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D&D Starter Set vs Essentials Kit: A Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons and Dragons

So, you’ve just heard of the critically-acclaimed tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dungeons, and you wish to try your hand at playing the game with a group of friends.

A quick search online shows you two recommended sets that you can purchase as starter adventures for newbie groups. But which do you get? Well, hopefully, this article can give you an idea of which set would better suit your needs.

First, let’s introduce the two different sets and what they contain. Then, we’ll look at how the two adventures included in both sets are run and the differences between them.

D&D Starter Set vs D&D Essentials Kit

The D&D Starter Set was first published in 2014, the same year the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons was published.

While that might have been 7 years ago, make no mistake - the adventure that comes with the Starter Set has stood the test of time. Lost Mines of Phandelver still remains a well-written, excellent adventure for new players to the Dungeons and Dragons world.

The D&D Essentials Kit was published 5 years after the Starter Set, in the year 2019. The Essentials Kit contains slightly more items than the original, with a longer adventure named the Dragon of Icespire Peak.

Dungeons and dragons D&D Starter Set in Singapore

D&D Starter Set

The 2014 version (D&D Starter Set) contains a 64-page adventure book of Lost Mines of Phandelver.

It has everything a fresh Dungeon Master (DM) needs to get started and run their first adventure. The set also contains a 32-page rulebook for characters from levels 1 to 5 for both the DM and the players to peruse, so they can quickly learn the basics of the game and start adventuring!

Both books are well explained and detailed but not overly complex, which is perfect for new players. For even greater ease of access, the box also contains 5 pre-generated starter characters that players can select from and jump into the game with.

Lastly, as is common for Starter Sets, the D&D Starter Set provides the DM with a brand new set of 6 polyhedral dice. This kit is recommended for introducing new players into the game without much hassle, and starting their adventure quickly and seamlessly.

D&D Essentials Kit

The Essentials Kit gives you a little bit more bang for your buck, as it provides fresh groups and new DM with slightly more tools of the trade.

Similar to the Starter Set, the Essentials Kit gives you an introductory adventure – Dragon of Icespire Peak – and a 64-page rulebook. This version of the rulebook teaches you how to create characters (not just start you out with pre-generated ones like the Starter Set), and comes with 6 empty character sheets that the players can use to flesh out their first characters.

The Essentials Kit also provides the DM with their quintessential Dungeon Master's Screen, to hide their rolls and notes away from the prying eyes of their players.

To assist the DM even more in their task, the Essentials Kit provides them with 81 cards that describe magic items, sidekicks, NPCs and quests that the DM can easily hand out to players.

In addition to all of these, the Essentials Kit also provides a double-sided poster map of the region in which the adventure is set – a region known as the Sword Coast and the town of Phandalin – which conveniently, is the same town from the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure too!

Lastly, just like the Starter Set, the Essentials Kit gives budding Dungeon Masters a fresh set of 11 polyhedral dice.

The Essentials Kit is recommended for players who wish to delve deeper and have a character they can call their own before starting the game, and for players who do not mind something slightly more complex, in terms of rules and character creation.

Here's a quick comparison between the D&D Starter Set and D&D Essentials Kit:

D&D Starter Set

​D&D Essentials Kit

64-page Adventure Book: Lost Mine of Phandelver

Adventure Book: Dragon of Icespire Peak

32-page Rulebook for Characters Level 1 to 5

​64-page Rulebook

​5 Pre-generated Starter Character Sheets

6 Empty Character Sheets

​6 Polyhedral Dice

​81 Cards (Magic Items, Sidekicks, NPCs and Quests)

Double-sided Poster map of the Region

11 Polyhedral Dice

The Adventures

In terms of the adventures that come with both kits, Lost Mine of Phandelver can seem more linear, with a clear objective or “main quest” that the party can follow, and minor side quests that veer slightly off-course that players can complete along the way.

In addition, most of the written content does not require the Dungeon Master to do much rewriting or editing, which helps in reducing the nerves and anxiety of a new Dungeon Master. The adventure itself is about players discovering the legend of an ancient mine lost thousands of years ago.

The adventure that comes with the Essentials Kit – Dragon of Icespire Peak – might seem more like a sandbox adventure in comparison to Lost Mine of Phandelver, in the sense that the party does not always have a “main quest” to follow.

Instead, the adventure is structured in a way that the party will receive multiple quests at a time and can decide which quest to tackle in any order. It's also because of this that the adventure may require the Dungeon Master to rewrite or edit certain parts of the adventure so that the whole narrative makes more sense and flows better.

The adventure itself revolves around a white dragon that has moved into the region and dealing with the destruction and aftermath it leaves behind in its wake.

So, which box do we recommend you get?

Well, due to its more linear approach, the Starter Set – with its Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure – fits a more stable group of players better. Stable group meaning a group that can who can commit to a full adventure, starting and finishing it together for a more coherent story.

If this sounds like something you and your party might enjoy, the Starter Set might be the better choice for you.

Meanwhile, due to the fact that this adventure consists of multiple different quests in different locations at a time, the Essentials Kit with Dragon of Icespire Peak is easier for a more “drop-in drop-out” kind of playstyle.

Hence, it might be the better choice for a group that has players who have busy schedules, who can choose to drop in and drop out for different sessions (or quests!) that suits them.

Despite their differences, both kits prove to be useful and suitable for any group looking to start their first foray into Dungeons and Dragons.

You can get both kits here at TableMinis; the Starter Set goes for $24.90, while the Essentials Kit goes for $34.90. Whichever box you get, you and your group are definitely in for a fun time!

May your rolls be high and your adventures be crazy, always!


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