A Look Inside The Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit

One of the keys to the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons has been the accessibility of the game. Wizards of the Coast released a free edition that offers enough info to play the first few levels like the demo of a video game. The excellent Starter Set offers one of the most solid boxed set D&D has put out since the original Red Box and is often on sale for less than $10 at Amazon usually right around the new release of a D&D book. Hasbro even leveraged the popularity of Stranger Things for a branded boxed set featuring the infamous Demogorgon.

The D&D Essentials Kit came out as a Target exclusive in June as another way to get people hooked on the nerdy charms of pretending to be an elf for a view hours. With the kit now on its way to Friendly Local Game Stores this month as part of a wider release, it seemed like a good time to take a deeper look inside and see how it stacks up to the other boxed sets that are gateways to Dungeons & Dragons.

Essentials Kit Rulebook: This 64-page booklet offers a nice distillation of the important rules from D&D. It also offers some limited character creation for folks to personalize their characters right away rather than the pre-generated characters used in the other boxed sets. This book also has a sampling of spells and magic items players can acquire and use as they make their way through the adventure. For veterans, this book also offered the first glance at sidekick rules made for small groups (or one-on-one sessions) where the players might need help on their adventures from a character controlled by the Dungeon Master.

Dragon of Icespire Peak Adventure: The adventure is set in and around the town of Phandalin first introduced in the original Starter Set. The setup is fairly simple; there’s a dragon that’s flying around and terrorizing the area and its is up the heroes to take it down.

Lost Mines of Phandelver has a stronger plot than this adventure, but the authors were wise to mimic the quest line selection and random dragon attacks found in the popular video game Skyrim. Many potential D&D players are familiar with the structure of leveling up their characters with small quests before heading out to take the Big Bad. The expectation is that the players will choose a few quests, gain levels by completing them successfully and then take on the dragon once they feel ready.

The smaller quests also help the Dungeon Master learn pacing. Fifth Edition prefers to use milestone levels that eliminate older editions tracking of experience points gained by slaughtering bad guys. The unclaimed quests just sort of go away, but it would have been cool to see the consequences for failing the job or letting them go uncompleted. One of the advantages that Dungeons & Dragons has over video games is showing the organic consequences of actions.

Essentials Kit cards: There are several tearaway sheets that create a deck of cards for use with the set. The card include summaries of a combat turn, the magic items that players can acquire, the conditions like Blinded or Restricted that bad guys can inflict in combat, initiative cards and even NPC cards that can go along with the sidekick rules. Having accessories that players can touch and feel helps teach the game and eases the transition from board games to tabletop RPGs and these are a great addition to the set.

Double-Sided Map: D&D players love maps and they get two: a map of Phandelin and a map of the region of the Forgotten Realms called the Sword Coast in which the town is located. Most Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition products are set in the Realms by default which offers a pretty standard Lord of the Rings style fantasy world. For those enterprising Dungeon Masters who already have a notebook filled with ideas for their own world, these elements slot in very easily.

Dungeon Master Screen: This is a small cardboard reference screen with inspirational art on the front and reference charts on the back. It’s probably the weakest part of the boxed set but it’s nice that they included it for that Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic.

D&D Beyond codes: There is an online companion site called D&D Beyond where fans can access online content. This boxed set makes the first explict cooperation between the two with coupon codes for additional content for the boxed set such as adventures for higher levels that continue the story and a discount on a digital version of the Player’s Handbook.

Dice and character sheets: One set is a good start but play moves much faster if everyone brings their own dice. Additional character sheets are nice for more players or replacing unfortunate characters who chose...poorly.

The Essentials Kit is a great gateway for anyone looking to try their hand at being a Dungeon Master. It compliments the original Starter Kit well by adding more material to the area defined in that boxed set. It can be found at Target stores and game stores everywhere.

I am a game designer with over 15 years worth of game credits and industry experience. My work includes licensed games based on worlds like Star Wars, Star Trek and Fire...