Since its 2014 release, the only thing more fascinating than the subtle evolution of Dungeons & Dragons‘ fifth edition rule set is its meteoric rise in the pop culture consciousness. Once relegated to semi-furnished suburban basements and the back rooms at hobby and comic shops of the 1970s and ’80s, the early 21st century has seen a roleplaying renaissance that even puts even this former “golden age” to shame—with D&D solidly at the forefront.
This has all but guaranteed a steady stream of new players and first-time DMs alike, which Wizards of the Coast has seen fit to accommodate with a number of different all-in-one starter sets. The original fifth edition Starter Set—which actually predated the release of the core books—was supplemented in 2019 with both Stranger Things and Rick and Morty variants.
Obviously, those latter crossovers traded a bit of the more traditional D&D experience for the additional fan appeal of two very popular television series. But on the other hand, while still widely available, the original 5e Starter Set is admittedly getting a bit long in the tooth.
Wizards’ solution is a brand new “vanilla” beginner’s box, the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. Currently available exclusively at Target (and with a worldwide release bringing it to additional retailers on October 4), Stormwresk Isle takes things back to basics in the most satisfying way imaginable.
Like the initial 5e Starter Set, Stormwreck Isle’s truncated Starter Set Rulebook comes in at a tidy 32 pages. This leads D&D newbies from the basics—I still find the “Rhythm of Play” section, in particular, to be one of the best barebones introductions to tabletop roleplaying ever committed to paper—on to abilities, checks, and modifiers, the ins-and-outs of combat, and even the long/short rest mechanic before wrapping things up with equipment and spells.
While the written content is based on the original 2014 SRD (as seen in the 5e Player’s Handbook), I found myself particularly drawn to this edition for one unexpected Easter egg: the accompanying illustrations. While never stated outright, fans of a certain age will surely notice that the full-color paintings that punctuate this rulebook include player characters clearly based on the cast of CBS’s 1983 Dungeons & Dragons animated series!
Presto, Diana, Hank, Sheila, and even Eric are lovingly detailed therein. Although, obviously, some of the more ambivalent character elements seem to have been updated to reflect their closest fifth-edition analogs. Sadly, these characters aren’t further represented in the five included character sheets, but given the niche source material, the broader Hill Dwarf Cleric, Wood Elf Fighter, Human Paladin, Lightfoot Halfling Rogue, and High Elf Wizard are likely a much better fit for the general gaming public.
Still, the character sheets do include all the requisite stats, gear, and proficiencies, as well as nicely detailed race, class, and background information. There’s even a “Making the Character Yours” section on each sheet that encourages each player not just to pick and name and describe their character’s physical appearance, but to use the alignment documentation in the rulebook and their own imagination to “choose traits and mannerisms for your character that you’ll enjoy.”
With a cursory read through the Starter Set Rulebook, a completed character sheet, and the included six gaming dice—yes, they’re blue—new players are primed to progress from levels one to three in the bundled Dragons of Stormwreck Isle adventure.
Despite coming in a little shorter than the Lost Mines of Phandelver of the original Starter Set (it had 64 pages vs. Stormwreck Isle‘s 48), this is no less of an ideal jumping-off point. Set in the Forgotten Realms, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is rooted in the ancient metallic vs. chromatic dragon conflict; think of the Hatfields and the McCoys but scalier… and with more heads.
Strictly for the Dungeon Master’s eyes only, it’s a wide-ranging four-part adventure with plenty of reference maps, creature stat boxes, and even a dash of those highly sought-after magical items the kids are so crazy about these days. A rewarding story in its own right, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle also features some fun narrative hooks that can help a savvy DM determine what kind of lengthier campaign their party members may be interested in.
Did they really shine in Dragon’s Rest, interacting with the local Kobolds and picking their way through the cloister quests? They can find much more of that in the varied, decentralized offerings of Tales From the Yawning Portal. Did the party seem most at home exploring the cursed wreck of the Compass Rose? Ghosts of Saltmarsh offers similar spooky high-seas adventures. (Yes, technically, Saltmarsh is in Greyhawk, but it’s easy enough to move that same action to the Realms; I did it myself with my own D&D group.)
Whether as a one-off introductory mini-campaign, a prelude for a much larger adventure, or any of the considerable space in-between, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a wonderful way to familiarize yourself and your family/friend group with the basics of fifth edition D&D. In fact, at the $19.99 price point, the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is an incredibly easy recommendation for new players of all stripes. (Even more so when you factor in the $3 discount that’s currently showing up on the Target website.)
With the recent talk of the One D&D initiative, this may seem like an odd time for a new starter set to hit the market, but that’s sort of the beauty of this Dragons of Stormwreck Isle iteration. In addition to all the roleplaying goodness included in the boxed set, Wizards has also made a suite of free online tools available to coincide with its release. These include general learn-to-play videos and guides on how to fill out a character sheet as well as DM-centered content like tips, tricks, and rule explanations. In short, it reflects exactly the same brand of face-to-face/online synergy that will power One D&D forward into our shared gaming future.