Adventures in the Red Box – D&D: Essentials

I imagine, for people who know me, that this news won’t come as a monumental revelation, but it finally happened. After resisting the temptation for 10 years, I’m now playing Dungeons & Dragons. But even though we knew this inevitable day would come, I’m ashamed that I managed to go so long without D&D, only to fail now.

Curse you, D&D: Essentials – Red Box! Curse you, and your perfectly designed introductory package!

On the bright side, at least now as a grown man I can enjoy playing a tabletop RPG without having to be judged and mocked for my entertainment choices. Or, at least, I can pretend I’m not being judged because I no longer have to listen to the heckling on the bus or in the classroom. So, I win.

Repressed memories, ho!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand – the Red Box. Officially called the Dungeons and Dragons: Essentials – Starter Kit, I picked up this introductory pack for less than £20. It includes a create-your-own-adventurer solo-booklet, a mission for your new level one characters, a double-sided poster map, assorted dice, four character sheets, power cards for each class and a decent number of monster tokens.

red box content

Everything that’s included, and everything you’ll need.

After my girlfriend and another friend  told me they were interested in playing, I wasted no time in getting everyone together and nominated myself to be Dungeon Master. The storytelling and encounter creation of D&D is what I was most interested in after all, and there were no objections. Yay, democracy!

The first thing we needed to do was create some characters for my players to…

The create-your-hero adventure is one of my favourite parts of this starter box. Instead of asking you to sit down and pour over rulebooks, collecting statistics and generally doing the maths yourself, you are given a little booklet that a single player and the DM can go through together. It weaves a yarn that sets up the premise for the upcoming quest – a merchant is attacked by goblins, and needs your help to retrieve stolen goods.  The actual character creation is presented as a series of choices that will help you hone your class and give you your statistics. For example, do you heal the injured merchant, or charge at his attackers screaming? Do you sneak around to try and get a better vantage point, or throw a fireball because magic is friggin’ badass?

By the end of it, you’ve got a fully formed hero ready to help the merchant. It helpfully included a little fight that pitted the new player against some goblins, so they could get a taste for how the game’s systems work in practice. It also helped a new-DM like myself get used to reading adventures to the players. My character voices were…audible? Yep, let’s go with that.

dnd redbox art

After making our heroes (a halfling rogue, and an elf wizard), we went on towards the meat of the Red Box – The Twisting Halls adventure! This booklet contained everything I needed to know regarding rules, and while certainly not the whole compendium of D&D rules, was enough that I never felt like I was playing a lite-version. Certainly, I could imagine playing a whole campaign using just the information provided there and some help from the web.

The adventure lasted about 10 hours, spread out over three sessions, and by the end of it, we were all hooked. It includes fights, a conversation with a dragon, puzzle rooms and more.  I’d learnt how to GM on the fly, and with the help of some great users on StackExchange I came to grips with how to alter encounters for two players that weren’t meant for heavy combat. The players meanwhile have learnt that I am terrible at Australian accents. (Please note; I was not trying for Australian…).

This may provide some spoilers to anyone who wants to play the adventure, but my highlight of the quest was our rogue leaping on to the back of a zombified ogre, trying to stab it in the head while the wizard threw magic missiles in the hopes that she’d miss her compatriot. Getting my players to describe the killing blow on a major enemy seems to work really well for getting them invested in the narrative – needless to say, there was a lot of mess and one (properly) dead ogre.

Having played through the Red Box, I can say I’m addicted. For £15, there’s enough content here to potentially last you forever, should your imagination and pen/paper skills be up to the challenge. However, there is a progression to the D&D: Essentials line, and I have now got myself the Heroes of the Fallen Lands book, which is the rulebook needed by players who wish to progress to D&D-proper.  I’ve also got the Dungeon Master’s Kit, which provides a hefty rulebook and tools for creating adventures, as well as a new quest to take characters to level four. More on that when we’ve played through it!

I’ve rounded up a few more players for the next adventure, and so far it’s going really well. Like me, some of them have always considered playing D&D but have put it off until now. Hopefully, the magic won’t be lost on us just because we have responsibilities now. It’s also opened my eyes to a whole world of tabletop RPGs. I’ve got a copy of Call of Cthulhu that I’m looking forward to breaking out at Halloween, complete with home-made props and calamari, and I want to have a go at Paranoia: Troubleshooters to see if I can really alienate my friends.

Being grown-up really is the best time to be a nerd.


  1. Welcome to the hobby, it is a satisfying one. As for other RPGs I would suggest checking out Savage Worlds and heading over to D&D’s website to join the free, open play test for the next iteration of D&D. Savage Worlds is inexpensive and genre-neutral so you can use it to play everything from Space Opera, Modern, Super Heroes, Horror, Pirates, Fantasy and just about anything else you can think of.

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