A classic returns for a whole new generation...
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Other than toys, one of my passions is role playing games. I’ve got a pretty huge collection of pen and paper games ranging from good old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons all the way through to Star Wars, Rifts, Cthulhutech, and many more. Of course, it was Dungeons & Dragons by TSR that really started the whole thing way back in 1974. More than eight versions later, we’re now in the glory days of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition as published by Wizards of the Coast. One of the most robust and yet easy to learn RPGs on the market, 4th Edition combines all of the best elements of previous versions while streamlining the process and giving the player a whole new toolbox of fun powers. While the main books (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) rolled out in 2008, Wizards of the Coast is now giving prospective players a fun new way to learn the game that’s at the same time an homage to a beloved and iconic product of yesteryear. That’s right; we’re talking about the Red Box!
In 1983, in response to the growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, the core game was expanded with a set of rules aimed at teaching new players. It was called the Basic Set, though because of the color of its packaging it became known affectionately as the Red Box. New in stores right now is the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set, D&D 4th Edition’s answer to that classic set. True to form, it too comes in a bright red box and has already become known by the same name.
The Starter Set comes in a sturdy (red!) box about 11 ¾ inches tall and 9 inches wide. The front panel recreates the classic product with the old school Dungeons & Dragons logo and one of the most famous paintings by Larry Elmore: a solitary warrior facing off against a huge red dragon. There are some interesting updates to the information found on the cover after 17 years, most notably the increase of the suggested age from 10 to 12 as well the change from “Role-Playing” to “Roleplaying” in the title. Of course, the logo on the very bottom is Wizards of the Coast and not TSR. The back of the box is emblazoned with the tagline “Your First Step on the Road to Adventure!” There’s a rundown of the package’s contents, as well as photos of everything you’ll find inside, followed up by a “Dungeons & Dragons Essentials” list of other available products.
Open the big red box and you’ll find a variety of contents. There are two books (Player’s Book and Dungeon Master’s Book), the only six dice you’ll ever need (4 sided, 6 sided, 8 sided, 10 sided, 12 sided, and 20 sided), multiple character sheets, power cards, a sheet of double-sided monster and hero tokens, and a double-sided battle map! Of course, you’ll want to pop out all of the tokens and cards right away so you can get to gaming. Though not advertised on the box, there’s also a handy sheet that shows some of the other great Dungeons & Dragons products organized into resources for players vs. dungeon masters.
The name of the game here, literally, is “starter.” Pick up the Player’s Book and start reading, and you’ll be playing in moments. The design here is really impressive. With a “choose your own adventure” style you’re introduced to the mechanics of the game as you play! This book is just for one player, and by the time you get to the end you’ll have a good grasp of the character sheet, classes, ability scores, skills, feats, powers, healing, alignment, quests, experience, and dying.
You’ll also finish a mini adventure in which you create a well-rounded character, take on some goblin raiders, and earn both gold and XP! This character can then be used in the further Starter Set adventures or any other Dungeons & Dragons game. And that’s another big draw for this set: compatibility. Unlike some previous “Starter Sets,” everything in this red box can be used with 4th Edition as a whole, from characters to powers and maps.
Once you’ve got a few potential players together (who have hopefully each played through the Player’s Book if they’re new to the game), it’s time to move on to the Dungeon Master’s Book. Now it’s time to divide up the group, with one person taking over as Dungeon Master while the others (anywhere between 2 and 5) draw up characters and dive into the dungeon. There are 21 pages of simplified, fast-track instructions and rules for the DM, followed by the actual adventure consisting of seven combat encounters and a skill challenge (talking to a dragon!). The finale includes instructions for leveling up the heroes and moving on to further adventures, which leads appropriately into the next section, “Creating Adventures.” The rest of the book is rounded out by a menagerie of monsters and rewards, along with a brief introduction to the Nentir Vale, a sort of hub for Dungeons & Dragons printed adventures.
To play the Dungeon Master’s Book adventure, all you’ll need are the items included in this set. Each encounter has a miniature map laying out the battleground that corresponds to sections on the double-sided battle map. Like other D&D maps, this one looks great. One side is a full dungeon while the other features a wooded pathway and monster lair. To represent the heroes and monsters involved in these (and any other) encounters, you’ve got a full sheet of double-sided tokens that give you a nice selection of creatures. Potential hero tokens are ringed in green or red so you can easily find them, while the monsters even have little numbers for ease in battlefield bookkeeping! The books will instruct you on how to fill out your character sheets, and how to choose power cards relating specifically to your class and race. Last, but never least, are the dice to represent the intrinsic randomness in fighting and testing your skills.
The Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set really does have something for everyone. It’s an absolutely invaluable resource for teaching and learning the game, but gaming groups of any experience level will find plenty of use for the map and tokens. All of the printed materials are very high quality, with fine glossy finishes on everything except the power cards and character sheets. The Starter Set is available in gaming stores everywhere, and with an MSRP of $19.99 it’s perfectly priced to get you and friends playing in no time!
Review and Photos by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of Wizards of the Coast