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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.

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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

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Interesting: @NewbieDM observed the opposite, that the rules never mention miniature usage and assume They're of the Mind entirely.
Oh, the rules don't ever mention minis. But every single adventure area is given a gridded 5'/square scale map, which certainly was not the case with LMoP, where several locations weren't mapped at all and others used a 10'/square scale.
 

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aco175

Hero
So, the big double-sided map is just a town map on one side and regional map on the other. I was hoping for a 5ft grid dungeon map of a few locations.
 

Saracenus

Adventurer
Got my copy last night at Target. There were two copies of the Essentials Kit left on the endcap in the Toys and Games section of the store. They also a bunch of the Starter Sets in the gaming section.

Target does not stock any of the books or accessories that FLGSes have, they will only stock boxed games in shrink. It makes sense to hit a mass market venue like target to reach a ton of folks that otherwise might not have access to or know of a FLGS in their area.

I especially liked the unlock code for the adventure on D&D Beyond. That was a nice touch.

There is also a web page that gives a great intro to the game linked in the promotional materials in the box...
https://www.dndbeyond.com/essentials
 

Greysword

Villager
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.
Thanks. So, this is the modern equivalent to the Red Box from the 1980's, then?
T
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Having finished reading the adventure, I revise my opinion upward - it's very good. First-timers will find it easy to run, and experienced DMs will find it easy to change and enhance. And because it's mainly a series of self-contained site-based adventures, it's useful to plunder for one-shots for levels 1-6 for other campaigns.

Other stuff:

While the rule book explains XP, the adventure doesn't use it at all. It's all milestone.

Lots of minor magic items from XGtE are used.

There is some potential for inexperienced groups to run into trouble quickly by undertaking quests that can be very challenging for their level. Also, there are a couple of adventures where just getting into the dungeon is unwisely gated behind skill checks - so if the characters fail those, they just turn around and go home, I guess. An experienced DM would find a solution there, but that's a design flaw that could frustrate newbies.
 

stadi

Explorer
The Expert is such a good name for a Class / NPC / Sidekick. Not. Why not call all of them like Tank, Damage Dealer, Healer, etc? While we're at it, Let's rename all the classes...

Other than this everything I've read seems interesting.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
The Expert is such a good name for a Class / NPC / Sidekick. Not. Why not call all of them like Tank, Damage Dealer, Healer, etc? While we're at it, Let's rename all the classes...

Other than this everything I've read seems interesting.
The Expert is the skill user so it makes perfect sense. We don't have to go quite that video gamey with names.
 


jedijon

Explorer
Every one of these you buy (at least in these first few weeks) is one some 10yr old likely won’t—and our titular enworld member buying scalped eBay editions probably belongs back in that alignment thread from last week...
 

Nebulous

Legend
I ran Phandelver years back and loved it, easily a classic D&D adventure. I picked Essentials up at Target yesterday. I haven't read through it all, but the pacing isn't as good as Phandelver, although the individual quests seem good enough. I'm thinking about merging the two scenarios into The Lost Mines of Icespire Peak. Or something like that. Maybe the Black Spider and the dragon Cryovain can have some connection, or maybe they don't. Yes, I think the designers should have devoted some words to showing how the two products can be combined as they literally share the same space and many similar NPCs in Phandalin.

EDIT: Icespire also lacks the gorgeous maps included in the Starter Set, such as that wonderful Wave Echo Cave. On the plus side, the two sided map it does include is very useful.
 
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SMHWorlds

Explorer
Not really. I think that would be the "Starter's Set." The "Essentials Kit" is something a little different (but I could be wrong).
Yeah if making those analogies, which are not 100%, the Starter Set is Red Box and Essentials would be closer to Blue Box or Expert set. Not to be confused with the Blue Holmes version of basic. lol. Too many boxes using the same color scheme.
 

Koren n'Rhys

Explorer
Every one of these you buy (at least in these first few weeks) is one some 10yr old likely won’t—and our titular enworld member buying scalped eBay editions probably belongs back in that alignment thread from last week...
Buying these up right away does empty the shelf, yes, but also shows Target there is interest and they need to restock ASAP.
 

