To people that have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for many years, the “Red Box” has special meaning. It was one of the first sets that most people got, and it’s iconic color and graphics have a nostalgic appeal beyond that. For a good number of us D&D played a big part in shaping who we are, so the books and items we used in that endeavor hold a special place in our hearts (My 1st Player’s Handbook has a special spot on the shelf) The first Red Box was released way back in the early ’80s, more than a few years before I got my start in the D&D world, as that didn’t happen until I was well into high school in the early-mid 90′s. So while I deeply respect the Red Box and what it means to both the game and to the people that played it, I don’t have the same nostalgia that others do.
A few editions later I find myself back in the world of Dungeons and Dragons and with a vengeance. It’s been years since I’ve played and I’m now coming to realize how much I’ve missed it. I’ve been playing a 4th edition game for a few months now so I was keenly aware of this new Red Box that Wizards of the Coast has been working on. It’s geared towards beginner to intermediate players and while I’m no beginner I figured there’s definitely something I can learn from it. Let’s take a look at what you get with it.
The front of the box recreates the graphics, font and color of the iconic box from the 80′s, and that continues inside with the covers of the player and DM books. Everything else (including the insides of the books) are all updated 4th edition rules though, this isn’t a reissue of the old set. In addition to the two books, you’ll get a set of 6 dice, a few (slightly modified) character sheets, a redemption code for an additional solo adventure online, a battlemap, some tokens to use on said map and a few sheets of power cards to punch out and use. It’s really a fantastic deal for $20.
The player’s guide gives you a quick intro to the rules but most of it is taken up by a solo adventure written just for this box. It’s to be played alone (obviously) and is really an interactive way to create a character and fill out a character sheet. You’ll read a block of text and then it gives you a few choices and has you turn to a page to find out what happens (like those old choose your own adventure books). Over the course of the little adventure you’ll fill in different areas of the character sheet as you learn what each portion does.
You’ll learn what different spells or power moves do (depending on your class) and get into a few encounters along the way. When it’s all done you’ll have a completely filled out character sheet and a good idea of what everything does. If you’ve never played any kind of Dungeons and Dragons game before and don’t have anyone around to teach you then this is about the best way I’ve ever seen to dip your toe in. Sure you could fill out a character sheet just using a Player’s Handbook off the shelf but you’d have no context as to what does what.
It’s worth noting that the included character sheets are slightly different than the regular 4th Edition sheets, all the same info is there just moved around some. Not really more or less confusing to use, just different. They are one sided though, which makes them much easier to copy. These are obviously meant to be used with lower level characters and if you work your way out of the box set and into higher levels you’ll probably transfer the info to a standard sheet.
The Dungeon Master’s Book spends much more time on the core rules of the game and does most of the heavy lifting for the box set. You’ll learn how check and attack rolls work, the basics of role playing and the rules for combat. The book includes a short adventure that builds on the encounters of the solo adventure except this time it’s meant for a party of characters not just one person. Nothing epic by any stretch, just something to get your feet wet in a party atmosphere.
There’s been some complaining in the RPG sphere about this set, but I think the people complaining don’t really understand what this box’s purpose is. It’s not for people that know their way around a D&D game, not at all. It’s meant for people that have never played before, but want to try it out. It has a very low barrier of entry both on the difficulty and on the price. As a way to get new blood into the game I think the Red Box succeeds admirably.
I went through it as if I had never played before and it gives you just enough to get you on your way. There are tons of situations and ideas that aren’t covered in this box since it concentrates on the bare bones stuff. The intent is to get you through the door, get you hooked and then have you graduate to the proper books. But those books are a big investment so a cheap set like this is the perfect way to bring new fans to the table!
I brush the naysayers away, as it seems that whatever game you played first is the “best” and all the ones after it are lame. I have friends that won’t play anything except for 1st edition, friends that only play 2nd and those that think 3.5 is the way to go. I grew up with 2nd edition so it’ll always hold a place in my heart but I’ve found a lot to love about 4th edition, not the least of which being how accessible it is. The more people that play D&D and enjoy it, the better. This new box kicks off the D&D Essentials line which aims to being even more people into the fold. I couldn’t be more excited.