Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set Review

December 8, 2014 by brennon

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I managed to get my hands on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set a few months ago now and while I could have reviewed it back then I thought I'd wait and see how our campaign progressed before making any judgements on the boxed set. Now, with an adventure near it's end I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the product and the role-playing game as a whole...

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Delving Inside

Inside the Starter Set for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition you get your hands on...

D&D Starter Set

  • 64-page adventure book with everything the Dungeon Master needs to get started
  • 32-page rulebook for playing characters level 1-5
  • 5 pre-generated characters, with character sheet
  • 6 dice

The adventure book is quite the impressive tome. It's certainly no big hard back adventure module but it has an adventure packed to the brim with a very neat story that has plenty of twists and turns. As well as the information that players need to get started with Forgotten Realms and Dungeons & Dragons it also has a small menagerie of monsters at the back for you to use when playing the game, so all the stats are in one place for the Dungeon Master.

The rulebook is presented in a similar format and while it doesn't answer all the questions for a player character it does help you through the first five levels of play in a very simple style. You're not going to be scratching your head and for the newly initiated on dungeon delving it holds your hand allowing you to see the best choices in successive levels meaning you're never at a loss.

Fighter Pre-Gen

As with any good starter set for a role-playing game you also get access to some pre-generated characters. You have two versions of the Human Fighter, an Elf Wizard, a Halfling Rogue and a Dwarf Cleric. Each of them has been decked out in a particular way to give you at once classical view of the typical party structure and also a taster of what they could be able to do in the full rules.

While I think the idea of the pre-generated characters is a good idea I would suggest that experienced role-players of Dungeons & Dragons take the time to check out the online Basic Rules as they give you the opportunity to do character creation. This might make the actual beginning of a new campaign a little more interesting for the players and it's something I wish I'd done with my own group.

As well as that you get the all important polyhedron dice that you'll be needing for play and then you're good to go once you get some pencils and a few rubbers. Overall it's a neat package and actually incredibly reasonably priced for a starter set. You certainly feel like you're getting your moneys worth when it comes to the campaign too.

Going On An Adventure

I'm going to try and be as spoiler free as I can with this but if you want to avoid this section on the adventure entirely then that's understandable. Many D&D lovers may have already played through it however in which case hopefully you'll be able to give some feedback on your thoughts for the campaign.


The adventurers begin with a series of story hooks developed on their character sheets all surrounding a pair of Dwarven brothers and the mystery of the Phandelver Mine. This provides the main storyline for your campaign and it's good to know that there is a set objective right out of the box. Find out more about the Mine and follow the thread.

Soon after the adventure begins they'll find their hub town, a little bit like it would be in an MMORPG, Phandalin. The town is packed with things to do and more or less right away you're going to be given clues that are not red herrings and possible leads as to the eventual whereabouts of the lost mines. The story does a great job of keeping you as the Dungeon Master informed AND gives you tools to get the players back on track if they ever get sidetracked, and they will get sidetracked.

Starter Set Map

As well as looking for threads of the main story they'll be venturing off into the wilderness and exploring the local area and everything is fleshed out nicely to give you a sense of a living and breathing world. What's also great is that the quests aren't just to kill certain enemies. As well as the plethora of combat quests there are a fair few that involve diplomacy and intuition. Here's where my big smile splits across my face. The way D&D has been tweaked means that any approach is entirely possible if you have the right Dungeon Master. If you want to talk your way out of a situation rather than fight, you can. Enemies, while bloodthirsty, can be appeased. You just have to make sure that the tales of their appeasement reach the ears of someone else and suddenly the shift of power could change.

It's all a very natural and fluid feeling world that they've built and the story has plenty of plot twists, both from the Dungeon Master and the player characters little hooks, that make it feel vibrant and engaging throughout. As an example of the way natural storytelling develops player characters can get through an entire dungeon by talking and disguising their way in rather than fighting. The eventual ending has a great 'what next?' feel to it and they even encourage you on several occasions to try and add in your own bit of fluff and character as things move along.Starter Set Monsters

I might add that this story isn't a quick and easy one day thing. If your adventurers take their time and explore every avenue you're going to get a good four or five sessions at maybe 4 hours each out of this campaign. It's a great way to actually get people engaged and coming back for more. All of it ties into the grander narrative of The Tyranny of Dragon campaign as well so you will find that the natural link to the next sourcebook, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, is a great new step.

Tell Us A Tale

What role-playing does that many other games don't do is give you great stories that all of you experience together. It wouldn't be a review of a D&D Campaign without a few choice moments to give you an idea of the kind of fun you can have with the game. Of course, spoiler warning...


