from fighter, wizard, rogue, or cleric, and from there it will grill you on how you want to dispose of your enemies until you either succeed or get your ass handed to you. Shazbot thumbed through the entire thing and is of the opinion that it would be really cool for new players to get a handle on things.

Strangely, the Dungeon Master's Book features the actual game rules in addition to a seven-encounter-long dungeon mapped entirely out of Dungeon Tiles. The encounters use a mixture of new and old monsters, though to be fair some of the "new" monsters look very *ahem* familiar. For example this book features a goblin hex hurler, who is identical in every way to a goblin hexer except that he lacks incite bravery. Some monsters gain new abilities instead of losing them; zombie hulks, er, I mean "hulking zombies" have a trait called zombie rejuvenation that allows it to stand up at the end of its turn with 1 hit point unless it was either killed by a crit or took damage while down. Of course, some monsters get more than others, as evidenced by the fledgling white dragon who crits on a 17+ when bloodied.

The tokens are numbered and have stock images of monsters for easy identification on the field, and the characters have bloodied sides, allowing you to dismiss with counters for that sort of thing. Even though I have a massive minis collection, I'd really like having token packs because they would be great for highlighting minions or for incredibly rare/expensive minis. They're also pretty durable.

Speaking of durability, the cards were a bit...difficult to remove. Initially I tried scissors but settled on simply folding the cards on the corrugated lines both ways, which made them much easier to remove them. I'd prefer it if WotC simply provided a more durable, pre-punched deck similar to those power decks that I don't think anyone gives a shit about.

Finally, the character sheets. These are one-sided with some layout changes like moving skills directly beneath their derived ability score and omitting some sections entirely. Is it comprehensive? I'm going to say no because the space alloted to powers and feats is not nearly enough, even if you only use it for racial powers and feats. There is a very large blank section for "character notes", which is where I suspect conditional information from feats, resistances, immunities, etc to go.

Despite the shoddy materials, I think that at $20 this is a very good bargain for those that are utterly new to D&D. As a veteran player I still consider it a good purchase, as I can get some mileage out of the tokens, new powers, and even a lot of the monsters from the DM's Book.

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