D&D 5E Releases: The Big Three

The three big releases at the end of the year are, of course, the three core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. They’re not all coming out at once, but instead are being released in a staggered format. This is not particularly surprising given their cost! At US$49.95 each, I expect a number of cash-strapped players will be going to discount sites like Amazon to pick them up.

August 19th 2014 – Player’s Handbook

The Player’s Handbook is the essential reference for every Dungeons & Dragons roleplayer. It contains rules for character creation and advancement, backgrounds and skills, exploration and combat, equipment, spells, and much more.

Use this book to create exciting characters from among the most iconic D&D races and classes.

Dungeons & Dragons immerses you in a world of adventure. Explore ancient ruins and deadly dungeons. Battle monsters while searching for legendary treasures. Gain experience and power as you trek across uncharted lands with your companions.

The world needs heroes. Will you answer the call?

320 pages, hardcover, US$49.95

At 320 pages, the 5th edition Player’s Handbook is as big as the 3E, 3.5E and 4E handbooks, and about two-and-a-half times the size of the original AD&D 1E rulebook. Of course, one big difference between the 1E and 3E-5E presentations is that the later ones actually contain the major game rules. AD&D’s PHB contained the character classes, races, equipment and spells, and little else besides. All the details of how combat worked were in the DMG.

2E changed that so the combat details were in the PHB (with the exception of the monster attack tables), and that’s how it has worked ever since. The PHB gives all the core rules of the game, with the DMG giving the information the Dungeon Master needs to create adventures.

It’s worth noting one thing that is missing from this book: Magic Items. They were in the 4E version of the tome, but 5E is putting them back in the DMG. That opens up quite a bit of space.

What is that space going to be used for? Although 5E won’t be using 4E’s “Character Power” system (where basically every class had “spells” that took up a lot of space in the book), 5E really looks like having a lot of customisation options for the players which are class-based. And there will be a spell section as well, which won’t be taking up space in the middle of the classes chapter! I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if each class gets 4 or so pages detailing the different paths and specialisations they can take.

One other thing: It seems pretty likely that most of the dials for adjusting how 5E gets played won’t be in this book.

September 30th, 2014 – Monster Manual

The Monster Manual presents a horde of classic Dungeons & Dragons creatures, including dragons, giants, mind flayers, and beholders—a monstrous feast for Dungeon Masters ready to challenge their players and populate their adventures.

The monsters contained herein are culled from the D&D game’s illustrious history, with easy-to-use game statistics and thrilling stories to feed your imagination.

320 pages, hardcover, US$49.95

We tend to think of the rulebooks in the order “Player’s Handbook”, “Dungeon Master’s Guide” and “Monster Manual”. For 2E through 4E, that was pretty much the order (although 4E had simultaneous releases of the books). However, back in 1977, it was the Monster Manual that got released first.

Why the Monster Manual? The major reason was that D&D was already a game at that point, albeit one where the rules had become scattered over several booklets and magazines. Gary Gygax was busy running TSR at the same time as trying to put the notes together for AD&D, and the Monster Manual proved the easiest to create, mainly because there wasn’t a lot of cross-referencing going on. It’s very easy to update one monster without having to worry about anything else. (Mind you, there are a few oddities as a result, like no monster having an AC of 10; original D&D had armourless corresponding to AC 9, but Advanced D&D had armourless corresponding to AC 10. It’s quite possible that the idea of AC 10 hadn’t been thought of when the Monster Manual was in production. And the Monster Manual uses a 5-point alignment scale).

As a result, the Monster Manual was quite able to be picked up and used by existing D&D campaigns, which was just as well – it would be two years before the rest of the system came out!

In 2014, we’re in a different situation. The 5E rules are brand new, and although they hearken back to earlier editions of the rules, they are very much their own beast in terms of balance and where the numbers lie. Players will get access to creating their characters in August in addition to having the major rules for how the game works. The need for monsters is far greater than that of magic items and DMing advice. Thus, the DMG is going to be the third release rather than the second of the newest system.

I do wonder how much the price tag affected the issue as well. Paying US$150 in one hit for the new game is an awful lot of money – spreading it over several months makes it a lot easier to buy into.

The biggest unanswered question about the Monster Manual is how much space will be given to each monster? I’m not particularly fond of the “one page per monster” format that 2E’s Monstrous Compendium and later books used, as I feel it is unnecessarily wasteful in many cases. If you’ve got a monster that needs a longer description, then that’s fine. Forcing every monster to have longer descriptions? That leads to a lot of boring exposition. (And when the designer doesn’t write stuff? Lots of white space). I think I can say with certainty that the Monster Manual will have every key D&D monsters – no splitting them up like 4E did!

November 18th, 2014 – Dungeon Master’s Guide

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides the inspiration and the guidance you need to spark your imagination and create worlds of adventure for your players to explore and enjoy.

Inside you’ll find world-building tools, tips and tricks for creating memorable dungeons and adventures, optional game rules, hundreds of classic D&D magic items, and much more!

320 pages, hardcover, US$49.95

There are thirteen weeks between the release of the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. That’s a quarter of the year. It feels like a terribly long time to wait at present – the longest time between core rulebook releases since AD&D 1E (which had the rulebooks coming out a year apart!)

Of the core books, the DMG’s contents are the greatest mystery. Admittedly, the magic items and dungeon-building tools are pretty much easy to predict. However, what is going to interest me and a lot of other players the most are the optional game rules. How many of them will be dials to change how the game plays?

The fact is that Dungeons & Dragons holds a multitude of games. Its original release was extremely vague in how the rules worked, and so people were forced to come up with their own systems. Then came AD&D, which tried to standardise things a bit, but then came along the Moldvay rules, which offered a different take and a quite different tone. The adventures produced varied from Sword & Sorcery homages to funhouse dungeons to serious adventures in a “real” setting. 2E brought a host of character customisation options and settings, and 3E pushed character customisation even more. In 4E, the designers tried a different take on balance, which led to adventures having to be written in a different way to be good. Trying to pin down the “real D&D” is something of a fool’s game: yes, there are unifying features, but the end results can be wildly different – even for two groups ostensibly using the same system!

During the playtest of D&D Next, the designers had a goal of providing a system that allowed play in a number of different styles. It seems very likely that a lot of those settings will be in the DMG, although I expect there will be some in the DMG (primarily simpler and more complicated takes on classes). The primary one that I’ve seen people talking about expecting is the tactical combat system, which provides more detailed rules for grid- and miniature-based play than we’ve seen so far in the playtest. What else might be in there? I don’t know.

Of course, part of the reason I don’t know is because I’m generally quite happy playing any version of D&D that is put in front of me. I began D&D back in the AD&D days, and we rarely used miniatures. I only got into the habit of using miniatures once D&D 3E came along, and especially after the release of the D&D Miniatures line, which finally allowed me the chance of acquiring a lot of inexpensive miniatures. My weekly AD&D campaign plays without miniatures, my fortnightly 4E campaign plays with miniatures…

These are the three core releases of the new D&D line. I’m hopeful that they’ll be enjoyable to play, especially as I’ve enjoyed my playtest experiences. However, they’re not everything that is being released…

(Next post: Adventures and Miniatures)

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