Buying Dungeons & Dragons?

I used to play a lot of roleplaying games, that was 20 years ago. I just decided to start it again, and I realised there are so many options of Dungeons and Dragons that I was not aware of.

I will sammarize what I would have wanted to know when I decided to start over.

These are different versions of Dungeons & Dragons that you may have, find used or consider buying:

  • D&D 5e (5th edition)
    • Starter Set
    • Good old books (Core Rulebook Gift Set)
    • Digital edition
  • D&D 4e
  • D&D 3.5e
  • D&D 3e
  • Advanced D&D 2e
  • Advanced D&D
  • D&D

And then there is Pathfinder.

To be clear, to play casually, occationally, with a few friends or your children, any version will work! If you have what is needed to play (usually Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual, or a starter set) you can have great fun for many hours!

If you and your friends/family are new to roleplaying and D&D, I guess getting the Starter Set is excellent!

However, it may be more complicated. I have the original D&D, and AD&D 2e that we played very much. And then I bought 3.0, which I never played. To play casually with a small group of friends, I ended up buying the 5e Core Rulebook Gift Set. So there are two questions to ask

  1. Why did I not get a digital verson?
  2. Why, if all versions are fine for casual play, did I not use one of the three versions I already owned?

D&D 5e Digital Version

The answer to the first question is that I was not aware of it (the digital version on dndbeyond.com, and perhaps other sites/services), I am old and stupid enough to make the mistake of not even considering that a digital option was available. I don’t regret getting the physical Gift Box. But I think it is good to be aware of the digital option.

DNDBeyond offers the core books for about USD 30 each in a digital version (marginally cheaper than a print). You can then add a Master subscription for USD 6/month. As DM, create a Campaign: Your players can now sign up for free, join your campaign and they can create their Characters online. You can print, share, level up and the entire thing is very nice. DNDBeyond is available for free, but if you dont pay

  • USD 30 for Players Handbook, you cant use many Feats, Backgrounds (and possibly other things) from Players Handbook. And its not like you can just easily type it in yourself, it is really missing in dropdowns.
  • USD 6/month, your players will need their own DNDBeyond digital edition of Players Handook.

It is fine not to use DNDBeyond! But it is not quite fine that your players start using it, and they like it (first), but then there is major confusion. It is not quite fine to pay for the game twice, if that was not what you wanted to do in the first place.

The background is that DNDBeyond is not Wizards of the Coast (who makes D&D), it is another company, who licenses stuff from WotC. So you don’t get a voucher or a code or anthing with your books. I wish I knew this before I got the books!

Good Old Versions

I realised that as a DM I will spend many hours preparing sessions with my players. And playing together is quality time with friends and it should be good. I simply decided that 5e was the best version of D&D, and that I can afford it.

When it comes to the old rejected versions, I found that:

D&D (first edition, red/blue boxes) is a very old game with some aspects I really did not like when giving it a second thought. Halflings can only progress to level 8, end of it. And the basic (1-3) and expert (4-14) was not particularly practical when starting over. My stuff was in bad shape too. And the books where not beautifully illustrated as later editions.

AD&D 2nd edition is an excellent game, but for some reason, after many years, I bought third edition. One thing that is not good with 2nd edition (and older) is that spellcasters are very weak in the beginning (like 1 spell per day). See my list below of things I like with 5e. It is arguably a more refined and well-designed game than 2e.

D&D 3rd edition received bad feedback and was quite soon updated to 3.5, which was a bugfix. I own no Dungeon Master Screen and when I looked for one online it was (almost) half the price of the entire 5.0 giftbox. It really fealt a bit awkward to start buying stuff for (the hated) 3.0. The good thing with 3.0/3.5 was that it was quite complex, detailed and allowed for customization. This was also its downfall: too much customization lead to too much imbalance (I have read). If I owned the Dungeon Masters Screen of 3.0, I might actually just have sticked with it, and never learnt or bothered about why it sucked. I think if you want a very epic campaign (much magic, powerful Characters) and you like complexity (a step towards Rolemaster), 3e (or 4e/Pathfinder) is perhaps the best for you.

A&D 4e and Pathfinder are games I did not own, so it made no sense to buy them instead of 5e.

D&D 5e

To me it seems D&D 5e is a good balance between AD&D 2e and D&D 3/3.5.

  • I like that spellcasters have Cantrips and more spells from the beginning (compared to 2e)
  • I like the idea of simple/martial weapons, and small, medium, light, versatile, finesse weapons, and I understand why this was made less complex than in 3.5
  • I like the advantage/disadvantage concept
  • I like that all spells are written for “any class”, and that just the spell lists are different (so the spells are effecively reused)
  • I like the way sorcerors, wizards and warlocks adminstrate their spells differently, and that players can choose “their style”
  • I like that armors and weapons are not so “forbidden” for the wrong class (proficiency is smart)
  • I like that saving throws are simplified to be based on ability (not the arbitrary poison, petrification and so on in older versions)
  • I like that all classes level equally fast (at the same XP levels)
  • I like backgrounds and feats (missing in 2e, and too much in 3e)
  • I like that skills are simpified – and made more relevant – compared to 2e (and that the list is short)
  • The concept with Short and Long rests, and that many things depend on it, is very smart (although, you can argue whether they should be longer, but that is easily up to you as DM)

My players like 5e too! And they like DNDBeyond. Perhaps we will pay to use it one day. But I guess… as DM I have unlimited power when it comes to the world, monsters, NPCs and even the rules. But when it comes to DNDBeyond – I have no power there.

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