The 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook is full of choices to get the character you want created. It's well put together, organized, and has a lot of really inspiring artwork to get your brain juice flowing. None of those things are what make the PHB a must have for fans. It’s a must have because inside the cover is a new version of D&D that delivers on what the designers stated as their goal back in the beginning of this new edition. That goal was to create a simple game that players could learn in about an hour or so and get playing. Then the DM and the players could add in more complex modular pieces to create the game they wanted to play.
Every part of the game seems to show tribute to older editions, taking and combining the best elements of each of those editions. There are also new parts of the game and once you have the Player’s Handbook you can sit down with the The Mines of Phandelver from the Beginner’s Box or Hoard of the Dragon Queen and start playing. You can pick up freebie monsters there to use in your game as well in the online supplement. Of course your game will benefit greatly from the Dungeon’s Master Guide and Monster Manual, but you can get going with just this book.
Your classic races are represented with subraces for even more character generation option. The dwarf with hill and mountain options, elf with high, wood, and dark (drow) options, halfling with lightfoot, and stout, humans, half-orcs, and half-elf, as well. The dragonborn, gnome, and tiefling are represented with several options for creation as well. I'm glad to see the dragonborn which was born in the 4th Edition represented as a race in the PHB with the tiefling, which first appeared in 2nd Edition. Oh yeah, and the gnome is no longer a monster.
Classes from all editions have been represented well including the barbarian, sorcerer, monk, and warlock as well as the good old standard classes like fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric, druid, bard, ranger, and paladin. Most classes pick a path at about 3rd level that further defines the character archetype and granting additional abilities as well. It is a solid system that I could see getting used to produce new material without creating too much power glut.
There is an excellent chapter about creating your characters Personality and Background. A couple samples of dwarvish and elvish script are an excellent example of the level of detail you can get to with what is in the book. Your characters personality is important because of the new mechanic Inspiration. Fans of other games are already familiar with the system of rewarding players for role-playing their characters. D&D has come on board by having the player first pick a Background like Noble, Acolyte, Criminal, or Soldier. Each Background gives the character additional abilities, such as Skill Proficiencies, Tool Proficiencies, and Equipment. Each background also has a feature, a more role-playing oriented feature like military rank or rustic hospitality. Mike Mearls led us to believe that this is something we would see used to create campaign and setting specific characters.
The equipment section is about what you have come to expect from previous editions. Random starting gold generators, armor types and description, weapons and descriptions, and adventuring gear are well represented with many illustrations. It is those continuous illustrations throughout the PHB that really elevates it as a great tool for inspiring aspiring adventurers. This chapter includes prices for services including spellcasting and a massive chart of trinkets for your character to select. Every character gets a trinket.
Chapter Six has a few rules for multiclassing and about forty feats. I don’t see as much need for multiclassing and that is mostly due to the feats. The designers have really changed the way feats work and it is excellent. Feats are much more powerful and there and there are less tree feats to accomplish a build. Each feat pretty much allows a character to do whatever area it is that feat covers proficiently. For example, if you want to be able to fight while mounted take mounted combat and be done. Instead of taking levels of wizard or sorcerer to have a handful of spells just take the feat Magic Initiate. This feat allows the character a couple of cantrips and a first level spell.
At certain levels each class can select to either increase an Ability Score Improvement or a Feat. That tells you how powerful the feats are because increasing abilities to ridiculous levels is often the emphasis of lots of character builds. It's nice for the player to have the option for their characters. Is also nice that the DM can choose to completely ignore feats and just have the characters increase their abilities. You might notice a recurring pattern of parts that can be added and subtracted from the games as modules. This allows you and your players to create a game that is specific to your style. I know we're going to see a whole lot more of this in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Part Two of the Player’s Handbook has all the rules you need to play the game. The big changes to the game like Advantage and Proficiency Bonus are explained in detail here. A few examples of how to use abilities and skills associated with those abilities are described in detail.
Chapter 8 details Adventuring. Movement, rests, time, the environment, social interactions, and a lot more are described in this section. The short and long rest are one of the best changes to the game in my opinion. Giving all characters some way to heal themselves and catch their breath without the need of divine casters is just what the game needed. We got a look at this a bit with second wind and healing surges in 4th Edition but the way the mechanic was implemented in that edition always struck me as a bit clunky. Anyway, you have all the swimming, crawling, and climbing rules here, as well as vision and light and anything else you need to start running adventures.
