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DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - a bright beginning

Wizards of the Coast release a new DnD 5e starter set eight years after its first – and Dragons of Stormwreck Isle seems like a welcome update

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of a gold dragon

Our Verdict

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle may offer new players less content, but its slimmer rulebook helps streamline rather than oversimplify the experience for new gamers. Plus the colourful adventure helps keep the ever-evolving game fresh and fun.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a striking reminder that a lot can happen in eight years. Dungeons and Dragons 5e first graced our tables back in 2014, and the game has seen a huge number of changes since then. D&D is bigger and more profitable than ever; it’s more digital than ever; it’s got more supplementary rules than ever; it’s more politically conscious than ever – need we go on? Fifth edition looks very different from when it first emerged.

It seems to make sense, then, that Wizards of the Coast would want to bring out a new DnD starter set. Enter Dragons of Stormwreck Isle, a starter set for the new generation of fifth edition players. Courtesy of Wizards, I’ve had a chance to take a look inside the new starter box. The gist is this: Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a product that not only teaches new RPGers how to play Dungeons and Dragons – but fully reflects the growth spurt D&D has gone through. It also seems like plenty of fun to play, too.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast product photo of starter set box

What is Dragons of Stormwreck Isle?

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a new D&D 5e starter set that succeeds 2014’s Lost Mine of Phandelver. The previous starter set is still alive and kicking (and the adventure’s currently free on D&D Beyond), but Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is pitched as the most up-to-date way to learn how to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Inside the new DnD starter set, you’ll find the following:

  • A 48-page, ready-to-run adventure
  • A 32-page rulebook to teach you how to play characters from levels one to three
  • Five pre-made character sheets
  • A set of DnD dice

At the time of writing, you can pick up Dragons of Stormwreck Isle for around $20 / £20. That’s around the same price as the old starter set, and you’re getting mostly the same contents (more on this later, though).

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast starter set box and contents

Granted, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle doesn’t seem like the most impressive starter set when you first lift the lid. It comes in a box that’s of pretty standard size for tabletop RPG starter sets, but the space isn’t ergonomic by any means. One component not listed on the contents is the cardboard insert Wizards has included to fill up unused space.

Other tabletop RPGs have made better use of the box space by including handouts or even printing maps and rules reminders inside the lid. The One Ring 2e starter set is a great example of this – although that does cost a fair bit more. What Dragons of Stormwreck Isle lacks in efficient design it makes up for with a beginner-friendly price tag.

You’re probably not here for an in-depth review of the set’s box dimensions, so let’s look at the main meat – the rules and the adventure.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of adventurers fighting a blue wyrmling dragon

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle – the rules

Naturally, you won’t find the full Player’s Handbook squeezed into the starter set. Dragons of Stormwreck Isle keeps D&D as simple as possible. Essentials like stats, combat, equipment, spells, and interacting with the world are all explained in clear terms.

Approachability seems top of Wizards of the Coast’s priority list, as several rules have actually been stripped out in the transition from old starter set to new. Lost Mine of Phandelver uses the more complex, experience-points-based level up system, but this has been replaced with the milestone-based option. Both are valid ways to tackle levelling up, but it’s telling Stormwreck Isle opts for the less maths-heavy version.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of adventurers fighting an octopus-like creature in a cave

Additionally, rules like Inspiration are missing from the new starter set. We know from the recent One D&D playtests that Inspiration is getting an overhaul in the DnD 6E rules – so, while this may be another attempt to slim the rules down, it may also be Wizards trying to ensure maximum backwards compatibility once One DnD goes live.

Overall, the rulebook is competent. The aim of any starter set should be to onboard new players as smoothly as possible, and Wizards has the precise language and clear examples necessary to make that happen. The more crunchy rules will still be in the core rulebooks once new players are ready to make that jump.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast map of Dragon's Rest

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle – the adventure

The adventure takes your party to the titular Stormwreck Isle, an island shaped by an age of conflict between the two dragon families found in the Forgotten Realms (D&D’s core setting). Runara, the peaceful yet mysterious leader of the Dragon’s Rest cloister will introduce you to the Isle and its many problems. Several are the result of the area’s fraught history, but some threats come from feuding dragons that are still very much alive.

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle manages to be colourful and complex without overwhelming unfamiliar players. The NPCs and settings included are varied and have interesting quirks that bring them to life in a memorable way. A Kobold that loves to come up with unusual insults and a zombie-infested ghost ship don’t just make for interesting gameplay – they also teach the fledgling DM how to make their own future games stand out.

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle also teaches new DMs another key tool – flexibility. The players can take on the ‘dungeons’ in any order they like, and Wizards provides the DM with advice on adjusting their difficulty ad hoc (something Lost Mine of Phandelver never did). Players will need to be of a certain level to complete the final dungeon and resolve the story, but until then, their route is very much up to them.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of an adventurer watching two dragons fight

While we’re comparing the two starter sets, Stormwreck Isle also makes greater effort to involve the pre-generated characters in the adventure. Both starter sets give each character a personal goal, but Stormwreck’s adventure module regularly encourages the DM to incorporate this into the story – another helpful, indirect teaching moment.

Lost Mine of Phandelver does offer more overall content than Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. It provides more detail when it comes to D&D staples like traps and magic items, and the campaign is long enough for players to reach level five rather than level three. However, Stormwreck arguably reminds us that, sometimes, less is more.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of adventurer's exploring a ship full of zombies

The adventure is shorter, but it’s also more engaging. The key players in the story have richer backstories and clearer motives. Additionally, the adventure’s theme and writing style make it clear D&D can be more than a paint-by-numbers, combat-heavy dungeon-crawler. Players are encouraged to weigh up whether violence is really the right way forward.

The difference between the two starter sets seems to reflect the ways we’ve seen fifth edition D&D evolve over the years. Lost Mine of Phandelver is stuffed to the brim with fantasy’s most stereotypical monsters – goblins, drow, and orcs who commit evil because that’s simply what they do. Meanwhile, the party and their NPC allies are almost exclusively humans or the Tolkien-esque ‘good guys’ (elves and dwarves).

Dragons of Stormwreck Isle makes some efforts to turn this on its head. No race is portrayed in a singular way – you’ll meet good, evil, and morally grey Kobolds and dragons. One of the two human player-characters has been replaced with an extra elf of a different subclass to further diversify the party. Even the visual design has had an overhaul – where Lost Mine of Phandelver is painted in aged greens and browns, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle greets you with an electric blue cover.

DnD Dragons of Stormwreck Isle review - Wizards of the Coast art of adventurers meeting a gold dragon

Plus, there’s not a single racially-coded orc in sight (though take this praise with a grain of salt – the recent Spelljammer Hadozee controversy shows Wizards still has some lessons to learn in this department).

I don’t point these things out purely for political reasons. D&D’s player base is more diverse than ever before, but it’s also more trope-savvy, meaning we need increasingly creative and complex writing to keep pre-written adventures engaging. Dragons of Stormwreck Isle’s vibrant and entertaining adventure is a sign of the game’s good health. Its model structure choices, combined with the streamlined rulebook, also make it a great place for someone to begin their D&D journey.