D&D Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Review

Three years after the D&D Essentials Kit and eight years after the D&D Starter Set with the Lost Mine of Phandelver were released, WotC has a new one, D&D Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. In April during the D&D Direct event it was explained that a third set was intended to make it even easier for new players and DMs through a mix of new digital on-boarding and implementing things they learned from the prior two sets.
Starter Kit Box.png

Mixed Feelings​

I love almost anything that lowers the bar to entry for new players and grows the base of RPG players. It's one of my passions. Yet I have mixed feelings about this set. Maybe I'm comparing it too much to the Essentials Kit, which did several things really well.

The first disappointment is how little it holds in comparison to the Essentials Kit. That held a simplified rule book, the adventure Dragonspire Peak, 11 dice, a DM screen, condition cards, a double-sided poster map, and cards for the magic items and sidekicks. By contrast, the DoSI Starter Set has 6 dice, a 48-page adventure, 5 pre-gen character sheets, and a 32-page rulebook. Now maybe 11 dice were overkill, especially considering the supply chain issues and super expensive shipping costs we've been dealing with since 2020, but no DM screen? No condition cards?

Now yes, WotC probably wants you to buy all of the sets, but that wouldn't make the condition cards redundant. Rather, I wish they'd sell extra condition cards separately so a DM could hand out a card for every player affected. In lieu of that, having them in each set makes the sets more attractive and would make keeping track of conditions much easier. The DM screen in the Essentials Kit isn't as heavy duty as standalone-purchase screens so it doesn't deter sales for continuing players.

Good Kobold.jpg

The Upside​

On the positive side, I really like the adventure, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle, and not just because, well, dragons. It's a solid adventure scaled for 1st through 3rd level characters that has a nice blend of action/combat, exploration, and social interaction. In fact, a role-playing interaction with some evil kobolds (as opposed to good kobolds earlier in the adventure) can help the players if handled well. The titular island has been a battleground for metallic and chromatic dragons for centuries. The players become ensnared in the conflict between an adult bronze dragon seeking her missing wyrmling and blue dragon wyrmling seeking to acquire power.

The players also don't have to do the section in a specific order, which is nice. DoSI uses milestone initiative, and there are notes in the adventure to scale the challenges based on the players' level when they get there. I like that.

Cartoon Easter Egg.jpg

How Do You Combine It?​

On the flip side, I wish DoSI contained information on how to combine it with the Essentials Kit adventure to make a longer campaign. I thought they had mentioned that in the D&D Direct event, but I'm not finding it in my notes, so I might be mistaken. Still, if they want to sell both sets, that would be one way to do it with some instructions on how to run it with one first and then the other first, depending upon the order they were purchased, and how to scale up the second one played.

DoSI does contain some mini side quests for each character, which is good. The Exploring the Island section has information on how to expand the adventure as well. The adventure also contains tips for the DM, such as not to worry too much about exact locations when dealing with the violet fungus because they're slow moving, and it's better to focus on what's fun and exciting anyway.

The adventure does have art of the characters from the old D&D cartoon aged up slightly, but it's just an Easter egg. The characters don't actually appear in the adventure unless you model your pre-gens after them.

The mini rulebook is fine. Most of it is reprinted or modified from the PHB, of course, but some explanations were simplified or rewritten with absolute newcomers in mind. It also contains info on where to find more information online, such as the videos and digital tools Natalie Egan and Shelly Mazzanoble mentioned during the D&D Direct event.
staretset.png

The Grade​

So this set has good content, but it's not what I had hoped. If I was only comparing it to the original Starter Set from 2014, it would fare better because they're roughly comparable. However, when compared with the 2019 Essentials Kit, it pales by comparison in terms of the overall set content. So the overall set is a B – respectable, does what it sets out to do well, but it didn't blow me away.

However, the adventure within it is quite good. I like it better than Lost Mine of Phandelver. LMoP isn't bad. It's just personal preference. Grading the new set based solely on the adventure, I'd give it an A- because I really like DoSI. If it did have instructions on how to pair it with Dragonspire Peak for a longer campaign, I'd give it a full A.

