Review: D&D 5e Starter Set

First Impressions

At first, and after much discussion on the Haste Podcast, I was really confused as to who the starter set was actually aimed at. I was convinced it wasn’t for me. I had originally thought that the set was mainly aimed at new players, fledgeling DMs, and the “D&D-curious”. Which, it totally is. However, the assumption that veterans like myself had no business with it was dead wrong. After spending a lot of time with the starter set after my initial unboxing I have come to the conclusion that the starter set is in fact, good for just about anyone who can appreciate a good game of D&D. Here’s why…

Surprisingly Deep

Spoiler: there are golins to be slain!The Lost Mine of Phandelver isn’t breaking any kind of revolutionary ground in the adventure department, but that’s not what is important here. The adventure is solid. It’s replayable too, to quite a high degree I’d say. The way the town is laid out is very nice and there’s a concentrated sense of “this is stuff you can do while ‘in town’ during a D&D game, actually, the whole adventure is chock full of ‘stuff you do during a D&D game‘. The plot is actually pretty solid, the adventure locales are interesting, even goblins will manage to keep a party on their toes. There’s more than just slaying bad guys and grabbing loot though (there is plenty of that) but the motivations of the NPCs are surprisingly believable and the whole thing might just cause some experienced DM’s  to reluctantly nod their heads with approval in certain parts.

The adventure is modular, a 4 parter, and really if you wanted you could just steal part 1 and make it a one shot and tie it into whatever other campaign setting you’ve got planned out for your players. I do highly suggest reading all of the adventure and considering running the whole thing for your group though, it’s been a really good time so far. Honestly, with a little bit of work you could probably take the other 3 sections of the adventure and splice them into other campaigns as well, the portability seems to be pretty uncanny.

It’s Got Character

Another element here are the pregens, they really do a great job of taking all the work out of building backstories, and they don’t even come off feeling hollow. Somehow the  pregens are actually good enough that I’d dare to say that you’ll care about their motivations and might even find them to be interesting! They aren’t your typical cookie cutter 3e pregen personalities, granted they are still a bit cookie cutter, but these are delicious cookies. The new use of Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws on the character sheets ties them seamlessly into everything else, including their motivations which also ties directly into the story.

The only qualm I have here is that I wish they would have included the Inspiration mechanic that blends so smoothly into this new aspect of D&D (for more on Inspiration, and all the changes from previous editions, check my full review of the Basic Rules later this week) because it’s pretty awesome. Here’s a great example of why, but there are spoilers, so maybe come back after you’ve ran part 1, or LIVE DANGEROUSLY and read on.

Phandelver Spoilers (Minor)

Inspiration * “If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your inspiration gives you advantage on that roll. “

(Note: Inspiration is not mentioned within the starter set rules, but I put it to use from the Basic Rules PDF)


The party members had tracked down the goblins into some caves just north of the Triboar Trail, they were all doing a great job of roleplaying their characters and had inspiration stored up. After distracting some wolves with some stolen salted pork and a pretty good handle animal check, they found themselves shimmying up a natural stone chimney within the caves that lead directly to the bugbear leader of the goblins’ lair. Klarg, the bugbear, had a set of two goblin guards and a nasty wolf companion were taken out by the most devastating surprise round I’ve ever seen.

They had all successfully beat out the perception checks of everyone in the room and planned their surprise attack in a fairly epic manner, but their initial rolls were terrible. Thanks to inspiration allowing them advantage on those critical rolls, they made easy work of the encounter, however had they not – things would have probably ended on a much more grim note. 

Each character sheet also contains everything a player needs to know about leveling up, which immediately gives the something to look forward to without having to reference any materials. In fact, none of them have to reference anything, aside from casters getting to know their spells, in which case the player’s book that comes with serves as a nice reference to pass around the table.

StarterSet_3Well Rounded, Well Written, Dirt Cheap

The level of intricacy, and dare I say “synergy” between everything that makes up The Lost Mines of Phandelver – the PCs, NPCs, locales, plot and subplots are pretty damn superb. It really does show off all of the bells and whistles of what this new edition can do, and what D&D can do as a whole. It comes with everything you need to run a game that could easily last you weeks of playtime. There’s a lot of “D&D” packed into this little box, the adventure is satisfying, the art is fantastic, and I hope it is a taste of things to come for the new edition of the game we all love so much. At the 20$ retail price point, or $14 on Amazon you can’t really go wrong picking it up.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to use my amazon link if you decide to pick the game up online and want to support the site. As always, until next time, game excellently with one another!



  1. I picked it up and I’m still reading through the adventure. Really digging the new rules. Got burned out DMing 4e and this is a perfect breath of fresh air!

  2. I’ve been running this adventure for two different groups and I can tell you it is a rock-solid adventure and does a good job showcasing the new edition. Word of warning, goblins are deadly and a bugbear partnered with goblins is the formula for a 1st level TPK!

  3. It really seems to have that D&D spark that made me love the Game (2nd ed) without the bunch of paragraphs that make your eyes sore and cry. The rules are easy to follow, DM’s got the reins once more, Monsters stats are easy to read and combat its faster, plus the window for improvisation its huge. Can’t wait to put my hands on the Core books.

  4. The rulebook is light on inspiration. I was under the impression it was on/off in that a character had it or didn’t. Did you play inspiration so players could store inspiration ‘units’ up and spend them when needed?

    Also, did they get to spend inspiration as a re-roll if they didn’t like the results of their first roll? Or did they have to make a choice beforehand and roll two dice?

    • It is a binary on/off, when I said “stored up” I simply meant they’d been holding onto it for a while before they had used it. They should have had to declare the roll before making it, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and let them choose to use it after the bad roll. I figured it worked thematically like their resolve kicking in.

    • How did I miss these!? Thanks for pointing it out. Still no spot for it on the pregens but Greg Bilsland from WotC has confirmed that the second printing of the starter boxes will have them.

        • Yeah, I know. The Starter Set doesn’t come w/ character creation rules though and the pregen sheets that ship w/ the game don’t contain the inspiration spot on them.

  5. So it’s new, and the rules are again different right? Here is a thought? What if someone were to just pick up a classic D&D or AD&D and continue with it? Would anyone be interested in a game some of us have had for years?

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