Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook Review - Mania.com

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  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Author(s): Wizards RPG Team
  • Format: Hardcover, 322 Pages
  • Book Series: Dungeons & Dragons
  • Release Date: August 19, 2014
  • Series:

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook Review

Bringing you back to the table for adventure

By Chuck Francisco     August 15, 2014
Source: Mania.com

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook
© Wizards of the Coast
Dungeons & Dragons; D&D. Is there anything more synonymous with imagination and all night nerdery than the world's most popular table top role playing system? The pros and cons of its various iterations could spark internet crashing blood feuds, so I'll simply state that I've played each edition of D&D since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (or Second Edition, aka 2e), and nearly all of the video game versions since Menzoberranzan. While it was an easily accessible system, 4e left a lukewarm feeling with my gaming group. There was something too generic and uninteresting about player characters which pervaded the system, especially in the wake of 3.5e (which some felt provided too many options so as to be confusing). In the process, 4e characters lost an indescribable crunchy feeling, but I'm pleased to say that it's been brought back for the newest installment of this venerated table top series.

5e, or simply Dungeons & Dragons, began being unleashed upon the clamoring elf friends of nerdom last month when the Starter Set hit stores- I'll have a review of it as soon as my play test campaign group wraps up. I can tell you already though that it's been engineered as the best way to introduce new players to the game, or bring back folk who haven't played since grade school. The Starter Set includes a 64 page adventure book for the Dungeon Master (DM), a truncated 32 page rule book (covering characters level 1-5, which is the scope of this adventure), 5 pre made characters with character sheets, and a set of six dice. The Starter Set is already out, so if you're clamoring to get started, you can buy it HERE
The really weighty releases begin next week on August 19th with the drop of the Player's Handbook and the first full adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I've had the opportunity to dive into both, and while I'm holding off on a full review of Hoard until after my group takes it on, I can share from prep reading it that it's a seriously solid, kick ass adventure. Featuring a robust campaign and making full utilization of the new rule changes, Hoard of the Dragon Queen should be were most returning D&D veterans begin their renewed adventures. In preparing my gaming group to take on Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I've been buried nose deep in the Player's Handbook for the past week, and I've got some excellent things to report.
First and foremost, this is perhaps the most beautifully illustrated Dungeons & Dragons book that I've ever seen (and I own the whole run of 3.5e books, much to my wife's chagrin). Yes, there still are castle walls of text, but there seem to be far more artistic interludes, and they are handily much better looking than those of previous editions. Perhaps this doesn't matter to some, but I find that these illustrations help in my creative process, leading to a more imaginative and engaging adventure. The information is broken down and arranged in a more efficient and logical way, with explanations were you would actually expect to look for them, leading to fewer trips to the index.
Let's talk about the system itself and rule changes. Structurally this edition of D&D most strongly resembles 3e or 3.5e, but there have been some very important changes made to eliminate some of that over clutter which plagued those earlier editions. For instance: in previous editions if a player had some sort of combat advantage or disadvantage on a roll, there was typically a ton of sloppy math involved to solve the roll. In this new edition, if a play has "advantage" in a situation, they roll two d20s and take the higher roll (with disadvantage working the opposite way). This offers a fast resolution, it seems more logical, and it flows so much better than tasking players with burrowing through half a dozen pluses and minuses on their character sheets.

Skills have been similarly made more user friendly. Rather than spend half and hour divvying out points to various skills at each level up, players now just apply their level determined proficiency and the appropriate stat bonus to their roll. This means that player's skill levels won't vary quite so wildly, which makes it far easier for DM's to set appropriate difficulty checks that aren't punishing unfair to fighters (sorry- meat shields). Player characters are also far more versatile than in previous editions due to the newly expanded background mechanic. After choosing a race and class, players now choose a background- this was available in 4e, but it was optional and granted very limited perks by comparison. Now, if you feel like your sorcerer is too one dimensional and you'd rather play him with a slightly more mischievous bent, select the Urchin background. This grants proficiency in slight of hand (pick pocketing) and stealth, adds thieves' tools and a disguise kit to your gear, and more. Your sorcerer can now double as a backup rogue in a pinch. There are some seriously great combinations available, and this is another awesome way to hook players into role playing their backstory.

Perhaps the best addition to 5e is the Inspiration system, which is tied to the player selected personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws of their character. Take the former urchin turned sorcerer we've been discussing. Let's say that his Flaw (chosen at character creation) is "If I'm outnumbered, I always run away from a fight". Whenever his player gives in to that, the DM might award him an Inspiration point, which can be redeemed later when the chips are down and a reroll is seriously needed. It's a idea which is prevalent in many of the more story centric RPG systems, especially FATE (and the Dresden Files RPG), but it's great to see it mixed in here with the amazing tactical combat of D&D.

