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Getting Started
Mike Mearls

O ver the next few weeks, this space will serve as a front row seat into the upcoming Starter Set for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. To get things started, let’s take a look at some of what went into the set’s design.

The Starter Set has a fairly straightforward goal. It needs to serve as a gateway through which new DMs enter the hobby, building on the player material that will live online with Basic D&D. As a secondary goal, the Starter Set must also provide long-term value. In the past, intro sets for RPGs have often been focused on a stripped-down adventure scenario and a limited version of the rules that becomes irrelevant once players move on to the full version of the game. We wanted this new set to be something you could keep on your shelf and use again in the future.

We decided early on that any materials likely to be used only once had to be eliminated from the set or kept to a minimum. One example would be a tutorial that teaches the rules through a scripted adventure. And in deciding that such a tutorial is something we didn’t want, we were able to think about how that kind of resource would be much better suited to other media—such as online video. Because we’re giving players the opportunity to learn the game without investing any money in it (with our move to make Basic D&D a free download), a new player who downloads the rules can then make use of video tutorials that provide a much better experience of how D&D works. This approach would be like packaging a master DM like Chris Perkins in every Starter Set.

Once we had an idea of what we wanted to avoid, we focused on what to include. The Keep on the Borderlands is the classic adventure bundled with the 1981 D&D Basic Set. The locations and encounter scenarios introduced in that adventure have stood the test of time, with DMs still using them to run games today. With that in mind, we decided to focus on making the adventure the key component of the Starter Set. A good adventure sees use again and again.

Moreover, we wanted an adventure that was similar to Keep on the Borderlands, but a bit more focused on helping new DMs launch campaigns. The original Keep is almost completely open-ended, but feedback during the playtest told us that some new DMs felt lost when figuring out exactly where to take an open-ended adventure. We wanted an adventure with a bit of direction to launch a campaign, which could then segue to a more open-ended approach after a play group has a couple of game sessions under its belt.

The result is Lost Mine of Phandelver. Weighing in at sixty-four pages, it provides enough material to advance characters up to 5th level. The first segment of the adventure puts DMs through the basics of asking for checks and saving throws, as the characters venture into a goblin lair on a rescue mission. Once the adventurers have dealt with the goblins, they have free reign to explore the region around the village of Phandalin. Three more dungeons and five other adventure locations provide novice DMs with plenty of material to keep a campaign going for months. With Basic D&D as a natural next step, DMs will have the tools they need to further expand the region and keep the action going.

We’ll talk about Lost Mine of Phandelver in more detail next week. The adventure’s author, Rich Baker, has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the process of creating it.

In addition to Lost Mine of Phandelver, the Starter Set also includes a rulebook. This provides the basic rules of play, descriptions of the spells used by the pregenerated characters and NPCs, and the magic items found in the adventure. In addition, it makes a handy table reference for things like equipment and combat rules, and we expect that DMs who move on to Basic D&D or the three core rulebooks will continue to use the Starter Set rulebook as an extra resource during play.

The adventure comes with five pregenerated characters—a dwarf cleric, two human fighters, an elf wizard, and a halfling rogue. One of the fighters uses a large axe and heavy armor. The other is an archer clad in leather armor. Since the fighter is easily the most popular class in the game, we decided to offer two takes on it rather than a fifth character class. This approach also makes it easy for players to modify the pregenerated characters using Basic D&D, and to advance them past 5th level.

Finally, the Starter Set comes with a set of six polyhedral dice—marbled blue in color with white numbers. I have three of these sets in my dice bag—all early samples sent over by the factory. If you’ve watched our live stream games, you might have seen them in use.

