Let Us Begin – Thoughts On Starter Kits

Among my age group, there is an evil wizard who is hated with an all-consuming passion – Bargle. In the Red Box Basic Set of Dungeons & Dragons (Player’s Manual & DM’s Rulebook), the rules are taught through a solo adventure. In that adventure, you met a cleric, Aleena, who helped you on your way. In that same adventure, Aleena was slain by the evil Bargle.

There are similar shared introductory experiences. I actually discovered D&D a little younger than most and cut my teeth adventuring in the Caves of Chaos from the adventure The Keep on the Borderlands. In that adventure you heard a number of rumors – one almost everyone remembers is “‘Bree-Yark’ is Goblin for ‘We surrender’”. 

Call of Cthulhu has a similar introductory experience, with the adventure “The Haunting”. It was included in most editions of the game – and while the 7th edition did not include it, it is found in the 7th edition Started Set – in a greatly expanded form, teaching Keepers how to run their games. 

I recently kicked off a Pendragon game, using the introductory adventure found in the rulebook. This adventure slowly introduced both the rules and the setting – very useful to me as someone who has had Pendragon for ages but have only played it a little – and with a number of new Pendragon players in the group.

I’ve come to feel that the introductory adventure in an RPG (or available for it) can be extremely valuable. Done right, it provides both a shared experience for players, and introduces the rules, setting, and expectations to those players (and GMs). For example, “The Haunting” teaches the importance of prepping and performing lots of research as part of a Call of Cthulhu adventure – and if you look online, you can find countless tales of how people explored the Corbitt House (and how they might have meant their ends in that adventure). 

Keep on the Borderlands for the D&D Basic game doesn’t quite walk a novice DM through running an adventure, but it does provide a fair amount of guidance and also provided a great example of a “typical” D&D adventure of its era. The D&D Basic Set did even better, walking a player through an adventure, slowly introducing the rules.

I recently tried out RuneQuest: Glorantha and found, much to my dismay, it wasn’t quite right for my group – something I’ll elaborate on in an upcoming review. While there is a Quickstart Rules for the game, it was released several months (I believe over a year) prior to the release of the core rules and has some minor differences from the later core rules. Not wanting to introduce minor inconsistencies I chose to bypass the QuickStart and went with the first adventure in the Gamemaster Kit. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake – I love the RuneQuest game, and while it’s core mechanic is simple, there is a lot to keep track off – every character has magic (typically at least two types), strike ranks, rune affinities, hit points and armor by location, passions, etc. As I understand it, there is a starter set for RuneQuest in the works and I greatly look forward to it – I think we might have taken on a bit too much plunging into it as we did.

I’ve been gaming for a long time and for a time I found myself shunning introductory adventures and sets – “bah, I don’t need them!”. But over time, I’ve definitely come to appreciate them as a critical component in gaming.

~ Dan Stack

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. The Star Wars starter set was vital in teaching the dice mechanic. These boxed sets are necessary sometimes and do (when written well) their job enticing people in for a cheaper price

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Daniel Stack says:

      That’s a great example – one I should have thought of. I like the FFG system but it can be a little tough to just pick up. I found the starter sets super-useful for that.

      Liked by 2 people

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