So if you're looking for a starter set as a gift or because you're ready to try D&D on your own, well, maybe buy the Essentials Kit first for the more robust package – though that set requires you to make characters. If you want to start playing faster, this new Starter Set is the way to go because it has pre-gens. Either way you'll get a good beginner's package, and with either set you can use the D&D digital resources to build up your confidence and help you get started. Then if you like D&D and want more, you can always buy the other set before transitioning to one of the larger adventures or a homebrew game.

The D&D Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a Target exclusive until Oct. 4, 2022, when it'll be available worldwide in game stores and other retailers.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


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It's possible that the stories told in a Starter Set are designed for people starting.
Having seen many many Starter Sets come and go since I started with the Basic Set in 1983, I can say that the ones which tried to “dummy down” the adventure and which presented a random or threadbare generic setting which had no connection with existing (or planned) D&D lore, were forgettable duds. That “generic dummy” trend was a weird mindset in late TSR. (E.g. the VHS and CD-based starter sets, but also others.)

I’m not saying that any of the three 5e sets have sunk that low. Just a friendly warning! 🙂
 


Andrea Rocci

Explorer
The meh is powerful in this one. :(
It looks decidely inferior both to Phandelver and to the Essentials kit. And it does not even have the gimmicky quality of the (forgettable) Stranger Things starter set.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Very, very disappointed - but, sadly, not surprised - to see it uses milestone levelling rather than xp.

Does it even present xp-based levelling as an option?
 

What I find really weird is using this nostalgia angle for a starter set aimed at new players. Because surely new players aren't going to be nostalgic for a fairly obscure cartoon that ended 27 years ago? And even aiming it at parents of prospective new players doesn't seem to fit - the kids of older fans would seem to be a few years too old for a parental recommendation to be a positive thing.
Because adults buy it for their kids.
 

It's possible that the stories told in a Starter Set are designed for people starting.
Lesson that the Dwarven Excavation teaches D&D newcomers:

“D&D is boring and perversely futile.”

Players: “Oh great, we excavated the final passage after 40 hours of labor! Ooh a statue of an evil Dwarven god! Ooh, let’s find the treasure…we’re tired of these bare passages and secret doors that lead to empty rooms! What treasure do we find after 40 hours of labor?”

DM: There’s a gem.

Players: ooh!

DM: It explodes.

The end.

What a perversely boring adventure!
 

bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
Lesson that the Dwarven Excavation teaches D&D newcomers:

“D&D is boring and perversely futile.”

Players: “Oh great, we excavated the final passage after 40 hours of labor! Ooh a statue of an evil Dwarven god! Ooh, let’s find the treasure…we’re tired of these bare passages and secret doors that lead to empty rooms! What treasure do we find after 40 hours of labor?”

DM: There’s a gem.

Players: ooh!

DM: It explodes.

The end.

What a perversely boring adventure!
Are you just going to repetitively quote me so I am forced to get notifications about your negativity?
 

delericho

Legend
Because adults buy it for their kids.
Yes, but the timing doesn't work. As was pointed out by @Jer, the D&D cartoon ended 37 years ago. That's the wrong gap for parents buying it for their kids (too long, in general), or for grandparents buying for grandkids (too short, in general).

I get the appeal of nostalgia, and using those characters makes sense. Just not for this product. (In fact, since they're apparently going to cameo in the film, the time for them to appear on a box is neat year.)
 

It just so happens that I am co-authoring the World of Motherland, the homeworld of the LJN Action Figures, along with Mike Grey, a former TSR designer who wrote the only adventure which features those characters: XL1: Quest for the Heartstone.

As part of this design-work, I/we had to piece together a timeline for those characters’ canonical appearances, including their appearance in episodes of the D&D Cartoon Show.

So I lined up timelines for both those worlds. And also with the other worlds in which those characters have sometimes appeared: Mystara, Oerth, and Toril. I don’t have my notes with me, but there was a FR comic (in the 90s or 2000s IIRC) where the Kids appeared. Also in one of the FR video games.

According to the final unproduced script, the Kids did make it home to Earth (in 1986 IIRC). So their appearances in Toril are later incursions. Those are datable by the Dale Reckoning, as is this recent appearance.
Nice! Well done!
 

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