A Guide To Mounted Combat – D&D 5e

Upon your steed, you gallop into battle. Ogres, Orcs, and Goblins all stand in your way, but with a slight lean to your left and your shortsword in hand, you slash your foes and dash back to safety.

That sounds like a classic Dungeons and Dragons scene, right? Well, it turns out many of us don’t bother using a mount, let alone ride one into battle. When combat starts, some of us try to hide our horses because “if anyone dares touch Sir Galloper, this whole village will go up in flames!”

Well, just as you can be healed with a Cure Wounds spell, so can your mount. So, let’s see what we could do with an animal companion.

Contents:

Player’s Handbook Word-For-Word

Player’s Handbook Broken Down

Classic Mounting Options

Jousting

Best Classes For Mounted Combat

Summary

Player’s Handbook Word-For-Word

You can find the information for mounted combat on page 198 of the Player’s Handbook. Below is a word-for-word reiteration from this section.

The first thing the manual explains is how to mount and dismount your steed.

The second is how to control your steed.

This is literally everything the handbook says about controlling your horse (or other creature). Using the information given and the rest of the manuals, we will explain what this means and how to use a mount in combat.

Player’s Handbook Broken Down

Although the information is concise, it doesn’t give us a lot of examples. We want to show you how you can use the information provided in a way that is completely within the rules of 5th Edition.

Mounting Costs Half Your Speed

The handbook says it will cost half your Speed to mount a creature. It doesn’t matter what your Speed is; a Goliath will take the same time to get on a horse as a Gnome.

If you have two levels of Exhaustion, your Speed is halved. Therefore, a level two Exhausted player would take their whole movement to mount a creature. This is because your overall Speed is used for both scenarios. 

In the same vein of thought, a character who has been “Hasted” (the spell Haste has been cast on them) still takes half their movement to mount a creature. This means their speed is doubled due to the spell, and then halved back to their original number when mounted.

The same goes for the Dash Action.

For example, Elves have 30 feet of Speed. When “Hasted” or Dashing, their Speed doubles to 60 feet. The Elf then mounts a horse, which drops their remaining movement back to 30 feet again.

At this point, it should be noted that once you’ve mounted your creature, they can take a turn in battle. This means you don’t need to save your movement, as your steed can move you. 

Because of this, it might be more useful to see a character running to their mount.

Using the same example, this Elf has 30 feet of movement. They want to run away from an encounter, but their horse is 25ft away. Although they can run up to the creature, they will not be able to mount it on this turn.

Knowing this, the Elf Dashes, using up their action. They run 25ft toward the horse. They now have 35ft of movement left. With more than half of their extended Speed remaining, the Elf can mount the creature. The horse now has a turn to use their Action and their Movement. Using a Dash Action themselves, the horse can sprint away to safety.

In total, on this Player’s turn, they will have moved 140 feet and still have a Reaction, and Bonus Action left.

The Elf could also have run up to the horse and then cast Haste for the same effect. This is because the Player’s Speed (not used movement) is counted. As the overall Speed is doubled, they now have time to mount.

Your Mount Falls Prone Or Is Pushed Back

The next part of the handbook might sound contradictory, but there is a method to the madness.

The manual says that if your mount is pushed against its will (while you’re on it), you must make a DC10 Dexterity Saving Throw or be made Prone. The next statement says that if your mount is made Prone you can use a Reaction to dismount and land on your feet, or you will also be made Prone.

It stands to reason that if you can use a Reaction to dismount, you can also do this if you fail your Dexterity Saving Throw. 

This means you can attempt the save, get a 5, then use your Reaction to stop yourself from falling Prone. Using your Reaction still means you are forced off your mount, but at least you have all of your movement.

Remember that if you are Prone, it will take you half your movement to stand up, and it takes another half to mount a creature.

Because of this, you might not want to use your Reaction. Instead you can save it, and use your full movement to stand and mount.

The handbook specifically states that if you fall off your mount, you land within 5 feet of the creature. To climb back on, you need to be within 5 feet. This means you will have full ability to simply climb back on.

If your mount is pushed back and knocked Prone at the same time, you can use your Reaction to jump off the creature as it gets pushed away from the encounter.

The Tidal Wave spell, for example, pushes creatures away regardless of if they succeed on their save. However, if someone fails, they are pushed away and knocked Prone. 

For example, if the Player Character is a Fighter (a melee class), they might want to stay close to the battle. The enemy casts Tidal Wave forcing the Fighter’s mount backward. Dice are rolled, and the mount fails their Dexterity Saving Throw. The Fighter decides that they want to stay in the heat of the battle, and so dismounts as a Reaction. This keeps them next to the enemy.

The Height Of A Mount

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that the Tidal Wave spell can reach up to 10 feet tall. 

Depending on the height of the mount, our Fighter might have been forced to make the Saving Throw too.

Let’s go with the standard Riding Horse again. This creature is considered Large. A Large creature is 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide. 

The rules do not state whether we should use the full height of the creature or the mid-way height of a creature to determine where the rider sits.

I believe this is a Dungeon Master’s call. A horse, for example, would likely have their rider sit 5 feet above the ground. However, an Owlbear, which is also a Large creature, doesn’t have their back midway down their height. The Dungeon Master may decide that a rider of an Owlbear sits 10 feet above the ground.

In the Tidal Wave example, a Fighter sitting on a Riding Horse would have to make their own Saving Throw. But, if they were mounted to an Owlbear, the Fighter would not be affected by the Tidal Wave spell and could use their Reaction to dismount once the spell was cast.

How Much Can The Mount Carry

All creatures, including Player Characters, can measure their carrying capacity in the same way.

Simply multiply the creature’s Strength Score by 15. This answer will be your carrying capacity in pounds.

Reach While Mounted

As we said before, the height of a rider while mounted is determined by the Dungeon Master. However, this matter should be discussed before playing the game, because most melee combat options are limited by a 5 foot reach.

