D&D 5E D&D Essentials Kit Offers a New Place to Start

One of the biggest surprises at D&D Live 2019: The Descent was the announcement of the D&D Essentials Kit. The D&D Starter Set has already been around several years so it was surprising that that Wizards of the Coast would make another set for new players. It seemed even more odd once they explained that the Essentials Kit was not replacing the Starter Set.


According to Chris Perkins in a D&D Beyond interview with Todd Kenreck, they decided early on that Essentials Kit could be usable with the Starter Set. From that flowed out the decision to also set the Essentials Kit adventure in Phandalin so if you own both, the two adventures create a larger campaign. Another reason for the Essentials Kit is to apply what they learned since the Starter Set about teaching D&D, and RPGs in general, to newcomers.

Looking through the Essentials Kit, I'm excited. Even though I've been playing and DMing D&D longer than I want to admit (I have dice older than some of my current players), I'll use many of the items in it for my games whereas with the Starter Set, I mostly used it for the adventure, which was very good for newcomers to D&D.

Now, I have to admit to some favorable bias. The Essentials Kit utilizes concepts about how to lower the barrier to entry for new players that I've championed for a long time. I've also developed a card-based RPG so I definitely approve of how the Essentials Kit uses cards for conditions, magic items and NPC sidekicks.

Like the Starter Set, the Essentials Kit comes with dice, character sheets, a rulebook geared to newcomers and an adventure. The extras and how it handles rules is what makes the difference.

Unlike the Starter Set, the Essentials Kit does not come with pre-generated characters. The philosophy in the Starter Set was to get people playing as quickly as possible since character creation can be confusing to new players. Character creation can be dealt with when they need a new one.

The Essentials Kit requires new players to make characters and that's described as the first session. While I think the Starter Set got it right, doing it differently for the Essentials Kit makes sense since they're supposed to co-exist.

To keep it simple, the Essentials Kit only offers four races – dwarf, elf, human and halfling – and five character classes – bard, cleric, fight, rogue and wizard. The description of each and the rules to play are written well and simply. Let's be honest, explaining an RPG to an absolute beginner can seem odd and complicated. Doing it well is an art, and the D&D Essentials Kit Rulebook accomplishes it nicely.

Several types of cards are added to enhance the player experience. Initiative cards are a visual reminder of combat order. The Combat Step by Step cards are easy cheat sheets, though I wish a full sheet of 9 had been provided. Condition cards make it easy to remember and track the effects of being knocked prone, grappled, etc. Again, I'd love to see more of these so they could be put in front of every character so affected because even with experienced players, it's easy to lose track in combat.

Magic items used in the adventure also get cards, enabling them to be traded or, if it's a single-use item, handed back to the GM when done. [Note: Gale Force Nine produces official 5E D&D Magic Item cards, too.) A cardboard box is included in the kit to easily store the cards.

One of the key differences in the Essentials Kit adventure is that it can be run with a group, as usual, or as a solo adventure for one player and a DM. This enables people who can't find a full group to still play D&D and also provides an opportunity for someone shy to try the game in a more private situation. With the popularity of actual play videos like Critical Role, Sirens of the Realms, Dice, Camera, Action, Acquisitions Incorporated, etc. attract more people to D&D, that's a useful option. It would be good to have more two-person (one player and DM) adventures on the market (hint to DM's Guild creators).

To facilitate this, sidekicks are a game option. D&D tested companion rules for such a situation and then streamlined them for the Essentials Kit, offering a spellcaster, a fighter and an expert [rogue] as options. Sidekicks give a solo player a little extra help and can level as well. DMs are told to work out with the player who controls the sidekick but presumably with new players the weight will mostly be carried by the DM. A sheet of nine sidekicks are provided as cards with one side showing the NPC's image and the back giving their name, race, category class, personality, ideal, bond, flaw and a blurb about them. Details as to what a sidekick expert, caster or fighter can do is in the Essentials Kit Rulebook.

