Recently I've got interested in roleplaying. My background is more or less hardcore boardgamer, I have played quite a large number of board games, even some of the most complicated ones and found it huge fun. I have always known about DnD but thought of it as something more abstract, something that requires solid group and bright imagination, things that are difficult to get together. But now I decided that I should give it a try. I found few fellow people who said they would give it a try and ordered a Red Box (4th edition starter) on Amazon. It will come in few days, and I am getting more and more excited.But I have few things that bother me.

What products should I get next? From what I have read, there are two pathways:

  1. Get three core books, and later add more books with numbers 2, 3 and so on.
  2. Get essential series books. They are newer, with errata.

Nobody played any kind of RPG games in my group. I thought to get Essentials, but I have read that they limit customization a lot, for example you can't choose what skills you get each level and that's huge for me. I would love to have choice and not go on rails. My players would feel same way. What's the point in playing if every skill you get is predefined? Is this another way in 4th edition core books? What benefits do Essentials give me?

Also what bothers me is that 5th edition will probably come next year, should we wait?

I have heard good things about Pathfinder, but it is overly complicated, based on 3.5 edition, and we would like to try something simpler.

What would you recommend me to do? What great adventures should I get, starting from level 1, preferrably forming a campaign later?

My plan is to play Red Box to end, then go and buy Essentials or Core books. What would you do on my place? I'm planning to DM myself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "you can't choose what skills you get each level and that's huge for me" — That's a 4th edition thing, not an Essentials thing. You don't get skills each level (other then a general +1 to everything every second level). You do get powers and Essentials does give you choices about which powers (there just aren't vast numbers of choices until you add more books). \$\endgroup\$ – Quentin Jun 14 '12 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Quenting, since Dvole is not familiar with 4e I guess they told him about class features, and he's using "skills" as a general word, rather than a technical one. "What my character can do". Well, there's still some customization (feats and some powers), but the choices are less than with core classes. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jan 15 '16 at 20:01

While the choice is not mutually exclusive between the Essentials line and the classic 4e line I have to strongly recommend the essentials line if you are starting out, especially if that start is the Red Box. Reasons:

  • Adventure continuity. From Red Box you can play the DM kit adventure Reavers of Harkenwald and from there jump into the Monster Vault Adventure (Cairn of the Winter King). This provides solid adventure continuity (they flow well level and story wise).

  • Class continuity. While the characters you create for the Red Box adventure will not quite match up with the classes from Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom, they are very close and the conversion will be much easier than if you try to use PHB1 classes.

  • Up to date rules and errata. The Rules Compendium is probably the most useful book published so far and is nearly complete as far as the rules of 4e.

  • Current monster design. The Monster Vault and DM kit use newer monsters that reflect current monster design.

  • Essentials classes have a more limited choice set (although you do still get to make some choices, just not nearly the number. Which can be great for new players as they are not paralyzed by the number of choices, or end up with a painfully suboptimal character.

  • Essentials characters tend to have shorter turns as they are more straightforward to play (again a great thing for new players). The tactics are more obvious from the outset and significantly easier to execute.

  • It's easy to integrate into the rest of 4e if you want to. Essentials and default 4e are not mutually exclusive. You can play in a party with essentials style and PHB characters quite nicely.

  • If you don't have to spend as much time figuring out how to play your character you can spend more time figuring out what the rest of the rules do and spend more time role playing.

Going with the Essentials line is probably the cheapest and lasting way to get kicked up with 4e. However, there is another option if you are not opposed to subscription services that might come out cheaper and will give you access to more options. Wizards offers their DDI subscription service that comes with access to the 4e character builder, DDI compendium, and back issues of Dragon and Dungeon magazine which includes tons of adventures many of them quite good.

As far as making the decision between Pathfinder and 4e, I can't speak specifically about Pathfinder (or 3.5 in general) as I have no experience. However, from reading on this board and elsewhere it looks like 3.5 and it's ilk are more simulationist while 4e is primarily gamist (meaning 3.5 tries to simulate real life and makes mechanical decisions based on reality, where at 4e acknowledges it's a game and makes decisions for balance rather than realism). As a board game player, it will probably be easier to play 4e than 3.5. (Again caveat emptor here I haven't played 3.5/pathfinder). Also, as with going with essentials vs all of 4e, 3.5/pathfinder has an epic number of options and possibilities, which can lead to analysis paralysis. 4e (especially essentials) can help.

