Thursday, May 29, 2008

Player's Handbook Impressions

I've read the first 50 pages or so of the new D&D 4 Player's Handbook. I'm going to write about the general feel and layout of the book so far. Most of the rules have been discussed to death in other places.

The introduction is well written and concise, explaining where a role-playing game falls within popular culture and providing a brief history of the game. The authors of each edition are listed in the credits and the book is dedicated to the memory of Gary Gygax. The How Do You Play section is well done, and reminds me of what I read in D&D For Dummies, a surprisingly good book for beginners. There's a helpful blow-by-blow game session described, similar to what I remember in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. I still recall such great lines as "I crush the nasty thing with my boot!"

The "Making Characters" section is a step-by-step process, laid out better than previous editions. You can make character backgrounds easily using the question & answer format provided, similar to what we found in the 3.5 Player's Handbook II. Character roles, as reported before, are clearly defined rather than assumed. Players are encouraged to cover each role and new roles, we're told, will be in the Player's Handbook II. This mentioning of future books and other books, such as the Dungeon Master's Guide, is a common theme than runs throughout the book.

Character ability scores are chosen using either a set array, a custom point buy model (with plenty of examples), or rules for random rolling. It's easy enough for a DM to say, use method 1 or 2 (that's what I did). Alignment is cut down to good, evil, lawful good, chaotic evil and unaligned. Players are encouraged not to play evil characters, or risk the wrath of their fellow players. Good advice.

The write up for gods are well done, with some of them unaligned, which was surprising. Many of the gods seem more organic and realistic than in previous editions. Pelor, for example, is the sun god, but is widely worshipped due to his agriculture portfolio. I was able to easily assign the core gods to the real-world Phoenician gods in my home brew campaign.

A character sheet is provided, with numbered lists showing how to fill one out. Very innovative and clever.

The only quibble I have so far is the inclusion of technical terms that are not defined until many chapters later. For example, the dragonborn get a to hit bonus when "bloodied," but bloodied isn't defined for hundreds of pages later. This happens several times, but the alternative of listing everything up front, or starting with combat, might be more confusing.


  1. Just to clarify on your comment about future PHBs adding new roles, I don't think you got that quite right, the actual quote is: "Future volumes of the Player’s Handbook will introduce additional classes for all these roles."

    I certainly hope they don't actually introduce any new roles, as that would seem to undermine the whole system of roles, but they certainly plan to introduce more classes for each existing role.

    On another note, your quibble has merit, but it's hard to avoid that problem unless you focus solely on tutorials and don't care if your book makes a poor reference. Fortunately, the index seems to be better than some others I've seen lately, as you can go right to the index and find what page "bloodied" is defined on.

  2. Thanks for the clarifications.

    Michael and I were discussing the issue of how to introduce terms and it's apparently an ongoing debate. The problem is that if you explain every little thing as you go, you end up with the rules spread throughout the book, which is far more annoying.

  3. Do what we do in contracts which is to highlight the term the first time it is used and then give a page (or paragraph) reference where the term is defined if you haven't already defined it earlier. It is quick and easy.

    I have started reading the first adventure and the player handout goes over a lot of the terms in very concise form. It only misses the blast rules which are in the adventure itself.

  4. If you read my blog you'd already have known about that issue with Keep on the Shadowfell ;-) There's also a couple of others I've come across where they've left out rules that you need to run some of the later encounters.

    I agree though, the quick start rules are very good overall. I'll wait until I have more time to examine the PHB to say for sure, but my impression now is that I'd want new players to read the quick-start rules first, then start reading the PHB. I think that would be the most efficient way to learn the game.

    "The problem is that if you explain every little thing as you go, you end up with the rules spread throughout the book, which is far more annoying."

    Yes, this is what I meant by tutorial vs. reference. That method makes for a better tutorial, but you end up with a lousy reference book. I've seen both methods used, and in the long run the reference book is far more useful.

    The tutorial method is best left to starter kits like the D&D Basic game for 3.0. You learn the game through the starter kit, then get the PHB for reference.