The Saving Throw
D&D Starter Set 2014
Queen of Light took her bow, And then she turned to go, the Prince of Peace embraced the gloom, And walked the night alone.

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Overall Review
published by Wizards of the Coast reviewed by Scott Wachter
96 pages, 2014, $19.99 Print
Game Setting 2.5
Art 4.5
Character Generation 2
Game Rules 3.5
Intelligibility 4.5
Review Scoring

The new D&D has hit shelves - not without some miscommunications with regards to street date, if the twitter-sphere is any indication - and presents the gamer-verse with a nifty little boxed set of rules and adventure to help newbies get their feet wet. The box contains two booklets (one for rules and one for a rather lengthy adventure), a set of six polyhedral dice (any colour you want as long as it's blue), five pre-generated character sheets, and a cardboard insert so the box doesn't seem quite so empty. A pencil or three would have been nice, but that's just nitpicking.

The character sheets offer players the choice of a fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric or a different kind of fighter. Everything except player and character names have been filled in with handy descriptions of how most everything works on one, not especially crowded page. The sheets also include relevant class and race descriptions along with shades of backstory and bits of personality to get the ball rolling. The back page features class progressions through to the fifth level. However, it would have been nice to have had even a couple of choices for advancement or background traits just to see how varied the system could be. But at this point it seems the order of the day is helping people get their feet wet in the game, not crowding the set with features.

The mechanics are 2nd Edition's feel by way of 3rd Edition's mechanical streamlining with just a touch 4th Edition's presentation and terminology. I'm reserving final judgement until after the full game is released, but as it stands it's okay; there are worst things to ask of a new version of D&D. I'm glad to see Advantage and Disadvantage (roll an extra die, then take the better or worse depending on circumstances) survived playtest feedback, and that the adventurer's work day is more comparable to that of a 4th Edition character's while still keeping a low level PC on the fragile side. As for the explanation of the rules themselves, it's clear and to the point but it is frighteningly lacking in example text, which is critical for introducing newcomers.

The 64-page adventure takes a couple of pages to introduce the bare minimum of game mastering before launching into a multi-part, multi-dungeon adventure that takes players from a crummy caravan guard gig to discovering a long lost magical item creation engine, with a few side trips to rescue old guys, defeat thugs, and even slay a dragon. All the content in the book should put players at around 5th level by the end. There's nothing too terribly standout about the adventure itself. It is a fairly standard "Dwarf family has hired players to find lost mine/mystical macguffin, adventure ensues". But there are also no serious missteps either - except for the fact that the lost mine is called 'Wave Echo Cave', which sounds kinda silly when you say it out loud the first time and gets sillier each subsequent time it is mentioned. Bonus points go to the character backstories and motivations dovetailing into the presented side-quests so players have a reason to hunt down bandits, slay that dragon, and seek out a castle full of monsters, though I do have to dock the designers some points for conveniently placing all the side quest locations in a line between plot point two and plot point three like bread crumbs.

Like any WOTC product in the past ten years this one is lovely to look at with good art pieces, good layout, and rigid organization, this product also takes the time to break down and explain how information in adventures is organized.

As a teaser for 5th Edition, this piqued my interest far better than a year of beta notes and blog posts did, but it needs a touch more to serve as an introduction to D&D for complete neophytes. More physical items, like an incomplete map of the region, handouts, or rules cheat sheets might have done more to engage players and new game masters might have benefited from a dozen more pages on how to run and play the game. There must be better way to introduce people to D&D, but this box is serviceable with an experienced player to guide new gamers.

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