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D&D > Tabletop RPGJun 28, 2024 1:00 pm CT

Will the D&D 2024 Player’s Handbook work with my old D&D books?

The latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which will officially launch with the release of the 2024 Players Handbook in September, has been advertised as “backwards compatible” with earlier D&D 5e books, but what does that mean? While we haven’t seen all of the changes yet, the rules that have been playtested as One D&D over the past two years featured significant changes. Character creation has been shuffled around with an increased focus on Backgrounds, classes and subclasses have been heavily revised, and there are new systems  like Weapon Mastery. While the updated edition maintains the spirit of 5e, a lot of specifics are changing.

The books are backwards compatible, but sometimes it will take a bit of work to fit the two versions together. Though you can bring some old content into new games, or play new characters in old adventures, mixing and matching features won’t always work (or won’t always work seamlessly). Here’s what you need to know about D&D 2024’s backwards compatibility.

You can use 2014 characters and adventures with 2024 rules

The new rules are designed to let players and dungeon masters use most content from 5th Edition books from 2014 onward with minimal changes. You can use characters from 2014 in your 2024 games, or drop 2024 characters into 2014 adventures. Because the updated PHB doesn’t include all races (called species in the 2024 PHB) or subclasses, you’ll be able to use old versions for your new characters — with some revisions to fit the updated character creation and class rules, which should be specified in the new PHB. But with the number of rule changes, fitting these things together won’t always be plug-and-play.

Adventures will also be compatible: simply run the existing adventure using the new rules in the 2024 Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. However, old adventures may require some tweaking to make them appropriate for potentially increased player power levels, and when the 2024 Monster Manual comes out next year you may want to use any updated monster stat blocks that are available.

You could compare this to transition between D&D 3rd Edition and D&D 3.5, if you played at the time.

The 2024 Player’s Handbook rules supersede old rules

Compatibility is only one way: you can bring older content into the new rules system, which was designed to accommodate it. You can’t take a 2024 character into a campaign using 2014 rules, a point that Jeremy Crawford, lead designer for the 2024 Player’s Handbook, makes a point of discussing. There are simply too many new features that didn’t exist in the original 5e rules.

The rules themselves are also not mix-and-match. The 2024 Player’s Handbook supersedes older 5e rulebooks, and isn’t designed to work with rules from the 2014 PHB or other rulebooks. While the new PHB takes a lot of inspiration from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, for example, its rules for character creation differ greatly and you can’t use Tasha’s rules in a 2024 game: the new PHB rules are the rules. That doesn’t make older rulebooks completely worthless, since Tasha’s includes an expanded list of subclasses you can use with 2024 characters, using 2024 rules.

That’s not to say you’re out of luck if you like some, but not all, features of the 2024 PHB. You can always homebrew modified rules that incorporate things from the 2024 edition into a primarily 2014 game — just be sure all players understand rules. And if you prefer the original rules, you don’t have to switch: just run with the 2014 5e rules and content designed to work with them. There’s a decade of 5e content to choose from, so there’s plenty to play with.

Is the 2024 Player’s Handbook really backwards compatible?

Yes, the 2024 Player’s Handbook is backwards compatible with older D&D 5e content. But that compatibility only goes in one direction: you can use older content in your 2024 game without much difficulty, but you can’t take 2024 content and shove it into the 2014 rules (at least not without work on your part). And the rules you play with are one or the other, not a mix of both: you can use 2014 rules (and 2014 content) or 2024 rules and a mix of content.

But the past decade of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition books you own aren’t useless: old books will work alongside new books, even though new books won’t work with old.

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