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I'm new to playing D&D and RPGs in general, and I have a group that's unsure about the game.

Is the new Starter Set (5th edition) a good way to start? Is it even worth the cost when there are free alternatives for 5e? The character sheets for the pre-gens and the Basic Rules are online and I could just print those out and make up an adventure. Besides the pre-gens and dice, it seems like the Starter Set only comes with a book that seems no longer than the Basic Rules, so I'm not sure it's actually worth getting it. It seems like it might be worthwhile to start with Basic Rules, and use the money saved to get the Tyranny of Dragons and Rise of Tiamat when they come out and start with a prewritten story that way.

Or should we avoid all this need to figure out what to invest in to start up, and just join a group or Encounters events at the local store or something?

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Comments are not for tangential discussion. –  mxyzplk Dec 24 '14 at 15:10

3 Answers 3

Edited on 12/24/2014 to reflect release of the 3 core rule-books.

Starter Set

5th edition's Starter Set is decent to give you a feel for the basic rules, and outside players are not necessary. It is designed with beginners in mind, and is thus a good intro to the game. The starter set has an adventure in it that goes from level 1 to 5, while covering a lot of ground from a role-playing perspective as well as a combat perspective.

It's 20 dollars, but there's a high likelihood that most things outside of using the basic rules to create a character and joining the adventure league as a player are going to cost you more.

It does give you enough to work with to create your own campaigns as well, as the monsters in the appendix are varied enough for some play-room.

Extant Groups

This is particularly advantageous if you don't have a lot of people in your current group and want to get going. If you just combine two groups, you might make the new group too big to manage reasonably. If there's only a couple of you it is easy and would likely be a great intro. If you have a single player you can draw in to play or DM that knows a lot about the game, it can certainly compensate on either side.

Basic Rules

The basic rules are available on the official D&D website. They cover character creation for one of each type of fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard as well as an assortment of backgrounds. The basic rules are free, and include monsters and magic items in the Dungeon Master documents. They won't tell your DM how to prepare a game outside of managing encounters, but it is enough to get you moving for free if your DM is willing to put in a little work.

Core Rules

As of the time of this update, the three core rule-books are available for purchase at online retailers and local game/hobby-stores.

The Player's Handbook (PHB) covers all of character creation, including far more options than the basic rules and documentation of the rules necessary to play that is more in depth than the basic rules (except in combat, which was covered very well in the basic rules). It is about the price of a new computer game (40-60 USD after-tax depending on where you get them). A game benefits highly from having this book, and most players end up getting one for themselves at some point.

The Monster Manual (MM) and Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) are more for the DM. The former includes a huge assortment of monsters, beasts, and NPC templates ready for use. The latter is primarily about customizing your campaign, tuning and tweaking it for the way you want to play. The DMG also covers magic items, random dungeon generators, and a host of other resources that can be useful to someone running a game to speed up preparation and allow for customization. Typically only one of each of these books is necessary in an entire gaming group, but with the basic rules for free, the investment can wait until you are ready for it. Each of these two books costs the same as the PHB. Some groups pitch in together to split the cost for these two books, just make sure there won't be problems with book ownership after it's all done.

Summation

If you are in a hurry to try it within the next 3 or 4 weeks, then by all means pick up the Starter Set, or find someone at your local game store that has it and wants to run a game. Ultimately, the decision on how to approach this is up to you. There is no wrong path to start the game.

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The Starter Set is a bit cheaper on Amazon, if it helps. –  DawnPaladin Jul 30 '14 at 19:01
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Even with the Basic Rules or Players Handbook, creating a character can be tough to do correctly. Their step-by-step is not as complete as it should be. I recommend using pre-made characters for a beginning group, then graduating to making your own with the assistance of a checklist to help. –  xgm Sep 2 '14 at 17:47

I think the 5th edition starter set is great for learning the game and getting started. It has all the essentials that new gamers need. It's a very convenient way to learn the ins and outs of the game quickly. I am currently playing it with 4 people, 3 of whom are absolutely new to DnD. They are having a great time. It does help a lot to have a person who has experience DMing. There is a lot to do in this set, so it will be good for a fair amount of meetings. It is loads of fun and I have seen it in action with new players.

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This is a very subjective question, but this is my personal opinion: I think it would be best to find an experienced DM who is looking for players, and play with him, using whatever system the DM chooses. At my local game store, at least, this is a very possible track to take. Playing a few encounters at the game store may help you get a feel for what experiences you're looking for. This will also introduce you to playing RPGs more, but without a lot of the burdens of DMing. Additionally, the DM will be able (and ought) to walk you through how to do stuff as you adventure.

This is all subject to the reason why you all are interested / play RPGs. If you're in it for the world-building (making your own plots, kingdoms, lands, etc.), get the basic rules online (or one of those other free alternatives) and have fun! If you're in it for the social interaction (the having fun with friends while beating up monsters), go play encounters at a game store!

The Pre-Made adventures and starter sets are nice because it does not require as much work to get up and going. Making adventures on your own can be stressful for some people, and certainly can feel more like work and less like play. Learning a new system takes at least a little effort, and learning D&D or another RPG without any prior experience can be very hard!

Whatever you choose, this site is FULL of useful advice and insightful questions, just look for things with the GM tag! We often throw links out for useful blogs, too. Entering the chat, when you can, and asking for help there can be great, too.

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