DnD 5e Player’s Handbook – Summary and Guide for New Players

Last Updated on January 22, 2023

The Dungeons & Dragons 5e Player’s Handbook contains everything you need to start playing D&D from player races, classes, and subclasses to hundreds of spells and rules for adventuring in the D&D multiverse. Out of all the D&D 5e sourcebooks, this is the most essential one for players. 

Key Takeaways

The Player’s Handbook contains everything a D&D 5e player needs to create a character, go on adventures, and level up from zero to hero to demigod(dess), including… 

  • Rules for creating characters including nine playable races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Tiefling) and 12 adventuring classes (Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard). 
  • Rules for playing the game including using your ability scores, adventuring, and combat. 
  • Rules for magic and spellcasting including spells for Wizards and Clerics. 

Do I Need a Copy of the DnD 5e Player’s Handbook? 

Whether you’re picking up a physical book or digital copy through DnDBeyond, every player (new or old) should have a copy of the Player’s Handbook. Sure, you can find the basic rules available for free online, but if you want to get to grips with the full extent of the options that 5e has to offer, there’s no substitute. 

(As an aside, D&D 5e’s physical and digital products may become bundled together in the near future now that Wizards of the Coast owns DnDBeyond.)

What’s in the DnD 5e Player’s Handbook? 

The Player’s Handbook is broken up into three major sections with an introduction and several appendices in front and in the back. 

The first major section deals with creating a character and understanding your character sheet, the second deals with adventuring from how to navigate a dungeon and kill time between adventures to the rules for combat, and the final third of the book deals with magic including how it works, the different elements of a spell, and a list of hundreds of spells organized by the classes that can cast them. 

Bruenor Battlehammer is an example of a Dwarven Fighter created step-by-step in Chapter One of the Player’s Handbook.
  • Chapter One: Creating a character step by step including how to generate Ability Scores and how to level up beyond 1st level. 
  • Chapter Two: Races including Ability Score modifiers and lore surrounding each of the nine playable races and their place within the Forgotten Realms. 
  • Chapter Three: Classes including a description of each class, with several subclasses available to further specialize your character. 
  • Chapter Four: Personality and Backgrounds including things like tool proficiencies, additional languages, alignment, traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws.  
  • Chapter Five: Equipment including starting equipment, wealth, weapons, armor, mounts, services, hirelings, and anything else an adventurer can rent, own, or steal of a nonmagical nature (for magic items and treasure, you need to get the Dungeon Master’s Guide). 
  • Chapter Six: Customization Options including how to multiclass your characters (taking levels in more than one class to create a mixture of different abilities) and feats
  • Chapter Seven: Using Ability Scores including advantage and disadvantage, how to roll checks and saving throws, skills and what they do, proficiency bonuses, and more. This is easily the most useful chapter in the whole book in terms of value for pages read. Every player and DM should read it at least once and then bookmark it. 
  • Chapter Eight: Adventuring including rules for tracking time and movement as well as tracking rations and light and what to do in between adventures. 
  • Chapter Nine: Combat including rules for initiative, attack rolls, damage type, death saving throws, and dying. 
  • Chapter Ten: Spellcasting including an explanation of the different elements of a spell (casting time, components, area of effect, school of magic, etc.) and different kinds of spellcasting. 
  • Chapter Eleven: Spells including the lists of spells available to each spellcasting class and descriptions for each of these spells in alphabetical order. (Personally, this is by far the least useful part of the physical book, and as long as you have a list of the different spells available to you, you should be using the internet to look up what they do; it’s much quicker, and your fellow players will thank you for that). 

In addition to these sections, there’s an introduction, which (on top of covering some basic concepts like dice naming conventions and general guidelines like “specific rules beat general ones” and “round numbers down”) does a great job of explaining the intended tone (sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventures) of D&D, the multiverse containing its many worlds, and the core gameplay loop of “DM describes the scene, players gather information and act, dice are rolled, the DM narrates the results, repeat.” 

I think a lot of new players (especially those who learn the game exclusively through online rules reference documents or from let’s play shows) can end up missing some of the really important lessons in this preamble to the book. 

Nuggets of Wisdom From the Player’s Handbook Introduction 

  • “The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery.” A perfect and succinct statement of the intended genre and playstyle of D&D 5e
  • “Anything is possible, but the dice make some outcomes more probable than others.”
  • “There’s no winning and losing in the Dungeons & Dragons game… The group might fail to complete an adventure successfully, but if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win.”

At the end of the book, there are five Appendixes covering the different Conditions (like restrained, stunned, blinded, and prone), different deities of the Multiverse, the different Planes of Existence and how they relate to one another, and stat blocks for some of the more common creatures and monsters.

Finally, Appendix E contains a list of inspirational books, including the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett, the Dying Earth by Jack Vance, and the Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard (to name a few of my favorites) to help you get to grips with the tone and influences of D&D, dating all the way back to the first editions of the game

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