If you are 10 feet in the air, riding an Owlbear, your 5 foot reach from a shortsword will not hit a 3 foot tall Halfling. 

Because of this, a mounted melee fighter should own these weapons:

Glaive1d10 Slashing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Halberd1d10 Slashing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Lance1d12 Piercing DamageReach, Special
Pike1d10 Piercing DamageHeavy, Reach, Two-Handed
Whip1d4 Slashing DamageFinesse, Reach

All of these melee weapons have the Reach ability, which means that they can hit people 10 feet away.

The best melee weapon to use while mounted is the Lance. This is because you don’t need to use two hands to wield the Lance while you are mounted (but you do if you are not mounted). 

The other weapons (not including the Whip) need two hands to wield with accuracy. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, you will either forfeit your aim or your control over the mount when using these weapons. 

The Dungeon Master might force you into rolling with disadvantage, or they could roll a 1d6 to see which direction your steed goes (1 and 6 means the mount follows original orders. 2, 3, 4 & 5 represent South, East, North, and West).

The Whip would be the best option for a mounted Rogue due to the Finesse property. Finesse weapons can be used with a Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature.

We will go into more detail about mounted Rogues later on.

Controlling A Trained Mount

The definition of a trained mount comes under two categories; classic creatures that can be trained (like a horse, a donkey, and a camel) and creatures that can be trained in the Dungeon Master’s world.

Both of these options are up to the Dungeon Master (DM). For example, if a Player sees a horse in the wild, the DM can say that the horse is wild so hasn’t been trained. This is a valid option and sticks with the settings.

A trained mount only has three options for their Action; this is regardless of their actual abilities. 

Trained mounts can only Dash, Disengage, or Dodge. Dashing allows the mount to double their Speed for one round. 

Disengaging allows the mount to move away from an enemy without getting hit with an Opportunity Attack. This Action only lasts for one round.

Dodge forces enemies into attacking with disadvantage when aimed at the mount or rider; it also gives the mount and rider advantage to all Dexterity Saving Throws.

When in battle, you should optimize this extra ability to Dodge. As you are riding the mount, you are connected to all of their movements. Just as the mount carries you long distances, they can also grant you a Dodge advantage. 

However, if you plan on rushing through a crowd, and tell your mount to disengage, only they will be untouched by Opportunity Attacks. If your opponent can reach you, their Opportunity Attack can still strike.

Controlling An Untrained Or Independent Mount

Unlike a trained mount, an untrained or independent mount has their own initiative order. 

The difference between untrained and independent comes down to intelligence. 

An untrained mount is like a horse or an Owlbear that was never tamed. They run wild and may become distressed when you attempt to mount them. To them, it may feel like a grapple.

An independent mount understands what’s going on and can make their own judgments. 

Having a rider does not hinder the mount, and these creatures can do anything they want in combat. This includes using their Attack Actions as normal and trying to kick you off their back.

If a mount tries to throw you off their back, this would be a contested Athletics Check (mount) against either an Athletics or Acrobatic Check (rider). Both make their roll, and the highest number succeeds. 

Depending on the creature’s intelligence, the Dungeon Master could allow a Player try taming them. There is no official rule on how to train a mount. A Dungeon Master could create their own rules or use one made by online homebrewers like DragonCrown.

DragonCrown’s guide to training is simple and effective. They also have readjusted the whole mounted combat process! Check out their content for more options.

Druids As Mounts

A shapeshifter or wild-shaped druid can also become a mount. In this instance, they will be considered an intelligent, independent creature and have their own initiative count.

While they act as a mount, they can use their Creature actions as normal and are not encumbered by their rider as long as they can hold the rider’s weight.

Remember that the maximum any creature can carry in pounds (including Players) is their Strength Score multiplied by 15.

Classic Mounting Options

The best mounted option from the classic range is the Warhorse.

Out of all of the classic options, a Warhorse has the best Speed and the best Armor Class. However, if you want a tank for a mount, the Elephant has the biggest Hit Point count.

Small Player Characters, like Gnomes and Halflings, would benefit from a smaller steed, like a Mastiff or a Pony. Ponies have higher Hit Points, but Mastiffs have a better Armor Class.

There is nothing in the rules about Small Characters riding Large creatures, however visually they might prefer a mount that matches their size.

Although anything large enough could become a steed, this is the whole list of classic mounts:

If you want to ride something more unusual, try a homebrew creature or a monster. Elven Firefly’s Harrasaem mount is just one of the amazing creatures created by homebrew artists! Explore the community or create them yourself!

Back to the official guides – these are your Mount’s gear:

And here are the Saddles you can use:

Jousting

If your Players want to Joust, you can follow our homebrew setup for the encounter:

  1. Two players stand on opposite sides of an arena.
  2. Have both roll for Initiative, using the mount’s Dexterity Modifier.
  3. Whoever rolls the highest runs fastest. They get to Hit first.
  4. Roll to Hit and Roll for Damage as normal.
  5. If the damage (at any point) is half or more of the player’s total Hit Points, the player is knocked Prone and loses.
  6. After 5 rounds, the Player with the most Hits wins (if none is knocked Prone).

In this game, landing a Hit is more important than rolling high damage. However, if you produce enough damage, you can end the game early as your opponent is knocked off their mount.

Best Classes For Mounted Combat

All classes can be useful with a mount, but two, in particular, would benefit the most.

Cavalier Fighter 

The first is the Cavalier Fighter. This Fighter is designed to battle on the back of a mount.

At 3rd level, they have advantage on Saving Throws to stay on their steed, and it only costs them 5 feet of movement to mount their ride.

At 7th level, the Warding Maneuver allows them to use their Reaction to increase their mounts Armor Class. This also works on the Player and their allies within 5 feet.

And at 15th level, they gain the charging spirit of their mount and can knock someone Prone, after charging 10 feet in a straight line. They can do this whether they are mounted or not.

