Dungeon Mastering

DM Tools - CREATE YOUR FREE ACCOUNT       About Us       Contact Us       Advertise                   Subscribe to Dungeon MasteringSubscribe

How to read the D&D4E Player’s Handbook

Written by Expy - Published on August 7, 2008

Don’t read the whole PHB!

The Player’s Handbook is over 300 pages long. 300 pages of rules, charts, numbers, some images, and a teeny bit of fluff. That’s a lot of information to digest.

The essential rules can be trimmed down to less than 40 pages

Here’s how I suggest anyone familiar with D&D should read the PHB:

  1. Read “Three Basic Rules” on page 11 (< 1 page)
  2. Read “Power Types and Usage” on page 54 (< 1 page)
  3. Read “Short Rest + Extended Rest” on page Page 263 (< 1 page)
  4. Read chapter 9 (31 pages)
  5. Read pages 178 and179, from “Skill Training” and stop just before “Knowledge Skills” (< 2 pages)
  6. Read page 192 (1 page)

Now that you know what the rules are you can read the parts of the book that you skipped in whatever order you feel like.

Obviously, there’s nothing like playing a game to learn it. I’d like to hear from people who sat and played 4e already – what did you find yourself scrambling for? During character creation? During combat? During gnome throwing contests?

What do you think?

What do you think is the most efficient way to go through the PHB and get started with 4e?

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

GD Star Rating
How to read the D&D4E Player's Handbook, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating » Leave a comment



26 Responses to “How to read the D&D4E Player’s Handbook”
  1. greywulf says:

    I think you’re right. Just add a pre-gen character sheet with all of the Powers details, and you’re good to go.

    And they say you couldn’t make a one book version of D&D with char gen, rules, monsters and GM information all in one place! The fools! :)

  2. Czar says:

    For me, it was combat. I found myself having to stop and look up/double check some of the new rules and patterns far more often that I would’ve liked to. For The next session, I`ll be making myself a little cheat sheet for easy reference.

  3. Felonius says:

    Most referenced page: PHB 277 (list of conditions)… Without a doubt. The over-all basic mechanics in 4e are at least similar, with a few changes. The list of conditions is almost entirely different, at least in the specifics, and a lot of attacks cause something from that list.

    Everything else in the book is just fluff ;-)

  4. meszichiah says:

    honestly it was a pain reading through the PHB, so I did what any dummy would do and bought the D & D for Dummies 4th edition book. It’s a lot easier to read and has better examples, plus I love the 5th wave cartoons.

  5. Alphadean says:

    I read both the DMG and the Players handbook from cover to cover. I was at firstunderwhelmed by the amount of redundancy in the rules, but then i realized it was the fact that I had absorbed the important parts and filed the rest for later consumption. I still on the fence on my love or hate forthis version of D&D though

  6. storyteller says:

    Thanks for this! God knows I’ve played enough 3.5, but I found myself in the process of drawing up my first 4e character and had no idea where to begin. This was very helpful in giving me some basic places to start in order to learn about the system. Thanks!

  7. Anarkeith says:

    I’ll bet you’re right on identifying the important points in the PHB. That’s why I’m on the fence about buying it. The v 3.0 PHB was very poorly organized, IMO. The primary reason for purchasing the v 3.5 book was that the info was so much better organized. Hopefully the v 4.0 book is better thought out.

  8. Yax says:

    You know what’s weird with the PHB? They have to write it as a rulebook – you kind have to read it to play the game, but then it becomes a reference book. You’ll only read it through once (unless you have lots of free time – gawd I miss high school).

    So on one hand: It make no sense to read about classes, feats, and powers that are combat-centric before you read the chapter on combat – which is at the end of the book

    On the other hand, once you start playing, you’ll be referencing some parts of the book more than other – classes, skills, feats, among others – and they at the beginning of the book. Which makes sense.

  9. Kawa says:

    List of conditions is definitely something to refer to over and over again. As for following combat, there’s a fantastic crib sheet on ENworld here: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?t=228749

    I’ll probably end up having this sheet (with the conditions on the back) at a handy spot on the table for my newbie game later this month.

  10. Yax says:

    Here’s a comment from Heath:

    Hey guys,

    I agree that “new” players/dm’s shouldn’t try to take in the book in it’s entirety on the first run.
    However, I believe that a full comprehension of the rules is needed in order to play the game well. Specifically understanding the pc’s ROLE in the party as well as some of the ideas mentioned in the chapter on adventuring.

    Maybe the worst thing to do is start playing with an incomplete understanding(of the rules) that may lead to assuming that the 4th edition is flawed or some how lacking.

    Lastly, down with pre-gen characters! I can’t stress this enough. One of the best learning methods is character generation and the referencing that should acompany it.

  11. ScottM says:

    Great guide. I agree that if you read through in order, you get distracted by all the shiny in the middle and don’t come away with a solid grasp of the rules. Your structure allows players to figure out the framework.

    I disagree with you about pregens though. We played the first evening of Keep on the Shadowfell with the pregens largely as designed. Before we started the second night, players swapped out some of the powers to try their own mix– which worked a lot better since they’d seen how powers work in play, etc. As the night went on, a lot of powers didn’t work quite the way they’d thought when they made the switch… one PC had reverted back to the pregen completely by the end of the night.

