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.

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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.
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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

Comments

EthanSental

Explorer
Swung by a Target on my way to work...only thing left was the starter set on the shelf, sold out..so I just ordered on,one rather than hunt for it at other targets in the area. Nice story Ken, thanks for sharing!
 

Baumi

Explorer
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.
Thanks! 8D

How to the Handle the Spellcaster and can you give an example Statblock like an 3rd Level Expert?
 

kenmarable

Explorer
They are much more easily available than they where in the 80s, I supose a combination of 3D printing and online shopping.
Also manufacturing tech improving to be able to make high quality, low price plastic minis as well, I suppose. Back in the 80s, from what I recall, it was mostly all metal except for things like very low-detail Warhammer 40k Space Marine armies. (I remember my friend having probably 100+ of those Space Marines and I was saving up to get barely enough Eldar Aspect Warriors & Harlequins to field a force. But mine did look soooo much better. ;) Although I guess that might have been closer to 1990ish.)
 

vostygg

Explorer
I started reading the adventure last night. I'm a bit worried about potential TPKs. The encounters in the first set of quests seem a lot tougher than what a group of first level noobs can handle. I guess they'll get to learn that discretion is the better part of valor pretty early on.
 

EthanSental

Explorer
Also manufacturing tech improving to be able to make high quality, low price plastic minis as well, I suppose. Back in the 80s, from what I recall, it was mostly all metal except for things like very low-detail Warhammer 40k Space Marine armies. (I remember my friend having probably 100+ of those Space Marines and I was saving up to get barely enough Eldar Aspect Warriors & Harlequins to field a force. But mine did look soooo much better. ;) Although I guess that might have been closer to 1990ish.)
those 80s grenedier metal minis, although having a place in gaming culture, were pretty much blogs of metal with little detail compared to rap Partha minis and such as the industry and manufacturing like you mention got better. We have some great sculptors and companies now making great minis!
 

MockingBird

Explorer
Maybe a little old school but at the start of a new campaign with newish players, I make sure to let them know that retreating is an option. We've had potential TPKs but they always manage to escape and regroup. Example being the goblins at the start of the lost Mines adventure.
 

Parmandur

Legend
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.
Interesting: [MENTION=6934152]NewbieDM[/MENTION] observed the opposite, that the rules never mention miniature usage and assume They're of the Mind entirely.
 

Wrathamon

Explorer
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
Those weren't really Targets like we have here. They were some failed attempt at a store that had the Target name but wasn't stocked like a target, nor the prices.

My wife is Canadian and loves Target and she was appalled.
 

Wrathamon

Explorer
The Target near me had them on a special end aisle section in from of the TV area. The Starter set was in the boardgame area.

They had 3 essentials kits left and 1 starter kit in stock.
 

Koren n'Rhys

Explorer
I started reading the adventure last night. I'm a bit worried about potential TPKs. The encounters in the first set of quests seem a lot tougher than what a group of first level noobs can handle. I guess they'll get to learn that discretion is the better part of valor pretty early on.
So no different than the original Starter Set? That initial goblin ambush is a TPK in the making if the goblins are run correctly. :)
 

Koren n'Rhys

Explorer
I checked online yesterday and my local Target wasn't stocking it, but another in the area was supposed to be. Rather than run around chasing a ghost, I ordered a copy online and will have it tomorrow. I'm excited to read through it. It will be interesting to compare the iterations of the basic rules from the Starter Set, to the Stranger Things version to this one.

Regarding the exclusivity period - that's a tough one. I understand that FLGSs are getting screwed to some extent, but to my mind, having Target carry the two boxes isn't really hurting them much. People will see this who would never even walk into a gaming store - kids with their moms, casual boardgamers - and just might pick it up and get into our hobby. Plus, Targets are much more common and easy to find than hobby stores. Then when they need the real books, minis and all the other goodies, hopefully they'll seek out a local store for those products before turning to Amazon. Hasbro is about making money, if this boosts the sales of D&D and keeps the line alive, I'm all for it.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I checked online yesterday and my local Target wasn't stocking it, but another in the area was supposed to be. Rather than run around chasing a ghost, I ordered a copy online and will have it tomorrow. I'm excited to read through it. It will be interesting to compare the iterations of the basic rules from the Starter Set, to the Stranger Things version to this one.

Regarding the exclusivity period - that's a tough one. I understand that FLGSs are getting screwed to some extent, but to my mind, having Target carry the two boxes isn't really hurting them much. People will see this who would never even walk into a gaming store - kids with their moms, casual boardgamers - and just might pick it up and get into our hobby. Plus, Targets are much more common and easy to find than hobby stores. Then when they need the real books, minis and all the other goodies, hopefully they'll seek out a local store for those products before turning to Amazon. Hasbro is about making money, if this boosts the sales of D&D and keeps the line alive, I'm all for it.
Given that the product exists only because Target came to WotC with a business case, it hardly "screws" the FLGS out of $25 to be late to a product they would never have otherwise. They will have it by Christmas.
 

Koren n'Rhys

Explorer
Given that the product exists only because Target came to WotC with a business case, it hardly "screws" the FLGS out of $25 to be late to a product they would never have otherwise. They will have it by Christmas.
I don't entirely disagree, but FLGSs are already a dying breed for a number of reasons and people argue that WotC should be pushing MORE business to them, not pulling any, no matter how little, away. Personally, I'm of the mind that it's not the job of Hasbro or WotC to help keep a business afloat. Like any other brick & mortar store, they need to find a way to adapt and survive in a world where online retailers are killing physical stores everywhere. WotC can help by continuing to grow and support things like organized play that DOES push people to local stores, moreso than product they'll be able to sell in a couple of months.
 

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