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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.
519DX_EssentialsKit_ProductImgFullv1.png

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 them 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!
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

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.
My 4e neo-grognardia is experiencing PEAK SCHADENFREUDE at the confusion here.

How can they possibly make this same mistake twice?!

At least this time they seem to have a plan to put the product in the mass market where it belongs....
 

kenmarable

Villager
Fun little story:

I decided to swing by and see about picking up a copy at the local Target here. I wasn't sure if it would be with books or board games or what, so I went to that general area towards the back of the story. As I'm starting to look around, I hear a boy's voice say, "It comes with it's own DM screen!" Of course my ears perked up and I went in that direction as I hear, "Oh, sorry. One for my friend, too."

Getting to the end of the aisle, I see two boys around 10 or so, and they are staring at the back of a box. Keeping my distance because I am some random stranger in a store, of course, I say, "Hey, picking up the Essentials Kit?"

One replies, "Yeah, they only had 3 left and those were still in the back. He's getting one for my friend. You here for it, too?"

"Yep, it looks pretty cool."

"Yeah, I guess they're going to be all out! I'm so excited we were able to get them the day they dropped!" (I can't help but think how weird but nice that is to hear a kid talk about a D&D boxed set the same way they would the latest major video game.)

An employee comes out with a 2nd one for the other boy, and I consider backing away because I feel bad making this guy now go in back for a 3rd time, but the first kid speaks up again, "Thanks! But I guess you have to get that last one for him."

The employee looks at me with a "You want one, too?" look. I nod and apologize for making him go back yet again, but he says he doesn't mind.

As the two kids walk away still re-reading the backs of the boxes mumbling things like "Defeat the dragon of Icespire Peak", I say, "Have fun with that. Happy gaming!"

"Yeah, you, too!" and they walk off and meet one of their mothers, "They had it! Only 3 left..."

------

So our local Target didn't have them out on the shelves yet but still sold out by 1pm.

And it was awesome seeing two kids so excited about it and at pretty much the same age I was when I first got the BECMI Red Box. It was just a cool moment I wanted to share. :)
 

MoonSong

Explorer
At least you can! My closest Target is... wait, let me check... oh yes. On a different continent.
To me its one thousand miles... but hey at least it's the same continent!

Hopefully it will show up on Amazon or my country's response to EBay. Sometimes Target exclusives get listed...
 

Parmandur

Adventurer
Fun little story:

I decided to swing by and see about picking up a copy at the local Target here. I wasn't sure if it would be with books or board games or what, so I went to that general area towards the back of the story. As I'm starting to look around, I hear a boy's voice say, "It comes with it's own DM screen!" Of course my ears perked up and I went in that direction as I hear, "Oh, sorry. One for my friend, too."

Getting to the end of the aisle, I see two boys around 10 or so, and they are staring at the back of a box. Keeping my distance because I am some random stranger in a store, of course, I say, "Hey, picking up the Essentials Kit?"

One replies, "Yeah, they only had 3 left and those were still in the back. He's getting one for my friend. You here for it, too?"

"Yep, it looks pretty cool."

"Yeah, I guess they're going to be all out! I'm so excited we were able to get them the day they dropped!" (I can't help but think how weird but nice that is to hear a kid talk about a D&D boxed set the same way they would the latest major video game.)

An employee comes out with a 2nd one for the other boy, and I consider backing away because I feel bad making this guy now go in back for a 3rd time, but the first kid speaks up again, "Thanks! But I guess you have to get that last one for him."

The employee looks at me with a "You want one, too?" look. I nod and apologize for making him go back yet again, but he says he doesn't mind.

As the two kids walk away still re-reading the backs of the boxes mumbling things like "Defeat the dragon of Icespire Peak", I say, "Have fun with that. Happy gaming!"

"Yeah, you, too!" and they walk off and meet one of their mothers, "They had it! Only 3 left..."

------

So our local Target didn't have them out on the shelves yet but still sold out by 1pm.