The adventuring section of the PHB has one section that I found particularly interesting, a section on downtime. Entries for crafting, recuperating, practicing a profession, researching, and training are included. There are some rules but not many. What you'll find is some great ideas that a DM can use to introduce new NPC’s, a hook for an adventure, and a way for the party to spend some of their hard earned wealth for the possibility of tangible benefits. This is another example of the new edition adding elements to the game to enhance and encourage roleplaying.
Combat is the focus of the next chapter and I think most gamers with a familiarity with any edition of D&D will quickly feel they are in familiar territory. A lot has been polished to make the game play smoother but the heart of Dungeons & Dragons is there. New players shouldn’t have too many problems picking up the rules either, especially if they have a player or two with some experience with the game to guide them. I know that the game being quick and easy to learn was one of the design goals and it's been achieved.
I mentioned things have been polished to make the game play a little smoother so I thought I would point out a few of those changes. Characters can now break up their move. You can use some to move before you attack and the remainder after. If you have multiple attacks you can even move between attacks. This allows for a cinematic game which is typically the kind of game I like.
Dodge has been simplified by just causing your enemy to have disadvantage on their attack. I am a huge fan of this and I know that if you count the numbers it isn’t overwhelming, but I am the kind of player who never wants to know the odds. To me this could mean turning a critical hit into miss. Fighting defensively and all out defending have never seemed to really be go to options but with these rules I think we might see a bit more of a defensive fighting style.
Perhaps the one section that has really been simplified is spells. No longer are there multiple entries for the same spell at different levels such as cure light, medium, and serious wounds. If you want to heal more just memorize the Cure Wounds spell with a higher level spell slot. Each spell level above first adds a d8 to the amount cured. Lots of damaging spells work the same way. A benefit of this is that the not having multiple spell entries allows for less of the book to be devoted to spell descriptions.
Spells that conjure creatures have been simplified and there spell level is raised. I have always had a problem with conjuration spells that allowed the caster to reach out somewhere in the planes and pull a creature through and that creature being one crummy goblin. You had all the spell power necessary to reach through dimensions and planes and only had enough power to conjure up a songbird or weasel. Raising the spell level allows conjuration spells to have enough conjuration time to have more duration and allow a higher challenge level creature to be summoned.
There are several appendixes which simplify and give some option and information to the reader. The first is a list of conditions and their effects in one spot. Print off these three pages and attach to an old DM screen and you are golden. At least until a screen is released. A second appendix has the gods of the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Eberron, and Nonhuman races. The information provided is only the name, suggested domains, alignment, and symbol of each deity, but it is enough to help you pick a campaign world perhaps. Each of these setting has a hoard of adventurers and campaign material that was printed previously or reprinted recently by Wizards of the Coast.
In addition to the fantasy religions from earlier editions of D&D, there are also a few pages about fantasy-historical pantheons. This contains all the information provided in the fantasy deity section for the gods of the Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, and Norse deities as well as a few words describing how you might use each and every one of these pantheons in your game. The third appendix explains the planes and how to use them. The designers have obviously learned from other editions because while this has some of the same feeling as previous sections and maps for the planes, this one is easy to understand and won’t cast a feeblemind spell on players new to the game.
The fourth appendix has statistics for about 30 monsters to use in your game. Remember you can get dozens more for free here. Thanks to Wizards of the Coast for not only adjusting the game some to reflect how games are being played today, but for how they are being marketed as well. The Player’s Handbook is an easy to read, well built, and masterfully laid out rpg book. The artwork is the high quality that you've come to expect from the D&D brand. It has so many options for character creation that have been thought out thoroughly from the first seeds of the edition that you won’t run out of options for PCs for quite awhile. D&D is back and this book proves it. Let me know what you think about the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook and the future of Dungeons & Dragons in the comment section below and until next time, Roll Hard!
I sometimes just get a stroke of luck that allows me to do something cool simply because I like to talk about games, and keep a positive attitude. So I had another opportunity to ask Mike Mearls of Wizards of the Coast a few questions about the future of Dungeons & Dragons on the eve of GenCon. Once again, Mike was open and direct with his responses and showed not only his appreciation for the history of the game but genuine care about the future. See for yourself.
- When I started playing D&D there was no internet, or splat books, or character builders. If you wanted something new to use in your game then Dragon Magazine was the place to get it. Are there plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?
Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point.
With that in mind, we have a robust online presence through our website and social media. I’m on Twitter as @mikemearls, and I answer as many questions as possible that are tweeted to me.
2. Everybody knows that Forgotten Realms will be supported right out of the gate, are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next? If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?
We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.
Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school.
