The D&D5 Starter Set: Complete or Crippleware?

The venerable Tobold wrote a response to last week’s article on the D&D Next reveal, in which he disagreed with me. At least he says he did; after several passes through his most excellent article I’m not sure I see where.

Tobold says that D&D4 is a great game. I agree. He says that it might have been better titled something like “D&D Tactics.” With that I emphatically agree. Indeed, I think D&D4’s biggest failure was one of branding. Had it been produced as its own distinct line with some iteration closer to the D&D mainstream still in production, many of the ill feelings surrounding it might have been avoided. Tobold says we need a true introductory product, and that neither D&D4 or D&D3.x are very good for that; with that I agree as well. Tobold actually seems to disagree more with Wizards of the Coast rather than my piece. However, had I elaborated on a few points perhaps we’d have found more fertile ground for battle.

Moldvay BasicIt seems to me that Tobold’s position rests on the presumption that the upcoming D&D Starter Set will not be a good introductory product for new players, and he gives several reasons for thinking so. He may be correct; as he rightly points out, WotC has never successfully managed this. The danger in releasing such a product with the aim of drawing new players into the hobby is that such a product will be, essentially, crippleware, good for an evening or two of introductory play but then essentially mandating a step up to the “advanced” rules. Oddly, the introductory set that Tobold points to as a superior example was, to my recollection, exactly that — a hobbled game designed explicitly to drive players to AD&D, and containing only enough material for a few evenings of play at best. But perhaps he’s only talking about the price point and quality of components, whcih did land in a sweet spot.

Mentzer BasicWe have many questions about D&D5, chiefly about its method of delivery rather than the rules themselves, most of which have been in circulation for quite a while. The one to which Tobold spoke the other day and to which I am writing today is one of the bigger ones yet unanswered, whether the new D&D Starter Set will be a complete game in its own right. Tobold presumes no; I think it’s too soon to say, but I see his reasons for concern. Since my article was published I’ve learned that the D&D5 Starter Set will not contain character creation rules, a worrying sign. Those rules will, however, be made available online, for free. Personally, I would say that the level 5 cap isn’t as important as it might appear. The old D&D Basic Set (pictured in both its incarnations) only gave you three levels, and from personal experience you could get quite a lot of play out of those three levels before you felt obliged to step up to the accompanying Expert Set, and with that accessory you could basically play forever. But the assumptions underlying the speed of character progression were very different back then, and if you were listening to Gary Gygax’s advice on the subject you could spend months playing before your characters were in danger of reaching level 4. Not that everyone adhered to that, even Gary from what I hear.

Ideally, the D&D Starter Set would contain a complete RPG (even if character creation is shunted into some online document,) simpler than the full D&D5 rules, that would be suited to introducing new players to both the game and the hobby. Especially youngsters. And it would be supported by at least a few of its own adventures, and an add-on kit that would enable play through, say, level 10 or 15, while keeping the overall complexity level in keeping with what’s in the Starter Set. You could play forever with that. But I have no indication thus far that such a line of support products is planned, and indeed I strongly suspect that it isn’t. Then again, a great deal depends on WotC’s licensing plans for 5E. It may be that they’ll be open enough to allow some intrepid third party publisher to produce exactly that.

Tobold and I appear to have no substantial disagreements insofar as the points made in our respective posts. We do disagree as to the potential merits of D&D5 in general, but that’s a discussion I am unwilling to have until the actual products are released and in my hands. There is also, however, a matter of design and/or marketing philosophy that I may feel obliged to expound upon later in the week.

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