    Pregens are good for a “show don’t tell” (or “don’t read and guess”) method of teaching/learning the system. Try them out for a night, then make your characters.

  12. Ninetail says:

    The list of conditions is the page I’ve referenced most so far.

    I also occasionally flip to a given power, skill, or feat, when I need to know something that my shorthand version on the character sheet doesn’t list.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t mind the layout at first, but as time goes on, it becomes more annoying. I think the biggest factor there is the lack of a real index.

  13. Russ C says:

    I read KOTS starter rules, then dived into the rulebook with gay abandon. As the group Dm I genned all the PCs for the players and made little index cards for their powers, and an overview sheet explaining the role of their character, per player. This little job was maybe an evening’s work, but the result was that we didn’t look up anything. At all. For the entire first session (6 hous’ play).

    I consider this to be a credit to the clear design of the rules and the way the system hangs together. I was a little wierded out by the location of the combat rules, but I fliocked the book before diving in and found the bits I wanted to read in priority- I still haven’t fully read the equipment lists (who cares?) but generally I found them to be pretty clear and concise, and a massive improvment on 3.whatever

  14. Avaril says:

    This guide is a lifesaver (well, probably not quite that dramatic). Any thoughts on the essential parts of the DMG? I know I at least need to read the skills challenge system (or whatever it’s called).

  15. LEONIDOS says:


  16. You forget page 27 sub 7 – Powers.. this part drove me nuts. They hid how many powers you pick at first level in the section for leveling up, not in the POWERS section. *sigh* thanks to some random blogger that pointed out where it actually is after he had the same problem.

    Leonidos: AD&D much simpler?? Are you crazy? do you remember THAC0?? Do you rember arbitrary attribute bonuses that differ depending on which stat, which percentage of 18, and how you were holding your tongue when you rolled the die? AD&D had some good story elements but the rules had me playing Palladium games instead.

  17. Yax says:

    Well, I have to agree that AD&D was many things, but it wasn’t easier to run than 3.x or 4.

  18. sverbridge says:

    This has been a very helpful article for me, and hopefully for my players. I do not have a lot of time to read every section of the book, but being the DM it is important to me to know at least the basic rules before we start up in September. This lets me concentrate on what is important, rule wise, while I work on creating the campaign. (Another set of articles here that have been extremely helpful, but that is for another thread.) After reading this, I can then concentrate on the DMG. Thanks for the guideline.

  19. Greg Hancock says:

    As long as they still use dice.


  20. Avaril says:

    Am I missing something? The table on p29 has this information as well, and is essential reading for anyone making a character.

  21. Lou in Cincy says:

    Nifty post.
    I’ve run two sessions with the new rules so far. First the Kobold Hall stuff in the back of the DMG, and I just started the “Scales of War”, which I am blogging about at http://tipscales.blogspot.com/.

    The first times thru involved a lot of looking crap up. I just picked up the DM Screen, which for $10 is actually not a very bad investment. The list of conditions in brilliant, plus it’s indexed batter than the actual books. And its nice, real heavy stock, it feels like a book cover.

  22. thereisnotry says:

    I agree: the DM screen is a good investment; it has the Conditions clearly laid out all in one section, which is a huge bonus, from what people are saying about always looking up the Conditons. Now if I can only find an easy-to-print (ie, not too “ink-heavy”) version of Power cards. :)

  23. Goatlady says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of your posts, Yax, and I’m loving all the info I’m gaining from them! [And your lovely commenters] You’re like the DM’s Guildmaster! And I’m advancing quickly in knowledge. *flattery ends here* Practice is to come in November. My 3-player+DM group are complete newbies to TTRPG bar the most mature member who played during highschool in the 80’s. He is out of practice in general and unfamiliar with the rules of D&D4E.

    This will be my first time playing any tabletop RPG of any kind! I have been playing online MUDs and MUSHes since 1996 and everyone else has been playing WoW to the point of addiction. So we decided to get away from our computer screens and do a bit of dicerolling for ourselves! Between us we’ve bought the books and shared them around to read. It is my turn with the PHB and your guide to reading it quickly is just enough for me to glance through it as I will be the DM I assumed I wouldn’t need to understand too much about the players rules. However I have already begun writing notes for my campaign and have been flicking back to the PHB more so than the DMG [which I did read cover-to-cover] to ensure there are ways for my players to actually overcome obstacles I want to include. I think everything in the PHB is useful if not only for the players. I plan to read it cover-to-cover before we play.

    I think the D&D4E is intended to explain everything from the perspective that the reader may not know anything at all about the game! Therefore, there’s no fluff for a newb.

  24. Agitum says:

    Need an equivalent post like this for the DMG.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] Make sure your players know the rules. The PHB looks thick but the D&D rules are simple – they can be summed up in about 40 pages. […]

  2. […] Tips on Playing the Game These links are from http://www.dungeonmastering.com/ a blog about how to effectively run a successful Dungeons and Dragons campaign DnD4e Learning Curve, Simple Rules, Complex Game How to read the 4e Player’s Handbook […]

 Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!