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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.

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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

vpuigdoller

Explorer
Thanks! 8D

How to the Handle the Spellcaster and can you give an example Statblock like an 3rd Level Expert?
Sorry late response. The stats block is just like any monsters in the monster manual. You get health hit die senses stats skills etc. They represent the sidekick as a lvl 1 so it also gives you your spell list and spell dc. In the particular case of the spellcaster you have to choose between healer or mage then it will give you the appropriate dc and spell-list.

the expert gets at level three expertise in two skills and more hit points .

hope this is clear enough.
 
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Parmandur

Adventurer
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.
Yeah, exactly. I can understand a FLGS not being super happy with Target exclusives, as the FLGS market appeal in the USA can be summarized as "we sell stuff you can't find in Target," but WotC twirling their mustachiis wondering what they can do to get FLGS here, either. It seems Target has given them a business case for boxed sets, that haven't been big in hobby stores for ~20 years.

The FLGS will also get them in September, so the Uncle's/Grandparents looking for Christmas gifts will have something that they can point towards.
 
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vpuigdoller

Explorer
I also found very neat that the adventure material in dndbeyond also includes the sidekick rules and gm/player versions of the maps.
 

Baumi

Explorer
Sorry late response. The stats block is just like any monsters in the monster manual. You get health hit die senses stats skills etc. They represent the sidekick as a lvl 1 so it also gives you your spell list and spell dc. In the particular case of the spellcaster you have to choose between healer or mage then it will give you the appropriate dc and spell-list.

the expert gets at level three expertise in two skills and more hit points .

hope this is clear enough.
Thank you!!
 

Dristram

Villager
Haven't finished reading the adventure yet, but the whole thing is here are three jobs, finish them and more jobs show on the job board. It's like a lazy video game. In my opinion not a great way to teach new DMs what a adventure should be.
Interesting you should say that since I've played the idea of a board in a pub or town centre where jobs/adventures are posting since the 80s. I've done it for low-level adventures. Small adventures like caravan guards, rats in the sewer, recovering a merchant's stolen item. I believe it's video games that got it from early RPG games, not the other way around.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
I'm reading LMoP, and I'm going to merge them together into one beginner game at my FLGS. Since it's all milestone based, I can adjust some of the encounters as needed.
 
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PeelSeel2

Villager
I ordered mine from Target. Was supposed to get it tomorrow. It came today!! Reading through it. They did a great job presenting a cut down rulebook for beginners. IMO the best job since the 1982 basic version. I sincerely hope Target pushes for an Advanced Kit through level 10.

The adventure is great. Nice hooks with an over arching story, easily digestible by a novice DM or an experienced one.

A solid product which will expand the reach of D&D even more.
 

aco175

Explorer
Anyone know if the further adventures found on the D&Dbeyond site are only available if you buy from Target or if you buy it anywhere. I was planning to wait, but the three Leilon adventures sound like they could be fun for 7-11 level.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
Anyone know if the further adventures found on the D&Dbeyond site are only available if you buy from Target or if you buy it anywhere. I was planning to wait, but the three Leilon adventures sound like they could be fun for 7-11 level.
The box itself mentions there are coupons inside for additional content, and it includes a sheet with some some serial codes (like what computer games do). I seriously doubt they did a box just for target.

View attachment 107298
 

oknazevad

Villager
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.
funnily enough, "Expert" was the name of one of the NPC classes from 3e (and Pathfinder), so it's actually something of a return in its use.
 

Burnside

Explorer
Anyone know if the further adventures found on the D&Dbeyond site are only available if you buy from Target or if you buy it anywhere. I was planning to wait, but the three Leilon adventures sound like they could be fun for 7-11 level.
No need to rush to buy if that's your primary interest; those adventures haven't yet been published on DNDBeyond, and no date has been given for when they will be.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
Alright, I found tge interview in question:
... 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.
... 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."...
Sounds to me like a minor evolution in RPG products might be starting. I can envision a new series of adventure box sets and box set expansions for Target and retail chains. Where most are stand alone, but perhaps something like the old expert box set. Then you have the no frills content dense core rulebooks/APs that we have today and that you expect your FLGS to support. Compatible, but different markets. Not sure exactly what such would look like, but sounds interesting to me.

Yeah, exactly. I can understand a FLGS not being super happy with Target exclusives, as the FLGS market appeal in the USA can be summarized as "we sell stuff you can't find in Target,"...
Shrugs, I like the FLGS environment but I don't know if I like the FLGS business model. At least not the traditional one. I see FLGS always being a niche market, and not only unable to, but not targets for the depth and breadth of the current and foreseeable D&D market. To me, I see the FLGS model as always being something of a club house, and D&D seems to be growing beyond anything a club house model could fully support (even if Amazon/Target we're not in the picture).

I sincerely hope Target pushes for an Advanced Kit through level 10.
An advanced or expert boxed set? Other than expanded rules, what much such look like? Something more than just an adventure and a new DM screen. Maybe a campaign setting or including poster battlemaps?

So everyone, what would you put in a follow on box set?
 

Dristram

Villager
The box itself mentions there are coupons inside for additional content, and it includes a sheet with some some serial codes (like what computer games do).
Very interesting. The codes are for D&D Beyond which is where you actually purchase digital content for D&D. Many don't like that since they've already forked out the money for the books. This makes perfect sense here though. Fork out money only for a beginning set, and then buy your further D&D content though D&D Beyond. Won't have the same complaints that way. This might be the way of the future.
 

Dristram

Villager
I got into D&D in 1982 and didn't buy a D&D product in an FLGS until the 90s. I would get my AD&D books at either book stores are JC Penny. So buying D&D stuff at a Target as opposed to an FLGS is pretty normal for the history of the game.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
Each sidekick gets its own card. The cards have a picture on one side, and RPing notes in the other (bond, flaws, etc). The section on rules for sidekicks was short in book is short, but didn't read it yet.
 

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