The Cavalier Fighter is built for a steed and is the perfect Class for mounted combat.

Soulknife Rogue

The second best Subclass for mounted combat is the Soulknife Rouge

In fact, all Rogues will benefit from riding a steed due to their Sneak Attack feature.

For the Sneak Attack feature to activate, the Player Character needs to have advantage or be within 5 feet of their target’s enemy.

If the mount attacks the target outright, they will be considered an enemy. However, to most Dungeon Master’s, being an active member of the party will be enough to count as the target’s enemy.

This means that the Rogue will automatically get to use their Steak Attack while mounted.

If they use a Whip, as we said before, they will be able to reach enemies 10 ft away and still manage to use their Sneak Attack due to the finesse weapon. Of course, that is only true if an enemy of the target is within 5 feet.

However, the Soulknife Rouge can take this one step further.

At 3rd level, a Soulknife Rouge can pull psionic power from their soul to create a finesse or thrown weapon, just like a Dagger. This means it can be used for Sneak Attack.

This Soul Blade does 1d6 damage, which is more than a Dagger’s 1d4 or a Whips 1d4. And unlike a Dagger, it will also return back to the Player.

The last thing that makes it impressive is its 60 foot range. 

Normally Rogues are in the thick of the battle, but with a Soul Blade and a mount, a Soulknife Rogue can act more defensively. They can ride into battle, use a Sneak Attack on their target using the Soul Blade. Next their steed can use Dodge and run away. Then the Rogue can use their Two-Weapon Fighting feat to hit with a second Soul Blade from 60 feet away.

Sneak Attack can only be used once per round, so getting out of the enemy’s melee range after hitting is a smart tactic. They can still use their Bonus Action for use their Two-Weapon Fighting feat, but be at a safe distance.

Granted, the second attack is only 1d4, but this Rogue keeps their weapon, has disadvantaged any enemy Opportunity Attacks, and always has Sneak Attack.

Mounted Combatant Feat

The Mounted Combatant feat can be found on page 168 of the Player’s Handbook.

No matter what class you pick, if you plan on riding a mount often, choose this feat. This is especially true if you are a Rogue.

Rogues always want advantage when attacking, so they can use their Sneak Attack. If your Dungeon Master doesn’t agree that your mount is your target’s enemy, then this feat can grant you a constant advantage instead. Just make sure your mount is the biggest in battle.

Summary

Apart from the jousting portion, everything in this article has used official rules from  Dungeons and Dragons manuals.

Now you know how to use mounts in combat, which weapons to use, and understand mount heights. 

The biggest confusion that most Dungeon Master’s face is around the trained mount’s actions. Remember, a trained mount can only use Dodge, Disengage, and Dash. The three Ds.

And if you Player Characters want to mount an unexpected creature, the creature can hold 15 times their Strength Score. It will usually be fine unless the mount is small.

Bookmark this page for future reference, as you’ll never know what mounted combat could crop up in your sessions!


Feature image by kudybadorota

Character Sheet: Dragonborn Barbarian AKA Myshon Elro

This character sheet design was born from a Dice Advent Calendar prize. On day one, I received this wonderful die and instantly saw the draconic writing style. Katie’s mind, however, went straight to The Hobbit

I would have compromised and said this die belonged to a Dragonborn Druid, but this is a 12 sided die (d12) and not a d8. My next thought was a Halfling with Draconic Bloodline Sorcery, but again they have d6s for hit die and not a d12.

That’s when I saw who this die belonged to. A Dragonborn Barbarian with the Hermit Background! She is an ancestral guardian of the forest that once belonged to Halflings. 

Backstory

Myshon Elro is a stern woman and a highly valued member of the Dragonborn Elro clan. Generations ago, the Elros went into hiding after being rejected from their mainlands. They left war and political rebellion behind in the hope of finding a quiet life.

In their travels, the Elros found a quiet and soulful group of Halflings. It took a while for the Dragonborn’s to adapt to their new cohabiting life, but the Halflings of Featherfall were a generous and understanding people.

Soon the Dragonborns developed a strong protective community around the Halflings, offering to travel the harsher lands to find game and bat away roaming monsters. The Halflings, in turn, taught their new friends about using the world around them with harmonious intentions.

Because of this unexpected collaboration, a new generation of people emerged. Some Halflings started to develop magical wonders of Draconic Bloodline Sorcery, while some Dragonborns connected to the spirits of the lands.

Myshon Elro was one of the first to develop this connection. 

The spirits have told her that something strange is happening in the lands. Curious and ready to defend her people before the problem becomes dangerous, Myshon has started to travel to new locations and follow her spiritual friend’s guidance.

Images created using Hero Forge.

Character Sheet

Below is the playable character sheet for Myshon Elro! If you want the sheet in PDF form, you can get it here. If you would like it on D&D Beyond, click here.

Character Sheet: Dwarven Rune Knight AKA “Raggron Stormbreaker”

The character inspiration for this character sheet was created from a single die in an Advent Calendar.

When I first saw this die, my mind instantly went to Dr. Strange, but Katie saw Dwarven hands in the creation of the sketchings.

However, Dr. Strange is a Wizard or Sorcerer character, and I couldn’t find an official subclass specializing in runes. If you know of something I’ve missed, put it in the comment section below!

The beautiful rune markings show signs of either an old language or a knowledgeable arcana. These elegant carvings cannot be ignored, so I’ve put the thought of Dr. Strange away for a moment to create a Dwarven Rune Knight

I know Fighters only have a 10-sided hit die, but how can I pick anything else for this rune-covered magic rock!

Backstory

Raggron Stormbreaker is from a clan of strong-willed wizards who practice the knowledge of runes. Raggron wasn’t smart enough to join in with the arcana classes but proved himself in wrestling matches.

Although Raggron is considered a good fighter, he has been consistently belittled for his lack of rune understanding. Frustrated, Raggron spent a decade secretly practicing arcana until one day, he was able to produce a single rune. 

