5e PHB: Appendix and Layout

The appendices of the PHB are pretty straightforward, but useful. The section on conditions is nice – I liked that method of standardizing conditions in 4e very much, so it’s good to see it get use. It is also one of the only places in the ebook to use line art, but it does so to wonderful effect. These pages have some of my favorite art in the game, and they sand out nicely in contrast with the rest of the art.

The Gods of the Multiverse section is primarily there to give clerics some choices, and I support that, but it also does a few interesting things.

  • It suggests that other domains – at the very least, death – will be in the DMG
  • By including the ‘real world’ pantheons, they gave some tools to GMs looking to build their own campaign worlds. It’s not a LOT of support, but the absence of anything but setting gods would have felt a little flat.
  • Dragonlance gets a place of prominence along with the big three settings, and I’d be very surprised if that is not deeply meaningful. Absence of Mina from the list of Dragonlance gods may also suggest a rollback (which would rock)
  • One very interesting and notable absence: The Raven Queen. And, in fact, Nerull is back among the Greyhawk gods as the god of death (Nerull being the god whose mantle she stole). On one hand, this is a shame, as this was one of the few pieces of really vibrant color in 4e, but on the other hand, it’s cool to consider that it might actually happen, perhaps in a mega-adventure akin to the Planescape classic Dead Gods[1]

I am not sure what I think about the Planes of Existence section. I am a die hard Planescape fan, and I genuinely can’t tell if the overall configuration has changed or if it’s the same and it was just explained poorly. I’m sympathetic – the idea that the inner and outer planes don’t actually overlap is a bit of a brain bender, and I think that’s still the case, but the big diagram makes me nervous. That said, the explicit mention of Sigil and the Gate Towns is pretty welcome to my eyes.

Appendix D gives us low level monsters, a lot of which are a useful reference fro the druid’s shapeshifting abilities. They look neat, but largely very basic, and don’t offer a lot of insight into challenge construction, or what a given CR actually means.

Appendix E, Inspirational reading, may be my favorite thing in the book. As someone who was absolutely swept away by the list in the original books, this is a welcome sight, and nicely updated for the modern day. It’s actually a wonderful mix of past an present, and knowing it’s there makes me smile.

The index is competent, though the font is tiny. I get the needs of space, but reading it makes me feel old. That’s followed by some character sheet blanks for copying, and that’s the book.

Now that I’ve reached the end, let me talk a little bit about the book itself. I talked a lot about the exterior, and the interior deserves similar treatment.

  • Layout-wise the book feels closest to a 3e book to me, albeit with 4e influences in terms of the style, color and presentation of art. This is a great choice. As much as I like calling back to older editions in the design, I don’t want to go that far back in the layout.
  • As I noted with the cover, there’s a tendency towards painted art, which I really like the feel of. Contrast the spellcasting on page 205 (illustrator-y) with page 206 (a painting). This is no sleight to Wayne Reynold’s style. It’s fantastic, but it has become synonymous with Pathfinder, so it’s good that D&D looks different.
  • I don’t have the keen eye for fonts that some do. These look like the 4e fonts (myriad and minion, maybe?) and if they’re not, they’re close.
  • The page numbers are kind of light, as is the footer text tellign you what chapter you’re in. Mild annoyance.
  • The lower right hand corner of the pages is color coded to distinguish the four sections (chargen, rules, magic and appendix) and it bleeds to the page edge, so you can easily flip to a section. This would be awesome, but the light footer makes the next step in navigation awkward.
  • A subtle touch – table background colors vary based on the section you’re in.
  • There are some very nice touches slipped in, like each class having a unique icon.
  • Every layout person who I’ve shown the book to has wanted to see their indesign files. Their attention to detail in the layout suggests they either have some super ninja tricks, or they took a lot of time on it. Either way, it’s just very well done.
  • I am amused that it ends with a badger.
  • The diversity in the art is pretty impressive, but importantly, it’s also awesome. The non-white-dude illustrations are also really great illustrations, and that’s super important.
  • There are a handful of art pieces that fall flat (one of the elves has a freaky-ass face) but the majority range from good to great, with a handful of wow.
  • The raciest picture in the book is probably the druid on page 67. That’s good to see.

