A Review of the 5e Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook- Part One

I just finished reading through the 5e Players Handbook and figured I’d take the time to write a review on this bad boy.


PHB cover art

Disclaimer: I was not asked by WotC to write this review- I was not given a monetary reward, beer or even donuts for doing this… I did it because I wanna.

Disclaimer Number Two: I am NOT going to touch on all the fucking nastiness and bullshit that has permeated the net since the release of the D&D Basic rules.  If you don’t know about it and want to dive head first into it- go here..  Nuff said.

I guess I should give a little bit of background on myself- I started RPGing in 1995 with 2e and played it for six years before moving to 3.x (and eventually Pathfinder upon its release).  I had the 3.x monkey on my back for roughly 9 years before I just got so dissatisfied with the overly-complex rules and started fishing elsewhere.

I immediately turned to the OSR (because I remembered all the fun I had with the original red box campaign my friend had run for me years ago) and started running games using Swords and Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess (free version, paid version).  When I started writing my Hubris setting for publication I fell in love with Dungeon Crawl Classics and have been playing that for nearly a year.

I am not a fan of 4e at all.  It’s not my cup of tea.  I am not opposed to, or look down on, people who desire and enjoy playing it.  There is no badwrongfun when it comes to enjoying a game and having a blast with your chums.

When WotC released the free basic edition (link above), I downloaded it and was actually really impressed with what I read.  So it came no surprise to me that I was chomping at the bit for the PHB to be released.  I picked it up yesterday and poured through it…

Ok… Enough babble- onto the meat and potatoes

Let’s Get Started, Shall We

I’m not going to spend much time on production value- It’s a WotC book- it’s top notch.  Good binding- and page quality, etc.

The Players Handbook weighs in at roughly 316 pages, includes the character sheet, and even a small bestiary (that is a nice touch). Side note: WotC released a supplement for Tyranny of the Dragons for free with some magic items, monsters, and spells.  

First off I’ll open with that I really dig the philosophy behind this edition- it clearly borrows things from previous editions (2e, 3e, and 4e) and makes them work.  It also borrows from other sources (although I have no proof to solidify this, just my experience on other games)- Savage Worlds and  Barbarians of Lemuria– but I’ll touch my briefs on this later.

Chapter 1 is Character Creation and is standard fare- roll 4d6, keep the highest three.  Do this six times and then allocate in order you desire.

Chapter 2 is about races.  There are nine races in the PHB and several of them have sub-races (very cool).  Each race gains several traits such as increased Ability (5e term for Attributes) score, darkvision, proficiency with items, toolkits, armor, etc. (more on this later), and other things.  Each of these racial abilities give the race (and the player) a little more nifty in their PC, but not at the cost of really increasing bloat.

starter1a

The races are dwarf (with hill dwarf and mountain dwarf sub races), elf (with high elf, wood elf, and dark elf sub races), halfling (with lightfoot and stout halfling sub races), human, dragonborn*, gnome* (with Forest gnome and Rock gnome sub races), half-elf*, half-orc*, and tiefling*

*= There is a side bar starting these races are uncommon and not in every D&D setting. While it doesn’t state it- it is implied that one should ask the DM if it is alright to choose one of these races.

While the races are standard fantasy fare, I like what they have done with them (except Dragonb0rn- I’ll be honest… It just makes dragons mundane for me, but that is my own opinion).  I like the different abilities and flavor texts (especially for beginning role-players), and I like that sub races create even further variation within a class without HUGE rules bloat.

Chapter 3 is all about classes and there are quite a few of them in the PHB!  Twelve classes and, like with races, many have variations or paths that  make them more unique and special.  This is cool because you could have two very different fighters or rogues based on their chosen path (or profession).  I like that they adopted a more kit mentality with the classes (like from 2e) rather than come up with 80 new classes, each one roughly 3 pages long- creating more complex rules (as we saw in 3.x/4e).  With this approach you’ll see nods to 3.x prestige classes that have been absorbed into these various paths/professions/etc.

Examples: Eldritch Knight is now a path for fighters; Arcane Trickster and Assassin are rogue paths; and while it is named differently the Shadowdancer prestige class has now been made a Monk “tradition”, the Way of Shadow; Wild Mage is a Sorcerer bloodline.  Very cool.

The classes in the PHB are: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin (there is no anti-paladin, but I can see this being a path in the DMG or released later), Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.

Each one of these classes has very cool abilities- and more importantly is VERY quick and easy to understand (bonus for new players).  I made two characters to see how long the process would take (thinking of the 2.5 hour chargen for Pathfinder for new players) and I had a Fighter made in 25 minutes and a Wizard in 35.  That’s not bad for not being fully familiar with the system.  I then walked one of my players through chargen and he had a fully functioning Wood Elf Rogue within 30 minutes.  Awesome!

At level 1 each class also gains proficiencies with certain skills, weapons and armor, saves, and toolkits (more on proficiencies later), full hit points, and starting gear (this is an awesome feature and REALLY speeds up starting play rather than the dreaded “YOU MUST GO SHOPPING NOW BEFORE YOU PLAY!!” crap.  It’s nice to see this- I’ve been doing it for years in my home games and it really does speed up kickstarting your campaign).

Chapter 4 describes a new feature to Dungeons and Dragons- personality and backgrounds (and the optional rule- Inspiration).

Backgrounds are a nifty little thing- first a player chooses one of the following backgrounds: Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero (one of my favorites), Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, Outlander, Sage,  Sailor, Soldier, and Urchin- each one grants a few proficiencies or skill or equipment (or even a role-playing perk, like being able to get the local militia to give you aid- from soldier).  Then the player rolls on several tables to generate a personality trait, an ideal, a bond, and a flaw.  The rules state that if this doesn’t go with what you had envisioned or if you don’t like it- JUST MAKE IT UP!  How novel!

Joking aside I like that WotC has gone this route- this is something stated in the book several times- the rules aren’t the end all and be all of everything… and in the end the DM has final call on all things (and I know that has gotten some of the 3.x/4e ruleslawyers butthairs in a tangle, but hey- that’s the way it should be).

Aside- Hack and Slash has been doing his own awesome Backgrounds– scope em out!

Inspiration is basically like Bennies from Savage Worlds and is completely option- DM’s call.  Basically when you do something cool, the DM will give you an Inspiration point.  You can burn this later to give you an Advantage on a roll (or cancel a Disadvantage, I suppose).  More on Advantage/Disadvantage in Part 2.

I think I’ve prattled on enough for today- tomorrow we will hit the rest of the book- starting with customization like multi-classing and feats!

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About wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn. View all posts by wrathofzombie

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