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Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Best RPG Tutorial Gamebook rss

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Sebastian Sohn
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Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, or commonly known as the Red Box, is a revision of the the Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules printed in 1983. The Red Box is a complete kit with rules, dice, maps, counter and everything else one needs to play a basic version of 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

What I am primarily reviewing is the the Players Book, one of two book in the Red Box. The Players Book is a solo pick-your-path gamebook that is designed to teach character generation, combat, skill checks, and the UI of D&D. The gamebook plays like the first adventure of a computer RPG, designed to show the player the environment, basic rules, and the UI.

The story begins as you ride shotgun on a delivery wagon and goblin raiders attack. The first set of choices you face are: “Do you imagine pulling a weapon from the back of the wagon and leaping down to fight the goblins? Do you imagine casting a magic spell to blast the goblins? Do you imagine drawing a dagger...” Depending on your choice, you become on of the four classics classes: fighter, wizard, cleric, or rogue. Although there are 97 sections in the gamebook, the adventure is short because parallel storylines for four classes exist. The story is simple and absolutely linear and players are given a well disguised, illusion of choices. No matter what choice you make, you cannot fail or die. Your goal is to survive the initial goblin attack then search and destroy the goblin camp. Since the goblins have 1 hit point each, they are not a serious threat, even for a 1st level solo character. More than half the book is spent on explaining how to use the UI and fill in your character sheet, part by part. The gamebook only reveals rules and highlights sections of the character sheet that are pertinent for that section. Thus you start the adventure with a blank character sheet and fill in parts as explained and directed by the adventure.

The Red Box is an awesome intro adventure and other paper or computer RPG designer should take notice. A player who knows nothing about the rules-heavy and complex D&D 4th edition, starts with a blank character sheet and concludes with a fully filled character sheet and basic understanding of the D&D system. If you never played a paper RPG, the Red Box is a great start.

Originally posted on Play This Thing.

PS The Red Box is going out of print as Wizards prepares for D&D 5th edition. Meanwhile you can take a look at Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box
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Tim M-L
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"revision" is far too a strong word to describe the relation between Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules. The similarities are pretty limited- only the name, look of the box, and that both had dice inside as far as i can tell.
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I have actually played this book several times - by myself and ran it for kids. And honestly, it's not very good. Here are just a couple of things I can remember right now:
1. There are a number of errors in the text - not grammar ones, but game mechanics ones (you can google "d&d 4e red box errata" for several forum discussions), which could easily be avoided if somebody had actually play-tested the book. After all, it's just a 100 paragraph/30 pages booklet, not a large Fighting Fantasy episode. Also, it was intended as a book for beginners, so it should have been double-checked, which for a large company like WoTC is absolutely doable. At the end, it leaves you with a feeling that you are an unwelcomed newbie.
2. Several choices in the story lead you to a "wrong choice, try another one!" paragraph. This is dumb. I bet any experienced gamebook writer could have come with a better phrasing with the same outcome.
3. The box set was prepared at the time when "D&D Essentials" rules were not 100% ready yet, so some of character powers etc. exist only in this box set and cannot be incorporated in a "real" D&D 4e game - they are not even in the WoTC Compendium/Character Builder! In my opinion, this is unacceptable.
4. It seems to me the book fails to introduce things gradually: instead you have a feeling that a more experienced player fills your character sheet without too much explanations. It's like: "cool, as an Elf you get ability to shift on difficult terrain", but the kid reading this book still has no idea what is "shift", "difficult terrain" and what's the reason to even use this ability. I'd prefer it rather be something like: "As an Elf, in combat you move like a wind, ignoring obstacles on the ground, and your enemies cannot catch you off-guard. (We will explain you later how to use this ability when you are in combat)."
5. There are no way to create a character without playing through all the game book again. And no kid will want to wait till 4 of his friends play it one after another. I've checked

From the other hand, we still had fun. But I think it was not because of the book qualities, but rather despite its defects...
(A little background: I'm not a roleplayer myself and I was new do D&D 4e rules when I was reading this book.)

BTW, Sebastian, thanks for your excellent GeekLists! I'm a big fan.
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Sean Allen
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schizoid wrote:
I have actually played this book several times - by myself and ran it for kids. And honestly, it's not very good...


Just curious (not baiting or anything like that), are any parts of this Red Box any good? For example, the GM guide?

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anthropos95 wrote:
schizoid wrote:
I have actually played this book several times - by myself and ran it for kids. And honestly, it's not very good...


Just curious (not baiting or anything like that), are any parts of this Red Box any good? For example, the GM guide?



It has a page of tokens, dice, and a two sided map. The GM guide seems to cover basics. I found myself looking for answers in the DM Guide, and Rules Compendium when running the adventure that comes with the set. To be honest, for someone "totally new" to D&D, it's easy to get confused about how to handle some things.
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anthropos95 wrote:

Just curious (not baiting or anything like that), are any parts of this Red Box any good? For example, the GM guide?


Maybe I exaggerated a bit. I'm not saying it's complete crap. I was just disappointed that a box that was supposed to be an introduction to the game was somehow neglected by the game makers.

Regarding GM guide - it has and introductory DM encounter, some rules explanations (much less than needed, IMHO), and an adventure with maps, counters and a lot of per-encounter guidance for the new DM. However, since 4e is a rather complex game (at least, for kids and newbs like me), you still need to change things on the fly, make them simpler etc.
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timlillig wrote:
"revision" is far too a strong word to describe the relation between Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules. The similarities are pretty limited- only the name, look of the box, and that both had dice inside as far as i can tell.


True, the Red Box is a complete new rewrite but the spirit is the same: introduce beginners.
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anthropos95 wrote:
schizoid wrote:
I have actually played this book several times - by myself and ran it for kids. And honestly, it's not very good...


Just curious (not baiting or anything like that), are any parts of this Red Box any good? For example, the GM guide?



My game video game design students, 18+ old, taught themselves D&D with this kit. Each student took turns reading the Players guide and one read the DM's guide.
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