Realizing his intelligence comes from active learning and not reading books, Raggron decided to leave his clan and travel the world, hoping to learn even more things on his trip.

Picture created using Hero Forge.

Character Sheet

You can bookmark this page to use the character sheet below, use the PDF here for the physical form, or you can use this online D&D Beyond sheet. All of which are playable Raggron Stormbreaker character sheets.

Amulet of Orc Pride

Orcs are a strong and resilient race. Even the weaklings of the pack have the constitution of a mountain range. But don’t misunderstand their rugged nature for hostility; if an orc sees potential in you, they may decide to take you in.

Every once in a while, an orc brings someone into their fold and teaches them how to take a punch. They might even share a special amulet that holds the spirit of dead warriors. 

The amulet empowers the person to push through physical pain. Spirits by your side, you hear the chanting of family and pride protecting you.

And sometimes, just sometimes, the connection is so strong that you feel the guidance of experienced hands correcting your fatal strikes.

This amulet has to be attuned for it to work. As you sit, cross legged reaching out to the warriors of orc past, spirits of the community come and sit with you. When the ritual is completed, your body absorbs the legends. With a sigh, you feel the strength and history of orc pride.

Print out the screenshot above or add the magic item to your DnD Beyond inventory, and tell us how your character has connected to the pride of orcs! 

Turn Buying And Selling Into An Adventure 5e

Shopping in Dungeons and Dragons can feel like a real bore. If your campaign doesn’t have strong Non-Player Characters that the players want to talk to, then all you’re really doing is pointing out how much money the characters have and what the items are in the shop.

New Dungeon Masters often find this part of D&D a struggle because, apart from the odd teen montage, there isn’t a lot of TV or Film inspiration to go off. 

Buying and selling doesn’t have to be as dull as following a list. There are a couple of ways to bring the excitement which should fit into any campaign, and once you get the hang of these, you can adapt and grow more ideas as you play!

Buying Magical Items The 5e Way

Following Xanathar’s Guide To Everything on page 126, the official way to buy magical items is through a randomized chart. After rolling a persuasion check on the seller, the Dungeon Master then rolls a dice to see what items the players can buy. BORING!

This type of DMing is good for when your players move the game into an unexpected direction and are demanding shopping scene, but you usually will know how the game is going and when shopping is available. Randomized charts can give your players items they don’t care about and are entirely irrelevant to your campaign.

Instead, if you want to add magical items to your game, check your character’s level and roll on the Dungeon Master’s Guide hoard table on page 136. I know what you’re thinking: “didn’t you just say that randomized tables were boring and bad.” I did, and I stick to it! This table shouldn’t be used to blindly add to your campaign but to help you give a magical item that isn’t overpowered or underpowered. Use it as a guide and not as a “well, that’s what I rolled” answer.

Using this table, you can scroll through the book and see what items spark your interest. When you have a couple to note down, we can finally start creating this shopping adventure!

Making Each Town or City A Specialist

Depending on your campaign, magical items are a rare sight in the D&D world. This means that most shops will only have non-magical items.

To make shopping more of an adventure and less of a chore, make each town or city in your campaign a specialist in certain items; magical or non-magical.

Maybe the Wood Elves create the best bows, so they would pay a better price for a +1 Arrow as they understand it’s worth. Perhaps there is one city in the land that can create Potions of Healing, which means the players have to stock up before leaving. Suppose there is an amazing Artificer who will make you any magical item of your choice if you have the time and money for it. 

I personally like to make each location amazing at one type of manufacturing. In my latest campaign, the players all had bad Charisma stats, so when they visited a Halfling village, I made the community specializing in flowers. They had one magical item which was part of their heritage, the Perfume of Bewitching. They made this perfume with the flowers they grew and were the only ones in the lands who could sell it. The fragrance gave my characters advantage to Charisma checks, which they soon became hooked on. This meant coming back to the Halfling Village of Teatime (if you know the reference, well done) whenever they wanted to start a social encounter, allowing me to create an event in the community to spark an exciting adventure while they were there.

Spreading out shops like this forces your players to weigh up their money bags and decide which destination is worth the hassle. It also means they cannot waste their items without thinking about how hard it is to buy new ones. 

Creating An Interaction Without Explicitly Saying The Item’s Name

If you were hoping for more guidance while you are in the shop, then have no fear. I have an answer for that too!

Describe the item, show the characters what it can do, and then give the price. Basically, create a small cut scene. 

I’ve talked about this before in our Dungeons And Dragons Essentials Kit – Overall Review. Allowing your players to interact with the item will encourage them to roleplay and mess around with the adventure. 

In that example, I said to give the players a weapon and had them roll to hit and roll damage against practice targets. This makes the players the center focus of the scene instead of the items. Plus, we all love a good excuse to roll our dice.

When it comes to magical items, you can instead create a bit of mystery. For example:

The dwarf looks you up and down. With a huff, he mutters, “yeah, you might fit.” He walks down a small corridor without another word, ignoring the steel armor that hangs from the walls. Eventually, the smithy stops and looks up at a golden tinted plate of armor with thick boots and a helmet with only slots to see out of.

“Well, go on then.” He says.

At this point, you let your characters interact. When the character picks up the plate armor, make them do an Athletic Check. If they fail, the armor falls on top of them, the weight crushing them for 2 health points. If they succeed, describe how surprisingly heavy the item is. For example:

You go to lift the armor from its hooks, but it takes you a while to find a firm footing. The armor is clunky, with an odd weight distribution that you cannot balance. You manage to release it from the walls, and you carefully hold it in your arms. 

The weight alone makes you question how you would move in battle, but you put on the armor nonetheless. After 10 minutes, you finally tighten the last buckle and stand up strong. 

You go to move your foot but find your feet are firmly still on the floor.

The dwarf laughs at your attempt. “This is Dwarven Plate Armor. If someone uses magic to push you or move you against your will, this heavy tank will help you keep balance.”