Paying off Bugbears: Stuck in a bandit hideout the Fighter decides to barge down a door to see what's on the other side. Immediately a trio of Bugbears swing out at him and reduce him to a smidgen of his original health. Sensing an opportunity to stop a TPK the Elf Wizards steps in and halts the fighting. An exchange follows in which the Bugbears mistake him for a woman, and the Wizard uses this chance to show off his shiny jewels which he thinks would be most befitting of such a wonderful Bugbear. Their leader is flattered by the gifts and let's them live now sporting a lovely ruby earring and most of the parties gold. A fair deal?

Adult Green Dragon

YOU ARE VERY GREEN!: Upon reaching a ruined village the adventurers stumble upon a Green Dragon nesting in the tower. Sensing his time to shine the folk hero Fighter steps up to address the mighty Green Drake and shouts, in his own special way, YOU ARE VERY GREEN right into the Dragons face. Immediately the Wizard and other Fighter step in to sort out the mess and calm a very annoyed dragon and some irate worshipers of Tiamat!


Road Tax: On the way to Phandalin the party stumble upon a group of Hobgoblins on the road. They stand and demand payment for using the road. The Fighter, a lover of law and order, steps forwards and demands to see their papers. An exchange happens where both the Fighter and the Hobgoblins continue to confound and confuse each other until eventually the heroes end up paying them while agitating the Hobgoblins in the mean time.

Fighter: "So do you own the road?"

Hobgoblin: "No, I mean yes, it's a bloomin' toll, just pay it!"

Fighter: "Well I want to see your road license"

Hobgoblin: "What? Just, graaargghh, pay the bloomin' toll!"

Some time later they approach a number of Orcs guarding another section of road and convinced of the Hobgoblins ownership of the road more hilarity ensues as they enter yet another legal argument with these so called road owners.

Just a few of our stories we're going to remember for years to come.

Is It A Better Edition?

D&D 5th Edition Products

While the actual story might be wonderful it's about the mechanics when it comes down to it. Dungeons & Dragons has gone through a fair few iterations now and while everyone has their favourites I think 5th Edition has been a big step forward for the game as a whole and it's a decidedly better product than 4th Edition was. 4th Edition had it's merits, don't get me wrong, but it felt like it constricted you and forced you into a certain way of playing. 5th Edition opens up your opportunities and instead asks 'so what do you want to do?'.

The places where the game really shines are in the way combat and indeed general encounters happen. Combat is very deadly, for both you and the monsters, and if you don't have your wits about you it can be a short time before you get cut down by your enemies. Instead of just wading in with armour and swords then you actually have to be smart. In real adventures the heroes don't just hack through everything, and so that's not encouraged here. You'll find yourself, as both a novice and a pro, finding new ways to approach a situation and the system generally helps you with that without getting in the way.


The way characters develop, and the tightening up of systems like skills, feats and especially spells means that while Wizards are still a tome of paper in front of a player they don't become to burdening. I've not had the chance to take heroes beyond level 5 yet but everything certainly feels more friendly and less about the numbers. The character sheet no longer feels like a barrier between the player and his or her enjoyment of the game, it's now an aid. I felt that's exactly the barrier the combat power cards put up with 4th Edition.

The chance to expand, customise and choose whatever path suits you and your groups playstyle is evident throughout all the rules packages they've presented for D&D 5th Edition in both their physical and digital states and in seeking to please as many people as possible this might be one of those nails they've hit on the head.

The Verdict

Basic Rules Image

Overall I think Wizards of the Coast have done something special with this Edition of the rules. My friends had a great time playing through the story and the only gripe has been one of not really feeling in touch with their characters. That's my fault however as I gave some experienced role-players pre-generated heroes to work with and it may have been a little bit of a misplay on my part. If you get this set, or start your own campaign, and give them the chance to play around with the Basic Rules then I think they'll have a lot of fun.

After a few months then and plenty of time to ponder I would say that if you had a passing interest in Dungeons & Dragons and a group of people willing to go through the story with you and try out the new Edition you can't go too far wrong. With the Basic Rules available for download, a plethora of resources at your finger tips and a relatively cheap entry point into this side of our gaming hobby it's an easy thumbs up from me.

What did you think of the Starter Set and what were the experiences of your heroes, or maybe even you as a Dungeon Master?

Let me know in the comments below!


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"5th Edition opens up your opportunities and instead asks ‘so what do you want to do?’"

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