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I've been invited to join a new game of D&D 4th edition this weekend, but haven't played proper D&D before. Are there any resources I ought to read or get before I turn up, so that I'm not a real drag for the rest of the party?

I googled a bit, and wondered about buying the 4 book set of core rules, but I also noticed there's supposed to be a beginner's pack coming out in September. Does that imply that the full rules aren't accessible to a newcomer?

In context, I did play tabletop Warhammer 40k in my youth, so I at least understand that dice come in more than one size, and I think I played "Advanced HeroQuest" many many years ago on family holidays, but that is the extent of my experience.

I believe this is a new group, they're starting with character creation this meeting, so we'll all have new characters, but I think I'll be the only player who's never played true D&D before.

So what's the consensus on the Player's Handbook ? There are a few shops I could visit after work tonight where I could probably pick up a copy - worth it? I could at least have a skim through before tomorrow.

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For everyone's interest, we had our first meeting and it was a lot of fun. Character creation took most of the evening but we had time for a little combat at the very end. I would have liked my own copy of the player handbook, as I spent almost the whole evening with someone elses copy in front of me, but it is expensive and I managed without (I've since bought a copy of my own). All in all I enjoyed it, and hopefully we're meeting again in a week or two to continue. Thanks for all the advice everyone - Andrew. –  Andrew M Sep 2 '10 at 14:12
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13 Answers

up vote 29 down vote accepted

If you are expected to bring a character you should definitely bring that. If you're going to make a character there you should come with an idea about the following things (but remain flexible, you idea may not be exactly what you end up with).

  • Character name
  • Character race (Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling)
  • Character archetype (loyal knight, scheming wizard, back-stabbing rogue, etc)

As far as rules knowledge, the Players Handbook (PHB) helps but it will speed things along greatly if you know these few simple rules.

  • For most things you will attempt (including attacks) you roll a d20 (that is a twenty sided die), add a modifier, and compare it to a target number. If your total equals or exceeds the target you succeed (hit, pick the lock, whatever).
  • You have abilities. Some you can use all the time, these are called At Will. Some you can use only at intervals. These will be Encounter or Daily.
  • You have hit points and healing surges. These represent how alive/tough you are. If you run out of hit points you start dying. You can use healing surges to regain your hit points in certain situations. A healing surge usually regains one quarter (1/4) of your total hitpoints, rounded down.
  • We refer to dice by the number of sides they have, preceded with a d. A d4 means a four sided die. 3d6 means three six sided dice.
  • When in doubt round down.
  • The DM overrules the rules.

Most of all, remember you're there to have fun! The other players and DM should be willing and able to help you with the details

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For a start, it helps to have the Player's Handbook. It is not required, but it will help you look up some of the character powers and such if your GM hasn't prepared some power cards beforehand. The rulebook is a hefty tome of some hundred pages and may be a bit intimidating at first, so don't try to understand it all for your first game. Your gaming group should provide you enough insight into the rules. Use the rulebook later to get access to more character options or to clarify rules that were not clear during the game.

The other core books are definitely not needed for your first game.

The new D&D Essentials line ws created to make it more accessible for beginners, but if your group starts with the current D&D 4th Edition rules, you probably want to start with the normal Player's Handbook.

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I'd say to show up with an open mind set on role playing. Don't worry too much about your stats, unless your group is very focused on optimization, in which case you can take pointers from the resident experts.

If you want to explore your options, rather than buy the core books I'd recommend downloading their character builder demo. The sheer amount of content can be overwhelming.

If you've played with the demo for a bit and are interested in more crunch, then by all means try out a subscription for the month. The books are great, but the amount of errata coming out for the game, along with the upcoming Essentials line may end up leaving you feeling as though you've wasted your money, especially if your group is the type that remains current on game releases.

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If you have a DM and players that are willing then it's best to simply learn as you go.

You don't need to know and rules to get started playing. Just tell the Dungeon Master what you want to do and they, or the player next to you, can tell you which dice to roll and what the outcome is.

Play like this and you'll pick everything up as you go, and not slow things down.

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As someone who recently picked up 4e (to play with the kids) I'd echo the sentiment that all you really need is the Player's Handbook, which has the combat section in it. As 4e is primarily a combat centered game this will help immensely. I don't think you should be in a hurry to get it if the group dynamics you’re going into is such that folks will explain stuff as you go. A good standard practice is to have someone sit next to you who can explain stuff like Burst and area and conditions and help you out.

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I'd say don't buy the Players Handbook -- you might as well wait a month or so for the Rules Compendium or the new Red Box. I won't recommend one or the other because I haven't seen them yet, so I can't tell you which one is better for someone in your shoes, but they'll be more up to date.

If you want to get a flavor of the game before the first session, WotC has a downloadable Quick Start, which should serve your needs perfectly. You could also download the Character Builder demo from that page if you wanted to see what building a character feels like. The quick build option will build a character for you; you wouldn't want to use one of those for your real character but you can get a feel for what the options are.

