Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition Essential Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit

High Def Universe hasn’t done a lot of coverage on gaming lately, but hopefully with the help of Wizards of the Coast, that will change quite a bit.  To kick off our new focus on gaming, Wizards of the Coast was kind enough to send me their Essential Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit with the new 4th Edition rules. This set is the best way to start playing the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game since it has everything you need to get started.  Designed for 1–5 players, this boxed game contains everything needed to start playing the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Role-playing Game, including rules for creating heroes, advice for playing the Dungeon Master, a solo play adventure, and group-play adventure content. Learning the game has never been so easy!  Several different character races (dwarf, elf, halfling, and human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard) are presented, along with powers for each race and class.  Many of you old school D&D fans may be wondering how the new 4th Edition rules stack up against the 3.5 and older rules.  Read on…

Dungeons and Dragons has endured for decades despite false claims from evangelists, the taunts of friends and family that think it’s a game for nerds, and two movies (especially the first one) that tarnished the good name of D&D.  It’s the best selling and most well known role-playing game in the world, it’s sold over 1 Billion dollars worth of books and accessories, and it’s estimated that over 20 million people have played it – and I’m one of them.  I started playing the original D&D (remember the three small paperback books?) in the 7th grade with my good friend Randy.  We eventually moved on to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Randy’s brother Ryan joined us and became my fellow loot seeking partner.
Then along came the 2nd Edition rules which their mother liked better since all mention of devils and demons were removed from the game.  By now, we were getting together every weekend and playing as much as we could since Randy always made the adventures pretty epic.  The bulk of our D&D playing time was during the heyday of the 2nd Edition and I have a lot of fond memories of it.  When the 3rd Edition came out it was a big change with the new d20 system and the addition of feats along with a ton of changes to the classes, and ”non-weapon proficiencies” were replaced by skills that were actually useful. A few more tweaks were added which upgraded the game to the 3.5 Edition, which is the point when we gradually stopped playing.  Cue five years later and we are now up to the 4th Edition rules which have changed the game again.

Let’s talk about what comes in this Essential Starter Set.  Inside every box you will find everything you need to start playing the game including:
  • 32-page book for players, with rules for character creation and a solo adventure
  • 64-page book for Dungeon Masters, with the rules of the game, advice on how to run the game, and adventure content
  • 2 sheets of die-cut tokens for characters and monsters
  • Cardstock character sheets and power cards
  • Double-sided dungeon map
  • 6 polyhedral dice
What’s great about this box set is that it really is geared to people that haven’t played before and don’t have the dice, books, etc. that you would normally need to play.  One of the smart things they’ve done to make this easier and more accessible for new players is how they handle character creation in this.  Instead of doing it like I used to where you roll the dice after going through the player handbook to decide which of the many classes I wanted to play, it’s now like a choose your own adventure story.  As you go through the introductory mini adventure, the choices you make will determine almost everything about your character.
Since all but one of my former adventuring buddies had moved away, I enlisted the help of my wife Jami and her friend Allie who both had decided to give the game a shot after years of mocking others for playing it.  Neither one had ever played it before so I knew they would be the perfect test group to see how well this new starter set would work for the uninitiated.  Although the choose your own adventure character creation system seemed to be designed for a solo player, I decided to use that since I thought that the interactive character creation system would appeal to them more than the traditional way.  It was a little tricky having to go back and forth between the two characters and the choices they made, but the two of them seemed to like doing it that way. Jami didn’t want to be “mean” so she decided to become a cleric while Allie was all for blasting bad guys with magic so she became a wizard.
The introductory adventure begins with a box being stolen from a merchant and the characters are asked to retrieve it.  To do so, they are asked to fight thieves, wolves, and more.  Their fight with the guards and their pet wolves at the entrance of the hideout somehow turned into an epic battle of life and death for the girls.  They had decided that they didn’t need to go to town to hire some extra help (despite the DM’s suggestion to do so) and that decision resulted in a brutal fight that took awhile to finish and left them drained.  Our conversation went something like this:
Jami: It’s over! We’re done right?
Allie: Thank God.
Me: Ummm….no you’ve just killed the guards outside the cave. You haven’t even started the adventure yet.
Jami and Allie: What!?
Me: You have to go into the dungeon to get the box remember?
Jami: Why do we have to do it? Why can’t the merchant get it himself?
Me: Because you two are supposed to be heroes and you told him that you would.
Allie: This is lame.
They eventually went into the cave and defeated the remaining evil-doers with the help of some hired mercenaries and even made it down into the dungeon but it was amusing to me to see how differently they played the game versus how my old group played it.  As soon as they entered the main bad guy’s dungeon, they split up and started randomly opening doors even if the other character was already fighting others.  I thought for sure this would result in their death, but between an amazing run of luck combined with the tough non-player characters that they had hired, they actually survived it.  Further proof of of those differences was when Allie walked into a room that had a Dragon and all of his treasure in it and was so nonchalant about it all that you’d think she had just walked into a Starbucks.
Dragon: You dare to enter the lair of Farallax you impudent human!  Bow before me!
Allie: Hi.
Dragon: (Taken aback) Why do you so foolishly interrupt my slumber?
Allie: I don’t know. We’re looking for a guy with a box. Have you seen him?
Dragon: Do you speak of the Necromancer Malareth?
Allie: I don’t know. Some guy with a box.
Dragon: Why should I help you and not kill you where you stand?
Allie: That wouldn’t be very nice of you.
Jami and Allie eventually got more comfortable using their spells and abilities, but it was apparent to me that while they were the ideal candidates to test how well the new character creation system worked, they weren’t as suited for running a full on adventure with.  They were good sports but they just didn’t have the patience to play this kind of game.  Despite not really being interested in the game or knowing anything about it, this starter set worked perfectly as intended as they were able to create their characters and play the game.

As the Dungeon Master, I loved how the set had everything I needed including the maps, dice, character sheets, the adventure, a monster manual, and spell cards and playing pieces.  The new 4E rules took me a while to get used to but they work well and seem to be easier for new players to understand.  Playing this again certainly reawakened my love for the game and I hope that we get to continue our coverage of other Wizards of the Coast products since there’s a lot of other cool stuff out now.  I especially love the new map tiles sets that we would have really utilized back when we used to play.  If you are an old player that hasn’t checked out the new rules or if you are someone that’s never played D&D before, this starter set is the perfect way to start your adventure!
If you’d like to purchase this set please click on the image below!
A funny look at the changes made by the 4th Edition rules
If I had $10,000 to spare, this would be mine!
A nice overview of the new game. Part 1
Part 2
Another humorous video for any players that have had to face a beholder!

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