- You’ve mentioned how the design goal was to create a basic system with modular pieces that can add more complexity and option to the game. What are some modular pieces that we might see next and when might we see them?
Most of the optional systems will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They focus on options that people can use to more closely mimic a specific edition or optional rules that people like having available. For instance, stuff like detailed rules for combat, gestalt characters, lingering wounds, and so forth. It feels kind of like a mash up of Unearthed Arcana for 3e and a traditional DMG.
- New to this edition of the game is Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and of course Inspiration. What would you say was the inspiration for adding what equates to role-playing rewards to the game? Will we see any suggestions for using Inspiration in other ways besides advantage?
I believe that the DMG has some variants for using Inspiration. The basic concept was driven by the overall trends we’ve seen in RPGs over the past few years. Roleplaying is at the heart of D&D, but the game has not typically included mechanics to reward it. Looking around, we saw a number of games that provided benefits for good role play and decided to put a D&D spin on things.
In some ways, it’s simply D&D getting more in tune with the times. It’s one of those things that I think many DMs have wanted in the game for a while, if reactions to the mechanics so far are anything to go by.
- There is a definite feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the new edition. Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition? If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?
We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.
My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it.
- Now that we have breached the subject of adventures, what influence do adventure paths have upon your thinking of creating future content for fifth edition?
It has definitely influenced how we think about creating more character options. We want to avoid simply creating new options for the sake of creating another book of new material. I think it’s easy to overwhelm players and DMs by releasing a torrent of new material every month. Instead, we want to carefully curate new stuff that we put out, ensuring that it is of the highest quality and is as useful as possible to your game.
An adventure path comes into the picture when you think about providing context for character options. Creating new options for a specific adventure path is very intriguing to me. It lets you zero in on what makes a campaign interesting, and then ensure that characters made with the new options tie into the campaign’s unique elements.
For instance, imagine an Adventure Path set in a tropical archipelago teeming with lost cities, dinosaurs, and deadly sea monsters. The sea elf might be a new character race for that campaign. If you create backgrounds that tie sea elf characters to the specific factions in the campaign, you have an easy way to foster player buy-in and create organic, compelling hooks for a player.
A DM who wants to homebrew or kitbash a campaign can use the sea elf stats, but if you want to run the Adventure Path you have a really nice synthesis between the player and DM sides of the screen.
A better example might be a classic adventure like Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine a player’s book that served as a companion to it. It might have backgrounds that tie characters to Hommlett or the battle against the original temple. There might a druid class option that is an enemy of evil elementals, a ranger option that lets you join an order that watches for the temple’s rise (and includes has Elmo and Otis as allies or contacts), and so on. When the players sit down for the campaign, their characters are already integrated into the game and ready to go. When you meet Elmo, most of the players might think he’s a dope, but the guy playing the ranger recognizes him as an ally. Stuff like that really brings campaigns to life.
- From reading boards, talking to gamers, and personal experience, it would seem a player character crafting magic items seems to have had a hiccup or two in nearly every edition. A few examples are requiring a point of Constitution from a wizard, requiring XP from the crafting character, requiring a series of feats that detracted from the overall toughness of the crafting character unless that character stuck to crafting items only for themselves. Why this might not upset every gamer it has created grumblings from some. When will we see magic item creation, what will it look like, and what steps have been taken to balance it out?
The DMG will talk a bit about it. Our approach is to give DMs options to how they want to handle it. Some DMs are comfortable with simply charging a PC time and money to craft an item. Others can use it as an excuse to send the party on a quest. An item might require specific ingredients or reagents found only in specific, dangerous locations. The idea is to frame how the DM wants to use item creation in the campaign. Does it eat up the characters’ gold? Is it a way to drive forward the campaign?
- Are there any plans to include prestige classes, paragon paths, or anything of the sort that a lot of players have come to expect over the last couple of editions? If so how will those be presented to the players?
We’ve talked about prestige classes and paragon paths, but we don’t yet have plans on what to do with them. They filled a very specific role in past editions, but it’s not yet clear that we need them in fifth. As the game develops, we’ll take the attitude of introducing them if we see the need, rather than trying to create a need or find an excuse to add them into the campaign.
That said, I think the concept has some strengths. You can see concepts like a Purple Dragon Knight of Cormyr, which in theory could apply to multiple classes (paladin and fighter in this case). I think that prestige classes could fill that role, the concept that rests between multiple classes.
With that said, it might be possible that a Purple Dragon Knight should simply be a paladin option. We’re going to let the lore of the game and a design approach that’s focused on simplicity and ease of use guide our decisions.
