WotC D&D Essentials Kit

Jester David

Adventurer
The D&D Essentials Kit is a decent starter box. Arguably one of the best starter boxes D&D has ever done. Because it includes character generation and tries to walk brand new players through the game, it’s an excellent product for players new to RPGs in general and D&D in specific. And the sidekick system and design of the adventures is a novel addition that nicely distinguishes this product from prior attempts. Unlike the Starter Set, which was a rote product designed to hit checkboxes of what was expected in a new player kit, the Essentials Kit innovates and tries to add some surprises, such as the quest and magic item cards and the sidekick rules. Even the adventure tries to innovate slightly, being a series of connected quests that can be knocked out during a lunch break.

Sadly, the included rulebook doesn’t make it easier to consume the rules or start playing than downloading the free Basic Rules. You still need to read through one or two dozen pages of solid text. The box doesn’t present the rules any more simply, or make playing any easier.

I do wish a little more work an imagination could have been put into the quests. A little investigation and problem solving and perhaps a puzzle or two. Highlight the different ways of playing D&D and different types of adventure you can run. As presented, the quests are not only generic but a tad repetitive. While a skilled dungeon master should easily be able to take what’s written in this product and turn it into a memorable and interesting encounter, the whole point of starter sets is that the DM isn’t skilled and needs that extra hand.

Despite these complaints, this product really raises the bar for D&D starter boxes, and is one of the best boxed sets for new players D&D has ever produced.


Read my full review
HERE
 

ced1106

Explorer
With both the Starter Kit and Essentials Kit being inexpensive, play the campaign from the Starter Kit with the stuff from Essentials. Two rulebooks come in handy, so the Starter Kit's rulebook won't go to waste. Both products are meant to get you to buy the more expensive core books, but, if you enjoy playing low level characters, you won't need them.
 

Arilyn

Adventurer
I really like the contents of this set, the cards, dice, GM screen, etc. are great. Unfortunately, the adventure is dull, and strangely deadly at lower levels. 1st level characters could easily run into a manticore as their very first fight. A manticore??!! The orcs are also too deadly at 1st level with their scary greataxes.

The adventure is supposed to be geared for brand new players and GMs. It's supposed to be designed so even one player can survive. But even with a sidekick, a manticore?! This baffles me, and it's too bad, because as I said, the contents are great.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I really like the contents of this set, the cards, dice, GM screen, etc. are great. Unfortunately, the adventure is dull, and strangely deadly at lower levels. 1st level characters could easily run into a manticore as their very first fight. A manticore??!! The orcs are also too deadly at 1st level with their scary greataxes.

The adventure is supposed to be geared for brand new players and GMs. It's supposed to be designed so even one player can survive. But even with a sidekick, a manticore?! This baffles me, and it's too bad, because as I said, the contents are great.
The adventure is really fun to actually run.
 

JeffB

Hero
For the money the Essentials Kit is a good buy-it has plenty of eye-candy with the cards and map and extra dice set, and character generation is a plus for some. The real meat is the adventure.

However, the adventure is lackluster, and while most complete newcomer adventures have many elements of a video game's quests- the essentials kit adventure is blatant with it's "job board" and "do this and you get X gold". Then after you have done the low level easy peasy stuff- some new jobs show up on the board which opens up harder areas, and so-on. Meh. Additionally the main enemy is known from the beginning and most of the adventure meat is in minor side quest type things that ultimately don't have much to do with the main enemy (and PC's may or may not ever learn about, let alone investigate). Completely the opposite of Lost Mine where the Side Quests are up front, and usually tie back into, or lead characters back to the main adventure somehow. While I enjoy the random element of the main enemy in the Essentials Kit adventure showing up here and there-the player's cannot really defeat the enemy at those times, and instead will just have to find it's lair at some point in order to actually defeat it- I hate to say it, but more videogame. There is no real mystery for the PC's to solve, very little sense of urgency, and locations that are side plots are more interesting than the main adventure story locations and foe. The initial quests are not very exciting at all- I used them on my 8yo daughter and she ignored them instead trying to find something more interesting to do, like finding out where the big bad guy was. 🤷

In contrast-The Starter Set's Lost Mine provides more plot, mystery and sinister air to the adventure which draws PLAYERS into the adventure and therefore the game. It then sprinkles some side plots/quests into the mix.

My Bottom Line- While the Essentials Kit may offer a crisper/clearer physical presentation compared to the Starter Set- it is a typical boring to newcomers exercise in character generation, and a low energy introduction to a low energy adventure that takes too long to get to any good bits (if they are found). Lost Mine gets players immediately into the action with it's pre-gens (which are the kinds of things you would be creating from scratch anyway) and the actual adventure starts out in an exciting way and provides some real mystery and greater intensity throughout. As a budding DM who already has the Starter Set, The Essentials Kit makes a fantastic follow up/add-on product to a PC group using Phandalin as a home base-assuming the DM is prepared to pump some much needed energy into the adventure/plot line. But I would never recommend the Essentials Kit over the Starter Set for complete newcomers to D&D/TTRPGs, or as an intro to a new edition for experienced players.
 