At this point, you could have your other players roll attacks against the plated player. The plated player wouldn’t know if the attack hit or not, and you can announce if the +2 Armor Class bonus protected them.

Of course, this type of interaction takes up time, but sometimes a whole session dedicated to shopping is more interesting than whipping through it to get back to the action. This is the time when your players really get to roleplay and be silly without major consequences. A lighthearted session is often needed after a hardcore one, after all.

Selling Magical Items The 5e Way

Looking back at Xanathar’s Guide To Everything, page 133, the official way to sell magic items is through another Persuasion Check and a Percentile dice roll to see if anyone will buy it. Again this is too random for my taste.

How would my Halfling flower village know anything about Dwarven Armor, for example? If my party tried to sell the armor to the village, the Halflings would probably pay 50 gp maximum, enough to put a deposit on a mortgage. The armor is a very rare item, and so it is worth around 50,000 gp, so of course, my players shouldn’t accept that deal! And expecting the Halfling to have that much money doesn’t make sense either. 

This is why I would not use the table to sell a magical item unless the players have put you on the spot. If you have time, you should create an adventure instead! The adventure doesn’t have to be big. Just like before, it can just be a fun chance to play around.

However, using the Magical Item Sale Complications table on page 134 could lead to some interesting plot hooks…

Placing Plot Hooks for Special Buyers

Maybe your party found a +1 Longbow in an orc raid, but none of you are rangers and so don’t have a need for this item. They know that the Wood Elves would love an item like this and so would pay a great fee. The players tell this to you as the Dungeon Master, which means you have time to plan something interesting.

Maybe an orc survived their raid and is stalking them to get the bow back. Perhaps the Elves short-change the players and try to use the bow against them! Or suppose getting to the elves is the real problem. 

Summary

Before your players tell you that they want to buy or sell some items, have some plot hooks or magic item cutscenes ready at hand. You cannot predict everything your party does, so going with the flow might end up being your best option, but remember that everything is a storytelling moment, and every action is a chance to roleplay!

If you have any other suggestions to make buying and selling in Dungeons and Dragons fun, add them to our comment section! We would love to know what ideas you have!

Which Beginner’s Pack Should a New DM Buy: Essential Kit vs Starter Kit

Most people start playing Dungeons and Dragons because a friend has suggested they join their table. From that day onwards, the game takes over and sooner or later you will want to try your hand at being a Dungeon Master. 

However there are some of us who had no one to help us. We picked up a beginners kit or a manual and studied the rules books page after page, because no one was around to ease us into the game.

To those of you who want to learn the game and have no one to help you, these kits can be a godsend, but are they really aimed at true novices, or are you expected to know the rules beforehand?

What’s In The Box?

A good beginners kit for any role-playing game should have a rule book, the items you need, and a clear direction for the narrator to stay on track. Luckily both sets have these qualities, so we are off to a good start. 

Essential Kit

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit, you will find:

  • 11 Dice
  • 6 Blank Character Sheets
  • A 64 pages rule book
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure
  • Double-Sided Poster Map
  • Dungeon Master Screen
  • 81 Useable Cards (Magic Items, Sidekicks, Conditions, Initiative Numbers, and Sidekicks)

Starter Kit

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit, you will find:

  • 6 Dice
  • 5 Premade Character Sheets
  • A 32 pages rule book
  • Lost Mine Of Phandelver Campaign – Preset Adventure

The Box In Detail

Just by looking at the selection above, we can see that the Essential Kit has way more information and detail than the Starter Kit. But is detail what you need to understand the game?

Dice

The additional dice given to you in the Essentials Kits isn’t exactly “essential.” They include an extra 6-sided die, an extra 20-sided die, and what is known as the percentile dice. These dice are barely used in games, and although they can be helpful, they aren’t necessary to play the game. Almost none of the mechanic’s use those dice.

The Starter Kit is made up of one 4-sided, one 6-sided, one 8-sided, one 10-sided, one 12-sided, and one 20-sided. They are also blue instead of red. You need every one of these dice to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Character Sheets

As a new Dungeon Master and a new player, I struggled to understand how to create a character sheet. The proficiency bonuses messed me up, and when I leveled up my character, I left a lot of states on level 1.

The premade character sheets in the Starter Kit eliminate the worry about creating a “correct” character. It also shows what a sheet should really look like. The characters themselves are fairly average, so you know you shouldn’t be killed off in your first game.

If you have already played Dungeons and Dragons before, then you might feel constricted by a premade character sheet. In which case, you should be looking at the Essentials Kit’s blank sheet. Their rule books teach you how to build a character from scratch, and suggest what their backstory might be. The builds are still more limited than what the Player’s Handbook would give, but when you are new to DMing (Dungeon Mastering) these restrictions can help you stay on track.

Now that I know more about the games, I prefer to use DnD Beyond’s online character sheets. They do the math for you, level up your characters, and keep all your special features and spell descriptions in easy-to-find locations. 

I have friends who prefer to play on paper; for them, the character sheets are easy to fill in once you know how proficiency bonus works. 

Your bonus gets higher as you gain levels, and if your character is good at something (like using a bow), they can add these bonuses to their attacks. When your characters level up, you will need to create a whole new character sheet to adjust these numbers.

I think that new Dungeon Masters and new Players should start off with the Starter Kit’s premade character sheets to help them understand how to use the sheets and how to build them correctly. 

Rule Books

The Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide are the main rule books in D&D for 5th Edition games.

5th Edition is the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You do not need to know the other editions to play.

In total, they are around 640 pages long. The 64-page rule book in the Essentials Kit has picked out the essential rules from these books, so you can learn the basics of the game without being confused by the flare of lore. But the rule book in the Starter Kit has been massively watered down and changed.

This elementary version of the rules is way easier to understand than the Essentials Kit. It basically holds your hand as it walks you through the rules, and it has stripped away the lore and confusion that new players often get overwhelmed by. 

