On tuesday the first book of the new version of D&D was released: the Players Handbook (PHB), the guide on how to create characters to play in game, and also a complete set of rules for managing most aspects of the game, including those for combat. This is the first of three core books, not including the Starter Set they released last month (which I didn’t bother with because I’m not new to this), still to come are the Monster Manual (MM) – a list of example creatures for use in campaigns, due out in September – and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) – a guide on how to create and manage campaigns, due out in November.
For previous editions the releases for these three books have been simultaneous, all three being necessary for a new group to begin playing. So why have Wizards of the Coast elected to stagger the release of the core rule books this time around?
First of all, they are at least releasing the books in the proper reading order, the PHB being needed to learn the core rules and get the first part of the campaign building process under-way, building the characters and protagonists for the story; followed by the MM which can help establish a campaign theme and allows the DM to familiarize him/herself with creature statistics; and finally the DMG to help refine and develop a story.
Second, the already available Starter Set and more importantly the simplistic free version of the rules makes the game easily playable without needing any of the core rulebooks, but allows players to build upon an already functioning rule-set.
Staggering the releases for as long as they are means that people (like myself) who are paid monthly can get one per-paycheque rather than being forced to pay massively out of pocket in one month. It’s sound reasoning, even if it does mean that the wait for die-hards like me will be torturously long. These books are looking to be the most expensive to date, with the PHB coming in at a rather daunting £30 ($50), the most expensive to date. I still bought it, of course I did, but imagine my surprise when I started reading through to find that it was worth it!
Ok, maybe they could have knocked off a fiver, these companies are far too aware that they’re selling to addicts, and can charge whatever the hell they like, we’ll still suck it up. Games Workshop is a classic example of nerdsploitation-marketing. But here’s 320 full colour pages filled with beautiful artwork, and more packed with info and advise than ever before. There are 12 character classes, against 8 from 4th edition and 11 in 3.5, every one bringing more different options on how to develop that class than ever before. There are 9 playable races compared to 7 in 3.5, and 8 in 4th. There has never been so much freedom in creating a character. Just to put that into perspective, that makes for:
- 7 characters in the first version of the game, where humans had four classes and three other races
- 60 possible race/class combinations in 2nd edition
- 77 in 3.5
- 64 in 4th edition
- 108 options in 5th edition, not even beginning on the sub-races and classes
And that covers the first two sections.
Fans of the game claim that players “couldn’t role-play” in 4th edition. Personally I think that’s the opinion of bad players. To their credit, Wizards of the Coast have added some pretty fantastic RP options into the new edition that should silence any of those morons (no, I don’t care if any of them are reading, stop being so co-dependant on the rulebooks!). In a section on building character backgrounds, there is an expansive list of possible histories for your character complete with choices of details that can be randomized for the brave/indecisive. Personally I’m a fan of the “Inspiration” mechanic, a simple reward system for promoting good role-play through decisions and performance, it’s a mechanic I’ve seen used before by other games, and it’s a system that really encourages people who are new to the game, or who struggle to get into character.
My favourite part of the new character-creation method is that the hardest choice and lowest impact character element has been made into neither of those things. When building a character, carefully choosing and planning your feats made for dull work that only started to pay off after a lot of levels of trawling through the ever-extending list. In 5th edition, every time you’re given the option of increasing your ability scores you can take a feat instead, and that’s a hard call to make. Feats now have a huge and immediate impact on how your character plays, gaining massive bonuses to skills, damage and some fantastic circumstantial bonuses.
As per usual, the spell encyclopaedia occupies a lot of the book, support for five primary spellcasters and three secondary spell casters. In 4th edition every spellcasting class had it’s own unique list, and I have to say I liked that, mainly because the support for characters who crossed spells and combat was vastly improved. Bards are a fantastic example: being forced to choose between combat, spellcasting and playing bardic music made for disjointed play and character progression, but in 4th edition every class power was a blend of all three, and the bard was one of the most potent and useful classes. So how does spellcasting compare in the new PHB? It’ll take a few games to get an answer to that one.
The book wraps up with a few more basics, and a list of pantheons from the major campaign settings and several historical pantheons from the real world too, which makes for an interesting touch. In keeping with the fat-trimmed style, there’s no new lore, and no “core setting” as presented by former books, just rules and ideas on how to build your own story.
The playtest was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the books to complete the full version (although I have no idea where to put them all), and start a campaign. Be sure to come back in just a few short weeks when DMing 101 returns…