A sidekick also opens up the possibility of a new player being the sidekick to a more experienced player to try out the game without being overwhelmed. That's a nice option.

I like the DM screen in the kit much better than the original 5E DM screen I'm using, which has an entire quarter devoted to randomly generating NPC characteristics, bonds, flaws, and ideals as well as a “something happens” random chart that's pretty useless. The Essentials Kit DM screen has conditions, travel, cover, etc. info like that screen but also includes charts for services, food and lodging, concentration rules, object hit points, object armor class, damage by level, etc.

The last set of cards are for Quests. During the adventure players can visit the board at the townmaster's hall to get jobs [quests]. Only three quests are out at a time, when those are completed, three more are available and then a final three.

The Essentials Kit also comes with a double-sided, full color map and dice. Whereas the Starter Set only had six dice because it only provided one d10, the Essentials Kit has a standard set of polyhedrals plus a second d20 to make rolling advantage/disadvantage easier, and four d6s.

I'm really happy with the Essentials Kit. Unlike the Starter Set, which has mostly sat on my shelf, I'll use parts of this kit in my weekly campaign. It's definitely a good entry point to the hobby for newcomers.

The D&D Essentials Kit is an exclusive at Target until September 3, 2019, when it will be available at all D&D retailers.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

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Chaotic Looseleaf
However, the Target exclusive thing is giving me a bit of a crisis of faith – do I wait until it’s available at my FLGS, or pick it up the next time I swing by Target in the coming months?

Buy two. :)

I'd normally never consider buying a game anywhere but at my FLGS, but the draw of helping to encourage Target to carry more of this sort of product is strong. I may have reservations about the current attitudes of the expanding community but the only realistic way to combat that is to further expand the community.

I think this will be a good product. I feel good about the strategies involved.

Ralif, your dilemma has several ways to look at it:

Your Personality: Do you need to have it before Sept 3? Or can you just wait?
FLGS Loyalty: Is support for your FLGS more important than your collector personality?
RPG Expansion: WotC's marketing team wants to know if RPG adoption can be expanded by partnering with non-traditional brick and mortar stores, aka Target. Is that something you want to promote?

Good luck.

:) :)


This sounds pretty darn cool. When I was all of nine years old and getting into D&D, having a one-DM, one-player adventure model would’ve been great. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a twin, and while we were gaming with friends a lot, we also would game when it was just the two of us. Sidekicks would’ve been great for that, too.

However, the Target exclusive thing is giving me a bit of a crisis of faith – do I wait until it’s available at my FLGS, or pick it up the next time I swing by Target in the coming months?

While I tend to direct my gaming dollars to my FLGS rather than Amazon, I am a happy Target customer on other fronts and am feeling that I want to reward them for making this product happen: they aren't just a disinterested retailer here, theyvm went to WotC wanting to expand the game line.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
I think you underestimate people. Or at least potential D&D players - it's not a game for dumb people. When I started playing in the 1980s there was no internet, no one had ever played an RPG, and the rulebooks whern't as well written as they are these days, but we still figured out how to DM.

Well yes, but notably far fewer people did so, and millions more do so these days, and part of that is the evolution of the presentation of an RPG to new people.


This sounds useful. I have a couple groups of new players on my agenda and may go ahead and pick this up to smooth their transition into playing.


Just picked one up at Target at lunch today. The set looks great, and I'm so happy to set it sitting on the shelf in the games department of a major retailer next to the D&D Starter Set. It seems like a new golden age to me.

Yeah, the presence of this at Target is a big step in market visibility, potentially. If successful, it opens the door to further promotions. One begins to see visions of a Dungeons and Dragons section with a fancy display, books, miniatures, and perhaps unfortunately, the movies on DVD and blu-ray.

And heck, I’m sure that I’ll spend money on something else at my FLGS in its stead.

There are at least four different Targets within more-or-less the same driving distance of me (one of which being actually within proper city limits). Seems like overkill to me.

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