Player’s Handbook

I’ve spent about a week going through my copy of the The Dungeons and Dragons Strikes Back Player’s Handbook. It’d love to give a review if it, I really would. But normally when I look at a book that book exists in a framework already created by the core system. I can consider what the book adds, whether it’s done well, whether it’s necessary or helpful, and so on. But these are the core rules. This is establishing a new framework, so a review of the book is really a review of 5th Edition.

And if I don’t want to talk about 5E before I play it, what can I really review? The layout? (Four stars—it’s arranged the same way as the 3E PHB, which I at one point had nigh-memorized, so it’s easy to find things even if I still can’t stand that picking your race comes before picking your class and both come before determining your personality.) The art direction? (Three stars—I recognize some pictures from older books, which is a little weird for a book based around a fresh start on rules, but the art itself is very good except for every atrocious picture of a halfling.) The sturdiness? (Jury’s still out—let’s see how well the spine holds up in five years.)

So rather than give any sort of real review, I’m going to go over my list of Headscratchers, which is not about mysteries or puzzles but rather what TV Tropes now calls the It Just Bugs Me section as part of its concerted effort to make names as unhelpful as possible. Basically, the things that bother me about how I understand the current incarnation of the rules, in decreasing order of severity:

  • Alignment is everything I’ve been telling players it’s not since I started DMing—a shackle applied to creatures that restricts their behavior and forces them into specific actions. PC races can choose their alignment because the gods love them, but monstrous races were made by evil gods and will always lean toward evil no matter how heroic they want to be. Celestials can never fall, fiends can never rise, there is no room for interpretation on what “good” and “evil” are, and so on. It’s a very children’s cartoon mentality that I’ll be resolutely ignoring.
  • Faerun. Just…Faerun. And on a related note, apparently Drizz’t is the iconic elf character now.
  • There are eight schools of magic, so wizards have eight archetypes. There are dozens of domains, so clerics have seven archetypes. There are dozens of powerful creature types across the planes, so sorcerers get…two archetypes. There are myriad ways to combine expertise with nature, magical aptitude, spirit channeling, combat, and animal transformation, so druids…also get two archetypes. I get that the company is named after wizards, but this feels like the designers were more worried about disappointing the subset of gamers who want each school specialization than the much larger subset who prefer having more options for another class or, blasphemy of blasphemies, being a generalist wizard.
  • There are only thirteen backgrounds, and we’re missing things like “farmer” and “raised to be an adventurer”. I love the background mechanic and though I know they’ll add some in supplemental material I was hoping for a little more out of the box.
  • Bards can only use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus. If you’re an oratory bard? Carry a piano. (Note to self: no players may be a bardic El Kabong. He was clearly a rogue.)
  • Each class table has a column for proficiency bonus, but it’s the same for every class and the same column is already in the “all characters use this information” table in Chapter 1. It seems like a waste of space to duplicate that column twelve more times.

These got really nit-picky by the end, but it’s a fairly complete list. If I didn’t mention something else (like advantage/disadvantage, shared spell slots for multiclassing, proficiency bonuses to spell DCs, etc.) I either like it, tolerate it, or didn’t notice it.

I’m sure I’ll have more likes and gripes when I start playing it, and even more when I start running it. But for now I’m just rifling through the book, seeing which characters of mine are newly or no longer viable and daydreaming about whom I’m going to play.

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4 Responses to Player’s Handbook

  1. Are you more likely to play 5E or DM 5E? I despise alignment.

    • MssngrDeath says:

      At first, play. We have another DM looking to start a 5E campaign and I’m already running one in 4E. Over time I tend to spend more time behind the screen with each system than in front, so we’ll see.

  2. That One GM says:

    An interesting nonreview. I feel the same way about the Faerun issue that you do, and I’ve only read the Basic rules PDF. I’m happy to have examples, and I understand why WotC should use Faerun as their example base, it just bothers me because I have no interest in it as a setting.

    I really like the backgrounds I’ve seen in the Basic rules, and I’m sure that there’ll be new backgrounds with every supplement they release.

    Definitely come back and leave a full review once you’ve had a chance to play it or DM it; maybe even a separate look at each side of the table?

  3. ScottM says:

    My own read brought up similar issues (though I didn’t dig into alignment… and probably won’t now). The proficiency bonus repeat in every class table probably comes from people’s reactions to “all classes use one table? blasphemy!” reaction to 4th edition. It’s simpler to repeat the column.

    I also noticed that some good 4th edition elements, like casters who can cast instead of being forced to break out a crossbow after a spell or two, are viable due to the presence of unlimited cantrips that do significant damage. But they’re hidden among the cantrips instead of shouting “at will attacks”… don’t want to upset people.

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