And it was awesome seeing two kids so excited about it and at pretty much the same age I was when I first got the BECMI Red Box. It was just a cool moment I wanted to share. :)
Not too shabby for a five year old edition...
 
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.

I did the same thing. Didn't have time to go threw it at all, but I left it sitting on my desk. Amazing how many of my co-workers desided to poke their colective noses in my office today... new golden age, indeed...
 

vpuigdoller

Explorer
Any more Info's on those Sidekicks?
Basically there are three npc stat blocks in the rule-book. Warrior, Expert, Spellcaster each with information on what they get each lvl up till they get to lvl 6. Then there is 9 npc cards with personality and flaws. What you do is offer one to the player and choose the appropriate stat block. you handout the player the corresponding npc card. I wish the sidekick stat-blocks where in cards as well but that you can easily do on an index card.

Edit: When one sidekick dies you hand out a new one.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I thought they had Targets in Canada. At the very least you should be able to get it shipped to you.
All Targets closed 2 years ago after only a year or two of business. I just checked to see the shipping cost to Canada (@Mercador lives in the same city as I) and its about 30$ for standard shipping. The produce itself is sold at 34 CAD, so I guess I'll wait for the Amazon release :p
 

aco175

Explorer
There is a YouTube interview about the essentials kit. It is one of the named Wizards staff members, I cannot think of right now. It talks about making the sidekicks easy in the boxed set.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
Looking forward to this now, especially the sandbox adventures. Exactly how I like to run my games, though I am just as likely to put more quests out there. I always deal the players rumours/hooks/quests and let them choose. :)

I was interested in sidekicks, but seems to basically work how I have been doing them anyway. Just give the NPCs, you know, the NPC stats! Anyway, interested to see how they advance at least.

BUT, here in Australia, I guess I can't get in on this for some time. Kinda crappy you have to put up with all the buzz for 3 months before having a chance. Quite happy for WotC to expand their product, but being exclusive is very crappy. Also not very supportive of those FLGS that they have been good at doing til now. Also, this makes this a U.S.A only kind of deal and people like myself across the world are kinda sick of U.S.A-first sentiment. It is a pity WotC has bought into that. :(
 

Mercador

Explorer
Fun little story
I could totally see the sequence, you should write books if you don't already.

I thought they had Targets in Canada. At the very least you should be able to get it shipped to you.
All Targets closed 2 years ago after only a year or two of business. I just checked to see the shipping cost to Canada (@Mercador lives in the same city as I) and its about 30$ for standard shipping. The produce itself is sold at 34 CAD, so I guess I'll wait for the Amazon release :p
If I remember correctly, it was in 2015 that they went down, what a retail disaster...

But yeah, 30$ shipping fees for a 34$ product is a bit overkill. Let's hope Amazon will get some next September or I'll just pay the Imaginaire rate ;)
 

MockingBird

Explorer
I remember the first starter set I got. It was in the 90s. It was the AD&D starter that came with an audio CD of kids playing a sample game and some tracks for the adventures. I think it came with 3 scenarios. A typical dungeon, haunted mansion and something else. Basic rule books for players and DM and a monster manual. I subjected all my cousins to this game lol. I do wish it would have come with rules for 1 on 1 play cause that was all I had. We made it work though.
 

Burnside

Explorer
Picked it up this evening.

There is no disputing that it is an amazing value for $25.

Quick comparison to the Starter Set, to which it will inevitably compared:

The rulebook is similar to the one included in the Starter Set, but it's an improvement - most significantly because it includes rules for character creation and adds the bard (in addition to the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard). Race options are same as Starter Set.

It also offers two archetype options for each class (Starter set had only 1 per class):
Bard - Lore or Valor
Cleric - Life or War
Fighter - Champion or Eldritch Knight
Rogue - Thief or Arcane Trickster
Wizard - Evoker or Transmuter

The Starter Set contained six background options (Acolyte, Criminal, Folk Hero, Noble, Sage, or Soldier). Folk Hero and Noble are absent here, and Entertainer has been added.