That’s the starter set in a nutshell. As of the publication of this article—June 9, 2014—the Player’s Handbook will have been dispatched to our printer. It’s hard to believe that the past couple of years of work have come to an end on that project. With the Player’s Handbook behind us, we next turn our attention to the Monster Manual, while the Dungeon Master’s Guide and The Rise of Tiamat receive further design and editing.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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Nice to hear about the return of "old school" designer Rich Baker!
Posted By: Pyrate_Jib (6/12/2014 1:13:09 PM)


@mbeacom Thanks for the summary, that's really helpful. I do worry that the general public will not find any of this intuitive enough, especially since even as someone who has played for years I did not find it intuitive. I am someone who will do the research and find out what I need to know; someone else who isn't already as invested may just get frustrated and move on. I'm really disappointed in the marketing of this product so far.
Posted By: nukunuku (6/12/2014 11:11:55 AM)


Anyone who would "get frustrated and move on" due to confusion over a product line this simple doesn't deserve to be in the hobby. RPGs are for thinking people. This is not an MMO. They should play WoW.
Posted By: mbeacom (6/12/2014 11:28:54 AM)


Wow, that is a terrible attitude.
Posted By: nukunuku (6/12/2014 2:31:38 PM)


That's not a terrible attitude. That's just being practical. I think we can all agree that not every game is good for every person. Whether it be age, attention span, or intellectual capacity. In this case, the product line is bog simple. Really, a 10 year old should have no problem understanding it. If a particular person is not capable of grasping as low a level of complexity as 3 products for various levels of experience without quitting in frustration, the game likely just isn't for them. It's not an insult or anything. It's just recognizing who the game is and isn't suited for. Trying to entice or acquire people who would be confused by such a simple product line will just waste everyones time and lead to frustration that doesn't do anyone any good. Particularly when you realize there are perfectly good games out there more suited their abilities or interests.
Posted By: mbeacom (6/12/2014 8:36:03 PM)


It's actually super simple. The Starter set is just what it sounds like. It's for someone just starting out with DandD. So, it's a how to play booklet, a starter adventure, pregens for that adventure and dice. Pretty simple.
Basic rules are similarly simple. Not for peole just starting out because you'll still need dice and some adventure content. They are just the most basic iteration of the rules, free for download. The point is to make the game easy to grasp for newer players or old schoolers who want a simplified experience. The difference is that they also include character creation, which is outside the needs of a starter set with pregens.
The core rules is the 3 hardbacks you're used to if you play DandD ever in the past 30 years. PHB, MM and DMG.

So it goes like this:

1. Never played DandD or other RPG but want to give DandD a shot with friends? Get the Starter set
2. Played previous editions and want to taste 5E with no mone... (see all)
Posted By: mbeacom (6/11/2014 5:26:21 PM)


Man, I'm still confused. So the Starter Set is really just an adventure, with some pre-gen characters? And you will then either "move on" to the Basic game or the Core game? Are those even the right names?

Can you just buy the adventure by itself later once the books are actually out? Why are you calling it a Starter Set when it's just an adventure? Or is it not, but yet another piece of the DnD puzzle that won't get solved until November when we finally have the books?

Still really confused by the 3 different versions of 5.0 out of the gate. Can't imagine what a new player would do when faced with "Basic," "Starter," and "Core," which are more or less the same word three times.
Posted By: nukunuku (6/11/2014 4:53:26 PM)


That's neat. Do you have a link to pictures? - John
Posted By: Seanchai (6/9/2014 11:28:42 PM)


My players are firmly in 3.5-ed and it would take some work to convince them to change editions. Change is unlikely to happen. But I'll be getting the 5th-edition because I know there's stuff I can use as the DM. There's also a fair chance I could run a different group with those rules. In the end, it'll be added to my collection and become another resource that I can delve into.
Posted By: Maerlius (6/9/2014 6:00:23 PM)


Well, Christmas is covered for me... I know a few people who would like to find this under the tree. Looks like between Basic and the Starter we've got a pretty firm footing.
Posted By: Kazadvorn (6/9/2014 4:43:31 PM)


Plus, you can print out the BASIC rules (which are free) and bind them in a nice custom binder (which is relatively cheap) and give that as a present. It's homemade and very cheap, but also makes a great gift!
Posted By: Ramzour (6/9/2014 5:54:55 PM)


