D&D Fans Rejoice:! WotC Releases the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook! (Part 2: Adventuring & Magic)

Today, the new D&D Player’s Handbook went on sale at select retailers across the USA, weeks in advance of the full release on August 19th. Wizards of the Coast is putting plenty of books out there in the RPG Community and among the fans just days before GENCON 2014, ramping up the anticipation for the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons right before the “best four days of gaming!” This is the second part of a two-part review. You can find the first part here.

And there’s little doubt that WotC has even more for gamers next week when GENCON is in full swing and D&D’s Tyranny of Dragons has its launch!

But last night, EN World posted Part 1 of a two part review about the new D&D Player’s Handbook, discussing the amazing production quality of the book and its illustrations, as well as showcasing the Character Creation content available in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. And tonight, Part 2 of this review will sort through the second half of the new PHB, where the rules for actually playing the game itself reside. And there’s more than just rules here, there’s the Spell Lists too, plus other content just waiting to be revealed…

D&D Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)

  • Lead Designers: Mike Mearls & Jeremy Crawford
  • Designers: Rodney Thompson & Peter Lee (Rules Development); James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell (writers)
  • Cover Art: Tyler Jacobson
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: Hardbound (320 pages)
  • Price: $49.99 (Available for pre-order on Amazon.com for $29.97)

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV

The second half (or so) of the new D&D Player’s Handbook contains two parts – Part 2 covers rules on adventuring and combat; Part 3 covers rules on magic and spells.

The second half of the new D&D Player’s Handbook is divided up into two parts encompassing five chapters, with four information-packed appendices bringing up the rear along with the book’s index. Like the first half of the PHB, the illustrations in this section are top-of-the-line depictions of fantasy scenes, battles, characters, and monsters, with many full page and half-page plates brimming with vibrant colors.

Part 2 of the new D&D Player’s Handbook is subtitled Playing the Game, but it might just as well as been labeled “Rules & Spells” seeing as that makes up the majority of the content from page 171 to the end of the book. However, fans of previous editions of D&D might be surprised to find that the greatest share of the page count belongs to the Spell Lists with their descriptions and effects in this section. In fact, the rules of this new edition of Dungeons & Dragons are summed up in just 34 pages!

Chapter 7 of the D&D Player’s Handbook pertains to Using Ability Scores, and covers the conventions surrounding those scores such as ability score modifiers, ability checks, and saving throws. The designers also discuss the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic here, along with the Skill system which is based upon the ability scores not unlike the old Non-Weapon Proficiency system of D&D Second Edition. The overall effect is a rules-light touch with skill use which is easy to understand and referee.

The concepts of Adventuring are presented in Chapter 8 and there’s quite a few rules packed into just seven pages. A lot of the rules here deal with the how’s and why’s of their character interacting with the environment created by the DM – time, movement, speed, travel across land, falling damage, drowning, suffocation, light sources, and where the next meal and drink come from are all covered here. There’s also discussion about the Short Rest and Long Rest mechanics –interesting variants of holdover 4E rules. And the designers also describe the sorts of activities characters might engage in during the off-times between adventures. It’s just a short page of ideas, but it does include ideas about Crafting, Practicing a Profession, Researching, and Training – certainly some hints about what sorts of expansive rules might appear in the Dungeon Master’s Guide when it’s released in the fall.

Chapter 9 contains all the rules for participating in Combat and here’s where the proof of how rules light the new edition of D&D is – everything a player needs to know about combat is covered in just 10 pages.

Well almost everything…

The rules cover the player end of combats pretty thoroughly, covering movement, turns, and what sorts of actions a hero can take during combat. The rules cover special attacks like using two weapons, grappling and shoving a creature. It even covers taking damage, healing and dying. And all the explanations of rules come across as logical and reasonable to understand. Of course not every situation is covered here, like aerial combat, and underwater combat just got a couple paragraphs. But these sorts of specialized combat situations have historically been covered in Dungeon Master’s Guides, and there’s every likelihood D&D 5th Edition will follow a similar path.

Part 3 in the new D&D Player’s Handbook is entitled The Rules of Magic and it contains not only the new rules of spell casting but also the new spell lists and descriptions. Chapter 10 opens Part 3 with the concepts of Spellcasting, from the definitions of spells, cantrips, and rituals to what goes into casting a spell, how durations work, and what area of effects entail. Saving throws and spell attack rolls are also discussed here, and it all gets covered in about five pages.

And in Chapter 11, the Reader finally encounters the lists of Spells for every spell casting class in the D&D Player’s Handbook. Nearly all of the favorite spells from D&D editions of yore are given new life in this new edition, and there are even a few spells which made the leap from D&D 4E such as Misty Step, but those are the exception, not the rule. Each spell has its full description with casting time, range, components and duration, and the additional effects if cast At Higher Levels – i.e. from a higher level spell slot. There’s close to 90 pages devoted to spells in the new D&D Player’s Handbook which is a substantial percentage of a 320 page book.

