At this point there are probably hundreds of reviews of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. Since every OSR zealot and grognard has already posted their thoughts on their blogs, it’s doubtful I could say anything unique. My goal isn’t to provide yet another boring review; my goal is to convince the non-gamers reading this to pick it up and give it a look.
“I’ve heard of D&D, but what is it exactly?”
The Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook is a ruleset for playing a tabletop role playing game. Three to six people are needed for a game, with one acting as a coordinator (aka the Dungeon Master). Following the rules in the book, you create a character which then goes on to have crazy adventures either designed by the Dungeon Master or purchased separately as an adventure module. The rules cover character creation, combat, social interaction and more. Here’s the official description:
Everything a player needs to create heroic characters for the world’s greatest roleplaying game
The Player’s Handbook® is the essential reference for every Dungeons & Dragons® roleplayer. It contains rules for character creation and advancement, backgrounds and skills, exploration and combat, equipment, spells, and much more.
Use this book to create exciting characters from among the most iconic D&D® races and classes.
Dungeons & Dragons immerses you in a world of adventure. Explore ancient ruins and deadly dungeons. Battle monsters while searching for legendary treasures. Gain experience and power as you trek across uncharted lands with your companions.
The world needs heroes. Will you answer the call?
“Is it expensive?”
First things first – If you’ve ever wanted to play a tabletop roleplaying game, this is a great time to start. Wizards of the Coast (the publishers) did something amazing with 5th edition – they release the basic ruleset for free. Seriously, you can go to wizards.com and download the basic ruleset for free, or use their excellent HTML version. Both resources provide you with enough information to play a full game at no expense. There is literally no cost to simply try it other than your time (that said, you will eventually want to buy the books).
That’s a reasonable question. It’s a case of giving away the razor and selling the blade. The basic rules contain only small subset of options, while the Player’s Handbook expands greatly upon them. For example:
- The Basic Rules include four races (Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and Humans), while the Player’s Handbook has nine (Half-Orc, Half-Elf, Tieflings, Dragonborn, and Gnomes in addition to the basic four races).
- The Basic Rules include four classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard), while the Player’s Handbook has twelve (Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Warlock in addition to the basic four classes).
This pattern continues with character backgrounds, spells, and other facets. While the basic rules are complete and unhindered, the book offers a far larger variety of options. I promise you, the content is worth it.
“Is it hard to learn? I heard there was a lot of math in D&D.”
Good news on this front as well – Wizards went out of their way to gather feedback and streamline the system, which has greatly lowered the barrier to entry. They went through 11 rounds of public beta testing and over 175,000 volunteers to get the rules as condensed as they are now.
The best example of this is the new-to-D&D concept called Advantage. In previous editions, it was normal to have a stack of positive and negative situational modifiers for any given roll. Fifth edition asks if you’re “at advantage” or “at disadvantage”. If you’re at advantage in the situation, you roll two dice and use the better score. If you’re at disadvantage, you roll two dice and use the worse score. Either you have advantage or you don’t- there is no stacking. If you are at advantage and disadvantage, they cancel each other out.
The difference it makes is drastic:
- 3rd Edition – if you are a strong (+3), large (-1) 5th level fighter (+5) trying to hit a stunned (+4) creature grappled by an ally (which has special grapple rules instead of a modifier) while you are invisible (+2), behind them (+2), entangled (-2), and on higher ground (+1) using a light (+2) off-hand (-10) weapon that you have greater (+1) weapon focus (+1) on, AND you’re ambidextrous (+4), and specialized in two weapon fighting (+2) your modifier is… +14, provided you don’t hit your grappling ally.
- 5th Edition – In comparison, the same character in 5th edition would be a strong, large 5th level fighter (+3) trying to hit a stunned (advantage) creature grappled (advantage) by an ally while you are invisible (advantage), behind them (advantage), entangled (disadvantage), and on higher ground using a light off-hand weapon that you have greater weapon focus on, AND you’re ambidextrous, and specialized in two weapon fighting (+3) your modifier is simply +6. As soon as you become disadvantaged from being entangled, all of your other advantages are gone.
While 5th edition retains a small subset of combat modifiers (stat, proficiency and maybe another), most of the others have been replaced with a simple question: “Are you at an advantage or disadvantage?”
The hardest math beyond greater than/less than is roughly “12+5-2,” which my seven year old son was able to grasp fairly easily.
“What about the other books? Do I need them to play?”
Short answer: No. Dungeons and Dragons usually consists of three core rulebooks – the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. None of them are required to get started. You can ride out the basic rules for months without the need to purchase anything.
When you are ready to expand your horizons, the Player’s Handbook is the only book most players will really use. Even if you’re the DM, the Player’s Handbook should be your first choice to keep up with your players. As a bonus, the Player’s Handbook also includes a small collection of critters and foes to add to your game.
“I heard that D&D was a tool of the occult and made you a satan worshiper. Is that true?”
No more than reading Harry Potter will make you a witch. (and yes, this was really a thing back in the 80’s.)
“I played D&D once when I was in college and had a bad experience. Why should I give it another try?”
Well, I can’t really answer that, but I can tell you this: I’ve enjoyed 5th edition in general and the Player’s Handbook, specifically. My seven year old son has already read sections of the book and is pleading for me to start a game for him. I have friends who play it together as a family – husbands and wives, parents and children; it’s quality time with no electronics that builds creativity, simple math skills, and imagination.
If nothing else, stop by your local bookstore and give it a look. It’s really worth your time.