Getting back into DnD 4E - help please!

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I last played DnD 4e in college when I ran a campaign that concluded at the end of '09 / start of '10.  Recently, some friends asked if I could DM another game, which I said yes.

I've noticed that a lot has changed for DnD since I last played.  Could someone please give me a (quick) description of Essentials? Are Essentials rules different/same as the rules that came out when DnD 4e was released? 

Also, does anyone have a good recommendation for DnD 4e books?  I was going to treat myself to something since I'm starting a new campaign.  (I currently own PHB 1 & 2, DM 1 & 2, MM 1, Adventurer's Vault, and Forgetten Realms player's guide.)

Finally, if I subscribe to Insider can I download the previous releases for the Dungeon and Dragon magazines, or just the current issue?

Thanks in advance!
Well first off, you were brilliant as Atticus Finch. Essentials was an attempt to put a new face on 4e for lapsed gamers and those new to the game.  It put a new spin on the classes of the original PHB and a few from PHB2.  They are (arguably) simpler versions of the classes, at least the martial classes are and some have called it 4.5e and others maintain that it isn't.  (Wizards does not consider it a new edition).  The rules are basically the same although they incorporate much of the errata that has accumulated over the past few years.

As far as what you should get, you would be well served by a DDI account as you can indeed download a big archive of Dragon and Dungeon magazines, as well as having access to the PHB3 races and classes, all Essentials materials, the compendium, online character builder, and the Virtual Tabletop Beta. (which is open to anyone with an invite from a DDI member right now).

If you want to buy a physical product, I would say that the Monster Vault (box set) would be the obvious choice.  It is sort of a revision of the original MM but contains less monsters.  They have been updated to the new stat blocks which are better organized and reflect new monster HPs, damage expressions and defenses.  It also comes with 8-10 sheets of tokens for all the monsters in the book and also comes with a 4th level adventure.  It is a great product. 

 Rules Compendium - it contains all the latest versions of the rules in one book.

 Also, the Monster Vault contains updated versions of most of the monsters in the MM1 - they've knocked down the hitpoints and upped the damage they do to bring it more in line with the expected game math...


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The Eberon book would give you the Artificer base class (Arcane, Leader) just like how the forgotten realms book gives you the swordmage.

If you plan on using the Realms the Neverwinter book might give some goodies to borrow even if it foucuses on only one small region.

A physical copy of players handbook 3 would probably explain hybrid characters better then the online compendium or character builder.    

Mamy of the new feats in the Essentials books heros of fallen lands / forgotten kingdoms are very good, they are in the builder of course but if you don't know what name to look up you may not notice them. 
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Thanks in advance!

If your players want to buy into the rulebooks then using the Essentials line could be the cheapest for them. There are two Essential books for players: Heroes of the Fallen Lands (Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard, Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Halfling) and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Warlock, Dragonborn, Drow, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Tiefling). The Human race appears in both of these books and each book is written to contain all the needed information for a beginning player of D&D. Each gaming group needs one copy of the Rules Compendium. This includes all the latest errata for the most part. You can totally run a D&D game using just these three Essentials books plus the books you mentioned you already owned. Monster Vault stuff is also very good for you to buy as DM.

I can't recommend that your players buy any of the older Player's Handbooks unfortunately. The reasons include that Wizards of the Coast doesn't allow their use in their retail league. So if you go to a game store and try to get into the latest series (Elder Elemental Eye scenario I think) they would make you use only the little Essentials books. The other reason is a high percentage of the text of those books is contradicted in all of the D&D Online Tools since a very high amount of design changes and errata was issued during your absence. They never reprinted these books with the new information so they are all out of date more-so than in any other edition in D&D history.

Welcome back to D&D. Fifth edition is coming out in about 18 months or so it is speculated. Buying those three books: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, and the Rules Compendium will be a minimal investment for your new players. Good Gaming!
Welcome back and have fun!
Once again thanks for all the info.  Given my nearly 2 year break, this is all very helpful information that your normal google search didn't turn up.  I'll take a look at the recommended books.
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