Finally, there are four Appendices (A,B,C, and D) in the D&D Player’s Handbook which cover a variety of topics which hint quite strongly at the products which might be seen before long for this new edition. Appendix A covers quick rules for Conditions such as Blinded, Paralyzed, Grappled with simple bullet-points for easy reference. Appendix B presents the Gods of the Multiverse with lists of the god of the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Eberron. (A short pause for squeals of glee from the long-forsaken D-Lance crowd.) This appendix also includes non-human gods from various D&D campaigns, and lists of actual mythological pantheons like Celtic, Greek, and Norse. Each god is listed with alignment, suggested domains, and symbols but no descriptions – perhaps a Deities & Demi-Gods for 5th Edition is in the works?

Appendix C explains The Planes of Existence which appears to be a mash-up of 3rd Edition and 4E cosmologies. The Feywild and Shadowfell exist in this new D&D edition, but the alignment-based planes are back now that there are nine alignments again. Sigil is back again as well, and it is anyone’s guess as to whether Planescape will make a return in this edition of D&D.

And finally, Appendix D offers up something never before seen in any previous D&D Player’s Handbook – a mini Monster Manual! Ostensibly, these stat clocks are designed for use with spells and class features, and cover many basic animal companions, familiar creatures, and lesser undead like skeletons and zombies. But these could be used to start running a very basic game of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons right off- a nice bonus feature of this book.


Overall Score: 8.9 out of 10.0


Final Conclusions

The new D&D Player’s Handbook is a truly remarkable RPG product, and a fine new addition to a very long lineage of Dungeons & Dragons editions. The layout and writing are superb, and the illustrations are breathtaking, making the whole book a fantastic tome to just sit and read through. The contents of the new D&D Player’s Handbook is incredibly detailed, well designed and executed, and many fans and gamers will likely enjoy the ease and diversity of character creation. Admittedly, there’s something oddly meta about an “official” D&D edition feeling a bit like an OSR game, but potentially there is something in this game system that any roleplayer can enjoy – and being able to access the rules online gives a gamer ample opportunity to try-it before they buy-it.

The book isn’t cheap, but really it’s no pricier than comparable core rule books from other gaming companies. But it is clear that Wizards of the Coast worked very hard to make the new D&D Player’s Handbook the hottest looking core rulebook on a Game Store shelf – D&D fans will find this PHB a hard one to resist!

Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in hardbound format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 0 to 10)

  • Presentation: 9.75
  • - Design: 9.5 (Beautiful design; exemplary writing; fantastic layout)
  • - Illustrations: 10.0 (Exquisite art; beautiful use of illustrations throughout the book)
  • Content: 9.0
  • - Crunch: 8.5 (Solid and light rule set; a little meta-OSR)
  • - Fluff: 9.5 (Tons of roleplaying content for character development; Forgotten Realms is THE official setting)
  • Value: 8.0 (It’s not cheap but the quality of the book is astounding!)
 
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Comments

OSR compatibility is somehow seen as a flaw? I'm not sure why that's "meta", let alone undesirable. The alternative was for 5e to either go in some wild new direction or go further into 3rd/4th edition... neither option makes much sense. I don't think 5e would be as popular as it is without the old school influence.
 
OSR compatibility is somehow seen as a flaw? I'm not sure why that's "meta", let alone undesirable. The alternative was for 5e to either go in some wild new direction or go further into 3rd/4th edition... neither option makes much sense. I don't think 5e would be as popular as it is without the old school influence.
+1
I agree. This edition strikes me as the ultimate house-ruled mash up of OSR/early eds, d20, and some outside influences such as Savage Worlds and Numenera.
 

mips42

Explorer
I don't believe that 5e feeling like OSR was meant to be a bad thing, just odd as OSR is, essentially, a way to harken back to the early days of D&D. Therefore, if D&D 5e feels like OSR, it's a bit recursive or possibly even self-referential. (Redundant: See Redundant).
 

dd.stevenson

Super KY
No, it doesn't. Not unless "meta" means something different over there in the US! :)
The word "meta" is neutral. The value judgments lie in the phrases "a little meta OSR,"; and "oddly meta," set up to contrast with "but potentially there is something in this game system that any roleplayer can enjoy."
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The word "meta" is neutral. The value judgments lie in the phrases "a little meta OSR,"; and "oddly meta," set up to contrast with "but potentially there is something in this game system that any roleplayer can enjoy."
OK, let's clarify. To me it reads as a positive statement as in "It was an interesting choice to hearken back to old editions rather than making big sweeping new changes [as 4E did], but that's cool because it means pretty much any D&D fan - whatever their preferred edition - will find something to like about it."

