|Shiny! No, seriously. Very difficult to photograh.|
In absolute terms, it's actually ahead of schedule, with "D&D Next" announced only four years into 4E's rocky tenure. On the other hand, as changes in the gaming landscape and commercial pressures have forced the rights-holders into ever more frequent re-thinks, you could say it's pretty much on the curve. Basic to AD&D was an early blip at a mere three years; AD&D 2E arrived twelve years after that; 3E eleven years later; 4E eight years after that; and now 5E lands a mere six years on from its predecessor, with two years of open play-testing built in to that. (That list doesn't include mid-cycle "refreshes" which I don't consider different or exciting enough to qualify as a new edition.)
From a gamer's point of view, these new editions have all brought different things to the table. AD&D 2E was very much a tidy-up of a ragged but beloved set of rules; 3E essentially rejuvenated the whole brand, which was dead in the water after years of mismanagement, bringing a ground-up re-design which combined modern thinking with all the classic D&D tropes; and 4E, the most recent incarnation before today, was then arguably a response to d20's/OGL's market saturation, introducing a radical new mechanical approach but in doing so sundering the community -- and its paying punters -- into multiple camps. Consequently, the 5E Player's Handbook lands for the first time in a market where D&D isn't necessarily the biggest name in town.
Immediate first impressions are that the book is absolutely gorgeous, possibly the best-looking PHB of them all.
It's a dense 300+ pages wrapped in a beautifully tactile cover with stunning art by Tyler Jacobson, which serves as a fitting prelude to the diverse and painterly illustrations to be found within. Inside, the designers have wisely avoided the bland, textbook-like approach of the 4E rule-books and returned to the faux-scroll-page look of 3rd Edition, suggesting Wizards agrees with some of its more vocal fans who maintain that the rule-books should be as much for the coffee table as the gaming table; good-looking and evocative tomes which reward the browsing player or DM. Personally, I found the 4E books more usable than any of their forebears in-game, but on balance, I've come around to the "rule-book as an end unto itself" way of thinking as well. Previews of upcoming releases such as the Monster Manual only reinforce that view.
Inside, we're in familiar territory, with a heart-felt introduction by this edition's lead designer Mike Mearls, followed by the usual fake session transcript for those who don't yet know what proper role-playing is (:smiley face:), and from there into character creation and the rest of the game
|Cleric. Best class evah.|
|Did he fall or was he pushed? Oh, it's a dwarf. Just drunk then.|
|Magic on the right. Rest of game on the left. Hmm.|
|Now those are some great looking prismatic sprays.|
|5E's best-of-breed Great Wheel.|
To close this first look, it's safe to say I'm extremely impressed. The 5E Player's Handbook is not only a great purchase in its own right, but appears to tick all the right boxes from a design stand-point as well. Will it be a huge, unifying success story the way that 3E was and that 4E, unfortunately, wasn't? Only time will tell.
In the next part, I'll take a closer look at the new rules in the context of what has come before, to see how close the designers have come to creating a system that accentuates all the positives of AD&D, 3E, and 4E while eliminating all the negatives.
If you're interested in my personal views on what I want 5E to learn from 3E and 4E, you can check out some previous blog entries here and here.