Thursday, 9th December, 2010, 01:37 AM #1
Defender (Lvl 8)
- Join Date
- Oct 2009
ø Ignore Neuroglyph
Review of Dungeon Masters Kit by Wizards of the Coast
One of the most important facets of any role-playing game system, regardless of genre, is the measure of how well it supports the game master – or in the case of D&D – the dungeon master. Some role-playing game systems I have tried over the years have done an incredible job at tantalizing the Player to pick up a copy and try it out, but ended up to have provided only scanty support for the poor game master trying to host the game.
In late October, Wizards of the Coast released the Dungeon Master’s Kit for the D&D Essentials line of products. With a box claiming that it provides “Everything you need to run the World’s greatest roleplaying game”, it begs the question of just how good is the Dungeon Master’s Kit for D&D 4E gamers wanting to become Dungeon Masters?
Dungeon Master’s Kit
- Authors: James Wyatt, Jeremy Crawford
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
- Year: 2010
- Media: Boxed Set (includes 272 page book)
- Cost: $39.99 MSRP (Amazon, $26.39)
The Dungeon Master’s Kit is a core product for the D&D Essentials line from Wizards of the Coast, and is designed to provide new DMs with materials and content useful to starting a D&D 4E game. The boxed set includes a Dungeon Master’s Book, and two 32-page adventures containing the two-part Reavers of Harkenwood adventure for 2nd to 3rd Level Characters. In addition to the books, the Dungeon Master’s Kit provides two double sided poster-sized maps designed to be used with the Reavers of Harkenwood adventure, a four-panel cardboard DM screen, and three sheets of die-cut monster and character tokens.
The production quality of the Dungeon Master’s Kit is really quite exceptional, and all the components show a high level of design and forethought to making the most of a new DMs gaming experience. The Dungeon Master’s Book is in the new 6x9 inch trade paperback format which has been used throughout the D&D Essentials products. The two-part adventure module, Reavers of Harkenwood, are done in a staple-bound magazine-like style which makes them capable of lying flat on a gaming table for easy reference. As far as the DM Screen goes, it is about 8 inches high, and each of the four panels is about 11 inches wide, making for a considerable “behind the screen” area for a Dungeon Master to work from.
I found that I really liked the artwork on the back of the DM screen, as well as the use of art in the creation of the die-cut tokens. The player-side of the DM screen depicts a remorseless assemblage of Underdark foes, which include drow, a drider, a dragon, an illithid, a roper, and even an umberhulk - all of which look like they mean to do seriously bad things to heroes! The tokens are double sided with the back red-tinged for bloody status, use a variety of art, much of which is pulled from the Monster Vault, as well as from the player’s handbooks.
Disappointingly, there is very little new “original” art used in the Dungeon Master’s Kit. Almost all of the artwork in the Dungeon Master’s Book is borrowed from Traditional D&D 4E sources like the Dungeon Masters Guide and Dungeon Masters Guide 2, and almost all the maps provided for the adventure modules are derived from previously released dungeon tile sets. There is one map of a keep which appears new – at least to me – and I particularly liked, as it could be used in future adventures when heroes are forced to storm the castle.
The Dungeon Master’s Book
The heart of the Dungeon Master’s Kit is the Dungeon Master’s Book, a 272-page work containing six chapters of useful DM material:
- Chapter 1: Playing the Game
- Chapter 2: The Dungeon & Dragons World
- Chapter 3: Running the Game
- Chapter 4: Combat Encounters
- Chapter 5: Building Adventures
- Chapter 6: Rewards
Chapter 1 is a simple overview of the game play, and is almost exactly the same material found in the Introduction of the Essentials Rules Compendium. While both explain in very basic terms how the game is played, it lacks much of the details that the original 4E Dungeon Masters Guide provided on creating a gaming group, handling the different archetypes of players, and the kinds of games a DM can run.
Chapter 2 deals with running a fantasy world and specifically the D&D 4E Core World setting. For the most part, it is an edited-down content contained in Chapter 9 (The World) and Chapter 11 (Fallcrest) from the Traditional 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide, which even includes the maps of Fallcrest and the Nentir Vale that are in the original DMG.
Chapter 3 deals with starting up a game, using props, and improvising rules, important rules about reading powers, and offers the exploration tables for handling lighting, breaking things, and other DM content used to run an adventure. This information is found in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 in the DMG, and in Chapter 5 of the Rules Compendium.
