Player’s Handbook D&D 5e Review

Wizards of the Coast make the jump into 5e with a more streamlined and accessible version of Dungeons & Dragons that’s particularly great for beginners to the TTRPG

4th edition didn’t go so well for Wizard’s of the Coast. It was a clunky version of D&D that didn’t sit well with long-term fans or new players. Thankfully, we now have 5th edition and Wizards have been taking some notes from the failures of 4e. 5e has been extensively play-tested and we’re pleased to tell you that the result is a far more streamlined version of D&D that’s not only easier to master, but easier for beginners to get to grips with.

With over 55 million players worldwide, it’s fair to say that 5e has had the desired effect for WOTC with a recent surge in popularity. Our review will take you through why this has become the most popular edition of D&D yet.

The Player’s Handbook is essential reading for anyone that wants to play D&D (it’s the only book that’s truly essential) and is absolutely the right place to start for new players. There’s 317 pages in here of how the game works from character building, playing rules, spells and information about the worlds and lore of the D&D universe (focused primarily on the Forgotten Realms as the primary setting of 5e). There’s even some stats for monsters if your group is just starting out and haven’t invested in a monster manual yet. So without further ado, let’s go into a bit more detail about what the Player’s Handbook has to offer:

Character Creation

Although 5e rules have been simplified, that does not make the game simple. There’s still a lot of variety in the way you can build your characters, the abilities they can have and it makes for an incredibly varied game. The Player’s Handbook alone has 159 pages dedicated to character building options (and that doesn’t include extra character options found in books like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything). Don’t worry though, you don’t need to learn 159 pages of rules, instead, the way the Player’s Handbook works is you choose a race, class, background and equipment for your character (with subclasses and feats getting added on further into the game) and only need to know the rules for your individual character.

When you first create a character, you’ll usually start at level 1 so the extra abilities are minimal. As you level up, you’ll gain access to more abilities, spells, feats, subclasses and can even gain levels in other classes by multi-classing. It’s a great system of adding layers of complexity as player’s grow in knowledge of the game and their character.

For the character options in the Player’s Handbook, you’ll find options for the following character builds:


  • Dwarves
  • Elves
  • Halflings
  • Humans
  • Dragonborn
  • Gnomes
  • Half-Elf
  • Half-Orc
  • Tiefling


  • Barbarian
  • Bard
  • Cleric
  • Druid
  • Fighter
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Sorceror
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

On top of this, there are 13 backgrounds to choose from, 40 subclasses, 41 feats, a myriad of equipment and options for multi-classing meaning that no 2 characters are ever the same. We’ve found that character options are generally well balanced in 5e and though some classes/subclasses do perform better than others, the fact that D&D isn’t always a game about combat means that any characters can make up for combat deficiencies with skills in charisma, healing, sleight of hand and other useful ways.

We certainly felt that the character options in the Player’s Handbook are very strong and there’s enough variety to keep you playing for decades without trying out every character option available.

Game Rules

With a game that allows for as varied a set of experiences and approaches as D&D, nailing rules that both encompass the vast array of situations without becoming overburdened is key. You might be fighting monsters, trawling dungeons, disarming traps, buying gear, navigating political intrigue or attempting to cross a dangerous chasm; whatever the situation, the Player’s Handbook has rules to cover the situation (supplement books have come out since to offer rule clarifications and enhanced ways of playing but everything you need is here in the Player’s Handbook). There’s also the all important rule that the DM’s word is final meaning that even if player’s aren’t entirely sure how a situation should be played out, that the DM can come up with a method that is fair and appropriate.

While there’s a lot to learn for a beginner, for such a complex set of rules, they are impressively streamlined in 5e. New players will also find that more experienced players can easily guide them through a lot of what they want to do, but there’s a definite advantage to learning the rules and the game system so you can take full advantage of what’s available.

It translates into a system that balances very nicely, is easier to learn, and speeds up things like combat and other actions players and DMs might be making.


Magic plays a huge role in the fantasy settings of D&D and the Player’s Handbook delivers a vast array of spells that can be used by your spellcasters when required. There’s a whopping 363 spells in here which is certainly overwhelming. These cover of all classes in the Player’s Handbook and go up to 9 levels worth of spells.

It’s definitely an impressive array though there’s an arguement here for some kind of simplification as learning 10-20 spells and their rules can be daunting, especially when there’s minor rules to remember and adhere to like casting times, whether it requires verbally casting, whether it can be used as a reaction or a bonus action, its range, damage, the save required and so forth. It means that rules often need to be checked, especially for more rarely cast spells.

Fortunately, the description of spells tends to be brief, but perhaps a little more streamlining might have been beneficial here, for instance, more easy displaying of what type of action each spell requires, merging certain spells into the same spell (like hold person and hold monster), having similar conditions for spells such as the same types of saving throws for the same types of spells.

Having said that, playing spellcasters is enormously good fun in 5e and with so much variety, you can add a great amount of flavour to your characters and cast the spells that suit the circumstances and your style of play whether it be healing, summoning, buffing or all out aggression, there’s definitely plenty of spells for you to hand your character.


The Player’s Handbook appendices contain some useful bits and pieces that will help you as you play D&D. All importantly, you have a copiable character sheet, stats for monsters (though we recommend purchasing the Monster Manual if you’re a DM and want more than a few enemy options to throw against your players) and some information about the Gods of the Forgotten Realms and the planes of existence.

It’s a small section that’s useful and essentially ensures that D&D can be played without purchasing any other resource (not everyone wants to dive straight in and purchase a DM’s Guide and a Monster Manual to start with). It’s a consumer-friendly approach and we certainly support.


It’s fair to say that the Player’s Handbook is well worth your money if you have any interest in tabletop role-playing games. It’s not only a hugely simplified version of D&D in the form of 5e, but it’s also got a huge array of character options that will keep you entertained for years of gameplay.

We feel that the book is strong all the way through and though we do feel that spells could be a little more streamlined than they are (perhaps with better reference guides or something similar), the reality is that playing D&D has never been so accessible and represents a huge step up for the franchise. We’d also say that the Player’s Handbook is perhaps the one essential purchase for those wanting to get involved in D&D.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.

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