Saturday, 30 August 2014

D&D Players Handbook 5th Edition Review

D&D 5e.
I bought the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook this week. It took a while to hit the shops here in New Zealand, apparently due to third-party distributors. After shelling out $40 for the Starter Set as a birthday present for a young gamer, $70 (US $59) for the Players Handbook seemed reasonable, even though it's twice the price I would pay online from Barnes Noble or Amazon. Here is my review, which is perhaps the first from my country, where we are known for Rugby, Sheep and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Movies. Oh, and Lorde, mustn't forget her.

In my hands, the 5th edition of my favourite game, Dungeons and Dragons. A solid looking book, all shiny except for half the back cover, especially designed to collect fingerprints. Curiously, the powers that be decided to use the same pamphlet-grade paper that the starter set consisted of. The pages are super thin and feel fragile compared to the sturdy cover. They are certainly thinner than any other rulebooks on my shelves. I hazard a guess at the page weight, maybe 90GSM? It feels more like 80GSM. These flimsy pages are also suffering from a ripple effect that I suspect will only worsen with time. A shame really because the full colour art and illustrations deserve quality paper.

An unusual practice for me, I started reading from the back of the book. Thus, the first page I read was an advert for the starter set and the books to follow this one. Then some character sheets that purely from a graphic design background, leave me wishing they had allowed for the binding. When photocopying these for a game, you won't get the whole sheet because of the layout. Obviously they are just included to look at, in which case they could have been filled in with an example character. Character sheets should be downloaded from if you want the whole sheet.

After the character sheets comes an index in what looks like 6 point text. Tiny! Just looking at the page is a headache. I dare not do it under poor light during an evening roleplaying session. Then comes a familiar page of suggested reading material to inspire your gaming. The fantasy works listed look to be a mix of those from the classic 70s edition list (introduced by Gary Gygax) and the D&D inspired fiction written by various authors during the following decades, with something for every level of reader. I spotted books I read as a kid in the 80s (and may never read again)!

Inspiring artwork by Daren Bader.
Eight pages of creatures follow, with game stats, of pets or companions for players with characters that can call (or even turn into) beasts both mundane and magical. Then it's all about the planes of existence and deities of the multiverse; D&D fiction mixed with historical religions. This section ties in all the editions of D&D rather neatly.

The three pages devoted to conditions of incapacitation that may befall your character are peppered with humorous illustrations. It spells out the penalties of everything from blindness and being charmed to complete unconsciousness.

At this point, leafing through the flimsy pages backwards, I was hit with ninety pages of spells and magic. That's a book in and of itself! Seriously impressive stuff and it continues the D&D legacy of spellcasting with some surprises.

I guess the other chapter that you expect well-detailed in D&D is combat and the Players Handbook explains this in a step by step way that new players can pick up easily. It seems to have a mix of different D&D editions also. I never played 4th edition but I can see some elements from 3rd making it into 5th.

While reading the next section about how to play your character and explore the fantasy world I realised this humble adventurer was only at the halfway mark! I light footed it through the next few chapters and bless my soul, the first half of the book is all about character creation. That's a whopping 160 or so pages! Everything you need and a whole lot you probably won't, to create the character of your dreams and your DM's nightmares.

Smallfoot Halfling Gate.
Do I really need this book to play the game I love? No. I have plenty of rulebooks but it's the players (and dungeon masters) with healthy imaginations and good humour that make this game an enjoyable pastime. However, this book has more resemblance to the role playing games I grew up with than the last edition of D&D. The artwork throughout is superb also. Although the Halflings look like T&T Leprechauns! What happened to their feet? Bring back the hairy, big-footed Hobbits of old!

I see this book as the brave new world that 4th edition promised but didn't deliver and a new hope for the next generation of Dungeons and Dragons players. I expect they will be using iPads or tablets, so the physical quality of the book won't be an issue. May it be the beginning of their golden age of gaming!

After all, that's what it's all about. Getting together with friends and having fun. 


  1. Do you think the small feet on those halflings might be an attempt to distance the look of D&D halflings from Tolkien hobbits(tm)?

    1. Yes, like Kender? It's just amazing how tiny the feet are. They look like comical Leprechauns.