Dragons of Stormwreck Isle - Campaign Setting Review
Table of Contents:
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle
Draconic Glory or Dead in the Water?
5e D&D has picked up its 4th official starter adventure kit, this time taking our fledgling heroes to an isolated island ravaged by the undead and the lingering curses of a long dead dragon. Players will have to investigate shipwrecks and sea caves, help the local kobolds and perhaps stop a young dragon before they tamper with something they can’t control. If you’re starting out is this the best option for a new playgroup? Is Stormwreck Isle worth playing for experienced groups? Grab a paddle and get rowing to that distant shore as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Another Starter Kit?
The timing on Stormwreck Isle is odd. It was released in late 2022 and with what is essentially a new edition coming soon (I know they don’t call it that, but it is) it seems like a strange time to make a brand-new starter set. But of the 3 official 5e starter sets, 2 were branded tie-ins selling off the popularity of Stranger Things and Rick & Morty respectively. The last non-branded starter set we had was The Lost Mine of Phandelver way back in 2014. I’d have still thought Phandelver worked well enough as a starter kit not to necessitate a new one, but it turns out there’s a twist.
The Lost Mine of Phandelver is getting transformed into a full 1st-12th adventure path, using the original starter kit as appropriately enough a starting point for a much deeper adventure. Phandelver and Below: The Shattered Obelisk is set to release sometime in late 2023, and with Phandelver growing into a full book WotC needs a new starter kit to take its place.
What’s in the Box?
Stormwreck Isle is fairly bare bones compared to the previous starter sets but the price tag seems locked in at the low point. For 20 bucks you can get the boxed starter set, and the PDFs seem to go for the same price. This is 10 bucks lower than the branded starter kits sold for, but you’re also not getting any extra goodies like minis or DM screens. All told it contains:
- A set of 6 polyhedral dice.
- A 48-page adventure booklet containing everything you need to run Dragons of Stormwreck Isle.
- A 32-page rulebook containing streamlined rules for playing D&D.
5 Pre-Generated Character Sheets
Just like Phandelver, Stormwreck Isle gives you 5 handouts with fully pre-made characters, just missing the names. Stormwreck’s sheets do a better job of explaining how all their features actually function, making for fewer delves into the rulebook and faster comprehension. They also pepper the background features with some character motivations. Overall, the pre-gen sheets are definitely an improvement on past iterations.
6 Polyhedral Dice
Also just like Phandelver, Stormwreck gives us 6, (NOT 7) polyhedral dice. They’re fine dice, but it baffles me that they can’t put in just one more d10 to give new players a full normal polyhedral set. I can’t imagine it’d be that much more expensive to put in one extra die so players can roll percentile.
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle Adventure Path
Stormwreck Isle is technically one adventure that takes players from 1st to 4th level, but functionally it’s a starting hub area connected to a final mission, with a middle made up of two small mostly unrelated dungeon crawls and a few random encounters. That might sound like I’m being critical of it, but I actually really like the more episodic nature.
The plot is centered around the titular dragons, the first is a powerful dragon NPC that acts as a benevolent quest giver, and the second is a long dead evil dragon whose grave is slowly corrupting the island. Two more opposed young dragons pop up at the end, one allied with your quest giver that can aid the players in their final fight, and one villain trying to perform an evil draconic ritual.
Before we get to that dragon-filled conclusion, we have two mini-dungeon crawls that can interchangeably be run at either 1st or 2nd level, each ending with a level-up. The “first” of these adventures takes place in a sea-cave fighting stirges, fire serpents, and formerly friendly corrupted myconids. The “second” has players investigating a shipwreck infested with undead and harpies. In between these adventures we have a handful of minor random encounters, and the players are expected to return to a dragon temple to rest under the care of our benevolent dragon NPC.
