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Do We Need a New D&D Player's Handbook?

by Mike on 20 November 2023

One Word Summary


Two Sentence Summary

There's no need to discard the millions of existing copies of the 2014 Player's Handbook. A frank conversation with our players can move us past the game's rough spots and keep us playing this fantastic version of the game for the rest of our lives.

Longer Article

If you're wrapped up in the D&D zeitgeist, you know that Wizards of the Coast plans to publish new D&D core books in 2024. It's not 6th edition, they remind us, or even 5.5. The best name we have for these new books is the "2024 Revised D&D Core Books." I can live with that name.

But then I think about how many copies of the 2014 D&D Player's Handbook are out in the world. Over the past ten years, more people played D&D than at any other time in the history of the game. More people started playing D&D in the past five years than all previous players since 1974. There are likely millions of copies of the Player's Handbook out there and the game plays just fine.

Do we really need new ones?

It seems like a tremendous waste to discard millions of fantastic books and replace them with new ones.

But if we stay with the 2014 books, don't we need to fix them?

Not really.

From Nerfs to Open Conversations

I discussed this question at length with fellow lazy DMs over on the Sly Flourish Discord server, available to Patrons of Sly Flourish and shot a YouTube video called [House Rules for the 2014 D&D Player's Handbook]. What do we need to do to "fix" the 2014 D&D Player's Handbook to keep it vibrant and useful for the next ten years (or twenty or fifty or two hundred)?

I came up with a big list of changes for spells I didn't like banishment, heroes' feast, force cage, counterspell, shield, and the various conjure spells. But this list was just a bunch of nerfs. Sure, some of these spells are either overtuned, clunky, or make life for a DM harder, but do they really need to be fixed?

What if, instead, we just talk to our players about why these spells are burdensome and how they disrupt the game. Maybe we can come to an agreement about them.

For example, a common issue with a lot of spells is how effective they are against boss monsters. Banishing one of four giants is one thing. Banishing the big bad evil guy is a whole different story. Legendary resistance helps but only if they have it and typically we don't see monsters with legendary resistance before CR 11 or so.

What if we gave more bosses legendary resistance and also the ability to use legendary resistances to break out of other effects like the chain-stunning of a monk, a force cage, or other effects that are simply too effective on bosses?

And we can just explain this to our players. "Look, a lot of the things you might use to lock down monsters won't work on boss monsters." Every major video game figured this out. You don't pin down bosses in World of Warcraft or Diablo with a single ability. Game designers nerf the minute they prove to be overpowered.

Conjure animals gives a single player up to nine turns in a round if they summon eight wolves each with pack tactics and a knockdown ability. That's 27 possible d20 rolls on a single player's turn. How about we ask our players, for the sake of the enjoyment of the game, to not summon more than one or two creatures.

Those people I discussed this with resonated much better with this approach than just a bunch of direct nerfs. It's addressing the actual problem instead of just the mechanics of a single spell.

The drive to optimize around the mechanics exists in any player who's interested in those mechanics. But maybe if we explain how the combination of those mechanics ends up disrupting the game for the other players and the DM (whose fun is as valid as anyone else's), maybe we can skip the mechanical nerfs and just ask our players not to do it.

Discuss During a Session Zero

If you're going to have this conversation, have it during your session zero, before players start making characters. This way they know what's acceptable and what isn't. A player considering an enchanter might think differently if they know they can't pin down every boss in the game with a well-placed hypnotic pattern. Most importantly, your requests won't come as a surprise in the heat of things. Have a rational conversation before the game begins so no one is surprised.

So Does the 2014 PHB Need to be Fixed?

Maybe we don't need to fix anything in the 2014 D&D Player's Handbook. Every time I suggested fixes to the 2014 Player's Handbook, people told me it works just fine for them. Many groups still run and enjoy even older versions of D&D. Given the sheer number of 2014 Player's Handbooks out there, I expect many groups will continue to play 2014 D&D for a long time.

Above all we shouldn't forget that the important part of this game is getting together with our friends to enjoy some laughs while sharing tales of high adventure. As long as we agree on it, we can have fun with any RPG.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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