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I'd like to echo all the answers here - wonderful advice, the lot of them - and emphasize that 4e is fantastic for new players. Combat is much more streamlined ("What level do I get the cool stuff at? Wait, I can do WHAT at level 1? AWESOME."), as are skill checks.

While I do miss the inherent mathiness of 3.5e (and frequently houserule some of my favorite aspects), 4e is definitely newcomer-friendly.

As far as your group, just remember that all of them are there to have fun. As long as you're upfront about wanting to learn and being a part of the fun, they'll usually be very helpful and welcoming.

My recommendation for resources: The Players Handbook, definitely. Also make sure you have a notebook and a couple pencils, and/or a laptop/Tablet/etc.

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The new D&D Essentials Red Box will be available in early September 2010. That will give you everything you need to run a game of 4th edition D&D including the books, dice, maps and tokens. If this is your first time playing 4e then it's a good place to start. The set includes a solo-adventure that teaches the rules of the game in a Choose Your Own Adventure type format.

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If the first session is ONLY character generation you shouldn't need much, however when you start play you should have the following:

  1. A set of dice, at least 1 of each type you need for your character. Most gamers will have extra but some are... neurotically protective of THEIR dice. It's just easier to avoid passing dice back and forth.

  2. A character sheet listing everything your character has and all their abilities. This should be created at character generation.

  3. A firm grasp on what your character can and can't do. This is forgivable if you just created the character, but get to be familiar with what they can and can't do in combat, as combat is generally where play can slow to a crawl. Plan ahead what you character might do on your turn and don't be shy about announcing your intentions so other PCs stay out of the flame burst area... just be aware that if the DM decides the monster can hear and understand you they may actively break formation protect themselves.

And lastly if it is your first time with D&D... Roll with it! Your character will be attacked and damaged and sometime depending on monster tactics it may seem you are unfairly targeted. Try not to take these things personally, as if there is anything more deadly to a campaign than slow pacing, it's personal drama.

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If you think you're going to play for a while, it's worth buying the Player's Handbook. It's something you will constantly refer to during play. It has a good what-is-an-rpg/how-to-play introduction. Read the first chapter and skim the second tonight.

If you're not sure that you're going to keep playing, you can get by with sharing someone else's PHB for the first couple of sessions. Download and skim the Quick Start Rules mentioned earlier by Bryant.

I wouldn't wait for the forthcoming Red Box mentioned above. From what I understand, it's a tutorial introduction which only covers the first two levels. By the time it's released, you'll already have a good understanding of the game.

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I would strongly encourage you to read all of Chapter 9 from the Player's handbook, and do your best to be familiar with the list of Conditions on page 277 - things like "Blinded", "Dominated", and "Dying" have a lot of impact on what happens during your turn, and it's that turn-based phase of the game (rather than the free-flowing narrative portions) that usually end up being the most sensitive when there's a new player involved. I've often considered just creating some kind of print-out with that information on it for player (and DM!) reference.

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you want these: theweem.com/category/downloads –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 7 '10 at 0:11
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As a fairly new player to D&D myself, here's my take:

The most important thing to have full knowledge on, during a game, is your character. Know your character sheet inside and out. Aside from the sheet itself, other required reading material for this would be whatever Player Handbooks, Dragon articles, etc. contain your character's class, race, feats, powers, and magic items. Knowing your character - especially the feats, powers, and magic items - will greatly help the gameplay to run along smoothly.

The next, yet almost equally-most important thing to learn is the basic game rules. You need to know how skill checks are handled, how things like line of sight and line of effect are determined, etc. For this, the one definite must-read item is the Essentials Rules Compendium.

Study and knowledge of the above may still leave some important questions to be asked. For this, you can check the D&DI Compendium (if you're a D&DI subscriber), ask Wizards directly (they have AWESOME support, in my experience) via phone or their website, consult Google and other online communities, or (as they will be the final word anyway) ask your DM before the session starts.

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Reading the rules is good, especially the combat chapter of the PHB ... but that's not what I'm here to recommend.

I recommend recordings of actual play. I've played D&D since AD&D 1E, but 4E was such a big change that I wasn't sure just how it would go. Around the time of its release, Wizards and Penny Arcade published some audio recordings of them playing the game. One player was a total newb, the others were old hands. You could get a good idea of how the rules worked, how play was expected to run, and just a general feel for things.

I'm not sure where the original mp3s are, but you can find newer, similar ones on the Wizards site

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+1 Saw this question pop up and immediately grumbled to myself, "Why would anyone answer that old question, what more could there be to say?" Who knew there was a new original answer out there! –  Pat Ludwig May 4 '11 at 21:01
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Ever since then, every time I read a new RPG rulebook, I wonder, "Why isn't there a library of mp3s of actual play sessions for all kinds of games?" –  rjbs May 4 '11 at 21:14
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