With the 2024 Core Rulebooks, Dungeons & Dragons is finally trying to get out of its own way

A party fends off a horde of skeletons that surrounds them in a spread from the 2024 edition of the Dungeons & Dragon’s Player’s Handbook
Image: Andrey Kuzinskiy/Wizards of the Coast

A ground-up rework of the world’s most famous roleplaying game finally rethinks how people play

The best thing the team behind Dungeons & Dragons has done lately is be honest about the ways in which their game is a pain in the ass. Why, for example, does the Dungeon Master’s Guide hit you with high-level concepts and lore from the jump and save dice rules — one of the things Dungeon Masters do most — until many chapters later? They’ve been thinking about that. They’ve been thinking about classes, and how to rework them. Which has also led them to think about how popular the 5th edition is, warts and all, and how inconvenient it would be if whatever big foundational changes they made were not backward compatible.

So now, after much thought — and more than a few boondoggles — we’ve gotten our first look at the finished products: the 2024 core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons.

As previously suggested, the updated Player’s Handbook (2024), Dungeon Master’s Guide (2024), and Monster Manual (2024) are not a “6th Edition” of D&D. In fact, everything in these three books has been engineered to be backward compatible with all existing 5th edition materials — campaigns included. Yet in a press preview for the core books, game director Jeremy Crawford and creative director Chris Perkins also stressed that the new books are a “ground-up” revisions — each featuring appropriately grand new artwork inside and out — in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary. The changes, as described, are substantial, and seem wonderfully geared toward doing something the core rulebooks have been bafflingly bad at for a long time: getting you playing the game.

Five role-players sit around a tabletop as their party of adventurers are imagined in the space above them in an illustration from the 2024 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook.
Image: John Grello/Wizards of the Coast

It’s a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s what being too concerned with tradition can do. Very basic questions like “Why don’t these books start with how to play?” have been asked, and the result is a set of books that seem designed to help players figure out the rules on their own in scenarios that they might actually experience at the table.

The Player’s Handbook (2024), for example, no longer starts with creating a character, but with how to play, with a renewed emphasis on play examples, and breakout designer commentary that elucidates what rules are in play in a given conversation at the table. A new rules glossary shunts more technical aspects of the game and edge cases to an appendix, for reference as they come up, in order to get players playing faster. And character creation now has guidelines for creating characters at every level, so joining an ongoing or higher-level campaign is a breeze.

A spread from the 2024 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, with an example of combat in the left column and a commentary on applicable rules in the right.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Similar changes can be found in the new Dungeon Master’s Guide (2024), which immediately starts with teaching players how to DM and features a lore glossary for players who want quick capsule summaries about things that are referenced or encountered throughout the D&D multiverse — making DMs new and old more well-versed in the 50-year-old game’s more colorful characteristics.

The pick-up-and-play ethos carries forward into the Dungeon Master’s Guide (2024) including a campaign setting for the first time, with players able to immediately jump into Greyhawk — Gary Gygax’s first Dungeons & Dragons setting — right from the book.

While the success of these and the hundreds of other changes will remain unknown until the new books are in players’ hands and integrated into their ongoing campaigns — something Wizards of the Coast is very keen for players to do — it’s hard not to feel a little bit excited by the 2024 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. While the current 5th edition books have been the presiding texts during the most popular era the game has ever seen, their popularity has also exposed D&D’s creaky structure, its most popular products appearing stiff and ossified compared to nimble newcomers.

A spread from the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (2024) that lists the character classes and their sub-classes.
Image: Wizards of the Coast
The 12 classes and their four sub-classes listed in the 2024 Player’s Handbook.

The tabletop world has come for D&D’s lunch, and while the increased competition means more and better options for role-players everywhere, it also seems to have made for a more welcoming Dungeons & Dragons for those who crave its classic approach and voluminous lore. From this first glimpse, the 2024 core rulebooks seem to have learned some great lessons from the last decade of role-playing excellence, and while this is just the beginning of a long rollout for the new books — look for videos expounding on the extensive changes to the 12 character classes and their 48 sub-classes from Wizards of the Coast to begin this week — I’m already excited to play.

The Dungeons and Dragons Players’ Handbook (2024) will be available Sept. 17. The Dungeon Master’s Guide (2024) will follow Nov. 11. And finally, the Monster Manual (2024) will be here Feb. 18, 2025. All three are now available for pre-order — separately, and together in a single bundle.

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