I expect the footprint of 4E will be getting smaller and smaller in stores and in the convention scene. However I won’t be surprised to see some retailers trying to dump existing stock before DnDnext rolls out. If you were inclined to pick up some books for a 4E game, what would you get? There are a lot (over 30!) hardback books to choose from, not including adventures, some other smaller softback books, tiles, and such. So if you were to dip your toe into 4E and pick up some books on the cheap, what would be a short list of must buys?
As for myself, I may be potentially making a move and really need to consider what books to hang onto. Looking over my D&D library if I wanted to run a 4E game in the future what books can I dump and which ones should stay on the shelf? A while back I thought up a list of books needed to run a long term game, so what would I change given the newer releases since then?
Core Essential Buys – Immediately I would split off into 2 branches, and each I consider exclusive of the other. Either you go Essentials or go with the older core 4E books. Essentials and original 4E are the same game. You should be able to plug and play any of them into your game. However you might run into some subtle differences with character progression between the two. That’s why I’d consider if going the Essentials route, it’s best to stick to that entirely for core books.
So if going the Essentials route, I’d pick up Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom, Dungeon Master’s Kit, and the Essentials Monster Vault. I have not gotten some of these books, however I consider them solid choices to easily gather core components of a 4E game together in a short stack. The are designed to complement each other with the rules. So having these you should have enough to run 4E.
The alternate is going the more traditional route of the older hardback books. I tend to think that if you wanted to expand your collection with a few additional books, this might be the better route. With that, I would pick up PHB 1 and 2, the DMG, and the Essentials Monster Vault.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention the original Monster Manual. Sadly, I think it is retired to the ‘stuff not to bother with’ list. The Essentials Monster Vault is a better product. The monster math is fixed and you have a book of core monsters that should be good for your campaign. Not to mention the loads of great monster tokens in the box.
With going either of these branches, you’ve got tons of material for your game and likely never need another book.
Solid Buys – If you wanted to add a little to this stack, there are 2 the additional books I would consider picking up:
Monster Manual 3 – It adds more monsters and even better fit in with the updated defenses, HP, and damage to challenge the players. I like the idea of no fuss monsters where I don’t have to spend a lot of time tweaking them. This book provides that.
Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – More magic items are a bonus and this book covers the gambit. It includes some adventure seed ideas (detailed magic item backgrounds and cursed items). Not to mention rounds out some much needed potions. It also fits well with either your original core 4E books or the Essentials line.
Good things to pick up later – There are a few books I would move into the stack of books to hang onto (or potentially pick up). These aren’t needed and some are more aligned with particular books, but they make for some good choices to expand your game:
Essentials Rules Compendium – It’s an extremely handy reference for your table. If you are one to regularly hit the convention scene or game on the go, even more so. However I tend to think that 4E will become more of a niche game in the future and likely not be seen too much in conventions. Still it is a decent, quick, go to reference to have at your table for rules.
AV vault 2 – I would only consider picking this up if you’ve got the Player’s Handbook 2. More magic items are always nice and the additional class specific items make it a decent addition to your collection.
Campaign specific player books – 4E went the route of having a player-centric and dm-centric book for both Eberron and Forgotten Realms. I’d consider getting these books if you were interested in jumping into these settings. Fortunately, Dark Sun went the route of packaging all of that into one book. While they are campaign setting specific, all 3 allow more player options to the game.
For a DM getting just the campaign setting material isn’t worthwhile. With enough digging on the internet, you can likely wrangle up enough information from online resources to run a game (maps, general location information, etc.). It’s the player rules specific to 4E that are lacking, and these books do the trick.
Stuff not to bother with – Everything else. Yup. You are now delving into territory that I consider either very campaign specific or stuff that’s peripheral to your game. Between PHB 1 and 2, you’ve got a ton of character options. Unless you were playing new campaign of the month, I seriously doubt that your players would want to dig into the options of the power source books. Some of the planes books and others like the Underdark are nice, but again very campaign specific. You can definitely mine these for adventure ideas however I would easily consider them not worth picking up. While it might be nice if you wanted to keep, or obtain, a collection of 4E books, I think it best to just let them go and keep your gaming library lean.
So this is a short list of books I think would be needed if you wanted to run a 4E game. Just about 4 books. Four books to give you enough for years of 4E enjoyment. So if you want to clear out your shelf space and make room for DnDnext, or are thinking about picking up some 4E books on the cheap, this isn’t a bad way to start.