Roberta's Reviews > Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook: Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes

Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook by Rob Heinsoo
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Jul 30, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: gaming

Dungeon and Dragons released its 4th edition this summer, and it is a change from the other editions in a number of ways.


Some of the changes from 3.5 to 4.0 include different starting player races and classes, the change from feats and class powers to at-will, encounter, and daily powers, a smaller and streamlined skill list, new magic item system, rituals for more power spells.

The book itself is 330 pages and longer than the Dungeon Master's guide (DMG). In the past, the magic items have been in the DMG, but in 4E the magic items have been placed in the player's handbook.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. The first chapter is the intro for the new player and explains the core mechanic of the system aka the D20 dice, which is rolled for everything but damage.

Chapter two is character creation, which includes generating ability scores, alignment, good and unaligned deities, example personality traits, mannerisms, appearance, background, and basic languages.

Chapter Three lists the character races. Each entry is two pages and gives a short summer that includes racial traits for height and weight, ability scores, languages, and race related powers. Also included are physical qualities about each race, tips for roleplaying the race, sample names, and sample characters with short backgrounds to give the newbie ideas of what to play. The races include: dragonborn (lizard man with breath weapon), dwarf (same as before), eladrin (high elf), elf (wood elf in previous editions), half-elf (same as before), halfling (same as before), human (same as before), and tiefling (a race from the monster's manual that was a +1 ECL in 3.5). Left out of the basic edition were half-orcs and gnomes.

In this edition of D&D no race is penalized with negatives to an attribute. All base races except for humans get a +2 to 2 stats. You might think that playing a human would put you at a disadvantage, but the lack of a second attribute is okay since humans choose whatever attribute they want to put their single +2 in, they get an additional at-will power, +1 to all defenses, an additional feat, and an additional skill.

If you are not looking for a specific niche, I recommend you play a human just for the extras you would get. That being said, each race seems to have better builds than others.

The third chapter discusses character classes. The first section discusses briefly each class, the paragon paths, and epic destinies. Then, they explain each type of power and have a few pages on how to read the power descriptions.

One thing they left out in the powers section was what an entry such as 1 [W] means. They explain this particular shorthand in the weapon section and the combat section but not in the powers section in chapter three which is earlier in the book. For those who are curious an entry that says 1, 2, 3 or higher number followed by a [W] means multiply your weapon's damage by 1, 2, 3, or a higher number, so if you have a weapon with 2d4 damage and the powers does 2 [W] damage then you would do 4d4 damage.

After the explanation of how to read powers they list the classes. Each class has a two page description that includes what traits you get, what proficiencies, bonuses to defense, hit points, healing surges, trained skills, the build options, and the class features. Then you have all of the at-will, encounter, daily, and utility powers as well as paragon path powers listed following the basic description for each class.

The classes included in the base edition are cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, warlock, warlord, and wizard. Left out were barbarians, bards, druids, monks, and sorcerers while warlock and warlord are new editions (Warlock was a base class but not in the main 3.5 players book). My understanding is that some of those classes will be in the Player's Handbook II coming out next year.

Some changes to note from 3.5. Each class has powers based on level. At first level, you get 2 at-will (unless you are human), 1 encounter (not counting racial powers), and 1 daily power. The at-will powers you can use on a standard action, the encounter powers you can use once during a battle and then regain after five minutes of rest, and the daily powers can be used once in a 12 hour period (you must rest 6 hours first). The paragon path is a specialization that you take in your class at 11th level, and epic destiny is what you want to do for your character's end game which decide at 21st level but should conclude when you make 30th level.

Each class has at least two options for what they call builds. As an example, you can build a battle cleric or a devoted cleric. The battle cleric concentrates on fighting first and healing second while the devoted cleric concentrates on healing first and fighting second. The paragon paths allow you to specialize even more so that a cleric can become an angelic avenger (servant for their god), divine oracle (deals in prophecy and omens), a radiant servant (probably aimed at undead but does radiant damage powers), and warpriest (you attack and gain healing abilities).

At the end of this chapter are descriptions of epic destinies of which there are only four options: archmage, deadly trickster, demigod, and eternal seeker. I assume that future supplements will contain more epic destinies as this section of the book is the weakest part in my opinion. Essentially, you choose one of these options and get extra abilities at level 21 and higher.

Also, each class is supposed to fulfill a role in the party. Fighters and paladins are defenders (up front), rangers rogues, and warlocks are strikers (attacking from range or moving quickly to strike and out of the way), clerics and warlords are leaders (attack and support the other players with healing) and wizards are controllers (staying in the middle and hitting opponents with massive area effect powers).

Some strange things to note--paladins are proficient in all armor and shields but not in martial ranged while fighters are proficient in all weapons except for superior melee/ranged weapons (formerly known as exotic weapons proficiencies), but aren't proficient in plate.

Chapter five details skills while chapter six details feats. There are 17 skills in the game now and they can be used trained or untrained by all classes. The feats are not as powerful but you get them every other level and they can modify divine abilities, racial abilities, class abilities, or simply give you a proficiency or skill you can't get because of your class.

To multiclass, you must pick up to 4 feats and you can gain some powers related to a second class, but you must forego a paragon path to get really powerful in the second class.

Chapter seven details equipment, which is broken down by armor, weapons, adventuring gear, and magic items.
There are fewer magic items, so I can only assume they will add more in future additions.

While they don't have treasure tables to roll random magic items anymore, they list each magic item by type alphabetically and have a chart listing each item by level from 1st to 30th level making it easy to select magic items to give a party as treasure.

Chapters eight and nine sum up the rules for adventuring and combat encounters.

The combat chapter is well detailed with tables and pictures to show how combat works.

I like the new combat system. For the GM, you can use your npc characters and the monster manual and easily run combats for a dozen or more creatures much easier than 3.5.

A battle map is extremely helpful for this gaming system, if you don't like using a battle map, I honestly would recommend that you stick with an earlier edition. I don't think this game translates well to combat without a battle map, but I suppose you can use the basic rules as guidelines and toss out a lot of combat items if you don't want to be heavy on combat moves.

The last chapter contains rituals for the game. Some of the move powerful magic abilities are contained in this chapter.

Overall, I think the game is very different from 3.5. It isn't for all tastes; it definitely has taken a page from collectible card games and MMORPGs, but that isn't bad. We essentially have a new, revamped game for a new generation of gamer. I like playing the game and running the game.

Some hard core D&D gamers will hate this version and burn it after reading it (okay they'll probably just sell it on ebay) and stick to the edition they like best, but I, for one, will enjoy playing it even if my gaming group says they'd just as soon play 3.5.

So yes, I like the game, I enjoy running it, I would enjoy playing it, but I would never play it without a battlemap, and I would recommend that everyone have the player's handbook (if you don't ever intend to GM, then you really don't need any other books unless you play a specific campaign setting or want to get the later releases of player's handbooks).

Oh, and Wizards of the Coasts is building online support that you can buy for a low monthly cost, but the website isn't finished yet. Look for D&D Insider to see what features they will be offering in the coming months.

Out of five stars, I would give this supplement a solid four stars.
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