This is seriously the most excited I've been about Dungeons & Dragons in years, Maniacs. This systems seems to be perfectly tailored to be more detailed (or crunchy) if you want it to be, but can be scaled back if that's too intimidating. As always you mileage will vary based on the quality of your DM, though having a stronger backbone system makes it easier to be a good Dungeon Master. Here's the other cool thing: if you want to check out the basic rules to see if they will jive in with your play style, Wizards of the Coast has actually released them for free as a PDF Right HERE. These are just the very basic rules, mind you.

The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is out now, The Player's Handbook and first full campaign adventure book Hoard of the Dragon Queen release this upcoming Tuesday (August 19), and there's  much more beyond that with staggered releases of the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual in September and November. You can check out the full slate of products HERE. Happy adventuring, maniacs.

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.


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ElBaz13 8/15/2014 4:29:18 AM

Mmm...sounds interesting. I bought 4E when it came out and sold my books two weeks later. Was such a letdown and catered to the video gamers.

This sounds like a more simplified 3.5

Mayhem101878 8/15/2014 5:27:55 AM

I'm happy to hear it's closer to 3.5 than 4 was. I played about one game in a 4 campaign and we quit after that and went on to do a 3.5 campaign. I've mainly done and run 3.5 campiagns since starting a few years ago. My only bitch is why release the PHB before the DMG and Monster Manual? It would make more sense to release them all at once. Those are the 3 main books that you need it run a campiagn. I understand that they want to try and push their pre-made one on us, but I enjoy designing my own campaign.

bluefox629 8/15/2014 6:58:33 AM

ive found anything after 2e was crap made for crap players that lack imagination or moxie.  all they did was force you to min/max

bluefox629 8/15/2014 6:58:38 AM

ive found anything after 2e was crap made for crap players that lack imagination or moxie.  all they did was force you to min/max

CyanideRush 8/15/2014 7:12:13 AM

Completely disagree, Bluefox. In point of fact, I don't allow my players to min/max, and it's been no detriment to their experience.

monkeyfoot 8/15/2014 8:17:43 AM

I love the artwork on that cover.

ElBaz13 8/15/2014 12:49:24 PM

 Also disagree with the min max thing. It's up to the DM and players to control it. 3.0 and then 3.5 were good with many options to customize characters. Multi classing is cool but we allow it if it makes sense story wise. 

Now we are on Pathfinder which is essentially 3.75. 

Not sure I'm ready to buy books again. I still have my 1st ed books! 

Walker 8/15/2014 2:33:51 PM

 I can understand complaints about 3.x being rules heavy.  There are strong arguments for a narrative system like 1e.  It is not better than 3.x, just different.

But there are no arguments for 2e.  2e is a rules-heavy system with poor game balance made by the mathematically illiterate.  Every time a game designer makes a new 2e kit, God kills a kitten.

FerretJohn 8/16/2014 5:21:46 PM

 I've played D&D since the 1st edition box set (yes, I am that old).  Of them all 3.5, and it's bastard daughter Pathfinder, has been the favorite of both me and my friends, while 4th was without contest the worst.  As observed by others 4th was like a vdeo game on paper (press A B and wiggle the stick left-right to activate Combo #2)  It'll probably be awhile before I get around to trying #5, us old nerds don't play as much as we used to, but I look forward to giving this a go when we do.

@Walker, 2nd edition had its ups and downs, the core game was a vastly improved version on 1st edition with much better class/level options for non-humans, but the supplementals sucked.  Mostly, I have heard, because TSR had been sold to a businesswoman who, though good at business, had little respect for gaming and gamers, she saw D&D simply as a cash-machine and didn't allow employees to play on company time, not even for game-testing.  That's kinda like Mazda making a new car but not even trying to turn over the engine before putting it on the sales floor.


ElBaz13 8/16/2014 7:31:57 PM

I'm in the same boat ferretjohn. Been gaming since 1st ed and still have my 1st, 2nd, 3.0 and 3.5 books. And now Pathfinder. Most of my group have been gaming for that long too and always found 3.0 the best thing to come around in this game. 3.5 and Pathfinder were just fine tuning of 3.0. We love the idea of feats and multi classing the most. Stuff you couldn't do in 1st or 2nd. We like to look at classic fantasy archetypes and saw that in 2nd, you couldn't do a character like Gandalf (wizard/warrior) or Conan (barbarian/rogue). 3.0 and beyond let you customize the way you wanted it. Of course, we still set up limitations to prevent min/maxing.

When 4e came around, a few members of my group got the books and tried and it and were not impressed and these are the core videogamers. Essetially they said they get away from videogame rpgs to play something different in tabletop ones. They didn't want to play a tabletop RPG.

I will look at 5E but not holding my breath. As you can see, I  spent a lot of cash in my lifetime on RPGs and not sure I  want to commit to that again. Don't get me started on Star Wars RPG (which I have 4 editions and counting)

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