WotC Reveals Revamped D&D Core Rulebooks

AKA: I Watched A Week Of WotC Presentations So You Don’t Have To

Jun 30, 2024
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Now that I have your attention: For the last week, Wizards of the Coast has been showing off their latest undertaking, which has been called One D&D. However, One D&D refers to the new books, D&D Beyond, and the upcoming D&D Digital VTT, which means this article will be discussing… Revised 5e? D&D 5e2e?

Let's just go with 5.5e.

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The Special Edition Covers for the 2024 D&D Rulebooks - I do enjoy how these are the same cost as the regular covers. It's more of a personal artistic choice which you try and find.

By any name, it’s an overhaul of the world’s most popular roleplaying game. WotC has taken 10 years’ worth of feedback about D&D 5e—along with the results of the Unearthed Arcana playtests from the last couple of years—and come up with an all new Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.

And to address everyone’s most immediate concern: These books are all backwards-compatible, so your 5e characters can still exist and function in this new 5.5e world.

Why Is 5.5e Happening?

Aside from the obvious, WotC has a few different goals with D&D 5.5e. It's up to each person to decide how much of these goals feel earnest and achievable or like Wizards just wants to sell more books. For us here, it feels like a mix, and the question really lies with how successful some of the tweaks and changes to the system will be once fully released.

Goal #1: Make New Friends but Keep the Old

The major topic that WotC’s presenters kept coming back to was accessibility: they want to make it as easy as possible for new players to dive into the action.

To that end, the revised Player’s Handbook gives players more guidance on building and playing their characters (although you can still ignore WotC’s advice and build whatever you want). This includes things like suggested point arrays for each class replacing the standard array of the 2014 PHB, and suggested builds going into the mid and high levels. Also, for abilities that need monster stat blocks like the Druid’s Wild Shape, the PHB will have at least some of the options printed directly in it—players won’t have to go digging through the Monster Manual until much higher levels.

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The Character Classes - And Subclasses - In the 2024 Handbook. Don't worry, you can use previous subclasses with the new rules, it just might not all line up perfectly without a little help.

The push for a lower learning curve extends to the revised Dungeon Master’s Guide, which WotC has reworked to be more friendly for new DMs.

The simplest change here is that tips and tools which used to be scattered throughout the 2014 DMG are now compiled into a single “DM Toolbox” section—not to be confused with the existing “DM Workshop” chapter that’s mostly about making homebrew content. The new DMG will also include a Lore Glossary so DMs can quickly look up information about official D&D settings, deities, etc. (although, since we have the internet these days, we could pretty much do that already). The book includes five sample adventures for new DMs to run, helping them to learn the ropes and giving them a format to emulate while crafting their own adventures.

Perhaps the most interesting change, though, is that the revised DMG discusses how to be an effective DM in ways that go beyond the game itself. It gives new DMs some guidance on how to make sure their players are having fun (while still having fun themselves), how to improvise effectively, and how to handle common issues like conflicts between players and problems with scheduling.

Goal #2: Improve Balance and Synergy Between Rulebooks

If you’ve played D&D for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the eternal complaint of the unga-bunga fan: Casters outshine martial classes at mid-to-high levels. This is largely because most martial classes are meant to play the role of tank, but outside of a few very specific abilities, tanking isn’t really a thing in 5e.

Well, I can’t promise that the new rules will fix that, but I can report that a lot of martial classes are getting buffed in 5.5e. For the most part, this seems to mean letting them do more of whatever special thing they do. This means Rage-ier Barbarians, more uses of Channel Divinity for Paladins, and more tactical options for Fighters.

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While there has been a lot of movement to let players have bigger worlds and sometimes ones with less immediate conflict to roleplay in, don't worry for you big dungeon-crawl fanatics out there: lots of time was put into re-balancing combat.

Rogues have actually gone in the opposite direction, and can now use Cunning Strike to trade out some of their Sneak Attack damage for other effects like poisoning or tripping their target. I’m not sure how often I’d choose those over “stab harder,” but it’s a nice bit of flavor and could possibly set up an enemy for the rest of your party to beat on.

But the biggest news for martials is the new Weapon Mastery mechanic, which gives characters extra abilities while using weapons that they’re especially skilled with. Martial classes will generally get Mastery with their favored weapons for free, but it’ll also be accessible through feats so hybrid classes don’t get totally left out.

Incidentally, 5.5e also makes it so all classes get their subclasses at level 3, which raises some odd questions—like, what, the Sorcerer didn’t have dragon blood until then? However, this is part of WotC’s attempt to lean into how people actually play, instead of how the devs intended them to play. In this case, plenty of tables started their characters at level 3 anyway, since that’s when things really get interesting; this change makes it so that levels 1 and 2 are very clearly the “tutorial,” with the real meat of the adventure starting at level 3.

