A plethora of product news came out of D&D Live this year, some more or less exciting than others (looking at you, Eberron). However, I think the most exciting in the list is the D&D Essentials Kit.
The D&D Essentials Kit is being published as an "along-side" sister set to the D&D Starter Set. It includes a new adventure (with a dozen or so new side quests) in the Phandalin region of the Sword Coast. It can be played separately or along with Lost Mines of Phandelver.
Included in the D&D Essentials Kit is
- 64 page "Essentials" rule book (including character generation)
- Dragon of Icespire Peak, a new adventure by Chris Perkins
- 4 panel landscape DM screen
- Double sided poster map with the town of Phandalin on one side and the local region of the Sword Coast on the reverse.
- Quest cards, NPC cards, Magic Item cards, cards, cards, cards...
- Red crystal dice set with 2d20 and 4d6
- Will include a key to unlock the adventure content on D&D Beyond
There are several things to really like about these features. The Essentials rule book includes character generation with the four D&D Basic classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard) plus the Bard. The rules will also include an edited version of the Sidekick NPC rules from Unearthed Arcana. This will allow a D&D group to consist solely of a single player and DM. The adventure will also support this "lone wolf" play style alongside the more traditional 4 PC party, which is a fantastic idea, because it lowers the barrier of entry to D&D considerably. I have also long argued that an off-the-shelf beginner product should also include character generation rules, even with the existence of the free Basic PDF.
The DM screen is also a welcome addition. I don't personally use a DM screen, but I still love them as art and a reference tool. This DM screen is less thick than the $10 stand-alone screens. It is made of heavy card stock rather than the thicker chipboard found in board games. If you have seen the DM screen included in the 4th Edition DM's Kit, you'll understand the thickness. It is a weakness in terms of long-term durability, but a relatively minor one.
Quest cards, sidekick/NPC cards and Magic Item cards are a great idea for a starting set. I've always liked the Pathfinder Face Cards for NPCs. I've also used my own system for Quest cards, so these are an excellent game aid for new DMs.
The biggest downside is that this set will be a Target exclusive over the summer (until September). This leaves out the Friendly Local Game Stores who have generally gotten releases a couple weeks ahead of large retail. I understand the move from a marketing perspective, but I'm not terribly crazy about it.
|D&D Essentials Kit contents as seen on the D&D Live 2019 live stream.|
As much as the Stranger Things D&D box set was a bit "meh", there is little doubt in my mind that the D&D Essentials Kit will be a home run. My "perfect" starter kit might also include some PC and monster cardboard tokens, but this comes awfully close to a perfect beginner box set. Hopefully, the MSRP won't be too high, but I expect $25 will be the price point.
UPDATE: MSRP is $24.99
UPDATE 2: The box set contains a D&D Beyond key to unlock the online contents. It also includes a discount key for the Player's Handbook on D&D Beyond.