[RPG] Choosing DnD 4th edition or Essentials for a new group and DM?


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.

Best Answer

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.