Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.With the arrival in wide retail distribution of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, Tuesday marked the official launch of the game’s much anticipated fifth edition. Also available to download completely free is a D&D Basic Rules ebook.

The Starter Set box includes a 32 page rulebook, five premade characters, a 64 page adventure, and a set of six polyhedral dice. The rulebook provides limited but fully playable options up through character level five. For example, the book does a good job of covering skill use, combat, and spell-casting but leaves out how to build characters from scratch. The adventure booklet, Lost Mine of Phandelver, features a selection of monster and magic item descriptions, advice for the fledgling dungeon master, a few additional rule tidbits, and a solid storyline that will see characters visit a variety of locations and advance through 5th level.

At a little over 100 pages, the Basic Rules book is spartan (no art) but features additional material to support creating custom characters and advancing them through level twenty.

D&D Starter Set

So what’s the game like? It’s like AD&D, polished with some modern sensibilities, which I think is a very good thing! Sure, there are aspects of this game that I can pick on—the skill list, for example—but overall it does a great job of reviving that classic D&D feel, while smoothing out the rough spots. It’s a game that will be comfortable to old-timers like me, yet also work well for new gamers just learning the ropes.

In game terms, the new version retains such traditional elements as character classes and level progression, while drawing hit point replenishment from the last edition. It revives old-style saving throws and spell levels but simplifies skills with a single proficiency rating and incorporates a bit of story-game style play with rules for deriving inspiration from ideals, flaws, and personality traits.

One of the most interesting new parts of the game has to be the rules for advantage and disadvantage. The idea is that instead of adding up all kinds of modifiers for each combat attack or test of skill, a player rolls two 20-sided dice and takes either the better of the two for advantage, or worse of the two for disadvantage. Multiple factors still only result in one advantage or disadvantage and any number on both sides cancels the two out. It’s an approach that mitigates against extreme results and simplifies the main die-roll mechanic tremendously.

Whether the new Dungeons & Dragons can draw back the many gamers who’ve moved on to competing products in recent years, I can’t predict. However, it’s a quality game that’s certainly earned my consideration and the Starter Set is something I’d easily recommend for new players.

A complimentary copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was provided for review by Wizards of the Coast.