Also don't forget that they (wisely) licensed WizKids to do minis that match the Starter Set pre-gen characters...
Posted By: Alveric (6/9/2014 7:18:49 PM)


I think video tutorials are a great idea; just make sure you do them right and bring back AdventureVision and the black turtleneck guy from DragonStrike.
Posted By: Nemo_the_Lost (6/9/2014 4:11:51 PM)


The adventure looks promising. I was on the fence about ordering this product, but with the clarification of contents and intent in this article, I'm going for it.
Posted By: Oulak (6/9/2014 3:41:35 PM)


The full art shown in this article is way better than the cropped version appearing on the box cover! Why was it cut down?
Posted By: Khilkhameth (6/9/2014 2:51:39 PM)


OK, now that I have that out of the way, I like the sound of this and look forward to unwrapping my Starter Set when it arrives. Lost Mine of Phandelver sounds quite promising.
Posted By: RadioKen (6/9/2014 1:21:44 PM)


Dammit, Mike, it's "free rein." The metaphor is drawn from horsemanship, not rulership.

Sorry. Pet peeve. Carry on.
Posted By: RadioKen (6/9/2014 1:04:15 PM)


Man,I was just thinking yesterday "wouldn't it be awesome if the new starter set's adventure was molded after something like keep on the boarder lands, and made to be a fantastic and memorable adventure? But naw, that is probably wishing for too much..."

So now,to hear this, I am totally stoked and excited! Can't wait to get this bad boy!
Posted By: moes1980 (6/9/2014 12:08:09 PM)


So we get to explore Wavecho Cave, eh?
Posted By: Blaze_the_monk (6/9/2014 10:04:03 AM)


I am seriously happy to read that Rich Baker is the adventure author... and still stunned that the 'tards in charge at WotC let him go a couple of years ago.
Posted By: Imruphel (6/9/2014 9:53:21 AM)


But now we get Primeval Thule!
Posted By: mbeacom (6/9/2014 10:21:30 AM)


Also stoked to hear Rich Baker's on board, even if it is only for the starter set.
Posted By: DramoxTheIronLord (6/9/2014 11:49:37 AM)


While I'm happy to hear character advancement is included, I still think actual character creation material should have appeared in the set. I don't think it needed to be extensive, particularly with Basic, but there are advantages to having it there... - John
Posted By: Seanchai (6/9/2014 9:31:08 AM)


So... no map of the area included?
Posted By: Cypher2009 (6/9/2014 8:55:11 AM)


Also here's a good idea to move How-To-Play tutorial to a video model rather than print as it saves space for more re-usable material and think its better to teach by showing.
Posted By: Plaguescarred (6/9/2014 7:57:00 AM)


The adventure sound like fun and also like that the Starter Set will be re-usable as a ressource during standard play.
Posted By: Plaguescarred (6/9/2014 7:56:25 AM)


I like the approach you are taking to keep the Starter Set viable over the longer term. Seems like it will provide a lot of value for it's target audience.
Posted By: Blue23 (6/9/2014 7:42:14 AM)


Agreed. I liked the character creation that was in the original Mentzer Red Box, but the one used in the 4E Red Box was terrible and a waste of space. Since I'm quite certain THAT is the type of character creation we would have gotten in a new starter box this time as well, I'm thrilled they didn't include it. It's a giant waste of paper and almost never gets reused (because it takes an hour and defeats the entire point of a product like this which is to provide QUICKSTART rules). I'd much rather have a solid intro adventure with pregens to start off new players. That makes much more sense. I'm glad to see they're making sensible choices this time, rather than just mindlessly copying what previous editions have done as an appeal to nostalgia like with the 4E Red Box.
Posted By: mbeacom (6/9/2014 11:02:15 AM)


I'm super excited for the Starter Set! I got a LOT of use out of the 4E Redbox and Pathfinder Beginner Box... not to mention the old Moldvay starter from way back. Still run Castle Gygar today. Can't wait to run Phandelver for my group!
Posted By: Krayt1 (6/9/2014 7:22:46 AM)


@LegendsAndLore article
Great news on all fronts Mike! I am very excited to hear about the Starter Set adventure and everything you describe about it. I've been looking for a good intro adventure to keep in my back pocket for those spontaneous game sessions. Looks like the Starter Set will be EXACTLY what I was looking for!

