27 April 2012

Beginners & Box Sets

In my ongoing quest to write a good beginner's guide to RPGs I have run into a few RPG box sets. It used to be that any game worth its salt would have a box set of the rules, but somewhere in the mists of time they died out altogether. I was pleasantly surprised to see box sets starting to appear a few years ago, culminating in the return of the D&D Red Box. How do these sets stand up as introductory products, though?

D&D Red Box

This one is the elephant in the room. Anyone with any familiarity with the RPG "scene" knows about The D&D Red Box. Wizards of the Coast brought the box back a couple of years ago to entice more new players to the hobby. I can't say if they were successful, but regardless of their success they still created a good entry-level product.

In case you are brand new to role playing,  D&D is a game of epic high fantasy where players take on the roles of mighty heroes as they crawl through dungeons, save the world and, yes, even slay dragons.

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons is the most recent version of the game available at the time of writing this and the D&D Red Box is an entry level D&D product which contains everything you need to start playing the latest iteration of the classic game. The rules are simplified and feature a step by step adventure to play through. While these simplified rules are great for beginners, at some point players will want to graduate to full-fledged game.

Pathfinder Beginner Box

Golarion is a high fantasy world filled with gnomes, elves, dwarves and all manner of other fantastic races. With the Pathfinder RPG a player can jump in ready to craft their own epic adventures or join the famed Pathfinder Society, a group of covert agents and adventurers, to further the goals of Inner Sea factions.

Pathfinder rivals D&D 4e in the number of players that enjoy it regularly. Its roots lie in the previous edition of D&D and it maintains a similar play style. Much like D&D, Pathfinder enjoys a lively and widespread community with plenty of organized events to attend.

The Beginner Box is a simplified rules set that, like The Red Box, provides an excellent introduction to the hobby. It contains everything that you need to play and a little bit more. You should be aware that The Beginner Box is an introductory product and does not contain the complete rules. Players that enjoy the game will need to upgrade to the core rulebook at some point. That aside, it is a much more friendly and affordable introduction than the core rulebook is.

Doctor Who: Adventure's in Time & Space Box

The beloved British television show, Doctor Who, has introduced multiple generations to science fiction. It is fitting that the latest incarnation will also introduce many to the fine hobby of role playing. Doctor Who:AiT&S has one of the best, if not the best, introductory box sets available in the hobby. While the game is named after the eponymous and titular hero, the rules do not require his presence. They are written and presented in such a way that any group of heroes can blunder their way through space or time, with or without The Doctor.

Doctor Who comes with the complete rulebook, which is written in a casual and concise way and features a simple, yet flexible, set of rules. While the box set contains everything that you will ever need to play the game, the crown jewel is a set of introductory adventures with step by step advice for first time Guides. Even better, the adventure booklet also contains numerous adventure “seeds” to get a fledgling Guide started on creating their own adventures.

A final thing worth mentioning about this Doctor Who RPG is that it takes an anti-violence stance. The game de-emphasizes violence as solution to problems and instead encourages negotiation and wits.

Warhammer Fantasy 3e

Warhammer Fantasy 3e is probably the most expensive entry point into RPGs. It's also the most comprehensive. The hundred dollar core set looks more like a complicated board game than an RPG. It has custom dice, decks of cards, stand up monsters, and four different rulebooks. There are cards for every class, item and monster in the game. This can be good thing. It means the rules you need are always in front of you and that things can be easily kept track of.

The actual game takes place in the fantasy universe popularized by Game Workshop's immensely successful line of fantasy miniatures. You would be hard pressed to find a more iconic art style in gaming. Fantasy Flight has obviously spent a lot of time making the game beginner-friendly, attractive and complete. Of course, they have also produced a lot of supplemental products and those are of the same calibur.

Having not played or spent much time reading the rules I can't say how well the game actually plays. Fantasy Flight is usually pretty reliable, though.

Mouse Guard Box

The Mouse Guard RPG is set in the world created by David Petersen in his Eisner Award-winning comic book series. It features a world inhabited by sentient mice. Players in the Mouse Guard RPG take on the role of mice that belong to the Mouse Guard, a group that helps other mice survive the wilderness and fend of predators.

Mouse Guard is suitable for all ages, although parents should be aware that the world of Mouse Guard is not as friendly and cuddly as the premise would lead you to believe. The game is easy to learn, clearly written, and has even won an award for its design. The art, taken from the comic series, is also splendid.

The box set comes with everything you need to play, including the rules, adventures, dice, cards and even a map.

Dragon Age Core Box

The popular Dragon Age video game franchise spun off a tabletop role playing game made by the formidable Green Ronin. Anyone familiar with the video games should consider the Dragon Age Boxed Set 1 for their introduction to the tabletop hobby.

The rules are solid, simple to use, and reminiscent of the video games. Players will also be familiar with the lore of the game world, which can be one of the denser aspects of getting started with any role playing game. All of this is wrapped up in a gorgeous looking product. Having flipped through the rulebook I can say that it is very nice to look at. While looks aren't everything, they sure do go a long way in convincing someone to try out the game.

The boxed set, by the way, comes with a player's guide, game master's guide, dice and a map. The game master's guide also includes an introductory adventure, something a consider a necessity in any beginner level product. If I have any complaints about Dragon Age it is that they have packaged the game in such a way that you have to buy a new set for every few character levels. Set 1 only covers levels 1-5 and players will need to purchase up to Set 3 if they want to get to level 20.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Box Set

Until I began my search for box sets that are currently in print I had no idea that Lamentations of the Flame Princess had a box set, despite being well-versed in the game and supplementary products. (Not well-versed enough, apparently.) While I'm not familiar with this particular incarnation of the game, I can say that the core rulebook is a nice product, if a little spartan looking.

Lamentations takes the high fantasy experience popularized by D&D and games like it and throws it into a blender along with Conan and the Cthulhu Mythos. The resulting game is darker than anything else on this list, but is also a fresh departure from the standard fantasy fare.

Lamentations comes with all you could expect to find in a box set: dice, rule book, GM's guide (called a referee in LotFP), introductory adventure and character sheets. Of particular interest is the included 98 page tutorial book. That is something that sounds very promising from a beginner's perspective.

LotFP sets a high standard as far as retroclone products go and it does so while putting a weird twist on the formula. One thing to keep in mind with LotFP is that it is a game clearly targeted for adults, so if your interest in an introductory set leans towards introducing younger players then this probably isn't the game for you.

Final Thoughts

I am not sure that all of these games will make it into the guide. I worry that if I provide too many options it will become difficult for potential players to make a decision on what to try and, really, it doesn't matter which game they get started with. I also suspect that I have missed a few box sets. If you think of one that is currently in print that I missed, please let me know.


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