Looks like the Essentials Kit is sold out at all but the furthest Target from my location. A good sign, I think – either that or they’re severely understocked.
 

EthanSental

Adventurer
Mine sold out the first day although good post previously mentioned them on an isle end cap and not over where the starter set is near the board game section.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
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.
Is this confirmed somewhere? I assumed that was the case - that, at least, this product likely was subsidized by Target to keep the prize low but quality high, but I hadn't seen that officially confirmed nor that it was Target that initiated the idea. If that's officially stated somewhere, I'd like to see it because it very clearly makes the "FLGS got screwed" discussions entirely moot.
 

Looks like the Essentials Kit is sold out at all but the furthest Target from my location. A good sign, I think – either that or they’re severely understocked.
IT sounds like every Target got 3 of them. I don't know if that's considered understocking or not for a new product with no direct basis of sales. But I do agree that the faster they sell out, the more they will be restocked with.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Is this confirmed somewhere? I assumed that was the case - that, at least, this product likely was subsidized by Target to keep the prize low but quality high, but I hadn't seen that officially confirmed nor that it was Target that initiated the idea. If that's officially stated somewhere, I'd like to see it because it very clearly makes the "FLGS got screwed" discussions entirely moot.
Yup, either Nate Stewart or Mearls went into how Target came to WotC in one of the interviews after the announcement: I'm afraid I don't recall where it was, but they got somewhat detailed about it. The old Starter Set has sold very, very well for Target, but they didn't have a follow-up product because the game books don't fit their gaming retail model. So they wanted something they could sell to people who bought the Starter Set, and worked with WotC to make this.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Is this confirmed somewhere? I assumed that was the case - that, at least, this product likely was subsidized by Target to keep the prize low but quality high, but I hadn't seen that officially confirmed nor that it was Target that initiated the idea. If that's officially stated somewhere, I'd like to see it because it very clearly makes the "FLGS got screwed" discussions entirely moot.
Alright, I found tge interview in question:

ComicBook.com had the chance to speak with Nathan Stewart, the Senior Director of Dungeons & Dragons, at D&D Live 2019: The Descent. During the interview, Stewart mentioned that the D&D Essentials Kit came out of a desire to serve a type of player that wasn't being serviced by traditional hobby game stores or Amazon. "The Essentials Kit was born out of conversations with Target asking about what players would buy next after the Starter Kit," Stewart explained, referring to the current D&D boxed set sold in Target's board game section. "Target told us that they didn't think the [D&D] books will merchandise well here because they were training people to go to the gaming section, but they wanted more D&D stuff."

"So it feels like Target is cultivating newer board gamers that we don't think are being serviced by hobby stores or even Amazon based on what we're seeing from the trends," Stewart continued.

https://comicbook.com/gaming/2019/05/26/dungeons-and-dragons-underserved-players-essentials-kit/
 

Matthia05718273

First Post
Alright, I found tge interview in question:

ComicBook.com had the chance to speak with Nathan Stewart, the Senior Director of Dungeons & Dragons, at D&D Live 2019: The Descent. During the interview, Stewart mentioned that the D&D Essentials Kit came out of a desire to serve a type of player that wasn't being serviced by traditional hobby game stores or Amazon. "The Essentials Kit was born out of conversations with Target asking about what players would buy next after the Starter Kit," Stewart explained, referring to the current D&D boxed set sold in Target's board game section. "Target told us that they didn't think the [D&D] books will merchandise well here because they were training people to go to the gaming section, but they wanted more D&D stuff."

"So it feels like Target is cultivating newer board gamers that we don't think are being serviced by hobby stores or even Amazon based on what we're seeing from the trends," Stewart continued.

https://comicbook.com/gaming/2019/05/26/dungeons-and-dragons-underserved-players-essentials-kit/
This makes so much sense. Target obviously sets up their stores in a certain way, and doesn't want to confuse new potential players by putting books in their gaming section, and they want to direct gamers to the gaming section and not the book section. So in Target's view, it needs to be a box to fit in how they structure their business.

At the same time, they're clearly selling enough that they asked WotC to do this, and that Wizards has happy to oblige them. Good news all around on that front.
 

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