And most importantly, congrats on sending the Players Handbook to the printers today! We are all eager to see it in August. Already preordered mine, along with the Tyranny of Dragons adventure, and the Starter Set!
Posted By: Ramzour (6/9/2014 4:30:06 AM)


I hear your concern about it being confusing for new players...BUT! There is an easy solution. Find the middle ground between full Theater of the Mind and micromanaged Grid play. When combat starts, you briefly sketch out a quick layout of the scene, any interesting terrain features or room details, where the monsters start, and you're done! Takes maybe 10-15 seconds.
Posted By: Ramzour (6/9/2014 4:27:45 AM)


Posted By: Sands666 (6/9/2014 3:00:31 AM)


PS: part of me wishes it had a solo adventure component to it...I remember that from 1987 or so. The dungeon map was done in that blue ink under a red ink 'TV static' pattern, and it came with a red cellophane viewer. Good times.
Posted By: seti (6/9/2014 1:05:04 AM)


I think you're talking about Midnight in Dagger Alley. That was a great adventure!
Posted By: mbeacom (6/9/2014 10:20:05 AM)


Sounds pretty cool. I'm wondering how it will handle combat. I assume combat defaults to 'theatre of the mind' in style. I hope it explains how that can be difficult. Much more-so than 4e's grid and tokens/minis default; especially for totally new to TTRPG groups. I remember not using minis and a battle grid back in middle school and early high school. It led to frustration, even fights, and was hard to manage. No one really knew what was going on because there were always 4-6 'mind theatres' working at once. They didn't always agree on what happened, in what order, or what was positioned where, lol. As is normal for several imaginations with nothing concrete and visual to go on.

I've felt that TotM combat is better for advanced groups, and minis/grid is better for beginners, not the other way around.

I hope in the 64 page adventure or the 32 page rulebook this is discussed.

We'll see.
Posted By: seti (6/9/2014 12:47:15 AM)


Can. Not. Wait. Got a starter set and all three core books locked and loaded for preorder...
Posted By: BuddhaKai (6/9/2014 12:40:51 AM)


Phandelver? "Fan Delver?!" Really?

I mean, I'm still getting the Starter Set, still excited about 5e, but really? So many other names would have been better.

Still can't wait to run it. The guaranteed first house rule is changing the freakin' name - too bad.
Posted By: Germytech (6/9/2014 12:40:45 AM)


LMAO, I didn't catch that. Could be worse, though.

It could have been called Gygaxia.
Posted By: seti (6/9/2014 12:51:01 AM)


It's not like they made up the name. Phandelver was first mentioned in a Volo's Guide to the North.
Posted By: Lucanis (6/9/2014 2:10:19 AM)


I caught that right away too. I couldn't decide if out was overly optimistic in an adventuring, market research, or pornographic sense.
Posted By: MindWandererB (6/9/2014 3:19:13 AM)


Already got mine preorded, same for the PHB. Love the amazon price. Was worried about the high retail price but the price and Amazon was perfect even less than I paid for my 4E PHB back in the day. Anyway, can't wait to get my hands on the final rules so we can start converting our 4E/Next campaigns. The playtest was a blast, thank you so much WotC for letting us contribute to the final game. A community inspired version of DandD will be awesome to have.
Posted By: mbeacom (6/9/2014 12:36:41 AM)


Thanks for the Amazon tip; I got mine pre-ordered right away. Smokin' deal.
Posted By: Oulak (6/9/2014 3:39:56 PM)


Great! I am looking forward to it!
Posted By: Mourne (6/9/2014 12:31:02 AM)



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