Poster map, DMs screen, quest cards, condition cards, magic items cards, combat guide cards are all new and awesome additions.

More dice - an extra D20 for advantage/disadvantage rolls, and 4 D6s

Magic item selection I think is slightly better/more interesting that the Starter Set.

The Starter Set did include a broader and more classic selection of monsters & stat blocks (the Essentials Kit is missing staples like goblin, zombie, skeleton, owlbear, bandit, mage, and others).

In addition to the in-package material, you're also getting the DNDBeyond version of Dragon of Icespire Peak as well as three additional DNDBeyond adventures: Storm Lord's Wrath (level 7), Sleeping Dragon's Wake (level 9), and Divine Contention (level 11). These are not yet accessible on DNDBeyond, which says they "will be written" by Shawn Merwin, James Introcaso, and Will Doyle (who are all generally great, so high hopes there). PLUS 50% off the DNDBeyond PHB.

The included "rules" for playing one-on-one have either been over-hyped by WoTC or blown out of proportion by RPG press and commentators. It's literally "give them a sidekick and take some monsters out of encounters". There's like two pages of material devoted to this "system" - and 75% of that is stablocks for sidekicks. Which frankly makes sense. We already know how to play one-on-one and people have been doing so for 40+ years.

I've read 1/3rd of the adventure. Will need to consider it further, but my initial impression is that LMoP is superior. LMoP offers a mini-campaign that somehow caught lighting in a bottle and is still a near-perfect first experience. Dragon of Icespire Peak is a loosely connected series of one-shots of varying quality (none of the quests I've read so far a bad, but some are certainly better than others) and length (1-4 pages each). But there is an upside - it offers and ever more casual, beer-and-pretzels style than LMoP which will be just right for some groups, and can largely be played through in what feels to me like shorter, self-contained sessions of 2-3 hours in length which I also suspect might be great for some players, and also groups whose attendees may vary week-to-week.

Location maps in the adventure book are often printed comically small and hard to read a la Tales from the Yawning Portal. Maps themselves are simple but serviceable and in color (Chris Perkins made them). Easier to view on DNDBeyond.

Given the sheer amount of stuff you're getting for $25, a great product.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Burnside

Explorer
One other note: there seems to be more of an acknowledgement by the designers that a LOT of people now use minis - much more so than the Starter Kit. Just about every location gets a map with a 1 square = 5' scale.
 

Greysword

Villager
If I remember correctly, wasn't the Essentials Kit for 4e a watered down version of the rules that signaled the end of the line and an attempt to keep it going a bit longer?
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
If I remember correctly, wasn't the Essentials Kit for 4e a watered down version of the rules that signaled the end of the line and an attempt to keep it going a bit longer?
No, on several levels.

1st, there was no Essentials Kit.

2nd, The Essentials line was a broadened and more varied take on the 4e mechanics, where a class might gain a passive feature instead of a power at a given level, some classes focus on basic attacks and multiple uses of a single encounter power, while others work very differently.

3rd, the “line” went on after the Essentials line of products had gone out and stopped being the focus, with later products being a mix of “E+” (a fan term) and “PHB style” options, depending on what the designers felt fit best.

4th, some of 4e’s best books arguably came out in this period. The point was to bring people back into the fold without creating a new edition. That didn’t work, even though 4e was quite profitable. DDI by itself made money comparable to previous edition PHB sales, most years. But the community was split, and the company (rightly) believed that healing that split would make the profitability and popularity of previous editions looks quaint by comparison.
 

Paul Farquhar

Explorer
One other note: there seems to be more of an acknowledgement by the designers that a LOT of people now use minis - much more so than the Starter Kit. Just about every location gets a map with a 1 square = 5' scale.
They are much more easily available than they where in the 80s, I supose a combination of 3D printing and online shopping.
 

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