BOOK REVIEW: DUNGEONS & DRAGONS PLAYER'S HANDBOOK – FIFTH EDITION / DESIGNER: WIZARDS OF THE COAST / PUBLISHER: WIZARDS OF THE COAST / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Any edition of Dungeons & Dragons relies on the quality of the Player's Handbook to survive. Experienced gamers will tell you that it forms the core component of the game; after all, it is where the bulk of the rules can be found. A solid handbook can make all the difference between a stellar and a so-so edition of the game. The last universally applauded version was edition 3.5 and we’re rather happy to say that the Fifth Edition far outstrips that book in terms of content, usability and art.
It’s a hefty tome and is unashamedly intimidating with it. New players are firmly encouraged to pick up the excellent Starter Set instead; the manual is for those willing to delve deeper into the world of D&D. It’s also very pretty. Not only is it packed with inspiring art, it’s also clearly laid out and very easy to navigate. Frantic flipping of pages is part of the D&D experience but after a while it’s going to be pretty easy to know where all the rules you need from game to game are. It’s quite comprehensive, filled to the brim with ideas; enough to fuel a lifetime’s worth of gaming.
Rules-wise, the Fifth Edition has distilled decades of gameplay into one volume. Combat is slicker and easier, skills are more relevant. Character creation options cover many possible fantasy campaign types whilst mostly sticking to the old favourites. The new edition is also highly flexible, allowing for many types of story to be told.
Magic has always been a difficult thing to balance, and it was the bane of high-level third edition campaigns and a major element that led to the fourth edition being so reviled. The dedicated magic-using character classes are still the masters of their art, but characters from other classes can be built in such a way that they can also access ritual magic and the like. This makes magic a bit more common but also keeps the classic sword and sorcery feel of the game. The spell slot system is still present, but spells now scale; for example, the Bigby magic hand set now becomes more flexible the higher you go up in level. The same applies to the likes of healing spells. Magical items have also been revised; no longer can players rock up to their nearest mystical vendor and get their hands on all sorts of cool equipment; the days of the DM being miserly with the goods has returned and that should improve not only the game balance but encourage a better narrative.
The Fifth Edition is a lush and dense tome, finely balancing the complexity of D&D with the need to be accessible to everyone. It honours the versions of the past whilst at the same time being something new and fresh, and there is plenty of room for tinkering with the game mechanics. Over all, it is a bold contender to the current market leader and the edition most likely to become legendary.