From MEPACON Fall 2010

Thanks to my attendance at MEPAcon this past weekend and the generous guys of the Portal Comics & Gaming in Bethlehem, I now own the Dungeon Master’s Kit, a D&D Essentials product in the vein of the new Red Box and the Monster Vault. The party is returning to the Nentir Vale tonight, and while my laptop awaits a new power supply, this Kit promises to make sure I do not assume my place behind the screen unarmed.

Peeling away the plastic and pulling off the cover depicting some rather dashing art, one discovers the following.

Reavers of Harkenwold. This is a two-part adventure that not only expands further upon the denizens and situations within the Nentir Vale, but also explores many of the aspects key to a well-rounded adventure and part of a larger campaign: NPCs with personalities and goals, dungeons with traps and branching pathways, role-playing encounters and so on. So far there’s a great deal of potential and I will know more once the party enters the Harkenwold.

Battle Maps. These go with the adventure and also can be used afterwards. One of the maps has art consistent with the quality seen in the other Essentials products while the other feels a little lackluster. It could just be the brightness of the colors and the thickness of the lines, but it doesn’t appear to be of the same quality. To me, at least. Still, the greater variety of locations on these maps means they can be combined with those from the other products to mix things up for the players in future encounters.

Monster tokens. While you’re sure to see some repetition between these counters and those in both the Monster Vault and the Red Box, there are plenty of human opponents included, for use as guardsmen, minions or competing sellswords. There are also some rather nice NPC counters mixed in to the bunch. From the innkeeper’s wife to a white-bearded wizard, you can now depict either valuable allies or singular villains on the maps when your heroes storm the enemy stronghold. Like the Monster Vault’s tokens, these are two-sided to facilitate easily showing when a victim is bloodied.

Hero tokens. Expanding on those included in the Red Box, an entire sheet in the DM Kit is dedicated to the races available to players, from dragonborn to tieflings. There are more humans than any other race, and spaces that could include more art from other races — dwarves or halflings for example — are taken up with Action Point tokens. I’m glad to see some of these races get tokens, as I mentioned in my Red Box unboxing that getting miniatures for all of these guys can be quite an investment, and I personally am a big fan of dragonborn and tieflings as player races. As complaints go, holding something in your hands and saying “I wish there were more of these” isn’t a bad one.

DM Screen. Flimsier than its stand-alone cousin, it still contains a lot of information a DM might need in the course of an encounter, right at their fingertips. It also conceals notes and dice rolls from the players.

Dungeon Master’s Book. There have been some updates to the 4th edition rules since the original DMG came out a couple years ago, and this book makes it a point to include those revisions. It also includes sections for the DM regarding campaign-building, improvisation and loot creation. What might be most surprising to veterans of Dungeons & Dragons is this book’s size. Instead of the hefty hardbacks of other core rulebooks, this is an attractive softcover that still contains a fantastic amount of information and is written in a format similar to the Monster Vault book — in-depth, easy to digest and fun to read.

While veteran DMs already armed with the tools of their trade may not see the value in this kit, newcomers to Dungeon Mastering or returning storytellers with only peripheral knowledge of 4th edition (like myself!) gain a lot of tools when they pick this up. More than just a pre-generated adventure and monsters, the Dungeon Master’s Kit lays the foundation upon which a saavy DM can build just about any campaign he or she wants. The size of the book belies the value of its information and is far more portable than others of its kind. Of the three Essentials products I’ve unboxed, the Dungeon Master’s Kit is probably my favorite. But the Monster Vault’s a close second. I loves me some beholders and owlbears.