I love getting a new Player’s Handbook. I remember the first one I ever got (the AD&D version, some time in 1984 or so. I’ve had every version of D&D. I’ve also lost every version and had to reacquire the books. Right now, I have everything (except the newest one) in these fancy Collector’s Editions that Wizards of the Coast released:
The core books for all versions of D&D except the original. But including Basic D&D!
Does that include the expensive rerelease of the very first edition of D&D? What do you think?
The original version of D&D, which has conveniently been rereleased.
Also, I’m a player in the current campaign on the Total Party Kill podcast, in which I play a Tiefling Wizard wandering about in Undermountain. It’s Fourth Edition. Okay, enough bragging about my credentials. (Or is it? I didn’t even get to the part about how my Vespa’s license plate is “D20″!) I got the newest version of the Player’s Handbook and I’m going to share my thoughts on it. This is not a review of D&D as a whole; it’s just this one book.
First, the cover.
The cover of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook.
I’m not a huge fan. I think it looks a little weird to have the art go all the way to the edges like that. And I think it’s a huge mistake to not call this “Fifth Edition.” They’re trying to just call it “Dungeons and Dragons,” but they’re going to regret that in a few years when they want to replace it with something new. And all the customers are calling it Fifth Edition anyway.
Inside, the first thing I checked was the Alignment system. It’s back to the way it ought to be, with all nine alignments. For some reason, Fourth Edition didn’t have all of them. That’s not something that needs to be reinvented, and I’m glad they returned to the way things ought to be. Although I should point out that when D&D started, it was just the forces of Law fighting the forces of Chaos. The Good/Evil axis came in later.
Checking in on character creation, there’s still a die-rolling option. It’s not recommended, but it’s in there. I prefer randomness when it comes to D&D characters, so I’m glad its an option. No one wants to go back to the days of “roll 3d6 and write them down in order and that’s your character” though. No one but me. The stats are in the modern order: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. In my head, they’re still ordered like in AD&D: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma. I acknowledge that the new current order (which I think of as the “new” order in spite of it being decades old) makes more sense.
The available races are pretty much what I expected, covering all the old standards (including Half-Orcs) and the modern additions (Teiflings and Dragonborn). I like the Human page:
This is what a human looks like.
I realize Wizards of the Coast doesn’t have a 100% perfect record with diversity, keep in mind that they decided to illustrate the concept of “Generic Human” with a black woman.
Checking in on classes, I see that although “Fighter” still remains as an option, there’s no generic “Magic-User” or “Thief.” The latter is a subsection of “Rogue” (which also contains assassins), and magical types are Sorcerers, Wizards or Warlocks. Most of the things I think of as subclasses of Fighter are here as their own classes: Barbarian, Monk, Paladin, Ranger. There’s also Bard, which has historically had difficulty making a lot of sense.
The classes all have recommendations for throwing together a quickie generic version, which I approve of. They’ve also gone away from the Fourth Edition system where every class felt (in my opinion) exactly the same, with the same At-Will/Encounter/Daily system. Now, you can have spells if you’re a wizard or you can just smash things up. You can be a fighter who’s a “Champion” (benefit: improved rolls) or you can be an “Eldritch Knight” if you insist on casting spells. I much prefer this setup, because it makes the classes feel more different to me.
Moving past class, there’s the section that got a lot of press earlier, where the book explicitly encourages players to look beyond the regular gender binary.
If this had been left out of the rules, you know somebody would have insisted that your character isn’t allowed to be gay because “Dwarves wouldn’t do that.”
That’s neat, but it’s been well covered already. Moving on.
In the spirit of “A bunch of random charts,” there’s a d100 table of random trinkets a character can start with. Finally, a reason to be carrying around a petrified mouse!
Combat has changed, of course. Now, each player gets a Move and an Action on their turn. You can split the Move up so you move two squares, do something (probably smashing a goblin with a hammer), and then move back. There are a bunch of things that give bonus actions. It seems pretty straightforward to me. There are also “flourishes” that don’t require actions, and the distinction is somewhat vague.
There’s a thing called “advantage” and “disadvantage,” where you roll two dice and take either the higher or the lower one.
For people who like fiddly nonsense, Material Components are back! This is the requirement to have, say, “a tiny bell and a piece of fine silver wire” if you want to cast the Alarm spell. They were gone from Fourth Edition, possibly because every class effectively had spells, and it would have been weird to require only magical types to carry around bat fur. I’m glad to see it, although I personally don’t know anyone that ever paid attention to material components.
More interestingly to me, there are spells that don’t have any immediate effect on combat. And I am delighted! My biggest objection to Fourth Edition is that every single thing was directed toward combat. So every level, a wizard chooses spells that are described strictly in terms of what they do during a fight. That just does not feel as magical as mixing in the occasional Clairvoyance or something. Most of the new spells also have combat applications, but they’re not solely combat-oriented. I like to have a Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion available once in a while.
And then there’s Appendix E.
This is my new reading list. Well, one of them.
My favorite thing about the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide was Appendix N, which was a big list of books that Gary Gygax liked. It was supposed to be the sources for D&D, but now I’m reading Playing at the World, which I believe is going to make its own assertions about the origins. Anyway, I’m a sucker for lists of things. I even started reading the books of Appendix N, but I never got past this announcement of the project.has
For the new D&D, the Player’s Handbook has Appendix E, which contains everything from the old Appendix N and adds a lot more books that have been written since. So there’s Terry Pratchett and Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin and so forth. And less famous people like Saladin Ahmed, whose Throne of the Crescent Moon I thought was a lot of fun. And there are also authors I haven’t read! So this is going to be fun.