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Getting Started With Dungeons and Dragons: Starter Set Vs Essentials Kit

Jennifer Wilber is a teacher and writer. She holds a B.A. in English and an Associate's in Computer Game Design. She is a life-long gamer.

"Dungeons and Dragons" Starter Set vs Essentials Kit

"Dungeons and Dragons" Starter Set vs Essentials Kit

Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons

If you have always been interested in Dungeons and Dragons (often abbreviated as D&D or DnD) but don’t know where to start, there are official Dungeons and Dragons products that can help you get started. The current version of Dungeons and Dragons is the fifth edition, often called 5e. While the publisher, Wizards of the Coast, does have some free downloadable content to help new players get started, you may prefer the convenience of the official starter kits, which include everything you and your friends need to start your first Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

The two most popular beginners’ kits for Dungeons and Dragons 5e are the Starter Set, which has been available since 2014, and the Essentials Kits, which was released earlier in 2019 as a Target-exclusive product and made available at other retailers in September of 2019.

The Starter Set

The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set is the classic introductory kit for fifth edition. For years, this set has been the first place many new players go when first getting into Dungeons and Dragons. It includes everything you need to learn the basic rules to get started playing D&D. It is excellent for players who are completely new to tabletop roleplaying games and want to quickly get started.

The included adventure module, The Lost Mines of Phandelver, and pre-generated character sheets can get a group of new players started with their first D&D campaign in a matter of minutes with minimal set-up work. The campaign is designed for characters starting at level 1 and takes them up to level 5.

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

Starter Set Advantages

Because the Starter Set includes several premade character sheets, new players can jump right in and start playing without having to learn how to create a character. This might be an advantage for some players who are eager to jump right in. Each provided character comes complete with an interesting backstory that ties them into the overall adventure.

The adventure module included with this set includes a cohesive story that players can jump right into with their selected character. It has various paths the characters can choose to follow, a number of enemy encounters that give players plenty of chances to practice the basics of combat, and it ends in with a satisfying conclusion.

Starter Set Disadvantages

The fact that this Starter Set doesn’t take players through the process of creating a character may be disappointing to many new players. The character options in this set are limited. The adventure included with this set is also meant for 2-6 players, in addition to a dungeon master, so new players who don’t have a large enough group to get started with may run into trouble.
While this set does include the basics that new players need to get started, they will likely quickly feel the need to seek out additional information and content.

The Essentials Kit

The Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit is a newer introductory kit meant to help new players get started and learn the basics of D&D. Like the Starter Set, the Essentials Kit includes a basic rulebook and a premade adventure module, The Dragon of Icespire Peak. In addition, you also get several sheets of cards, including item cards, quest cards, and initiative order cards. This kit also comes with a double-sided map featuring the Sword Coast on one side and the town of Phandalin on the other, a set of 11 dice, as well as a DM screen and blank character sheets.

Arguably the greatest addition to the Essentials Kit is the inclusion of 1v1 rules and followers. This new mechanic allows for campaigns with just a dungeon master and one player by allowing the addition of NPC followers to the party. This is great for new players who want to try out Dungeons and Dragons before joining a whole group, as well as for players who want to play when they can’t get the whole group together.

Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit

Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit

Essentials Kit Advantages

This newer kit includes a lot more than the original Starter Set. It walks players through the process of creating a character right off the bat, which most players will probably prefer to the limited selection of premade characters included with the Starter Set. This kit includes everything your group needs to get started, create your own characters, and run an adventure for characters from levels 1-6. This kit also includes a few extras to make the game more immersive.

The new rules for 1v1 play included with the Essentials Kit allow new players to jump right in without needing a full party to start learning how to play dungeons and dragons.

Because this campaign in based on short quests accessed from a job board, the party can complete a full quest during a short session, rather than having to wait to find out what happens next a week later. This can help keep new players engaged with the story.

The item cards are an excellent addition, and players may find that they want to use them for future campaigns.

Essentials Kit Disadvantages

Some players may not like that the included adventure is broken into short side-quests. The story may feel disjointed and many players may prefer a longer, more cohesive story like the one included with the Starter Set. The Dungeon Master running the included Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure will likely have to put in more thought and effort to tie the mini-quests included in this adventure together into a cohesive and engaging story for the players.

There may also be some new players who don’t feel ready to create their own characters the first time they play and prefer the pre-made character sheets included in the original set.

Should You Buy the Starter Set or Essentials Kit?

Both introductory Dungeons and Dragons 5e products have advantages and disadvantages. If you and/or your group are more interested in quickly jumping in playing the game, the original Starter Set is likely your best bet.

If you are looking to learn how to create your own characters or want to get started with a very small group, the newer Essentials Kit is a better choice. The extra items included in this kit also make it a better value.

Because both adventures take place in the same setting, a third option is to combine both sets. Though this may take more prep work and effort, using the adventure from the Starter Kit, The Lost Mines of Phandelver, but adding the additional content provided by the Essentials Kit, including the side quests from Dragon of Icespire Peak, plus the character creation walkthrough, sidekick rules, and extra items (cards, map, etc) could make for a more immersive and fun introduction to Dungeons and Dragons 5e.

© 2019 Jennifer Wilber