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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

Parmandur

Adventurer
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.


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).


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?
WotC put out a survey last week regarding what people would want in boxed sets: it sounded like they were asking about something like a combo of what's in this box with a campaign setting. I foresee that instead of dice or maps & miscellany products for the Eberron release this fall, we might see a complimentary boxed set available at Target.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
WotC put out a survey last week regarding what people would want in boxed sets: it sounded like they were asking about something like a combo of what's in this box with a campaign setting. I foresee that instead of dice or maps & miscellany products for the Eberron release this fall, we might see a complimentary boxed set available at Target.
I (honestly) did not put 2 and 2 together until you slapped me across the face with the obvious connection :)
 

vpuigdoller

Explorer
Do we have complete details on Essentials sidekicks yet?
There is nine npc sidekicks cards with image on one side and background info flaws on back. The sidekick class info is separated into three statblocks similar to those of monsters on the monsters manual. Warrior, Expert and Spellcaster the last one has an option for either Mage or Healer. This statblocks represent the sidekicks as lvl 1 characters. Then there is three tables that list what each of them get on lvl ups till lvl 6. For example the Expert gets more hit points and expertise on two skills at lvl 3. Thats it. There stats equipment etc is all stated in the statblocks. And you choose an npc card with name and background info from the available options.

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CapnZapp

Adventurer
There is nine npc sidekicks cards with image on one side and background info flaws on back.
Okay, so it should now be possible to write up these as "classes" so we can compare and contrast exactly how much simpler this is than the UA Sidekicks.

And the PHB classes.. And the good old d20 NPC classes of the DMG...
 

S'mon

Hero
The sidekick rules look great! I really want to run a beginners 5e game using this box now! Looks like that won't be until January though.
 

vpuigdoller

Explorer
Okay, so it should now be possible to write up these as "classes" so we can compare and contrast exactly how much simpler this is than the UA Sidekicks.

And the PHB classes.. And the good old d20 NPC classes of the DMG...
yah, for sure. Comparing just the expert with the UA it looks slightly different.
 
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CapnZapp

Adventurer
I look forward to a complete breakdown, where you can see exactly how the various versions differ with no lookup needed. Maybe on a rules wiki somewhere
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
Some thoughts I shared elsewhere when asked if it would be useful for anyone who has run the Starter Set:

I think it would be very useful though I've only glanced through it myself.

The adventure booklet entitled, Dragon of Icespire Peak, gives a bit more information on Phandalin. The adventures look straight forward. Nothing spectacular, but nothing that has so far made me facepalm neither. Maybe they'll swing one way or another once I've delved deeper.

I particularly like 9 Starter Quests with associated Quest Cards that you can give to the players. These Quest Cards give a synopsis of what the group is trying to accomplish, such as:

Umbrage Hill Quest
The local midwife - an acolyte of Cauntea named Adabra Gwynn - lives by herself in a stone windmill on the side of a hill a few miles south of Phanhdalin. With dragon sightings becoming common, it's not safe for her to be alone. Urge Adabra to return to Phandalin. Once she's safe, visit Townmaster Harbin Wester to claim a reward of 25 gp.

What I like about these Starter Quests is that only one of them has the basic task of Destroy the Evil!!1! All the others are things like fetch an item, warn a village, escort a person, etc. I think this is incredible for teaching new DMs that D&D is not all about Kick in the Door and Take the Pie!

Page 48 of the Adventure book, helps guide new players/DMs to other adventures, mentioning D&DBeyond (more on this later) and also giving short blurbs about each adventure so far published by WotC for 5e.

My daughter, who has run the Starter Set for her friends, seems very excited by the adventures contained in the adventure book. According to her, it's a perfect complement to the Phandelver adventure.

Her D&D gaming pedigree is as such:
  • New to running D&D
  • Only played D&D for a few years. Prior to that, playing Savage Worlds and being her daddy's gaming guinea pig.
Things that are her favorite MATERIAL parts of it:
  • The Condition Cards
  • The double-sided map
  • And her super, duper favorite part: the DM screen. It's smaller than the other official screens and made of thickish cardstock, but it's full of information that she thinks as a beginning DM will be very useful.
In short, for people it was aimed at (Beginners) who have purchased and run the Starter Set Phandelver stuff, it's an awesome addition. I think I'm gonna have to buy another one for myself as she's "acquired" mine. I'm actually tempted to buy a second box set just for the cards inside. I live the aesthetic of the condition cards, the combat cards, etc.

Now on to the DNDBeyond stuff. Full disclosure: I love DNDBeyond. I use it a lot. Even when I'm running a game via Fantasy Grounds. I find it super easy to search and FAST to search through.

On the outside of the box is a little picture/diagram thingy that says: [Picture of the Starter Set and Essential Set with caption: LEARN TO PLAY] >> [Picture of Players Handbook with D&D Beyond emblazoned next to it with the the caption EXPAND YOUR SKILLS].

In the box, is a flier that has on one side pictures of the Starter Set & Essential set that is again labeled Learn to Play, but also includes pictures of the Big Three Core books labeled Develop Your Story, followed by at the bottom with pictures of some of the available other books for 5e labeled Expand Your World; More Stories to Explore. On the other side are some unique codes for DNDBeyond to give them a digital version of Dragon of Icespire Peak AND 50% off the DnDB version of the PHB. See as that is already pretty cheap and now gets that cut in half.

I think this is brilliant marketing.
 

chrisshorb

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.


No Healer?
 

PeelSeel2

Explorer
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?
I was picturing fleshing out the character classes presented in Essentials Kit to 12 15 or 20 in the same, simple manner. Additional spells to the fleshed out level, more magic items, Another Adventure, and another screen with different, pertinent information that could be 'added' to the first one to make an a massive 8 panel screen.

I think their is a market for a simple version of 5th edition. It can be the exact same information, just presented in a different manner to ease learning. I think the Essentials Kit is going to be a MASSIVE hit.
 

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