And that's about as much time as I'm gonna spend focusing on one word in an entire review. If you want to take it as something else, that's your call, but that's the intention there. It's there for new readers who weren't aware of that design goal and are reading about 5E for the first time and might be surprised and pleased to learn that it looks back in the way it does. :)
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
Forgotten Realms is neither the "official" nor "core" setting. It is, as has been stated, the "flagship" setting. The PHB contains content and examples from multiple settings.
 

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
OK, let's clarify. To me it reads as a positive statement as in "It was an interesting choice to hearken back to old editions rather than making big sweeping new changes [as 4E did], but that's cool because it means pretty much any D&D fan - whatever their preferred edition - will find something to like about it."

My own limited experience with playing one 5E session at a convention early this year and now running (most of the way through) the Starter Set adventure seems to bear out the more positive impression regarding 5E's appeal to OSR folk (some players in my group have definite OSRs leanings, some PF leanings, some are more all over the place and use many systems from all eras like myself). I don't think there is any reason to believe that 5E cannot be run with an OSR flavor, at least that's my impression only knowing Basic and the Starter Set. And, as to the reason I quoted you, I agree that statement in the above reads as a positive affirmation that the goal of being inclusive has been met through the Starter Set and Basic, and apparently continues through the PHB as noted above.
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
The review does present 5E's OSR-ness in a negative light, and counts it as a negative during the final scoring.
It's not clear how it's counted in the final score: it's presented as a secondary factor, but so are "fantastic layout" and "beautiful use of illustrations".

I do agree that the use of the word "meta" is odd and I don't quite understand what Neuroglyph means by it - I think honestly it's actually just another way of saying "creates a weird feeling that I can't quite describe, but it's sort of like deja vu and sort of like seeing something really ordinary turned into something extraordinary."
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
My impression of 5E so far is that much of it could be combined with Swords & Wizardry with no substantial alterations. That's pretty hard-core OSR. You'd actually have more conversion issues in OSR systems in the middle ground, that have added or included various subsystems like secondary skills or more detailed monster stat blocks.
 

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
My impression of 5E so far is that much of it could be combined with Swords & Wizardry with no substantial alterations. That's pretty hard-core OSR. You'd actually have more conversion issues in OSR systems in the middle ground, that have added or included various subsystems like secondary skills or more detailed monster stat blocks.

Yeah, I'd agree with that assessment. The simpler the OSR system, and fewer divergences it takes, the easier it would be to compare closely with 5B (using that now for 5E Basic!). :)
 

Klaus

Villager
Great review, [MENTION=85633]Neuroglyph[/MENTION] ! But you seem to have cut out Appendix E ("Inspirational Reading"), the first of its kind in a core book since "Appendix N" of the 1e DMG.
 

Asmor

Villager
And finally, Appendix D offers up something never before seen in any previous D&D Player’s Handbook – a mini Monster Manual!
Actually, the first printing of the 3e PHB had an appendix with some monsters as well. They did the same thing back when with the staggered release of books, so those were the only monsters available until the MM came out.
 

dd.stevenson

Super KY
It's not clear how it's counted in the final score: it's presented as a secondary factor, but so are "fantastic layout" and "beautiful use of illustrations".
It seems clear to me (a little too meta osr, coupled with a lower itemized score), but this isn't a situation where pedantry is going to be rewarded.
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
It seems clear to me (a little too meta osr, coupled with a lower itemized score), but this isn't a situation where pedantry is going to be rewarded.
No, but maybe it'll be explained. The more I think about the term "meta-OSR", the less I understand it in this context.
 

jbear

Villager
Heck I don't even know what OSR stands for! Ha ... Old School ... Roleplaying?

I also don't understand what meta-OSR is intended to mean even if I have guessed the abbreviation.

metacognition = thinking about thinking
metagaming = thinking in terms of the rules of the game to make in game-decisions instead of the situation itself
meta-OldSchoolRoleplay = thinking about playing D&D in terms of how it was played back in the day to make decisions about how D&D should be played now?

Am I close?

Anyway, thanks for the review. It sounds like a good book. I am still going to have to wait and hear what the DMG contains in terms of introducing a more fully blown tactical combat system before I begin thinking about whether or not to invest any money in buying anything.

Cheers
J
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
Heck I don't even know what OSR stands for! Ha ... Old School ... Roleplaying?
I also don't understand what meta-OSR is intended to mean even if I have guessed the abbreviation.
metacognition = thinking about thinking
metagaming = thinking in terms of the rules of the game to make in game-decisions instead of the situation itself
meta-OldSchoolRoleplay = thinking about playing D&D in terms of how it was played back in the day to make decisions about how D&D should be played now?
Meta..."...is a prefix used in English to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter"
This is gonna keep me up at night, I just know it. <sigh>

 

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