Saturday, September 10, 2022

Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Review


I thought it odd when I saw big name YouTubers talking about the new starter set WotC published, but I hadn't heard anything about it. I don't keep up on the latest news, but usually when a new box set...especially when a new box set is released, I hear about it. This one, nothing. I also thought the timing was odd. Being that they just released Spelljammer. Usually they throw their latest offering into the pool, watch as the gamers swarm it or greet it with indifference. But there's always a period of time between releases. Spelljammer was released August 16th, 2022. Dragons of Stormwreck Isle was released, well a Target release (I don't know why I find that funny they have a deal with Target, but I do. That's where I grabbed my copy) of July 31st, 2022. And the mass release will be on October 4th 2022. Fairly close release.

That said, let's rip off the plastic and take a look at the latest box set from WotC. Here is what we are supposed to find inside.

  • 48-page adventure
  • 32-page rulebook
  • 5 pre-generated characters
  • 6 game dice

The Box
The box is exactly like the others. Just wrapped with the latest artwork. It's a good sturdy box. No issues.

The Dice
Yup, those are the dice. Let's roll back a few decades and getting dice was a huge deal. They were hard to find and expensive. Today, you can't shake a 10' pole without hitting a dice dealer. So here's my issue with the dice. The quality is fine. You don't need anything fancy, just easy to read. But 5E uses 4d6 rolls for stats and uses 2d20s for disadvantage and advantage rolls. I think adding those extra dice would have been a nice touch. That said. None of the other starter sets did either.

Oh, and they come in a plastic bag. Please be kind and release them. Dice need to breathe. To live in the wild. To frolic among their other multi-sided brethren. 

The RuleBook

It's a 32-page rulebook, staple bound, that let's someone develop a character from 1st to 3rd level. Later on I'll get into the character sheets and they alone can walk someone through the progression without the use of the rulebook which is handy. This book is written specifically for a starter dungeon master. It explains the very basics. It does what it's meant to do, but here is where this particular box set starts to fail. In the Essentials Box Set a GM Screen was included. Having all those modifiers, task difficulty numbers, skill lists available to you at a glance is a huge benefit. A new GM won't have to halt a game to look for a chart. 

Also, it doesn't go into how to roll your own character. It has the pre-gens. Which I get, but it would have been nice to have a small section on how to create your own characters which they had in previous sets.

Overall though, the book does its job and gathers the most important bits and pieces in the game.

Pre-Gen Characters
Inside you'll find five pre-gens. A Lightfoot Halfling Rogue, Wood Elf Fighter, High Elf Wizard, Human Paladin, and...I'm not sure what the 5th one was. I got two the the lightfoot halfling rogues.
Maybe the halflings don't last as long and that's why you need two. 

The character sheets are on sturdy paper. Has all the information a player will need to reach 3rd level. There is a lot on these sheets. So handing a new player one of these sheets might look more like work. But 5E has a lot of content wrapped up in character creation and it's all organized neatly. 

To add on to what I said earlier, it would have been a good idea to add a couple blank character sheets so players can learn how to roll up their own characters. 

The Adventure
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is the 48-page adventure included. It's set in the Forgotten Realms like the others. I can't say I am a huge fan of the adventure. Here's why. It's a starter set for both players and DMs a like. The adventure starts off with a fairly involved RPing section with numerous NPCs (11 of them!). I think starting off with a fairly simple premise and hit the ground running into the next dungeon to explore is the way to go. For both sides of the screen. 

Also there is too much content of the Forgotten Realms. If I'm just starting I don't care about that stuff right now. I want my focus to be on learning the system and running a adventure. There are many sections that could have been removed. Making the adventure more terse and easier to navigate. Some of the descriptions of encounters are a half-page long of explanation. Way, way too much self-indulgent fluff was included. I know this is a personal preference, keeping things short, but I also think it's a smart way to execute a beginning adventure. 

The adventure itself is okay. It has a handful of interesting encounters. Some situations for the players to think through so it's not all hack and slash. You gain levels by completing chapters. No keeping track of xp.

Lack of Extras
The biggest disappointment in the box set was the lack of the extras that could have made it better. Much better. As I've stated above, adding those extra dice would have been a nice touch. Adding a couple blank character sheets. But since this is a Starter Set and you're trying to draw in new players, and I am assuming younger players, you need some visuals. There are zero in here. There isn't even one of those beautiful Mike Schley fold out maps included. Having a gorgeous map sitting on the table alone will cause little imaginations to go wild. They are in the book for the DM to see, but not the players. Add a few monster cardboard tokens or cards to show the players when they encounter them. One of the first encounters in the game is shambling zombies of drowned sailors. Imagine a little one across from you when you show them that card. "They're chasing after you Jimmy what do you do?" And if nothing else, WotC is trying to move people to on-line gaming, then offer a code to download monster tokens for your on-line game. I think they really missed the mark.

How does Dragons of Stormwreck Isle stack up against the rest of the 5E box sets I have?
Definitely on the bottom. There should be a couple of empty boxes in between it and the Stranger Things Box Set. DoSI lacks soul. Lacks excitement. It fails to do it's purpose. I am defining that purpose as drawing young gamers into tabletop roleplaying. It doesn't do that. Where all the other ones do. Big time.

The point of a Starter Set is to get people playing. WotC's effort with this box set is miserable. They have done the minimum. It shows they weren't excited about it. And probably one of the reasons why it was released quietly. It definitely doesn't belong near the other starter sets they've issues over the past few years. Those were some of the best ones created.  

So if you're thinking of getting a Starter Set, bypass this one. Put your towards Lost Mines of Phandelver or the Essentials Kit. Those are wonderful places to get people involved in our fantastic hobby.