Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook 5th Edition Review
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for over 20 years and even so I didn’t start out with the earliest version made. My first experience with the game was with the AD&D 2nd Edition Rules. Sure, I’ve played many, many different games since then — I’ve even co-designed and published my own — but there’s just something about D&D that keeps me, and the world, coming back. No matter how long you’ve been gaming, or what games you’ve played, you owe at least part of that to the table top role playing game that started it all.
From a presentation standpoint the game is beautiful. There is a unified art style that carries throughout the book (and through each other book). Despite being compiled from the illustrations of dozens of artists, there is a consistent style that is both breathtaking and mood setting throughout. The 300+ page manual is printed on glossy paper with rich color depth and easy to read fonts and is packed full of all the information you’d expect from the Player’s Handbook including classes, races, magic and mundane (ie: non-magical) equipment. Those familiar with the general layout will be right at home here.
In truth, if you’ve played older versions of D&D, particularly 3rd Edition, you’ll see many familiar rules and guidelines. Combat, Attributes and Class Abilities are generally the same as they were in 3rd Edition, with a few sprinkles of 4th Edition peppered in. But unlike 3rd Edition, the systems here have been completely streamlined removing many of the elements of the game some players found cumbersome.
If you’ve never played an RPG before, you’re in for a treat, because the 5th Edition of D&D has really taken things back to the drawing board for a fast paced and streamlined experience. Gone are the cumbersome bonuses and penalties from previous systems being replaced with a very easy to adjudicate advantage and disadvantage system. Simply put if you have the advantage in combat or other situations you roll a D20 and keep the highest result. If you have the disadvantage you take the least favorable die role. The amount of time this saves in game play is staggering and gives players the opportunity to really be creative with their options in combat.
Of course, combat isn’t the only focus in these new rules. Much care has been taken into making the characters as well rounded as possible. Aside from the usual selections among the 9 player races and 12 classes, characters are also created with a personality and background system. With backgrounds players will choose an origin for their character. Something the character did or does when not actively adventuring. This can be anything from criminal to folk hero. Each background comes with a list of traits that encompass a personality trait (something that defines a specific aspect of your personality), a bond (an oath that you’ve sworn to uphold or someone or something you support) and a flaw (a self explanatory way of thinking that could land the character in trouble). Beyond those role playing aspects, each background also provides for some additional skill proficiencies, tools and equipment to further round out your character.
Characters also select from a refined list of skill proficiencies for each class. Each skill is tied to a particular stat and you can become better at those skills by assigning a number of points per level to particular skills. Feats are also in the game, but have been consolidated into a much smaller list. The trade off is that each Feat will often have four to five abilities. Feats are optional for your character however, and can be selected by giving up your stat increase that comes every four levels.
Much of the combat has also been slimmed down to allow players more options that are easier to accomplish. Characters in combat are not as hindered by the need to be on a combat grid with miniatures. The rules are very clear and concise regarding which actions you can take and how long the action takes. Opportunity attacks are well defined and with the advantage system it’s very easy to resolve attacks and defense against unseen and invisible foes, foes on higher ground, foes that are prone (or attacking you if you are prone), etc. Characters start out robust and are less likely to be slaughtered in the early levels. Falling to 0 hit points is also not an immediate death sentence thanks to the ability to fall unconscious. There is a damage threshold that exists tied to your maximum HP number, but outside of that, if you fall to 0 hit points you make a series of saving throws on the start of each turn. Only failing three saving throws will your character die while succeeding three saving throws will allow you to live.
Monsters and NPCs will generally die at 0 hit points unless the player declares they only wish to knock their opponent out on what would be considered a death blow. This is yet another way the rules accommodate role playing by allowing good character who wish not to kill to be able to freely do so, or make it much easier to simply capture and tie up foes in order to question them. Certain kinds of NPCs will have more advanced abilities at their disposal (Which will be covered in our review for the Monster Manual).
All in all, whether you’ve not picked up a D&D game for years or are new and curious as to whether or not you should get started, this is a great book to get started with. If you aren’t sure about things, you can check out the free preview of the basic rules from on the Wizards of the Coast website by clicking here and you can purchase the starter set which includes everything you need to learn how to play, including dice and pre-generated characters.
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