Would You Like to Play a Game?

I’ve seen a lot of posts around from new players who have never played a roleplaying game before not sure where to start or what they need. The last version of this post I wrote was a long time ago, so I’m going to help you out to pick which fantasy D20 game is right for you and tell you what you need to get started. I have provided links to Amazon for your convenience, but I do not get any money if you purchase through these links and I encourage you to spend your hard-earned money at your friendly local gaming store. Almost all such stores are independently owned small businesses, and they support the gaming community by offering a place to play, product advice, and a focus point for the local community allowing you to more easily find other gamers.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition vs. Pathfinder

I’m going to draw controversy right off the bat and say that neither one of these systems is any better or worse than the other. Each one has strengths and weaknesses, and each one is suited to a different style of game. Anyone who tells you that one system is categorically and objectively better than the other is lying and/or trolling.

If you want to star in a fantasy action movie, you want Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. The game is built for combat, with most of the rules focusing on actions in the middle of a fight. You can still have a fulfilling game without ever having a combat encounter, but the system is really built for combat encounters strung together with non-combat encounters to move the story. The system is also easier to learn for new players, as it draws inspiration from more modern gaming design and especially video games. If you want to jump right in and start slaughtering orcs and zombies on your way to whatever the MacGuffin, this is the game system for you.

Pathfinder, on the other hand, shows its roots much more clearly. It’s basically the second major revision of the third edition of the Dungeons and Dragons rules (some people call it D&D 3.75, but I like to think of it more like “D&D 3rd Edition, Service Pack 2”, probably because of my IT background). This ruleset lends itself far more to exploration and adventure, crawling through tombs and trying to discover its secrets. There’s a lot of combat focus here, but not nearly as much as 4e. The rules, however, can be far more complicated for new players, especially ones who have never played any d20 style game before and who hasn’t dealt with a Vancian style magic system. The learning curve is much steeper, but not insurmountable. If you want to play Indiana Jones or National Treasure, exploring a tomb and putting together clues until you find the band of orcs and zombies to slaughter, this is the game system for you.

Where to Start – Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

The first thing you should buy in my opinion is the Red Box starter set. It’s available for under $20 and has everything you need to run a game. You have a pre-generated character, tokens, a set of dice, rulebooks, an adventure to run (plus another you can download), and a poster map. You can buy this to try out the game and see if it’s for you and your friends. If you like it, you can start expanding with a solid base to start with.

The next thing you want to get is the Rules Compendium, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Monster Vault, more dice, and a reusable mat. The Rules Compendium is all the rules for the game updated with errata so you’re using the most up-to-date version of the rules. Heroes of the Fallen Lands gives you more options for characters, with new classes, new builds, new feats, and new powers. Monster Vault gives you not only a book full of monsters you can use to write adventures, but more tokens, another poster map, and an adventure you can run.

After you’ve run the Red Box adventure, you’ll surely realize that you’re going to need more dice, since sharing the single set becomes a problem. You can pick them up in sets for $5-8 each at your local gaming store or online, or you can buy dice individually for $.10-$1.50 each at most gaming stores in their dice bucket, or you can order the Chessex Pound ‘O Dice and get more dice than you could ever need (though you’ll always want more). The reusable mat can be anything from the Paizo laminated poster maps for around $12 each or one of the nicer vinyl mats from Chessex for around $20 for the medium size and $30 for the large one (which can also double as a tablecloth). You can also pick up the Dungeonmaster’s Kit as well for two more adventures, two more poster maps, more tokens, and a book with lots of information and advice on how to run a game, but I personally don’t think it’s as necessary as the other books.

From this point, you have everything you need to run an ongoing campaign. After you’ve been playing for a while using these, you’ll know enough about the game to know what of the other books available will work well for you and your game. Your total investment to start out will be somewhere in the $100-150 range for all the books, dice, and maps you’ll need. At this point, you may also wish to sign up for a membership to Dungeons and Dragons Insider, which is an online subscription service for around $10 a month with Wizards of the Coast. It gives you access to the Character Builder software (so you get nice professional looking character sheets with all the power cards and everything, plus no more math), PDF issues of Dungeon Magazine (tips on running a game and several adventures you can run each month) and Dragon Magazine (articles on playing the game, various settings, fiction, comic strips, and new character options like powers, feats, themes, backgrounds, magic items, and more), and access to the Compendium (a searchable database of magic items, feats, traps, monsters, etc. which makes writing an adventure far easier).