Chapter 4 deals with running a combat encounter, including rules on maneuvers, statuses, and other useful information. Interestingly, this chapter is almost exactly the same information as Chapter 9 (Combat) from the original Player’s Handbook, which was revised with Update changes included where appropriate, the same as Chapter 5 of the Rules Compendium.
Chapter 5 pertains to building an adventure, and expanding it into a campaign. It also discusses encounter building and monster roles, traps, hazards, unusual terrain features, and skill challenges. It is a streamlined selection of parts of Chapters 4 (Buidling Encounters), 5 (Non Combat Encounters), 6 (Adventures), and 7 (Campaigns) from the original Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Chapter 6 completes this Dungeon Master’s primer with information about rewards: experience points, quest rewards, milestones and action points, treasure and magic items. This information is a revised version of the information in Chapter 7 (Rewards) found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and uses the new "random" method found in Appendix 2 of the Rules Compendium. The Dungeon Master Book also includes nearly 50 magic item entries ranging through all tiers of play – although almost all these items have appeared in the Player’s Handbook and Adventurers Vault, but the Dungeon Master’s Kit offers updated versions to include item rarity.
Overall Grade: A-
Taken from the perspective of a new Dungeon Master who is just getting into D&D 4E using the Essentials line, the Dungeon Master’s Kit is a solid starting point. It provides all the basic information for setting up and running D&D 4E for players, including giving the new DM a sample setting and adventures to get his heroes into the middle of the Heroic Teir.
But it definitely lacks much of the great content imparted by the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, particularly with regard to new types of skill challenges, monster themes and elite templates, and making traps and hazards. In fact, of all the Essentials products I have reviewed thus far, this is the one that feels like it is a gateway to Traditional 4E D&D. There is definitely enough here in the Dungeon Master’s Kit for a new DM to do a decent job of running a D&D game, but they would be missing out on all the wonderful material in the DMG and DMG 2 – and hopefully, as a DM, they crave more content and will consider buying those two books!
For experienced DMs, as well as for gamers who have already purchased the Traditional 4E Dungeon Master Guide books, the Dungeon Master’s Kit offers little new information. Certainly the screen, tokens, and adventure module is nice, but would hardly justify the cost. Picking up a Rules Compendium and a Monster Vault would be money better spent for the veteran 4E gamers – the Dungeon Master’s Kit is definitely a product aimed at the newbie Dungeon Master.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
- Presentation: B+
- -Design: A
- -Illustrations: B
- Content: A-
- -Crunch: A
- -Fluff: B+
- Value: A-
- EN World
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Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Ann Arbor
ø Ignore Harlekin
I am somewhat surprised you don't even mention the mini-campaign included in the box. Glancing through it, I had the impression that they took everything that worked about the Red Hand of Doom and turned it into a very cool tool to teach DMs how to write adventures.
Last edited by Harlekin; Monday, 13th December, 2010 at 05:06 PM. Reason: Using "cool" twice in three lines.
Scout (Lvl 6)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Mesa, AZ
ø Ignore slwoyach
Why in the world would a GM need anything more than what a player needs?
Looking for a Sunday game in Tempe. Not 4e.
Looking for Players: Conan D20 (looking for both live and PBP players) here.
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
Magsman (Lvl 14)
- Join Date
- Mar 2008
ø Ignore MrMyth
I had heard the DM Kit lacks any rules for the DM designing their own monsters or traps - that seems a pretty significant absence, and one I'm surprised isn't mentioned in the review, or accounted for in the grading system. From what I'd heard, the DM Kit was a nice looking product with some decent accessories, but didn't match up to the DMG1 or DMG2 in actual content.
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Jun 2008
ø Ignore Ilvarin
Thanks for the review. I thought is was insightful without being some sort of marathon read.
I have a question, though. I already have the 4E DMG and DMG II, so do I really need the Kit? I'm sure the adventures and tokens are nice enough, but how many updates are worked into the book? I already have the RC, too. I know the Monster Vault updates classic monsters to the MM 3 standard, so that is a definite need since I don't have MM 3 already. But if the new DM book is mostly stuff from the RC and stuff I'll need to get from the DMG/DMG II anyway, do I need it? Am I missing something?
By the way, these are sincere questions. I'm not trying to be an ass or start some sort of bash-fest.
Defender (Lvl 8)
- Join Date
- Oct 2009
ø Ignore Neuroglyph
But I am glad you liked the review, and hope it plus my comment helps you to make a informed choice about your next product purchase.
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