I’ve just run through a playtest of the first encounter from the D&D Starter Kit. The goal was to see whether the kit really does contain everything needed to play a full session from start to finish – and, more importantly, whether it’s fun. I’m happy to report a resounding yes on both counts.
The setup is simple: three Goblin Warriors in the middle of an 8×8 room, with 2 Goblin Blackblades hiding in the shadows at opposite corners of the room. This isn’t cut-down D&D in any way, mind – the Goblin statblocks are as per those in the Monster Manual, word-for-word. Which is nice.
The build quality of both the provided Dungeon Tiles and pog counters are Wizards’ usual excellent high standard. Rather than use the provided pogs for the characters we replaced them with ones from the latest D&D Miniatures Starter Set (a pretty good match for the Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric and Halfling Rogue) and used old Half-Orc and Evoker figures for the Dragonborn and Eladrin. As an aside, comparing the quality of an early Dwarven Fighter with the latest one shows just how much they’ve improved over time!
Here’s a shot of the setup part-way through the game:
The Wizard and Dragonborn Paladin are hunkered beside the Human Cleric with the Halfling Rogue keeping back and lobbing daggers before she closes in next round to flank Goblin 3 and take him down. The Goblin Blackblade 4 has been marked by the Paladin who keeps attacking then Shifting back. Dumb Goblin that he is, he keeps taking out his frustration on the Cleric, incurring Radiant damage each round – a tactic that finally kills him. He expires with a moan of “I’ll get you next life, Paladin…..!”
Meantime, the Dwarf is on the table yelling “I’m the king o’ the world!”. He’s got Goblin 4 marked and doesn’t give a damn that he’s flanked; he’s a frickin’ tank and nothing is going to shift him off that table. This is the first time I’ve seen a Dwarven Fighter in play and the combination of high Hit Points, bucketloads of Healing Surges and Second Wind as a Minor Action is a winning combination for bringing on the hurt. Oh yeh! He alternates between Cleave and Reaping Strike throughout, finally taking Blackblade 1 with a critical Brute Strike for 39 damage. Bye bye, head. And shoulders. And chest.
While the Paladin and Cleric are double-teaming the Eladrin Wizard is busy blasting from afar. As he rolled the highest initiative he moved forward then cast Sleep at the card-playing Goblins. Two dropped (but made their save the following round) but it left all the Goblin Warriors Slowed for the duration of the combat (damn those botched Save rolls!). That didn’t matter much until just one Goblin Warrior was left and he tried to escape. Slowly. Waste of a good Sleep spell, really. Ah well.
It did highlight the only omission we found in the Starter Kit rules though – the effects of Sleep aren’t covered so we just ruled that it counts as Unconscious. All of the other rules needed are present in full. I like.
In the hands of experienced players, even a simple setup like this affords plenty of role-playing opportunities. We had the Dwarf dancing on the table while swinging his Maul (and me threatening that it’s going to break any minute). There’s the Goblin Blackblade who developed a rapid hatred of the Paladin and the cautious Rogue who hung back, risking Javelins being lobbed from the other Blackblade before she finally plucked up courage to enter the fray. It’s all there, and made for an excellent hours’ play. Altogether the Encounter took around 8 combat rounds but most of the time was spent “in character” with the mechanical effects of the game taking up comparatively little time. That’s been my experience with 4e D&D overall – to dismiss it as nothing more than a glorified combat engine is to under-estimate it. It’s just as role-playing focussed as any other edition of D&D, but there’s an additional layer of tactical complexity to the game that makes it (dare I say it?) better than what’s gone before.
I stand by what I said in the Review; there should have been more newbie-friendly role-playing opportunities in the sample Adventure. Even a simple NPC to rescue and talk to would have helped to put across the idea that D&D isn’t all about pushing minis and rolling dice. For experienced gamers that’s not a problem, but for the target market, more emphasis would have been a Good Thing.
Overall though, I like the Starter Kit a lot. It’s great value. Heck, I’d recommend that folks get this and a copy of the PHB (to make up for the lack of Character Generation rules in the Starter Kit) ahead of the DMG and MM. Counters, dungeon tiles, dice and low-level monsters, all ready to play. What’s not to love?