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Nebulous

Hero
In contrast-The Starter Set's Lost Mine provides more plot, mystery and sinister air to the adventure which draws PLAYERS into the adventure and therefore the game. It then sprinkles some side plots/quests into the mix.

My Bottom Line- While the Essentials Kit may offer a crisper/clearer physical presentation compared to the Starter Set- it is a typical boring to newcomers exercise in character generation, and a low energy introduction to a low energy adventure that takes too long to get to any good bits (if they are found). Lost Mine gets players immediately into the action with it's pre-gens (which are the kinds of things you would be creating from scratch anyway) and the actual adventure starts out in an exciting way and provides some real mystery and greater intensity throughout. As a budding DM who already has the Starter Set, The Essentials Kit makes a fantastic follow up/add-on product to a PC group using Phandalin as a home base-assuming the DM is prepared to pump some much needed energy into the adventure/plot line.

But I would never recommend the Essentials Kit over the Starter Set for complete newcomers to D&D/TTRPGs, or as an intro to a new edition for experienced players.
I agree completely. I'm running Lost Mine for the second time, and it is still a fantastic low level adventure that easily wins a seat at the table of classic D&D products. I picked up Esssentials a few months ago when I noticed it was also set in the same region. I thought that was a nice tie-in and a way to dovetail on a familiar setting. The individual adventures for the most part are somewhat lackluster, although some are better than others for sure. I have been using it to supplement Lost Mine. The plot has sort of told itself, and problems at the Tower of Storms have linked themselves to an entire series of problems that bleed through Thundertree, Cragmaw, The Lumber yard, Falcon's Lodge and the Circle of Thunder.

So, from the perspective of fleshing out Lost Mine and making the region even more robust and "living" (meaning there are lots of things going on not related to The Black Spider) I think it is an excellent supplement. But I would not want to run it by itself, nor would I recommend that.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
I'm running this with my group, along with the starter set, because as you all know, it's set in the same region. The campaign has really come alive and the group is having lots of fun. They are now 5th level, and I think I will continue with the online expansions to the essentials boxed.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I have to say the simple fact that the the Essentails Kit provides a bare bones character generation, and the Gnomengarde quest alone are a win in my book. I got to use my best crazy gnome voice for a solid 3 hours.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
I have to say the simple fact that the the Essentails Kit provides a bare bones character generation, and the Gnomengarde quest alone are a win in my book. I got to use my best crazy gnome voice for a solid 3 hours.
I don't know about best gnome voices, but the group had a lot of fun in this adventure, the gnomish names alone was a huge win that kept everyone chuckling the whole time.
 

wicked cool

Explorer
if you combined them what order would you play them. I think im having the board replaced with the dwarf from the starter and hes involved in the mini quests
 

Burnside

Explorer
if you combined them what order would you play them. I think im having the board replaced with the dwarf from the starter and hes involved in the mini quests
I would run LMOP as written through the end of chapter two. skipping DoIP's 3 starter quests (of the 3, only Gnomengard is particularly good). Then I'd replace most of LMoP's Chapter 3 sidequests with better ones from DoIP, and run the two adventures more or less simulatneously from that point, letting the players decide where to go & what to do.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I would run LMOP as written through the end of chapter two. skipping DoIP's 3 starter quests (of the 3, only Gnomengard is particularly good). Then I'd replace most of LMoP's Chapter 3 sidequests with better ones from DoIP, and run the two adventures more or less simulatneously from that point, letting the players decide where to go & what to do.
Thundertree and Cragmaw Castle are excellent in Chapter 3, and have great maps, I would definitely recommend running those.
 

Burnside

Explorer
Thundertree and Cragmaw Castle are excellent in Chapter 3, and have great maps, I would definitely recommend running those.
Cragmaw I would not consider a side-quest; it's part of the main plotline of LMoP and shouldn't be cut.

Thundertree has a nice map but storywise it's under-drawn. It feels like somebody said "put a dragon, some cultists, some zombies, and a druid here" and somebody else made a desultory effort to tie them together. Or else stuff got left on the cutting room floor for page count reasons.
 

Nebulous

Hero
Cragmaw I would not consider a side-quest; it's part of the main plotline of LMoP and shouldn't be cut.

Thundertree has a nice map but storywise it's under-drawn. It feels like somebody said "put a dragon, some cultists, some zombies, and a druid here" and somebody else made a desultory effort to tie them together. Or else stuff got left on the cutting room floor for page count reasons.
The Thundertree plot could be better, yes. I think it's a good start for a story if the DM fleshes it out some. Both times I've run it I've added a dragon egg clutch the cultists are most interested in. It changes the dynamic considerably.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I'm looking forward to running this, but see where some will need to be modified. I have run a few campaigns in Phandalin so far and already modified the town and several NPCs with one being Harbin the quest giver.

I do like the dragon as the overall threat and looming problem that weaves all the quests together. The orcs coming out of the mountains is fine except there is only one type of orc and I tend to make orc archers and thugs along with a orc caster or chief. There is quest based leveling which I'm coming around to with my last campaign.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I am considering overlapping the territory of Venomfang and the white dragon, and that will leave Phandalin roughly in the middle of a draconic no-man's land. Which for dramatic purposes would be pretty cool.

 

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