When it comes to games, there’s something (for me) really appealing about a hefty rulebook. While some people may like reading through mysteries in the bath or curling up on the sofa with a fast-paced thriller, I can often be found working my way through a glossy rulebook, working out how to play my latest purchases. Most games can be explained in a few scant pages, and there’s something to be said for a well written document with decent layout, perhaps a few pictures to demonstrate some areas or actions. When I think of good examples of rulebookery, my mind immediately goes to some of Fantasy Flight’s releases. They are beautifully designed, nicely put together and – above all – easy to follow (most of the time), even if they can be a bit long. Horus Heresy, I’m looking at you and your nearly 50-pages!
But what about when the rulebook is the game? Think about Dungeons & Dragons, where even reading through the Player’s Handbook requires a fair chunk of your time. It’s also advised that you have a look through the Monster Manual, and if you feel like being the DM of an adventure you’ve got the DM’s Guide as well. Three volumes, all of which are pretty hefty. It can be somewhat daunting especially if you’re new to the Fourth Edition, or even a brand new D&D player in general. That, thankfully, is where the newly released Player’s Strategy Guide comes in.
While the core books are admittedly rather heavy going, the PSG is a lighter introduction to the world of D&D. Compiled by Andy Collins and Eytan Bernstein, it’ll hold your hand as you take your first faltering steps into adventuring, giving a wide range of advice for new players. The book is comes in at around 160 pages – a much easier proposition to work through – and is split into four sections, each designed to help you come up with a more well-rounded character.
After a brief introduction, the first (and main) part of the book discusses how you should be going about building your character. Taking up half the pages – because, after all, coming up with your avatar in the world of D&D is quite a big thing – it’s easy to follow, very much pushing the idea of being comfortable with what you create. Everything from class and race selection to the powers that will be most beneficial (or detrimental!) for you is covered. Only one thing annoyed me a little: the personality-test style sections – the whole “oh, you answered this way, so you should really play this kind of character” thing felt out of place. D&D is supposed to be about escapism, so why would you want to play a character who is exactly the same as you? We want to slay foul goblins and eviscerate the undead, not pretend to be a tax inspector from a quiet town! Thankfully you can ignore this advice and read up on more useful stuff – I found the pages on building characters that make the best healers or can stack damage much more informative.
Building a decent party is covered in the next section – basically saying how you should balance your group to cover all bases and giving some examples of groups both good and bad. Part three looks at strategy and tactics, looking at how you can play aggressively or defensively and what the different roles should be responsible for. There’s also a useful Troubleshooting section should your combat be taking too long or your ranged attacks keep missing. Actually playing D&D is the focus of the final part of the book, which can be condensed into “have fun but don’t be an idiot” – useful advice in anything, really. To be honest, while much of the advice in the PSG is common sense, new players will find it invaluable to help them get into the game without being blasted with too much information.
Something I really liked about the Player’s Strategy Guide were the “Tell Us About Your Character” boxouts – experienced players, from game designers to writers were asked to talk about one of their favourites from their D&D career. It’s nice to see people talk about the reasoning behind their characters, and you can really tell that these are folk who truly love the game and embrace it. Another mention must go to the artwork throughout the book – it’s got a more cartoony feel (the cover really stands out, drawn by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik who is actually an avid player himself) as various comics artists have been asked to contribute instead of the usual fantasy artists you associate with the D&D title. I think it makes it more accessible to newbies too – reading the PSG is certainly not as scary as the regular core books, although you’ll have to have them to hand when you start your adventuring in earnest.
All in all, the Player’s Strategy Guide is far from an essential purchase for experienced members of the community, but someone who has no experience in Dungeons & Dragons will certainly find it useful. It takes you step-by-step through everything you need to do to create and develop your first characters, and while it can come across as a little too mollycoddling in parts, even those who have been into D&D for longer will find it an interesting read.
The Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Strategy Guide is written by Andy Collins and Eytan Bernstein and published by Wizards of the Coast. It’s currently available for around £16 on Amazon. Also, if you’ve not listened to them, the WotC Podcasts are really good, especially the Penny Arcade / PVP / Wil Wheaton adventure episodes – go listen!