Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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D&D 5E PHB - Through Chapter 2

19 August 2014

I told myself I wouldn’t purchase D&D 5E. I did. The price tag was a bit steep, and I wanted to believe I was done with D&D. It brought me into the hobby, but my interest in it had waned. But I bought the PHB anyway. What I’m about to present here are my thoughts and impressions as I read through the first part of the book. If you want more in-depth analysis, you should read Rob Donoghue’s posts over at his blog. In general, this is a good book and an easy read. I have a hard time reading through RPG books at times, but this one has been fun to read/skim.


I’ve been known to skip prefaces in books, but I’m glad I didn’t skip this one. Mike Mearls kicks things off, and I can’t imagine a better way to do it. His words are evocative, and they speak to the heart of a gamer (or at least this one). By the end of it, I thought, “Yes. THIS. This is what D&D is about.”


The Introduction is good, covering the basics of roleplaying well. It flows well and gives information without being overwhelming. I’m happy to see percentile dice return, even though I can’t quite express why. I have no idea what they’ll be used for, but that’s okay. The inclusion of 1d2 and 1d3 is odd, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. I mean, 1d2 is a coin flip. Why not make it a coin flip? Advantage and disadvantage is amazing, and not just because I love the mechanic in 4E as part of the Avenger’s shtick. It’s intuitive, it doesn’t slow down the flow of things at the table, and it nicely solves a lot of the problems I saw with the +2 bonus from 3e days (deflection, untyped, sacred, profane, ugh). The rounding down section makes sense, until I get to the part about dividing. What in the world will we be dividing? Cover? I’ll have to wait and see, but I’m not feeling good about division. Rounding down is fine, although I seem to recall it saying earlier in the text to round up for some things, although my memory fails me on where it said that. The three pillars is a great breakdown, and I’m sure each group will have its own unique balance of them. I’m somewhat skeptical about how the rules will support each of these, but I’m hopeful.

Chapter 1: Character Creation Overview

You know some of what to expect here, especially if you’ve been looking at the previews coming out, so the best way I know to do this is a bulleted list of my impressions.

  • I know using the word race is a tradition, and species doesn’t sound like a fantasy game, but I’m onboard with the people calling for using something like kith or similar for this.
  • Charisma now intentionally does not mention physical attractiveness. YES! Thank you, Wizards of the Coast! Also, the three characteristics mentioned (confidence, eloquence, and leadership) are excellent and evocative. +1, Favorite, or whatever social media thing the kids are doing now.
  • Yay for no negative stats! Another piece of 4E brought forward. I’m a big fan.
  • Proficiency bonus appears to be a simplification to mechanics from 3/3.5E for things like attack rolls, saving throws, and the like. I approve.
  • Using an iconic character like Bruenor from Forgotten Realms as the example character is a great idea. I notice this carries through in several places with other characters, too. Good stuff.
  • Inclusion of three different ways to roll stats. Default is standard array, which has changed from before.
  • 4d6 drop lowest is second method. (Secret: I like 4d6 drop lowest).
  • Third way is point buy, with 27 points as the standard. Interesting. I’m not sure if the price-per-point has changed, but it seems like it might have. Someone else will have to weigh in.
  • The tiers of play are interesting. Four tiers with differing numbers of levels in them. Different experience point differentials between them.

Chapter 2: Races

This chapter is one page of explanation and introduction to the races, then a write-up for each race. To be fair, I skimmed some of the race entries, so what I mention here won’t be exhaustive (but that’s been true of this whole post).

The concept of a subrace returns in 5E, and I’m glad for it. It provides some interesting differentiation, although I think they missed out terribly by not making different human cultures into subraces. The mechanics would support it. A really big missed opportunity there. Also, they chose to go with naming Forgotten Realms cultures in that section. I know it’s the most popular setting, but they could have branched out and included more (since they reference other campaign settings in the other race write-ups).

Each race has a nice set of what I’ll call aspects. For example, the dwarves have Long Memory, Long Grudges. Each of these is pretty evocative (at least for the ones I read in depth), and they’re a nice way to do things. Kudos to whoever came up with that.

Another thing I wasn’t really pleased with is the inclusion of the Drow as a subrace (and including Drizz’t as the image for the Elf? Not the best option). It’s a bit of a sticking point for me, but it doesn’t make sense to include them as a subrace and say that they’re evil except for one example. Better to leave them out, although I know this would anger people too. You’re not going to be able to please both sides on them, and even though I understand they’re one of the traditional D&D races, it just felt weird to have them here.

Dragonborn return from 4E as a core race, which I’m ambivalent about, honestly. I like the nod to the Dragonlance draconians as dragonborn by another name. Very cool, that.

I understand including the Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes) as a sidebar, but it would have been cool to see them get a full subrace section. We’ve already broken symmetry by having three elven subraces. I’d keep the broken symmetry, but take out the Drow and put in the Svirfneblin.

I love half-elves and always have. That is all.

More goodness and progressive thought from Wizards: the half-orc rape narrative is gone! YES. There’s still the evil-by-nature thing, but I can live with that.

Sigh. The tiefling. I’ll let you in on something that’s not really a secret: I’m not fond of tieflings. Don’t get me wrong; I like them okay in their 4E incarnation (which is what we’ve got here in 5E). I just miss the Planescape tiefling that had you roll a percentile die for what expression of your heritage you got. Think a random table full of tails, wings, and other infernal vestiges. There’s also the point that I love Aasimar, and I wish they got at least as much love and attention as the tiefling. I could say more, but I’d quickly get off track. Ask me on twitter or G+ if you want to know more.

So there you have it, my initial thoughts as I got through the first 2 chapters. I was initially going to include the next chapter, Classes, but I’ve already hit 1200 words.

Let me close with a few thoughts. I’ve heard others say it, but I’ll add my voice to the chorus. This feels like D&D. I like what I’m seeing; I’ll have to find an opportunity to play it, both as a player and a DM. The art is probably the most inclusive I’ve seen in D&D, with brown-skinned folks and women in reasonable armor galore. Also, different body types! Well done.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things I actually thought while reading, but this hits enough of them that you should have a good impression of my opinion. There’s a lot to like and a few things I would have done differently.


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