However, the Essentials Kit gives you a lot of information (granted, not 640 pages worth) and keeps all of the terminology and lore attached to the rules.

New Dungeon Masters will find the Essential’s rule book overwhelming, and when you think you’ve wrapped your head around it, you forget that the Wizards should have been “preparing” their spells all along.

Players who are not fresh off the page won’t find the Essential’s rule book a mind field. They have already played campaigns that touch on details like proficiencies and lore, so they might find the additional information helpful and insightful.

Preset Adventure

The Essentials Kit adventure gives a kind of “Monster of the Week” vibe. I won’t go into too much detail, as our detailed review explained the ins and out of the campaign. 

First-time Dungeon Masters will have a hard time managing this story, as there are many NPCs (non-player characters) with unfinished backstories and desires just waiting around the game doing next to nothing. If you already know how to weave this type of dangling information into the story, then you won’t have a problem with these background characters, but most new Dungeon Masters will tie themselves into a knot trying to create a story for them to fit into.

The Starter Kit, however, is designed for the 5 premade characters the kit already gave you. The story is relatively short and doesn’t exceed level 5, and the game itself doesn’t go too far off track. There are some dangling NPCs that you should be wary of, but not so many that you’ll trip over your own creation.

Double-Sided Poster Map 

The poster map is only available in the Essentials Kit, and although (again) it is not essential to play the game, it is a fun addition to draw you into the story. The map shows the adventure location and the zoomed-in drawing of Phandalin, the main town. The quality is excellent, but the map and the books don’t explain how long it will take your characters to get from one side of the map to the next.

The math isn’t hard, but the kit doesn’t explicitly tell you how far your characters can move in a day. Instead, I will explain it here.

On page 242 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and page 32 of the Essential’s Rule Book, it is explained that “Characters can walk about 24 miles a day”. The map’s key says that 1 hexagon equals 5 miles. 

This means that each character can move between 4 and 5 hexagons a day.

You can be creative here. Maybe it takes 4 hexagons to travel the roads, 4.5 to travel the grassland, and 5 to travel through the rivers, forests, and mountains. It’s this creativity that I want to avoid giving to a new Dungeon Master. Ideally, new DMs should understand the basics before being asked to fiddle with the rules like this. 

Dungeon Master Screen

The DM Screen is a Dungeon Master’s best friend, and it is a big shame that the Starter Kit doesn’t include one. 

It has all the basic and quick answers you might need while playing the game, including a size chart, a difficulty chart, condition descriptions, and much more. You can put the screen up, so your players cannot see your dice to allow the tension to grow, or you can stick helpful notes to the screen to remind you of those rules to just keep forgetting.

81 Useable Cards

Because most of my players use DnD Beyond, we didn’t find a need for physical handouts. We started playing in lockdown too, so my one paper-based player couldn’t receive her Potion of Healing card when she found it.

If you are playing in person and would like a physical handout, then these cards will be super helpful. They explain everything the item does, and they can fit into typical card holder pockets, thereby making searching for your items in physical form super easy.

Although I like to play online, I do think these physical handouts are a lot of fun and super useful, so it’s a shame that the Starter Kit does not include it as standard. 

Can They Be Used Together?

Both the Starter Kit and the Essential’s Kit are based around Phandalin. They are not explicitly designed to be used together as the character levels will not match, however that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

If you were to start off with the Starter Kit’s premade 5 characters and finish the campaign on level 5, you could start the Esseints Kit’s campaign and add in a couple of extra monsters to make the quests a little more challenging. 

If you wanted to play the campaigns at the same time, this wouldn’t be a problem either. The stories mix well with each other, and this way, you don’t need to mess up the monster numbers to balance the encounters. However, mixing two campaigns like that might be a little complicated for a truly new Dungeon Master. This idea might be better saved for someone who has had a little more experience. 

Which Beginner’s Pack Should A New DM Buy?

If you are a genuinely new Dungeon Master and you have never even played before, then the answer is obvious. You should pick the Starter Kit. It has just enough information for you to learn the game, but not so much that you get confused by all the nitty-gritty details. The premade character seems complex enough to be exciting but not so overwhelming that you’ll disconnect from the character or be unable to learn their actions. You get given all the equipment that you need and not a drop more.

If you have Dungeon Mastered before, or are an experienced player, then you should pick up the Essentials Kit first. The added Dungeon Master screen, the additional rules, the fleshed-out lore, and the ability to make up your own character sheets are enough to feel like you aren’t being babied. You already know a lot of the information on playing the game, so you don’t need a super watered-down version. 

You could argue that the Starter Kit would still be an excellent kit for anyone to start with, but because of the missing screen and lack of handout cards, you will be missing out on a lot of fun and useful equipment. More knowledgeable beginners can benefit from those extras.

Whichever one you pick first, you should definitely buy the second kit after. The campaigns are great for every level, and they will fit perfectly into the world you and your players have already created. And who doesn’t love an extra set of dice!

Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit – Overall Review

When I first dived into the world of dungeons and dragons, I weighed up the difference between the starter kit and the essentials kit. In the end, I chose the essentials kit because it had extra dice, ready-to-use player sheets, a dungeon master screen, and a rule book.

If you want to see our comparison review between the D&D Starter Kit and the D&D Essentials Kit, click here.

There is obviously way more in the kit than those four items, but I was new, and I wanted all the help I could get. Those items stood out as the most helpful, so I went with my gut.

Quick Overview

As a new dungeon master guiding new players, the essentials kit was meant to be perfect for me, but I came across several problems on my journey. I didn’t know how to create a long multi-choice story, I had no idea what the rules were, and I assumed the kit would baby-walk me through the process – it did not.

Looking back, there are a couple of things I wish I had thought of to stop the game from being confusing and stressful, instead of the fun interaction I knew it could be.

That doesn’t mean the kit is useless or a waste of money; there are some amazing quests, fantastic NPC dynamics, and helpful starting suggestions.

