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Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (4e)
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Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (4e)

Watermarked PDF

The best way to start playing the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game.

Designed for 1–5 players, this boxed game contains everything needed to start playing the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game, including rules for creating heroes, advice for playing the Dungeon Master, a solo play adventure, and group-play adventure content. Learning the game has never been so easy!

Several different character races (dwarf, elf, halfling, and human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard) are presented, along with powers for each race and class.

This set includes:

  • 32-page book for players, with rules for character creation and a solo adventure
  • 64-page book for Dungeon Masters, with the rules of the game, advice on how to run the game, and adventure content

Note: This PDF edition does not include the tokens, cards or dice that were included in the printed box version of this title.

Product History

The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (2010), also called the "Red Box", by James Wyatt with Jeremy Crawford, Mike Mearls, Bill Slavicsek, and Rodney Thompson, is the first rulebook in the 10-part Essentials series for D&D 4e. It was published in September 2010.

About the Cover. The cover is a near-facsimile of Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules (1983), the first part of the BECMI Basic D&D revival by Frank Mentzer in the mid-80s. Even D&D 4e's red, black, and gold logo has been replaced with the classic BECMI logo! It was a strong way of saying, "This is the new introductory set for D&D".

Despite that branding, the Starter Set is not a set of core rules, like Mentzer's Basic D&D. Instead, it's a one-time introduction to the game.

About the Components. Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was the first boxed release for D&D since the publication of the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set (2008) about a half-year after the debut of D&D 4e (2008). There's certainly a tradition of starter and basic editions being released as boxes, but the new Starter Set was more than that: it marked a new philosophy.

Mike Mearls noted "If you bought a new boardgame, you’d probably be surprised to find that it lacked a number of important components needed to play. It would be irritating to buy Axis & Allies only to find that you need to make or find your own miniature tanks and ships to go with it. You paid good money for the game, and you wanted a complete package." The new Starter Set thus offered an "all-in-one experience" — an idea that continued through the rest of the D&D Essentials line and which was reflected in a few late 4e books like The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond (2011) and Madness at Gardmore Abbey (2011).

Besides dice and maps, the Starter Set also includes power cards, which were components intended to make it easy to remember and use 4e powers — an idea that Wizards had debuted with standalone Power Cards (2009) packs the previous year. However, the Starter Set's biggest innovation was its hero tokens and monster tokens, which were cardboard markers that could represent adversaries on a map without the cost of miniatures. This was another trend that would continue through the Essentials line and beyond.

The Road to Essentials. The D&D Essentials line got its start in September 2009, and was primarily the brain child of Mike Mearls. Though the first goal with the release of D&D 4e had been to draw in established players, Wizards now wanted to bring in new players as well.

The entire Essentials line was designed with this goal in mind, but the Starter Set was the heart of the philosophy. It was "specifically designed to serve as an introduction", something that Mearls felt was a requirement for the new player.

However, Essentials was more than just a chance to approach a new audience. It was also a revamp of the 4e game. Mearls was insistent that Essentials would not be a new edition, and so should remain entirely compatible with 4e to date. However, 4e had been heavily errataed in the two years since its release — particularly for skill challenges, which were cleaned up in Dungeon Master's Guide errata (2008), and for monster math, which was rebalanced in Monster Manual 3 (2010). Essentials provided an opportunity to incorporate those changes and errata back into a set of core rulebooks.

Wizards of the Coast announced Essentials to the world in Dragon #389 (July 2010). There, Bill Slavicsek said that Essentials would be "10 products that form the foundation of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game moving forward". They were meant to be a panacea for all woes: a set of books that retailers would know to carry, containing great material for new players and compelling information for existing players. The onslaught of these products followed, from August to December 2010.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Confusion. Even following preview articles from Slavicsek and Mearls, players didn't know what the Essentials product line was really intended to be. More importantly, retailers didn't know what it was.

The biggest concern for players was whether Essentials was a de facto 4.5e, by which they meant an incompatible version of the rules. Meanwhile, retailers worried about whether Essentials made the old core books obsolete … and whether they'd remain in print at all. Some of these issues would explode into flame wars on the internet in late 2010 and early 2011 … even as the concerns were largely proven incorrect.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Mechanics. Surprisingly, the Starter Set didn't provide many hints about the updated Essentials rules. The characters were obviously different, but players constructed them in a rather unique manner, and they were only detailed for levels 1 and 2, so information was limited.

To learn more, fans would have to wait for two weeks after the release of the Starter Set, until the publication of the next couple of books on September 21.

Introductory Tropes. Though it contains some rules and advice in it, the Essentials Starter Set largely consists of two adventures.

The "Player's Book" contains a choose-your-own-adventure-like solo scenario, which is a trope that was also used back in the Mentzer Basic Set (1983). However, the adventure in the "Player's Book" serves a different purpose than the solo play of the original: it helps players to create a character (and in fact is the only way to create a Red Box character). This sort of narrative character creation goes back to
GDW's Traveller (1977) and to R. Talsorian's Lifepaths system (1987+), but it was a rarity in D&D.

The "Dungeon Master's Book" features a second adventure, "The Twisting Halls", which is a Quickstart — an adventure style common in RPG lines in the 21st century. The book contains just enough rules to get you going, then focuses mostly on the actual adventure. Of course, this wasn't 4e's first quickstart, as the line had gotten started with H1: "Keep on the Shadowfell" (2008). As you'd expect, "The Twisting Halls" is encounter-based, a format that 4e had perfected by this time.