As far as whether or not to wait until 5e, what you might do is sign up for the free playtest and see if you like it vs 4th edition and if you find it worth waiting for. As of right now the games are quite different and provide a good contrast to D&D styles.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You still get choices with e-classes, just less and as Wax says its more cost effective. E-classes also tend to have shorter turns and are less complicated so its easier to learn the rest of D&D while playing them/DMing for them. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 14 '12 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I'm really glad you suggested just getting D&D Insider. Its pretty much all I use. The other big thing for essentials is that a lot of the feats are much better than PHB 1-3 feats, especially the expertise feats ["insert weapon type here expertise feats" over weapon expertise "(weapon type)"]. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 14 '12 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ definitely. Weapon expertise feats got so much love from essentials. they are now even awesomer \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 14 '12 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ and yes. DDI has virtually replaced any need for me to buy source books outside of owning for posterity/some tables (it's why I still strongly recommend the RC even if you have DDI) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 14 '12 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage I haven't played 3.5/pathfinder, but I tried to do it justice here. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 14 '12 at 15:29


I would advise you to simply get a Dungeons & Dragons Insider subscription.

With DDI, you get access to the online Character Builder, a (slightly clunky) site where you can build your character similar to a CRPG. The nice thing about this solution is that in the Character Builder, you have access to every single official class, feat, item etc, and with the compendium (also part of DDI) you get quick, searchable access to all rules.

You also get access to all the monsters as part of the Adventure tools, and the digital version of the Dungeon magazine has lots of cool, shorter adventures which should be perfect for a new group.

If you still want to buy books, you can buy the rules compendium, an essentials softcover that contains all the important non-class specific rules, and maybe some adventures.

Open Design has some great 4E adventures, and some of the official (WotC) adventures are good too - but some are really bad, so be sure to read up on the official adventures (reviews etc).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. DDI is a terrible value proposition compared to a pretty full set of core books. Not to mention the fact that according to the TOS, everyone needs her own subscription. See my comment here for the cost breakdown. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Jun 14 '12 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have to side with Mala. You can have 1 sub and everyone can login with that sub, albeit not at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Nov 28 '12 at 17:32

I would pick up the Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Forgotten Kingdoms first. I don't recommend the red box, the powers there are unusual. Then, pick up the Monster Vault and the Dungeon Master's Kit and use the adventures in there.

Before you get the pre-made adventures, just make up your own. If you want more classes and races to choose from, strongly consider picking up the Player's Handbook 2, and the Players Handbook 3.

If you are looking for even more, get Heroes of the Feywild, Heroes of Shadow, Eberron Players Guide, and the Monster Manuals.


If I was a starting D&D4e for the first time I would start out with the essentials. I would pick up the following items:

DM Kit

Rules Compendium

Heroes of the fallen lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms

I would pick up one month DDI just to build a few characters fast and look through all the fun stuff there.

That said I think some of the older Player Handbooks offer more choices and are very rewarding to play. I especially like the battle mind in PH3. I have a ton of books from 4e and I enjoy reading and use elements from almost all of them.

I have played a little pathfinder and 3.5 my biggest complaint of those games have been the lack of tactical combat. I like axe to face warriors and in those systems I find my self rolling basic attack over and over(yeah!). I am a war gamer as well and have 100s of minis and enjoy making 3D terrain. I really like how 4e fits nicely into that style of play.


I would suggest starting with the Player's Handbook 1, Dungeon Master's Guide 1-2, and the Monster Vault. Dungeon Master's Guide 2 should be helpful as well. Then, to give more variety in player character creation, get Player's Handbook 2 and 3. If your player's want more variety I also highly suggest Arcane Power, Divine Power, Martial Power 1-2, Primal Power, and Psionic Power. I also would suggest getting Adventurer's vault 1-2 for better quest options.

The D&D Essentials versions of the Player's Handbooks, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, are a little too simple and don't provide enough variety for my liking. However, the monster/encounter design in Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manuals 1-2 are often too easy, while the monster design principles in Dungeon Master's Guide 2, Monster Manual 3 and the Monster Vault are more balanced.


If you want to play a full and rich campaign and have lots of imagination and patience you should definitely get the three core rulebooks. But if you are one to take an easier path and play adventures that are not written by you and less option what so ever you should go to the route of the essentials. Chances are your group, if they are new will not notice, if you do something wrong, so you should buy the rulebooks. Easier character creation and management can be awesome, but it just doesn't give a full experience.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour and the help; they're a useful introduction to the site. And once you have 20+ rep, feel free to join the chat! Do you have some more explanation on this, in particular why Essentials "doesn't give a full experience", and perhaps how someone with the core books could find starter campaign material? \$\endgroup\$ – Tridus Mar 8 '14 at 21:48

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