Havent played for a long time, what is the difference between new D&D and the old ones?

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I haven't played D&D since the 90's and it was AD&D 1st and 2nd edition.

What has changed since than?
I want to play again but dont know where to start.

The current D&D is fourth eddition and to get into that there are two ways-
The orriginal 4E player's handbook / Dungeon Master's guid / monster manuel
The more reccently printed Essentials line of books Heroes of _____  / DM kit and Monster vault

Right now D&D NEXT is in playtest and should be out in a year or so and there is very little new material coming out for 4E.

The players handbook and essentials books ARE compatiable (mostly) with essentials having been made to draw in new players AND have an old school feel. Some of the essentials subclasses feel more cookie cutter or vanilla as opposed to the player's handbook version that has more diverse options.

On the way to work, I will let someone else talk about mechanical changes.          
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One way you can try to get into new editions is to look at the main DND site and search for a DnD Encounters game in your area.

Encounters is a weekly episodal entry into the game.  Its non-commital (you play when you feel like it) and is designed to teach new people to the system the game.  If there is a game near you, this is likely to be your best entry-level game to get into. 
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

I haven't played D&D since the 90's and it was AD&D 1st and 2nd edition.

What has changed since than?
I want to play again but dont know where to start.


it depends what edition you want to play. a lot of the old editions are now available free as 'retro-clones'.

if you want to play original d&d, just the first box


od&d plus original supplements


if you want to play basic/expert dnd from 81






for 4e, your cheapest "in" might be buying the new red box and seeing if you like it

The biggest change since 1e/2e is the d20 system.  It introduces a very simple base mechanic which is used for almost everything you do (attacks, skills, saving throws, etc.)

Basically, you roll a d20, add modifiers and try to meet or beat a target number (difficulty class or DC), like Armor Class or another defense score (Fortitude, Reflex or Will) if you're attacking, or a skill difficulty number that the DM comes up with.

The best part about d20 is that higher numbers are always better, so it's easier for people to understand, instinctively. 

For example, a 1st level Paladin with platemail and a large shield now has an AC of 20 instead of 2.  And to hit his AC, you need to make an attack roll of at least 20 (d20 roll plus modifiers).  No more negative numbers, no more attack matrices, not even THAC0 - no more counting backwards.

For skills, a DM might say that in order to hear what's on the other side of the door you need to make a Perception (skill) check of 10.  You roll a d20, add your Perception score, and try to get at least 10.

As others said, if you haven't played since the 90s, and especially if you haven't ever played a d20 system game, get the Red Box introductory set.  That will teach you all the basics.  Then you can move on to the Essentials line which has the Heroes Of ... books, the Monster Vault the DM's kit and the Rules Compendium.  Or you could go for the hardcover (Core) Player's Handbooks, DM Guides and Monster Manuals.  Or you could use BOTH together as most folks do - they're completely compatible.

And yes, D&D Encounters is a great way to get started too.  You don't need to have anything or know anything about D&D in order to play - all materials you need will be provided and friendly folks will help you to learn as you go.

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

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"Challenge" is overrated.  "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."

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Both 3rd Edition and 4th Edition were rather major rewrites of the game.

3rd Edition (and 3.5 and now Pathfinder) basically just took late 2e rules chaos and tried to rationalize it. They got rid of all the class and level restrictions, rewrote all the classes, and make multi-classing into a "take a level in anything" type of system. You can (basically) take a level in any class when you level up. Everything that wasn't a basic magical type benefit of a specific class was rolled into skills, which work somewhat like 2e NWPs, except everything is a roll high type setup. They also got rid of the old saves and consolidated them into a FORT, REF, and WILL save. All classes also use the same XP chart, etc etc etc. The combat system uses a grid and action types, etc. So it is a LOT different, but also a lot the same as 2e. All the spells are mostly the same, etc. You can PRETTY well convert a character to 3e from 2e, not exactly, but its mostly a 1-1 type of thing. OTOH 3e is ridiculously caster-centric. There are vast numbers of new spells and they added feats, which can bypass most of the restrictions on casting. Basically it is caster palooza. By 6th level any player that isn't completely daft should be indomitable in a fight as a druid or cleric, and wizards that take any real advantage of Concentration, meta-magic, etc will be seriously lethal.

4e is a reaction to 3e. The basic mechanics are almost the same, they got rid of saves entirely and turned the 3 saves from 3e into 3 defenses (like AC, but for other things) instead. Spells now roll to attack, which means you can have things like a "+1 staff" etc. It makes much more sense. The combat system is similar to 3.5 but more polished. It lets you deal with any possible tactical situation, but also kinda more than just assumes you're using the full grid and minis sort of layout. Spells etc have all been subsumed into 'powers'. All classes get powers, and all classes are pretty close to equal (a level 20 fighter is actually relevant and about the same power as a level 20 wizard). The game is now capped at 30 levels, structured into 10 'heroic' levels, 10 'paragon' levels, and 10 'epic' levels. The rules actually mostly work at all levels too, though past level 20 really demands a bit different style of play. In general the PCs start out a bit stronger than in the old days, but they don't ramp up into having so many open-ended options by level 12 that the game stops being playable (or at least DMable). If you like solid consistent rules and feel like rules won't get in your way, then 4e is great. OTOH some people just don't 'get it'. They're more likely to be happy with 3.5, Pathfinder, or maybe 5e (which is still just a playtest for the next year or so, but is more-or-less playable).

5e is basically a polished 2e. I think the basic assumption is that everything done after about 2001 was a bad mistake. Needless to say this has not made a lot of people happy. Still, in some ways it is more like 2e or 1e than 3e was. In other ways 3e is more like 2e or 1e. Kind of a knobbly choice there...
That is not dead which may eternal lie

I haven't played D&D since the 90's and it was AD&D 1st and 2nd edition.

What has changed since than?
I want to play again but dont know where to start.



Probably the easiest way to get back into it is to start with the "Red Box" Starter set, then move on to the Essentials stuff.  It may still seem like a lot's changed (and a lot has), but it will be slightly less jarring than starting with the Players Handbook.



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