  1. Only good, I hope. That may sound snarky, and it is, a little. Dead Gods had problems. But more, adventures that revolve around an NPC doing something (in this case, becoming the Raven Queen) tend to be the very worst kind. To this day, I still own no Iron Kingdoms stuff – despite the fact that I know it’s great – because the Witchfire trilogy of adventures was so bad.  ↩

9 thoughts on “5e PHB: Appendix and Layout

  1. Douglas Bailey

    I don’t have a keen eye for fonts, either, but I can read the Acrobat fonts panel after opening the Basic Rules PDFs (which use the same typefaces as the PHB). 🙂

    The body text is set in Bookmania (a variant of Bookman); sidebars and tables are set in Scala Sans (which served the same functions in the 3e/3.5 books), and the part, chapter, and section/sub-section headers are set in Mrs Eaves (a variant of Baskerville).

    I agree that the layout is really well done, and that the book is very very readable. The colours and parchment background do remind me of 3e, as you say, but it’s not as “busy”: other than the art, there are very few page elements intruding on the text, which to me is actually more reminiscent of 2e, 1e, and Moldvay Basic.

  2. Staffan Johansson

    I think adventures that are driven by NPC actions can be interesting, but it has to be done correctly.

    An adventure where the PCs escort a mighty NPC to some place where said NPC fights another NPC, perhaps while the PCs fight some mooks… yeah, that’s bad.

    But the right way to do it is the finale of the Dark Sun adventure Freedom! (the exclamation mark is part of the adventure’s name). It is set in parallel with the novel The Verdant Passage, in which King Kalak of Tyr is going to drain the life of the whole city (who are all conveniently forced to attend gladiatorial games at the inauguration of the ziggurat he’s had built over the last century) in order to ascend to full dragonhood (which in mechanical terms means going from a level 21 wizard/psion with some fairly weak physical buffs, to a level 30 wizard/psion with full dragon-level strength). His plan is, of course, foiled by the heroes of the novel.

    Now, having the PCs follow the heroes of the novel around would be awful. But that’s not how the adventure works. It starts with the PCs being forced into slavery and set to work on the ziggurat. There are several encounters the DM can choose from in this stage, with some tips for the DM about which encounters play to which characters’ strengths, and giving the PCs the chance to bond with some (regular-strength) NPCs and perhaps make enemies of others. Many of these are also connected to the ways in which the PCs could find their ways into slavery, and many offer interesting leads for future adventures.

    Anyway, once the ziggurat is finished, the PCs are of course forced to attend the games along with everyone else… at which point the adventure turns into what I can only call a disaster movie. The book’s plot essentially forms the background against which the PCs are doing heroic deeds, trying to keep people (or at least themselves) safe from other slaves or citizens, trying to get out of the arena, and stuff like that.

  3. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

    “adventures that revolve around an NPC doing something (in this case, becoming the Raven Queen) tend to be the very worst kind. ”

    Small point in an excellent post–but one that needs to be said more often, Rob.

  4. Terry O'Carroll

    The Walking Mind wrote: “[The monsters] look neat, but largely very basic, and don’t offer a lot of insight into challenge construction, or what a given CR actually means.”

    I have seen this point raised by others as well, and I don’t think this is a fair criticism. All of the critters here are needed for player reference: horses, mules, dogs can be purchased. Bears etc. for druid effects and Ranger animal companions. Skeletons & zombies can be created by Animate Dead. Quasit, pseudodragon, frog, cat etc etc are for familiars.

    If you really need deep information on monsters, the Monster Manual will have it.

  5. Thomas

    > Every layout person who I’ve shown the book to has wanted to see their indesign files.

    I always wish I could see them, because each time I see someone else’s .indd files, I learn something new. With 5e’s layout, I really would like to see how they did their sidebars, specifically how the effect was created with the lines and ornamentation on just two sides of what I’m assuming is a text frame. It’s not something that is easily created with the basic options in the object styles dialog.

  6. Envyus

    Nerull being replaced by the Raven Queen never happened in Grey Hawk only in the 4e Points of Light setting. Which was a mix and match of gods.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Fair point, and I think my fondness for Planescape shows in my not thinking about it that way. I tend to think of the gods as multi-setting, even though they’re not, really.

  7. Jasus

    I’m not a fan of the Tieflings-with-tails either. It doesn’t make sense that they have them, and Dragonborn don’t. IMC Dragonborn look more . well, drcianaon . complete with lizard-like tails, and tieflings are either taillless or have thin prehensile classic devil pointy tails. It’s only a small thing, but it just fits better in our worldview.For inspiration how to play Tieflings, I recommend (of all things) listening to Genesis’ A Trick of the Tail () – a feared yet misunderstood race of beings.


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