Each encounter is bite-sized in a way that I think will be greatly appreciated by new players. Each dungeon is only a handful of eventful rooms, rather than a slog, and while the encounters are only loosely connected it is one cohesive story, just in manageable chunks. It’s also significantly shorter than Phandelver, and you can expect to finish up with Stormwreck in about 5-6 sessions, with each session having a satisfying arc completing a whole distinct section. Compare that to Phandelver which is more likely closer to 10-12 sessions, often ending sessions in the middle of dungeon crawls or combats.
I also need to note the advantages of always returning to a “home base”, especially for new players. The dragon temple is populated with an assortment of entertaining kobold characters ready to cheer the party on as they head out or arrive back from their missions, giving the players great opportunities for roleplay.
Ultimately, this adventure is very simple, very straightforward, but not boring. The mini dungeons are filled with interesting creatures and encounters that would be entertaining even if dropped into an adventure designed for more experienced players. The conclusion is a fight against a small but fearsome dragon that the players should be invested in fighting, and if this was my first experience with Dungeons and Dragons, I don’t think I’d be disappointed.
What’s Good About Dragons of Stormwreck Isle?
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle seems like it was genuinely designed for new players, rather than just being a shorter than normal adventure path. The bite-sized nature of the encounters gives you excellent odds on getting full and satisfying games even with short sessions. The encounters themselves are varied and provide a good mix of quick combats and relatively simple roleplaying opportunities. The player story hooks are simple, but at least tentatively hook into the plot and get the players to ask questions and involve themselves in the story as much as they want to be.
What’s Bad About Dragons of Stormwreck Isle?
The bite-sized nature of the encounters is good, but it is a double-edged sword. The players can easily lose the thread and be left wondering why they’re doing anything if they aren’t paying enough attention, which is often a problem with newer players.
Beyond that I may be spoiled, but I was disappointed to just see the weird minimum 6 die set and nothing else for a starter kit. This is probably a pricing limitation and if they added any extras, they might not be able to keep the price at 20 dollars, but the 30-dollar branded box sets included DM screens, extra dice, and even miniatures! As a box set it just feels very slim and only the bare minimum was included. I just wish we could have a good adventure path and also get some nice extras in the box, but it seems we’re stuck choosing one or the other.
With four 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons starter sets now on the market, choosing to recommend this product really comes down to comparing it to the other 3.
The branded starter kits were bad, full stop. Rick and Morty vs Dungeons and Dragons was a very generic and unpleasant mega-dungeon with copy/paste Rick and Morty art and a few burps. The Stranger Things starter set was intentionally made to be like a middle schooler’s first campaign and the nostalgia was vastly outweighed by the terrible quality and the kit’s only value was in the little demogorgon mini.
That leaves us with Phandelver which is going to be a tough challenger to beat mainly because right now Phandelver is free. Right now, on D&D beyond you can get the Lost Mine of Phandelver digitally for free and zero dollars is a hard price to beat.
That being said, I do feel that Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is a better adventure. Stormwreck Isle is a bunch of small encounters linked together which is perfect for players just starting out. I’ve run players through Phandelver before, and many of the mine’s encounters start blending together as they go through numerous groups of goblins and advance through much larger dungeons. I don’t think anybody is going to mistake their encounter with a fungus octopus for any other encounter. All the fights and characters in Stormwreck just feel much more memorable and genuinely fun to play through.
This also means that while the encounters are fairly simple, experienced players can get some good fun out of the starter adventure. To me, this makes Stormwreck the perfect starter if you’ve got a mixed group of players. Both newbies and veterans will enjoy this adventure, and while the veterans might find it a bit on the short and simple side, I think you’ll end up with a far superior experience than if you slogged through a ton of goblin fights in Phandelver.
If you’ve got 20 bucks to spare, I do think it’ll be worth your money to buy Shipwreck Isle rather than introducing players to the game using Phandelver. The quality is there, and it seems like an overall better experience that’ll be well worth your money.
Final Score for New Players: 8.5 out of 10
Final Score for Everybody Else: 6 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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