I got the D&D Starter Set, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, I guess, and TAZ (obvs). It’s OK. I mean, it does what it’s supposed to – it introduces you to D&D, the Forgotten Realms setting, and walks you through a fairly solid adventure (although I have heard that Lost Mines is a bot hardcore for total newbs). Fine. It’s fine.
I feel that you need to pair it with the free Basic Rules to get the best out of it, but that’s also fine.
I also have the D&D Stranger Things box.
Oh man, is that half assed.
It also does what it’s supposed to – provide a short notalgia kick for anyone that’s watched ST and wants to give D&D a try, but the adventure is basic AF (being one, maybe two, sessions long). And because of licensing issues, you can’t download fresh PDF copies of the pre-genned PCs. You use them, you lose them.
The new Essentials Kit sounded good, though, and I had some money, so I decided to use it to wash the bad taste of the ST box out of my mouth.
So I pre-ordered it from Amazon (being in the UK, and not having Target, I had to wait until 3rd Sep. Booooo!).
Because I pre-ordered it, Amazon sold it to me for £15, which was nice. It’s about £18 right now, but that’s also super cheap considering what you get.
So, what do you get? Man, you get a shit load.
You get literally everything you need to start playing D&D, and then some.
From a paraphernalia perspective, you get a pack of 10 translucent red die, a DM screen (standard card stock, not cover stock like the Reincarnated version, but with the exact same content), A double sided full colour map, loads of different cards (Condition summary cards, magic item cards, initiative order cards, NPC cards for Sidekicks, combat order summary) and a box to put them in (flat packed).
The rule book is a revised, cut down version of the Basic Rules, with the welcome addition of the Bard class. I guess they realised that Bards are the best class, and everyone wants to play one.
It has full character creation guidelines for creating base versions of the Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard classes, using the vanilla Human, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling races, plus all the rules to play, spells for the three spellcasting classes, and Sidekicks.
Sidekicks are new, and can only be found in the Essentials Kit. This may be the main selling point.
There’s a recent (ok, Dec ’18) Unearthed Arcana that shows the playtest version of the Sidekicks rules. All 9 detailed Essentials Kit Sidekicks each have a brief description, and a Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond and Flaw, as well as a character portrait. This probably makes them more developed characters than most PCs.
The adventure provided, Dragon of Icespire Peak, is modular, rather than linear. So in the Starter Set you followed a set path, with the opportunity to sandbox interact with the inhabitants of Phandalin. In the Essentials Kit the PCs are offered various side quests that they can accept or refuse – kind of like most video games (I have played Skyrim for about 100 hours, and made jack shit progress on the main storyline as I have to explore every dungeon and do every side quest. It’s a curse). Obvs you have to do a number of the side quests to level up to a point where you can kill a White Dragon, but I guess you get to choose. Or obsessively complete them all to scrape every last point of XP and hit the level cap before fighting the big bad…
One of the cool things, though, about the modular side quest layout is that if you need an emergency dungeon for a night’s gaming, this has you covered. You may need to file the serial numbers off some of it, but I can see this pack being a life saver more than once.
The box also comes with some codes to redeem on D&D Beyond.
You get a code for the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure, plus 3 additional quests (that happen after the main adventure, I think. But maybe not. Best check), which is cool. Additional content.
You also get a code that gives you 50% off the Players Handbook.
I wasn’t sure how useful I’d find these. I use PDFs at the table, occasionally, and they’re often fiddly to reference.
D&D Beyond, both via mobile app and online, seems much easier to use, mostly because everything’s cross referenced and hyperlinked, and searchable. So I guess it worked, as I immediately spent £12.50ish on the PHB, and will be using it at the table (both through app and online on my Chromebook) when I next play.
In summary – This is great for new and experienced DMs alike. Players will find some value from the Essentials Kit, although it’s primary audience are DMs.
Having said that, it’s super cheap, and if paired with the free Basic Rules and the System Reference Document, it’s everything you need to run and play D&D for a long time.