Player's Strategy Guide Review

Player's Strategy Guide is a just-shy-of 160 pages advisory on how to make a D&D character and play the game well. As far as I know its Wizards second foray into a kind-of character tutorial bookthe first one being Hero Builders Handbook from 3rd Edition which I only used for randomly generating a character background when I was incredibly bored. And lazy.

The cover is drawn by Mike Krahulik, and though I generally like his art I don't think its exactly appropriate for a...serious, I guess, D&D book. Like, I wouldn't mind him pushing out an art book with characters, critters, scenes, etc with a D&D theme, but when compared to the rest of the books the cover just doesn't match up. In fact, most of the art I would say goes against the typical conventions I expect: its all very cartoony and/or comical. Its not all bad per se, it just doesn't fit with the tone of a book that isn't likewise comical.

As for book content, much of the advice here has been parroted on the D&D site or by other bloggers in the past. Actually I'm sure all of it has at some point or another, though I think its good to have a decent chunk of information in one book.

Chapter 1: Building Your Character
The first chapter is also the longest, eating up almost half the book. Its broken up into three distinct sections which focus on conceptualization, the mechanics, and character optimization. The first part recommends doing stuff like asking questions, and learning about the campaign setting and its themes so that you can best build a character that fits.

In particular I like Know The World. Dont be afraid to ask the DM questions so that you can make informed decisions that help maintain the style of feel of the world. When I started running Songs of Erui I told my players to make whatever the fuck they wanted, but that it would have a heavy celtic theme and that primal classes would work out the best. In the end I got saddled with a dwarf paladin and gnoll so much for recommendations. This is why I enjoy playing Eberron (and to an extend other published campaign settings): its incredibly easy for me to pick a race and build a sound concept up from that that makes sense within context of the campaign setting.

Likewise, I'm also fond of Know The Other Players, as it suggests conversing with the rest of the group to find out what they are playing and form connections before play even begins. While this is something that I've encouraged in the past, I've played in groups where this was frowned on. This helps avoid illogical party composition but more importantly allows you to skip past that awkward introduction phase where the players shoehorn reasons to trust and adventure with each other so as to get the game rolling. Hell, you dont have to ensure that every knows each other intimately at the start of the campaign, but talking about it beforehand sure as shit makes the transition easier.

Building a Foundation talks about the mechanics-side of character generation: race, class, powers, feats, etc. There's some advice and guidelines on re-skinning existing backgrounds, and it breaks up skills and feats into categories so if your aim is a character that wants to be kickass at avoiding shit or emphasizing your role, its got you covered.

How To... is all about min/maxing various elements of a character, from getting hit points out the ass or a really high AC, hit points, and/or saving throw mods. Each section has a paragraph informing you on the class, race, ability scores, feats, items, and other shit that helps you achieve your goal. What I read seems sound, but whether or not its on par with whats written on the CharOp forums I'm not sure, and I'm not going to go there and contrast and compare.

Chapter 2: Building Your Party
This chapter isnt too long and is mostly about character roles and party composition. Dealing with large/small parties, what you can live without, what to double up on if the option presents itself, and some tips on multiclassing or going hybrid to try and cover your ass. Party Optimization goes into detail on each of the roles, and there's even a table linking each skill to all of the currently available classes. The end of the chapter devotes six pages to sample parties that I overlooked because I don't really give a shit about sample characters.

Chapter 3: Strategy And Tactics
Fuck yes, my kind of chapter. This one explains monster rolls, common tactics like flanking, healing, and even tries to explain why its a damned good idea to focus fire on monsters instead of everyone spreading out and going one-on-one. This is usually the reason why combat takes a long time in my games, and I'm glad to finally have a diagram to go with the lesson. Speaking of speeding up combat, there's a part in Troubleshooting on how its okay to handwaive the rest of an encounter if its obvious that the party is going to fucking win. This is something that Josh has been doing for awhile, so kudos to him.

Chapter 4: Playing The Game
Working with the DM to generate and drive story, handling skill challenges, narrating class powers, working well as a group, dividing loot, and not being a fucking prick are all covered here. I like that it actually encourages players to take the bait, even if it seems strained or forced, if for no other reason than its possible that such a shaky start could lead to an otherwise entertaining session. I've actually played in groups where players ignored a plot hook because it wasn't "just right", or because they knew it was just the DM trying to fucking entertain them. -.-

There are lots of sidebars where designers and players talk about their characters and short, loaded quizzes that are both very limited and probably not accurate at all that you can use to get a vague notion of what role, class, race or whatever you might like the most. I didnt find them particularly useful, but then I've yet to see any such test that was useful.

For the most part I feel that the book provides a lot sound advice even when it came to the crunchy parts, which was something that I was concerned about at first since in the past Wizards hasnt exactly given the best advice when it comes to character building. For me, much of the advice in the book is a no-brainer, but I've been playing for just over 15 years and consider myself a great, great deal more invested into the game than a casual gamer. If you're new to the game, or a casual gamer looking for some advice, or even an experienced player wanting to expand into another role/class then its a nice primer.


  1. I don't see much of a use for this book ... its almost something they should offer for free to get people into the game. They should make this available as a free PDF and/or do a cheap magazine style printing of it and sell it for five bucks. That would make a book like this useful.

    From your review and from what I've heard from a few others who have looked the book over ... it does sound like the book is well put together and has useful information ... but a 20 to 35 (ish) dollar book (depending on whether or not you know that offers a massive discount on all 4E books). If WoTC wants to entice new players putting a book out like this as a loss leader might not be a bad idea ... like you say though for players who are pretty invested in 4E already and have extensive experience with 4E and RPGing in general ... a book like this serves little purpose.

  2. this book is useless to me but not to my players. I would buy it... if the price wasn't so high for such a simple book.

  3. This book was excellent, finally a nice hard cover book that isn't mechanical or novella like to read. As a long timer gamer I know how to read, skip around, skim, and basically deconstruct a core book. This book features more common man reasoning and language so that I can flip to a page and instruct an interested friend or causal to read and say "this is what D&D is" or "this is the concept I'm trying to get across". I'd like to see more book like this that are out of the box us elites have gotten very comfortable in.


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