This review will give you a real insight into a new dungeon master’s feelings about the essentials kit, give you an idea of the premade campaign’s quality, and suggest some tips to make the game easier for a newbie.

Contents:

What’s In The Box?

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit, you will find:

  • 64 pages rule book
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure
  • Double-Sided Poster Map
  • Dungeon Master Screen
  • 6 Blank Character Sheets
  • 11 Dice
  • 81 Useable Cards (Magic Items, Sidekicks, Conditions and Initiative Numbers)

Let’s go into a bit of detail about these items.

64 Pages Rule Book

The Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide are the main rule books in D&D for 5th Edition games.

5th Edition is the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You do not need to know the other editions to play.

In total, they are around 640 pages long. The 64-page rule book in the Essentials Kit has picked out the essential rules from these books, so you can learn the basics of the game without being confused by the flare of lore.

Because a lot of the lore and history of the game have been removed, the types of characters your players can create are reduced too.

The reduced rule book only has 4 races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human) and 5 classes (Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard). Because you’re just starting out, this is the perfect balance between choice and limitation. You can create the character you want without having a library of options to look through. 

Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure

Most of this article will be about the campaign, so I won’t go into detail here. If you want to jump ahead, click here.

Double-Sided Poster Map

The poster map shows the adventure location and the zoomed-in drawing of Phandalin, the main town. The quality is excellent, but the map and the books don’t explain how long it will take your characters to get from one side of the map to the next.

The math isn’t hard, but the kit doesn’t explicitly tell you how far your characters can move in a day. Instead, I will explain it here.

On page 242 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and page 32 of the Essential’s Rule Book, it is explained that “Characters can walk about 24 miles a day”. The map’s key says that 1 hexagon equals 5 miles. 

This means that each character can move between 4 and 5 hexagons a day.

You can be creative here. Maybe it takes 4 hexagons to travel the roads, 4.5 to travel the grassland, and 5 to travel through the rivers, forests, and mountains.

Dungeon Master Screen

The DM Screen is a Dungeon Master’s best friend! It has all the basic and quick answers you might need while playing the game, including a size chart, a difficulty chart, condition descriptions, and much more. You can put the screen up, so your players cannot see your dice to allow the tension to grow, or you can stick helpful notes to the screen to remind you of those rules to just keep forgetting.

Blank Character Sheets

I personally prefer to use DnD Beyond’s online character sheets. They do the math for you, level up your characters, and keep all your special features and spell descriptions in easy-to-find locations. 

I have friends who prefer to play on paper; for them, the character sheets are easy to fill in once you know how proficiency bonus works. 

Your bonus gets higher as you gain levels, and if your character is good at something (like using a bow), they can add these bonuses to their attacks. When your characters level up, you will need to create a whole new character sheet to adjust these numbers.

11 Dice

The dice include one 4-sided, four 6-sided, one 8-sided, two 10-sided, one 12-sides, and two 20-sided.

81 Useable Cards

Because most of my players use DnD Beyond, we didn’t find a need for physical handouts. We started playing in lockdown too, so my one paper-based player couldn’t receive her Potion of Healing card when she found it.

If you are playing in person and would like a physical handout, then these cards will be super helpful. They explain everything the item does, and they can fit into typical card holder pockets, thereby making searching for your items in physical form super easy.

New Dungeon Master Thoughts 

This section is dedicated to new Dungeon Masters or even new players who want to know where to start. If you’re a veteran DM, this might not be useful to you, but there is no harm in getting the lay of the land!

Is The “Essentials Kit” Easy To Understand?

The Essential Kit’s Rule Book doesn’t give you all the rules you might want to know, but they tell you what you need to know. Character Creation, Combat, Ability Checks, Spells, and Equipment are all explained in minimalist detail so that you can grasp the core rules.

The number of spells you can use and the types of equipment you can use are just as limited as the races and classes available to you. This isn’t a problem for paper players, but DnD Beyond players might try and buy a rifle or dragon scale armor from the little armory run by Linene. 

Because everything has been reduced, your help book won’t have information on all these items. You can try and improvise the cost of these items or create a mini-quest to find the items, but these choices can be overwhelming if you are a new DM. 

Need a guide on pricing an item quickly. Click here.

I recommend telling your players exactly what they can see in the shop and explaining how much damage they can do through imagery. For example:

As you walk into the blacksmith’s shop, the first thing you notice is a shining battleaxe. The light reflects off the blade as if it could cut through sunlight itself.

A curtain twitches at the back of the shop, and you see a muscular human woman covered in soot, lowering her smith hammer.

“Pick it up and give it a swing,” she says, pointing at the straw-stuffed potato sack tied to a pole. It has 3 red target rings, which get smaller as they reach the center.

“Try them all. I’ll just clean up.”

Here you get to invite your players to pick up the equipment and make attack roles. When they do damage, you tell them to roll the appropriate dice, making this shopping experience a fun role play experience.

Having a limited equipment list compared to DnD Beyond was the only problem I faced when it came to understanding the rules. And as someone who now owns 5 rule books, it was easier to expand my knowledge after creating this foundation from the Essentials Kit.

Is The Campaign “Dragons of Icespire Peak” Easy To Control?

As a new dungeon master, you ideally want a campaign that you can easily master and control without railroading your players.

Railroading is when you force players down a one-way path without letting them have control or influence in the world, like a train following its tracks without any choice.

Balancing control from the dungeon master and freedom for the players can be a tricky juggling act, but new DMs need to learn how to structure a game before learning how to improvise one.

Non-Player Characters

This is where Dragons of Icespire Peak has its drawbacks. There are a lot of plot hooks ready to pick up. Halia Thornton, for example, is an agent of Zhentarim, a shadowy organization that seeks to exert secret control over the North through wealth and influence. This bit of detail is expanded through the whole Forgotten Realms story, but by itself, it’s irrelevant information. 