Finally, because no corporate presentation is complete without the word “synergy,” WotC has said that they’re improving the synergy between D&D’s various rulebooks. This means rules and abilities between books should complement each other more effectively, with less overlap and less power creep. The example they gave was updating Inspiration to Heroic Inspiration, which now allows you to completely redo a roll instead of just gaining advantage on it (because there are already many, MANY ways to get advantage).

Tangent: Hey, Remember the Ranger?

One reason this article has taken a little longer than I'd hoped is because WotC has continued to drip-feed us more info about the upcoming changes, and there was one class in particular that I was waiting to see: the Ranger.

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Rangers have never really had a niche in 5e, since the tracking and survival skills they’re supposed to specialize in can be done more effectively with magic. They also don’t really shine in combat, where they’ve got Hunter’s Mark and not much else. So I was waiting to see what WotC had in store for their forgotten child, and hoping to report some exciting changes that would finally give Rangers their time in the sun.

Unfortunately, what WotC has given us is pretty underwhelming.

The 2024 Ranger leans more into its hybrid martial/caster nature with some buffed magical abilities: the revised Ranger can cast more often and at lower levels, and can now use its signature Hunter’s Mark spell several times a day without spending spell slots. Also, the Hunter subclass now instantly learns the Vulnerabilities, Resistances, and Immunities of any creature with Hunter’s Mark on it, which is admittedly pretty cool, but obviously only if you’re playing a Hunter.

But if there’s one thing that really epitomizes how “meh” some of the Ranger’s updates are, it’s their level 20 ability Foe Slayer, which says that Hunter’s Mark deals 1d10 damage per hit instead of 1d6. And yes, that’s all it does. The Ranger's capstone ability is that Hunter’s Mark deals, on average, 2 more damage per hit.


What’s New?

Tweaked classes and ease of use are all well and good, but what does 5.5e bring to the table that’s actually new?

For starters, the revised PHB has a few new subclasses. We’ve got the aquatic-themed Circle of the Sea for Druids, the College of Dance to add a splash of Monk to your Bard, and the Path of the World Tree for Barbarians—which is, uh, kind of all over the place.

The revised DMG’s big addition is the Bastion system: a set of rules for each player to manage their character’s home or base of operations. Bastions are highly customizable, with facilities that can range from an arcane library to a gambling den, with each providing their own unique benefits. In addition to the mechanical benefits, Bastions are also great opportunities for character development and roleplaying.

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Right now, one of the biggest 'wins' for this edition rewrite is the Dungeon Master's Guide getting more immediately useful and helping give more options for play.

While older editions of D&D did have rules for building and maintaining strongholds, it generally wasn’t affordable or practical until the PCs were at least into their middle levels. D&D 5.5e will give every character the chance for a Bastion starting from level 5, at no cost (which leaves it up to the DM to decide how characters manage to get these properties for free: inheritance, spoils of battle, winning a lottery you didn’t enter?).

Finally, WotC’s reps have boasted that 5.5e is giving us the largest official Monster Manual in D&D history. It features revamped versions of every monster from the 2014 Monster Manual, plus over 75 new ones, for a total of more than 500 creatures.

One big new feature in the revised MM is the concept of “apex” monsters, which are iconic, high CR versions of monsters that can challenge high level parties. Some of these already existed, though the term apex monster didn’t exist yet—think ancient dragons, or the Terrasque as the apex Monstrosity. The 5.5e Manual will have a bunch more, each of which could be the plot hook of an epic adventure or the big bad of a campaign. I’m especially excited to see the apex hag we were promised, since hags have great potential as villains but currently cap out at a whopping CR 7. A CR 15-20 arch-hag? Now that will be fun.

My Personal Thoughts

First and foremost, let me say that I don't think 5.5e is the shameless cash grab that some corners of the internet are calling it. Do I love everything I've seen? Definitely not (see: Rangers). However, I'm excited to check out the possibilities that the new mechanics like Weapon Mastery and Bastions will open up, and—on the other side of the DM screen—I'm looking forward to crafting some new adventures around apex monsters. Plus, I really can't fault WotC for giving their game a fresh coat of paint after 10 years; it was either this or completely scrapping 5e to make way for a new edition, which would be a huge disservice to players and WotC alike while 5e's popularity is still going strong.

Most of all, I'm always glad to see anything that makes games easier and less intimidating for new players. Hopefully these revised books will help a fresh crop of nerds experience a cornerstone of the TTRPG hobby for the first time.

When and Where to Buy

The revised rulebooks are available now for preorder on D&D Beyond’s Marketplace in both print and digital formats (“digital” meaning that you’ll get access to it on D&D Beyond, not a PDF). The official release dates are:

  • Revised Player's Handbook: September 17, 2024
  • Revised Dungeon Master's Guide: November 12, 2024
  • Revised Monster Manual: February 18, 2025

Notably, brick-and-mortar shops will also carry variant covers for each book that won’t be available on D&D Beyond, just in case you needed more incentive to support your friendly local game store.

Eric Henn

Head Writer