Where to Start –Pathfinder

The first thing you should buy in my opinion is the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box. It’s available for about $25 and has everything you need to run a game. You have a pre-generated character, stand-up tokens, a set of dice, rulebooks, an adventure to run, and a laminated poster map you can reuse with dry or wet erase markers. You can buy this to try out the game and see if it’s for you and your friends. If you like it, you can start expanding with a solid base to start with.

The next thing you want to get is the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and more dice. This book has all the rules you need to run the game, from making characters to running combat to magic items to all the rules for playing. It’s a beast of a book, but it has everything you need to expand on the Beginner’s Box. The next purcahse you should make is the Pathfinder Beastiary, which gives you more monsters to use in your adventures. There are currently three volumes available, and I personally think you should start with the first volume. However, any of the three works well for expanding your options for adversaries for your group. Finally, the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide drastically expands your options for games, adding in backgrounds, more classes, more spells, more weapons, and just more for your characters (both PCs and NPCs) to use.

After you’ve run the Beginner’s Box adventure, you’ll surely realize that you’re going to need more dice, since sharing the single set becomes a problem. You can pick them up in sets for $5-8 each at your local gaming store or online, or you can buy dice individually for $.10-$1.50 each at most gaming stores in their dice bucket, or you can order the Chessex Pound ‘O Dice and get more dice than you could ever need (though you’ll always want more). The reusable mat you got in your Beginner’s Box is the same as the Paizo laminated poster maps for around $12 each and are great, but you may want to upgrade to one of the nicer vinyl mats from Chessex for around $20 for the medium size and $30 for the large one (which can also double as a tablecloth).

From this point, you have everything you need to run an ongoing campaign. After you’ve been playing for a while using these, you’ll know enough about the game to know what of the other books available will work well for you and your game. Your total investment to start out will be somewhere in the $100-150 range for all the books, dice, and maps you’ll need. You may also want to get a copy of Hero Lab, a character creation and tracking program available for a $20 license (with additional fees to get data sets from other sourcebooks). The software is powerful, easy to use, and cuts down on character creation time both for PCs and NPCs by a significant amount. If you want to try it out, there is a free demo version (you can’t save or print unfortunately) and a completely free version that only has the rules and options from the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box.

That’s Really It

I talk a lot on this blog about miniatures, dungeon tiles, special combat trackers, and everything else. Gaming is a passion of mine and I like to spend my money on good products for it. Others feel the same way, so they also brag about their collections. It can be very intimidating to see someone’s Dwarven Forge set-up or my 7 foot tall, 8 shelf bookshelf that is crammed with gaming books and products, thinking that it’s necessary to buy all that to get into gaming. But roleplaying games have probably one of the lowest investment-to-time ratios. With either system above, the purchases I listed are enough to run the game with plenty of options. You don’t need anything else to play for years, and it’s one of the great things about gaming as a hobby.

Another thing I should point out is that you don’t need to buy everything all at once. Take your time and spread out your purchases. Pick up the starter set box from either edition and start playing. If you like it, get the Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Pathfinder Core Rulebook books. A few weeks later, spend another $20-30 on the next book listed. My collection of gaming books, boxed sets, miniatures, and dice may look impressive, but it’s a collection that I’ve slowly built over the last twenty years of my life. I’d buy a book here, a box of miniatures there, a dice set as an impulse buy when I stopped by the comic store for the Sandman hardback. Take your time and buy at your own speed and budget. You’ve got a whole lifetime of gaming left to buy everything.

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Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 12:01 AM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I only found your blog tonight, but I really enjoy it.

    I’m new to D&D myself. Last week I went down to a local hobby shop and picked up a Pathfinder Beginner’s Box, completely on a whim. No really, someone mentioned D&D in a post on Reddit (coincidentally where I found out about your blog), and I jumped in my car and drove to the city near where I live. I spent five minutes chatting with the guy, who running the store at the time, and decided on the Pathfinder Box.

    I got home, and called my older brother to tell him what I bought. That night I played my first game of D&D, both as a character and DM.

    The advice in this article has given me a place to continue off from where I started.

    Cheers, Samuel.

    • The RPG subreddit is a great place to get advice and more information. Check the sidebar for the FAQ for a crapload of resources and browse around my and other blogs for tips and tricks to make your game run more smoothly. Remember that it’s only advice and it’s your game, but you don’t want to go reinventing the wheel either.


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