These two adventures could also be played as part of a longer sequence. The "Player's" adventure could be followed by an 18-page download from Wizards of the Coast. Then, after "The Twisting Halls", players could continue with "Reavers of Harkenwald" in the Dungeon Master's Kit (2010) and finally "Cairn of the Winter King" in Monster Vault (2010).

Expanding the Nentir Vale. Wizards' 4e setting of the Nentir Vale became more important starting with the Essentials line. The Red Box thus includes a couple of pages outlining the mini-setting, while "The Twisting Halls" is found on the way to Fallcrest.

Future History. Technically, the first release in the Essentials line was the Roleplaying Game Dice Set (2010), which came out in August. However, the Starter Set was the first set of actual rules (though still pretty rules-light).

It was followed later in September by the core rules for Essentials, Rules Compendium (2010) and the first of two player books, Heroes of the Fallen Lands. A second player's book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms would follow in November; meanwhile, the two GM's releases appeared in October and November: Dungeon Master's Kit (2010) and Monster Vault (2010).

That brought the Essentials line up to seven releases. The last three Essentials products, which appeared between September and December, were all gaming accessories: large compilations of Wizards' Dungeon Tiles. These were Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon (2010), Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The City (2010), and Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Wilderness (2010).

The Red Box would turn out to be the odd-man out amidst the Essentials rules releases. It didn't match the digest-sized formatting of the later releases, and of course its exterior looked different due to its homage to the Mentzer Basic Set. Most surprisingly, the rules aren't a perfect match: the characters generated in the Starter Set are incompatible with Essentials (though much, much closer than 4e's core characters), and so have to be converted if players continue past level 2.

About the Creators. Though the idea of Essentials came from Mike Mearls, who was taking over the D&D line following the December 2009 departure of Rob Heinsoo, the Starter Set was overseen by James Wyatt. Wyatt had been working for Wizards of the Coast since 2000 and was one of the core members of the 4e design team.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

 Customers Who Bought this Title also Purchased
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Discussions (7)
Customer avatar
Matthew M November 22, 2018 6:08 am UTC
On the whole, I'm really grateful that these digital products are available at a reasonable price. I've had lots of fun with this beginner's set (in a long line of D&D boxed sets). In particular, my 4e redbox starter was absconded with and I never had a chance to play it when it first came out. It's nice to make up for that now.

It's too bad that the product doesn't have the power cards (and tokens), since there's no explanation of the powers included. It would be great of WoTC to add a pdf scan of those, since there's information missing without them. Failing that, a pdf addendum with the powers explained would help complete the set. That being said, I knew that they were missing when I purchased it, and the powers are explained elsewhere (and online).
Customer avatar
Michael Wevanne S March 10, 2017 1:05 pm UTC
Why the tokens and cards are not present (the digital version, of course) here?
Customer avatar
allen P October 04, 2015 3:41 pm UTC
it was negligent of WotC to omit the power cards; the product is unplayable without them.

WotC ought to make good on it with an Update.

However, intrepid players willing to spend more $ can work around the issue by purchasing Player Essentials: Heroes of the Fallen Lands. The powers are found therein, with the continuation of their effects beyond the first and second levels.

(P.S. I am not listed as a Purchaser because I own the physical product from 2010; I have not purchased the incomplete pdf , though I would consider it after an Update!)
Customer avatar
Philip M September 30, 2015 1:39 pm UTC
I'm really upset that they didn't include pdf versions of the dice

Customer avatar
Timothy B September 30, 2015 6:12 am UTC
Does this include the two-sided map that came with the set?

I'm also disappointed to see that neither the tokens nor the power cards are included. I'm not sure if anyone from WotC will read these comments, but if so, please address this issue, and respond to this thread, so that we know when the product is complete.
Customer avatar
Philip M September 30, 2015 12:09 pm UTC
It includes both a pdf and a jpg image of each map that was included in the box. The power cards are the most glaring omission, since they are not described in full in either book.
Customer avatar
Timothy B October 01, 2015 4:36 am UTC
Thanks for the quick reply. That's very helpful.
Customer avatar
March 13, 2016 11:53 am UTC
I agree, thanks very much Philip, there's no real way to tell for sure without your comment that the maps are included. It states there's a 32 page book and a 64 page book, and that there are no card, dice, or tokens ... but nothing is said in regards the maps.
Customer avatar
Philip M September 30, 2015 2:13 am UTC
Since the power cards are not included, this product is pretty much unplayable. The powers are not listed in either The player book or the DM book, so players will not know what effect the powers have.
Customer avatar
Thomas K September 29, 2015 8:40 pm UTC
As with the "Dungeon Master's Kit (4e)" they've elected to leave out the tokens and cards.

The tokens in particular could be useful in electronic form for Virtual Table Top gaming.

Why are these items not being placed into the PDF releases? Surely it doesn't add much to the overall cost (likely negligible), and it would facilitate online gathering of friends for VTT games.
Customer avatar
March 13, 2016 11:57 am UTC
I agree but happily enough there are alternatives to the official tokens, such as with decent art and imagery easily found online and with's TokenTool. The battle maps are actually the much harder resource to find, or so it seems to me at least.
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