Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Do D&D's New Young Adventurer's Guides have "All the Information (Young Players) Need to Start"?

TL;DR -- Not all the information you need, but a vital contribution to the hobby.

When I read that Wizards of the Coast was going to be releasing three volumes designed to introduce younger gamers to the Dungeons and Dragons hobby with their "A Young Adventurer's Guide" series by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler, I was overjoyed. I immediately saw that the volumes thematically matched the three central Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks. Warriors & Weapons and the as yet unreleased Wizards & Spells were the Player's Handbook equivalent, Monsters & Creatures the Monster Manual, and Dungeons & Tombs fit the Dungeon Master's Guide slot. I was so excited that I preordered them in February and eagerly awaited the opportunity to hand my eleven year old daughters their individual copies of the volumes.

My expectation was that these volumes would be simplified versions of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, written in a manner to be more accessible to younger audiences as the "kid friendly" equivalents of the core rulebooks. This expectation was reinforced by the marketing copy describing the books and recent reporting about the intent of the volumes.

The Amazon.com description of Weapons & Warriors states, "This guide includes detailed illustrations of the weapons, armor, clothing, and other equipment that fighters use, and offers the tools young, aspiring adventurers need for learning how to build their own characters, including sample profiles, a flowchart to help you decide what type of warrior to be, and brainstorming challenges to start you thinking like an adventurer whether on your own or in the midst of an exciting quest with friends and fellow players."

Add to that description, the copy from the back of the volume which states, "Warriors & Weapons provides would-be adventurers with all the information you need to start building your own characters and putting together your adventuring party" (Emphasis mine).

In an interview with Geek & Sundry, Jim Zub described the inspiration for the books by stating:

When I was at the Wizards of the Coast office in late 2017 consulting on the adventure material that would become Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, we talked a lot about how I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was 8 years old and the elements of D&D and roleplaying that ignited my imagination at that crucial age. That discussion would come up again a few months later when the crew at Wizards introduced me to Aaron Wehner, an editor from Ten Speed Press, and plans started to develop around the kind of book that could engage new players without overwhelming them with rules or game-specific terminologies.

As experienced Dungeon Masters or players, it’s easy to forget how intimidating tabletop RPGs can be for people who haven’t ever played them before. These guides lay out the major concepts (class, race, equipment, creatures) in a way anyone can understand while encouraging them to create their own stories. Readers can use the material in these books to brainstorm a character and imagine their role in an adventuring party. They’re meant to get new players excited about the possibilities, so they’re ready to head to the gaming table and learn how those initial ideas can really flourish with a roll of the dice.
These comments, and my experience with the excellent new Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit, had me convinced that these would be the modern age equivalent of the Moldvay/Cook, Mentzer Basic Set, or D&D Player's Essentials books for a new generation of players.

I was wrong.

I was wrong, but I wasn't misled. I missed a lot of clues as I set my expectations of what these books would be. I missed phrases like, "the kind of book that could engage new players without overwhelming them with rules or game-specific terminologies" and "brainstorming challenges to start you thinking like an adventurer."

These books were never intended to be "kid friendly" replacements for the rulebooks. Instead, they were meant to be something that filled the gap between books like Dungeonology, the 123's of D&D, A Practical Guide to Monsters, the Monster Slayers series by Lukas Ritter, and the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit.

The Young Adventurer's Guides do not have "all the information you need to start building your own characters," but they do contain valuable information that new players need. I remember the first D&D gaming session I ran for my daughters and their friends at a sleepover earlier this year. The session went great, BUT the first couple of hours were spent discussing basic information like what Rangers and Clerics were. As I stated in my post discussing that first session, "Everyone knew what a wizard was, but the audience was very unfamiliar with most traditional fantasy classes." That is exactly the gap that these books were designed to fill and they do that job very effectively. The Warriors & Weapons book gives a good overview of a number of D&D races and classes and has a useful flowchart to help young players decide what kinds of characters they want to play. The expectation is that the Dungeon Master will know the rules and guide the neophyte through character creation, or even use the descriptions the new player gives to design a character for them. Heck, the book even includes discussion of various backgrounds. None of the mechanics, but descriptions of what they are and what the benefits of each are in non-mechanical terms.

You will still need access to some form of the rules, but thankfully there are scads of low cost and high quality options. First and foremost, there are the FREE Basic Rules available on the Wizards of the Coast website. These are all you need for years of fun. Sure, there are more options if you own the physical rule books, but the Basic Rules are more than enough to start with and the price is right. You can also go with the D&D Essentials Kit from Target. Don't get the Starter Kit, though that's fine, take the time to find this gem.

If you are gaming with younger players, the players for whom these new books are designed as a bridge to the full game, then let me recommend the two Monster Slayers adventures designed by Susan J. Morris. Monster Slayers: The Heroes of Hesiod and Monster Slayers: Champions of the Elements are excellent starting points for players.

My recommendation, if you are gaming with 10 to 11 year-olds, is the following. Download the Basic Rules for yourself (the adult), and download the two Monster Slayers adventures. You don't need to read the Basic Rules to run the adventures, so just run those for the kids. After the kids have their first taste of role playing, buy them copies of Warriors & Weapons and Monsters & Creatures. While they read those volumes, take the time to read the Basic Rules and buy the Essentials Kit. A couple of weeks later, you and your kids will be wholehearted gamers with all the knowledge of the genre and rules you will ever need.

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