There are many non-player characters (NPCs) that are easter eggs to other campaigns. They might be fun additions for veteran players, but a new dungeon master will find these details overwhelming and unnecessary filler.

My advice is to read through the whole campaign and circle the NPCs that matter to this adventure, crossing out any which seem irrelevant. Halia can be a greedy merchant for now, and if the players press on her character, you can develop her story as you go. Make it your own. 

In my campaign, she is simply trying to buy the whole town. As the story developed, the town’s mayor, Harbin Wester, attempted to evacuate the villagers to Axeholm to escape the dragon. Halia voiced her concerns and tried to persuade the villagers to stay. My players rolled well and figured out she just wanted their rent.

When you have simplified your NPC, you can control the story better and help your players stick to relevant information that will lead to quests.

Quest Board

One great detail that Dragons of Icespire Peak has is a quest board. Quest boards aren’t revolutionary, but in this campaign, three quests are pinned to the board at a time, and when all three are completed, a new three will arrive. This allows your players to choose their path, while the dungeon master can control the overarching story without railroading their players.

Boars

If, like me, you didn’t read through the campaign before playing, you’ll think that the whole adventure is about fighting dragons. However, one of the main baddies is a group of half-orcs called the “anchorite of Talos.” These half-orcs can turn into boars. In three of the adventures, boars show up and terrorize the people around them. 

If you want to make the story more your own, I recommend playing around with boars. Instead of having a shrine of luck, you could have a ward against boars. It can be a strange addition to the main village of Phandalin, which seems quirky to your player at first, but turns into a historical artifact that protects the town. 

This is one way to review the unnecessary NPCs and add your own connection to the story.

Overall thoughts

Dragons of Icespire is not the best campaign for a new dungeon master to start with. There are too many NPCs that are massively detailed but utterly irrelevant to the story. The adventures can often feel disconnected. The story only begins to weave together naturally when the game is nearing the end.

To get past this hiccup, I suggest reading through the story in detail beforehand, eliminating all the faff that’s clogging up the storyline, and adding connecting elements to help the adventure seem more cohesive; like adding boars as a central theme.

General Dungeon Master Thoughts

This section is for dungeon masters who have headed a game a couple of times before and so understand what to expect.

I will go over many of the same topics from “New Dungeon Master Thoughts,” but this time aimed at DMs who don’t need extra guidance. 

I expect you know how to handle player improvisation, how to add to the campaign without steering it off course, and you might be excited to see easter eggs from other parts of the Wizards of the Coast landscape.

To you, Dragon of Icespire Peak will be a treasure trove of story, expandability, and NPC development.

Dragon of Icespire Peak’s Story Quality

Dragon of Icespire Peak is a slow-building story that focuses more on world expansion rather than plot expansion. The players will start the quest following the quest board, which produces adventures that are utterly irrelevant to the storyline.

The story only really comes together in the second batch of three quests which show how the dragon has displaced other creatures from the mountains and forced them into interacting with the humanoid landscape. If your players move quickly through a typical pre-made campaign, this story development will come at a decent pace. If your players like to role play a lot, or take weeks or months off between sessions, you may find the pacing too slow.

Compare with your previous games to see if you should cut out some quests or adapt them to make the half-orcs and dragon more prominent. 

Premade Non-Player Character Quality

The NPCs come with very good backstories with enough detail for you to use them instantly, but also enough details missing for you to develop them into something for yourself.

I stand by my previous statement that some of the NPCs are completely irrelevant to the storyline, but if your characters are moving through the Forgotten Realms adventures, then you may find these NPCs interesting or useful.

Campaign Flexibility

Most players hate a railroading campaign, so flexibility is key to keep the story fresh. Premade campaigns are never super flexible, as they assume your characters will act in a certain way, complete certain quests, or move around the map in a predictable pattern. Dragon of Icespire Peak is no exception.

However, if you are used to playing with premade campaigns, then you will find that the disconnected quests allow your players to move around the map however they please. There are very few long-term consequences for their actions, so you don’t need to modify the campaign to fit their choices.

Dragon of Icespire Peak does try to allow for flexibility; for example, going into Axholme, the game tells you where the ghouls will be if the players enter from specific locations. New DMs might find it difficult to set up enemy locations if the players choose an unexpected route, but veteran DMs should be able to roll with the punches.

One-Shot Potential

I’ve said it a couple of times now, but many of the quests are completely unrelated to the Dragon of Icespire Peak storyline. This is fantastic for DMs who want to add random quests to their current adventures or for DMs who run entirely one-shot adventures. You can use every quest as a one-shot adventure with just a couple of tweaks, and with the same simple adjustments, you can use the quests in your already active campaigns.

This is because the storyline is so disconnected and without consequence that you will not have to remove Cryovain’s backstory from any of the content.

Conclusion

Overall, the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit had a fantastic shortened rule book with enough details for a new dungeon master to wrap their head around the game and give enough information for players to choose their character creation.

The campaign, Dragon of Icespire Peak, will not hold your hand as you learn the game, which is super unfortunate as, without a proper explanation on how to use the game, you will likely get frustrated with yourself.

The NPCs are great for veteran players as they give enough information to be used instantly but leave enough room to make them your own. However, the NPCs are too irrelevant for novice DMs, adding an unnecessary amount of clutter to their first campaign.

The quests were disconnected from each other, which might be perfect for quick players, but will feel untethered to players who move through campaigns slowly.

In general, it feels like the kit was designed for DMs who already knew how to play the game and not for completely new dungeon masters getting to grips with dungeons and dragons as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that the kit is bad, but you will need to take your time to learn the game and learn the campaign. Write all over the pages until it feels like it was written by you all along. I suggest asking other DMs online for help when you get stuck. The D&D community loves to share thoughts, so don’t be shy!

You can always use our guidance by checking out our Ultimate Guide to Dragon of Icespire Peak, or you can use online forms to get instant feedback.

Good luck, and may the dice be in your favor. 

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