What do you think about what Mike had to say? Let us know in that comment section. I am personally really excited but what I have seen so far and how easy it is not only to learn but to be a DM with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I plan on lots of blogs about it in the future. You can also find this interview and a lot more discussion over on EnWorld Until next time, Roll Hard!
Is the D&D Starter Set everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game? It is according to the box. The box which gets you hooked with a picture of a dragon and a fighter engaged in a furious battle. I plan on using this to introduce two new players with no rpg experience to the hobby and I will talk about how that goes in the future. For now we will stick with just my first impressions.
The D&D Starter Set Rulebook is 32 color pages stapled like a comic book. Inside those pages are several cool pieces of artwork, which is something that the Dungeons & Dragons brand has always done well. If you are an experienced player these may inspire you. If you are a beginner or novice these might help you visualize your character and get a feel for the game. The artwork on the front of the booklet expands on the scene from the front of the box, revealing two more characters, both casters of some sort.
The rulebook immediately jumps in to explaining how to play, get started, and what the dice are used for. I bet most experienced players skip right over these sections although if you read it you might just learn a new way to look at the cooperative storytelling game you love so much. Then a quick explanation of the abilities, ability checks, the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, and saving throws follow. That’s chapter one in a nutshell.
Chapter Two is about combat. One of the core components to any D&D game and probably the part most players look forward to, whether they admit it or not. The rulebook does a fine job of quickly explaining the different actions available in combat, initiative, terrain, movement, and position. Most of what you would need in combat is covered and not covering every possible situation in detail is something as a Dungeon Master makes me happy. Needing to make a rules oriented decision on the fly once in awhile helps make better DMs, which is what the hobby needs.
The damage and healing section is pretty straight forward and easy to grasp and makes me wonder how I ever learned to play D&D with the 1st Edition books. This is so much easier to understand for the beginning gamer. Hit points, critical hits, damage resistance, healing, and dropping below zero hit points only need a page and half to explain how it all works. It even covers knocking an opponent out instead of killing them. I am glad there isn’t a penalty for doing this so perhaps it comes up a bit more in game.
Chapter 3 covers Adventuring. Travel and special forms of movement are explained here. The different types of resting are covered in this section as well. An experience point chart is pictured here for the first five levels and the proficiency bonus a character gets for each level. Weapons and gear are also covered in the Adventuring section. A bit of description about the terms used to define the weapons and equipment will help the inexperienced player.
Chapter 4 is all about Spellcasting and has a pretty decent selection of low level spells for players to choose from. This is the biggest section of the book by far. All components of spell casting are expained, including components.
The Starter Set Rulebook is only necessary for the most inexperienced of gamers because what is covered in the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is far more extensive and free. That is where you will find rules for character generation; the D&D starter set only includes five pregenerated characters and no rules for character generation. That is fine as the Starter Set is meant to introduce the player to the rules and theme of D&D, and the Basic Rules are free. There is still more in the Starter Set box to talk about, like an adventure.
The meat of the D&D Starter Set is the 1st level adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver. Although it is presented in the same stapled booklet format as the rules book, it is twice as thick. The adventure is designed to take the characters all the way to 5th level. The inexperienced player should have enough exposure by then to make their own characters. If you have already downloaded the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons, you can feel free to create your own characters to use in the adventure. The adventure is also an introduction to the Forgotten Realms.
The artwork and maps in Lost Mine of Phandelver are excellent, as is the insets with extra tidbits of information to help out the DM. The cover art further expands the image on the front of the box and the Starter Set Rulebook, which is kind of cool. This is a substantial adventure with excellent descriptions, Appendixes for Magic Items and Monsters, and a handy Rules Index on the back cover of the adventure.
From quickly looking through I see plot rewards like getting to join an order or two, just a story element that smacks of early edition D&D. The DM is free to come up with any mechanical advantage if she wants. Which Forgotten Realms orders are represented I will not divulge. I don’t want spoilers or to harp too much about the subject.
Inside the box is also a set of dice. I always love getting new dice and a matching sets especially. It is the small things that make me happy and not having to color in the numbers like I did when I opened my first D&D box set so long ago is fine with me. At $19.99 retail I think the D&D Starter Set is a good purchase for those wanting to get a look at the hobby. The size of the Lost Mine of Phandelver makes it the tastiest part of the box set and since there is a lot of artwork that is not included in the free Basic Rules download it is worth checking out, especially since adventures are at a premium with any new rules set.
I will jump into this box set in a couple days with some players with no experience and one or two with years and years of experience and let you know how it goes. Until next time, Roll Hard!