Previously, we looked at chapters 1-6 which was all about character creation. Today, we’re looking at the remainder of the book, parts two and three as well as the appendices. Part two covers adventuring, part three covers spell casting, and the appendices cover everything from status effects to the planes of existence.
Every player’s handbook has a section on adventuring, covering skill checks, rest, combat, healing, etc. This edition is no different. A friend of mine had noticed that editions prior to third edition D&D had some mention of combat around page 100. Sadly, it is not so with this book (sorry, Dalvor!). Instead, we kick off with Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores.
In the past, it was a fairly simple task. Abilities provided ability bonuses and some additional benefits (more spells, languages, skills, etc.) and from third edition onward, saving throw bonuses. Fifth Edition does away with the familiar Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves. Instead, players make ability checks. For a lot of things. We’ll get to this in time because we’ve got to cover some of the newer features of our d20 resolution system: advantage, disadvantage, and proficiency bonuses.
Advantage and disadvantage are the new kids on the block. They replace the multitude of bonuses and penalties for things such as stealth, flanking, charging, etc. All those little pluses and minuses from the Third and Fourth editions of D&D are no more. Instead, if you have the upper hand in a situation, you have advantage. If you have the short end of the stick, you have disadvantage. What does this mean? Well, if you have advantage, you roll 2d20 and choose the higher result. If you have disadvantage, you roll 2d20 and choose the lower result. That’s it. If you have both, they cancel each other out. If you have multiple instances of each, you only get it once. Many times, you can get advantage or disadvantage in the way you describe your character’s actions in game. “I suddenly turn around and charge the orc, screaming like a banshee!” The DM may just give you advantage for startling the orc. But if you have to make an ability check to do it and fail, then disadvantage will be your mistress for the evening.
Advantage and disadvantage are not the only new, never before seen additions to D&D (aside from house rules), the proficiency bonus is also something new. This is a character level-based bonus that grants a bonus to ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls. It’s pretty straightforward and gives all the classes a level playing field. It’s a static bonus that all characters, NPCs, and monsters receive (NPCs and monsters have it added to their stat blocks). While the bonus is rather static, its value does change over the course of a character’s career, increasing as the character’s level does. The bonus isn’t flatly added to everything, the character must have proficiency with the check, weapon, or tool in question. The majority of checks that use this bonus are skill and weapon attacks.
Skills are now a function of ability checks and no longer have a full set of rules unto themselves. There is no chapter dedicated to skills, instead they are merely footnotes under their governing ability. To use a skill, you make an ability check which has been the case since ranked skills were introduced to D&D. Each skill is tied to an ability and it gains the ability bonus at a minimum. The proficiency bonus is added only if the character has proficiency in the particular skill.
This is an organizational pitfall of the book and a disappointment for me, personally. I attempted to create a rogue. One of my favorite classes. While looking for the info for picking locks, I couldn’t find it. No real mention of it under the class, no real mention of it anywhere. I tried finding it in the index. Nothing. Where is it? Under a subheading, a bullet, under Dexterity: “Your DM might have you roll a dexterity check under these circumstances”. No rules, no DCs, no anything! How tough would it be to pick a particular lock? How tough is it to hide in plain sight during dusk? Nothing. Nada. I expect this missing material will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide due out in December, along with other missing information from the PHB.
In any case, the rest of the chapter goes over the abilities and what they might govern in terms of skills or other situations. There are a few sidebars describing stealth actions, finding hidden objects, and then finally a short section about saving throws. Mentioning that the DC for the saves is determined by the DM.
Next we have a chapter about adventuring that covers standard concepts such as time, movement, travel speed, resting, social interactions, and activities during downtime. The focus is on role-playing and is very short, going over just enough for the player to know what to do for the different situations.
Combat is next and it’s taken a turn to Mind’s Eye Theater once again. Gone are the grids and miniatures as we return to second edition with everyone describing what they want to do without having to show each five-foot step on a grid. This style of combat is still available, but it’s listed as optional in a sidebar. No real rules exist for those who were interested in the third and fourth edition’s reliance on a large map and tactical movement. The chapter covers initiative, the actions you have available on your turn (one action, one move, possible bonus action(s), and a reaction), damage, attack rolls, healing, and mounted combat. Initiative has been reduced to a dexterity check that nobody is proficient in (characters do not gain their proficiency bonus to initiative rolls). The majority is a breakdown of the different actions you can take such as the disengage action which lets you use your action (normally saved for attacking) to move away from a hostile creature without provoking an attack. Some class features grant bonus actions in addition to the main action. Movement has been revamped to allow a character to split movement, moving then taking an action then moving again. As in third and fourth editions, characters also have a reaction that they can use to good effect such as attacking an enemy or activating a class ability.
No edition of D&D would be complete if it did not have a chapter on spellcasting. The rules are still pretty straightforward. As with previous editions, each spellcasting class has a certain number of spell slots and known spells. The character must memorize, or prepare, the spells they wish to cast for the day. And each class has a list of cantrips the character can use at will, at any time, without having to memorize anything. Following the spellcasting rules is an index of spells for each class by level. The spell descriptions are listed in alphabetical order. The index could have used a good dose of “spell x is on page y”, but there is only a list for the spells (by class, and level) and the descriptions of those spells. Except for fourth edition, most other versions of D&D did this.
The appendices list everything from status effects (blinded, helpless, etc), to the gods and planes of existence. There is a special appendix, D, which lists many animal and familiar stats for those who can have animal companions and/or wizard’s familiars. The planes of existence are somewhat out of place (preferrably in the DMG, not the PHB) but overall there is some good info to be had here.
Lastly, there’s the index and character sheet. The index is an exercise in futility when attempting to search for something (pick licks/find traps) and seems to have been automatically created with Microsoft Word rather than having any form of intelligent thought put into it’s construction. Attempting to find certain, important features such as pick lock or find traps, have pointers to Dexterity or don’t exist at all.
Overall, my experience with the PHB has been positive beyond expectations. It suffers from a severe lack of organization but those with past experience in D&D shouldn’t have any issues. New players to the game, however, will be pretty confused or they will not know certain things exist because the information in this book is presented poorly.
I have heard that the book was pretty, which is true. However, that “beauty” has been used as an argument for the expense of the book. The PHB, DMG, and Monster Manuals are easily close to double their previous incarnations. But I feel the books, for the content they have, are worth it. Then again, I’m a long-time D&D player and I want copies of all the books. I would suggest that anyone who wants to get into D&D go out and buy copies of the PHB at least so that you can play the game. If someone wants to run the game, ensure they’ve got experience with previous editions of D&D.