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One of the big advantages to Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition for new players is how Wizards of the Coast has kept the buy-in cost low. RPGs often get a reputation for requiring a stack of books to play, but this edition has kept the original Player’s Handbook as the main way for players to make a character. That’s one of the many reasons why Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has been hotly anticipated by players and Dungeon Masters. Let’s take a look at the things new players will want to check out when they pick up a copy in the next few weeks.
New Player Options
This is the big attraction for players to own the book. Each of the 12 classes gets new archetype options that expand what players can do with a class and offer more stories to tell. Many of the subclasses mix in a little bit from other classes. A few class options offer paths that resonate with fans of fantasy elements outside of the Tolkien-style European default, such as the Samurai fighter or the Drunken Master monk. These options open up all sorts of fun and interesting concepts for new players, but the slow roll of releases keeps the choices manageable for players still just starting out.
What are our favorites of the bunch? Glad you asked:
- Barbarian: All of the paths give characters a little something extra when the barbarian rages. Our favorite is the Path of the Ancestral Guardian. It gives the barbarian a hunter’s mark effect mechanically with a pretty sweet flavor effect; the marked target is surrounded by the barbarians ancestor spirits who attack and harass the target until it goes down or the barbarian calls them off.
- Bard: One of the most hotly anticipated subclass is the Glamour Bard, and the book pays it off well. This bard spends Bardic Leadership dice to channel its inner Bowie for leadership effect that grant temporary hit points and extra movement. This bard gets an ability that can charm an entire crowd rather than just one charm person spell, and has a great capstone 14 level that requires enemies to make Charisma check to even attempt to hurt the Glamour bard.
- Cleric: The Grave Domain cleric is the master of keeping the dead in their domain and the living in ours. They can sniff out undead at very low levels and at 6th level, they can turn a critical hit into a normal hit (the hit still happens but double damage and any other effect triggered by a critical do not). This cleric can do some mean things to the bad guys, removing the idea that all healers are precious angels.
- Druid: The Circle of the Shepherd is a great choice for players who love pets. It makes any creatures summoned stronger and it can even summon a
patronusspectral protector when things get rough.
- Fighter: Fans of Green Arrow will love the Arcane Archer, who gives the Fighter not just a dedicated ranged class but also some cool effects for specially enchanted arrows. No boxing glove arrow, sadly, but that will probably be up on Dungeon Master’s Guild in no time.
- Monk: We have some first-hand experience playing the Way of the Drunken Master. It’s mobility and hit redirection make it great for players who want to hit every monster on the field at least once, and its flavor justifies hanging out in all those taverns just a bit longer.
- Paladin: The Oath of Conquest is probably as close as this edition is going to get to an “evil” paladin for a while, but its fear-based abilities and extra damage to uncooperative targets give this class some interesting concepts to play.
- Ranger: The Horizon Walker is the most intriguing entry here, not just for its abilities that give it cool abilities that allow for teleportation and other motion. It also is a pretty direct indicator of interaction with other planes. They wouldn’t include this class without a new Planescape being on the horizon…would they?
- Sorceror: Storm Sorcery may be one of the reprinted classes from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, but its still a great thematic fit with the chaotic nature of the class. With its limited flight and lightning cantrip abilities, it’s also a chance to play the X-Men‘s Storm in D&D, which is basically awesome.
- Warlock: The Hexblade is for those folks who want to take the Pact of the Blade to the next level. Its curse allows you to single out an opponent to get bonuses against them and to regain hitpoints when they die. Combo that up with a hunter’s mark and that gives big bad guys a very bad day.
- Wizard: The War Mage is the only option included in this book, but its a blend of existing schools rather than something brand new. This option makes wizards a bit more feasible on the front lines, thanks to an arcane deflection ability that increases AC and saving throws after the fact.
This is Your Life
Backgrounds in Fifth Edition offer a good place to start talking about the history of characters, but coming up with a full background for a character can be a little intimidating for someone that’s never done it before. Xanathar’s Guide has a few class-specific elements that can help like tables for a bard’s worst performance or the vice a rogue likes to indulge in in between adventures. It also has a big section full of tables that determine important character details like siblings, upbringing and other points that can help sketch a character backstory during play. There’s a running gag that all D&D characters are orphans that were born, grew up and became adventurers, but with this section, characters get a skeleton of a backstory to help shade how they react in play.
Many, Many Names
Ask many players, one of the hardest parts of making a character is giving them a good name. Character names are one of the ways to evoke a Dungeons & Dragons setting. But not everyone is great at coming up with names. If one player names their character Cassandralla Divinius and another names their character Roguey McStaberson, that’s going to cause some discord at the table. There are several charts in the back of the book that offer random choices divided between names from different races and names from historical sources. Checking out a name on a website can be useful, but having a list of names, not just for a character but for friends, enemies and others, is a great thing to have in hand just starting out.
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Images Credits: Wizards of the Coast
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves and is a writer for the Star Trek Adventures RPG line. His blog is here, where he is currently reviewing classic Star Wars RPG adventures. His Twitter is here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.