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5e Player’s Handbook Review

October 15, 2014

phbThe fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons is really fun, despite the players handbook. I was skeptical about purchasing it, especially because game time is a pretty precious commodity anymore and there are so many awesome games out there. A few weeks ago I downloaded the free basic rules PDF and got together with some friends for a table of Adventurer’s League at the Wyvern’s Tale. We had an absolute blast. The pace of the game moved well, the mechanics were easy to grasp, fun, and manageable. I really wanted to try my hand at running it, so I’ll bite the bullet and pony up for the PHB.

Overall it’s… fine; completely adequate. But that really isn’t what I was hoping for, and certainly doesn’t generate the amount of enthusiasm and excitement for a release of this magnitude. Not to mention the retail price of $49 is steep for a book that is not a complete game system and only 320 pages. I suppose I’m getting spoiled by the quality and quantity of Fantasy Flight‘s Star Wars rpg. Their Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion core books are complete game systems with section for players, GMs, and adversaries. While the MSRP is $59, the book also weighs in at 464 pages.

There are some high points. The amount of classes available is really quite impressive. The temptation here would have been to release 3 players handbooks and split the classes among them the way they did with 4e and essentials. Thankfully WotC resisted that and included Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard all in one book. Nicely done. Not only that, but they could have been similarly tempted to release races slowly too, but included are Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-elf, and Tiefling. Additionally, the races include some sub-race variants like Hill Dwarf/Mountain Dwarf, High Elf/Wood Elf/Dark Elf (Drow) that each have their own characteristics and features, allowing for an enormous amount of diversity in character creation. I also appreciate the nods throughout the book not only to Forgotten Realms, but Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron.

The personality and background section is one of my favorites in the book. During character creation you chose a background that includes a personality trait, an ideal, a bond and a flaw. Each has a small table of possible results and ideas to encourage making a character that is more than just a set of numbers on a page. Not only that, but inspiration allows the GM to provide mechanical benefit to playing to your character’s personality. If the GM grants you inspiration, you can use that or give it to another PC for an important roll to gain advantage for that roll. If you haven’t read about this mechanic already in 5e, having advantage on a check allows you to roll 2d20 and take the highest result of the two. Disadvantage forces you to take the lower. Really fun, inspiring stuff in this section, and I’m sad that it is only 22 pages of the book.

There are some low points as well. Namely layout. Recently, I wanted to check how the Rogue’s cunning action works. I flip to the Rogue section, page 96. Its an ability the Rogue gets at 2nd level that allows them to take a bonus action to Dash, Disengage. or Hide. Bonus action? That sounds cool. Flip to the index (which is in 4 point font. ARGH!) bonus action, page 189, (let’s see, for page numbers, lets choose tan on beige. Super-readable!) You can only take one bonus action on your turn, you can choose when unless the timing is specified, unless anything deprives you of taking actions. Cool. How do I hide? That seems like something I might want to do as my bonus action as a Rogue. Index again, hidden 177 Hide action see under Action, 192. 177 brings us to a sidebar in the abilities scores section for dexterity. Once you have all this down on your character sheet, scrawled notes on how different features work or page numbers I’m sure it will be fine, but it makes for a lot of page flipping and a lot of use of a very tiny font index in the meantime.

The chapter on magic starts with a list of all the spells for each class by level. It takes almost 5 complete pages. What would make those 5 pages useful would be page numbers next to each spell so you could look them up quickly like DCC did 3 years ago. Instead its pretty much wasted space.

The art throughout is again, fine, but not inspiring. The racial diversity and ladies in reasonable armor is to be commended, but most are individual character portraits or group scenes where little to nothing is going on. If they really want to encourage not only a new generation of players, but rope old gamers back in they would have done well to give Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, Jeff Dee, or Erol Otus a call. These guys are still around and still making incredible art the harkens back to the glory days. Just ask Goodman Games! Those books are full of awesome art. Check some samples out on EN world. Chapter 8: Adventuring. Awesome! Surely this will be illustrated by a party on an airship battling a flight of dragons! What’s this? Some people standing around while a gnome scrawls on some parchment?! How is that adventuring?!

Overall, the game is really great. The options presented and the mechanics are plentiful if poorly laid out. I would recommend at least one person in your group pick this up for character creation, and the casters will likely need to look up some spells, but once you get the hang of the mechanics put this book aside and enjoy the excellent game, despite the lackluster book.

Categories: 5e, Books, DnD, Reviews, RPGs
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