The official abbreviations for the rule books of fifth edition according to the Sage Advice Compendium are:

  • Player’s Handbook (abbreviated PH)
  • Monster Manual (abbreviated MM)
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide (abbreviated DMG)

However, most people (myself included) have a tendency to use PHB as the abbreviation for the Player's Handbook. I need to remind myself that it only is PH, and probably have written more answers with PHB, than with PH.

I guess it is because I learned from the usage of others, and it is easy to think of it as "Player's Hand Book", while the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide affords no opportunity for internal splitting of the words. I could also see that it makes a nice three-letter pair to match the three letters of DMG, but it still is a bit puzzling, because the same argument could be made for using two letters to match the MM.

What is the historical reason to use PHB instead of PH? Has the Player's Handbook been abbreviated in the past to PHB, either in the rules or in relevant official publications like Dragon Magazine?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It worth noting that official abbreviation for Player's Handbook in 3.5 was also PH. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Jun 11 at 7:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because referring to "PH 42" is going to sound too basic. /chemistry joke \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jun 11 at 8:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a good question and I'm curious too, but is this not more of a post for meta, about language use on the stack? ...your title suggest "we" on the stack by the way. Maybe you can amend this so that it is clearly a non-meta question but one of historical use. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Senmurv, yes, I also was not 100% sure if I should post it here or on meta, but it is not only "we on SE", it is we as in "players of the game in general". I updated the question a bit to make it more explicit about asking for historical published reasons. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ This might even be an English Language or Linguistics question, because PHB "feels" right, possibly just because of the split word, possibly because of the way the syllables sound . . . but I'd just be guessing and a language expert might know something useful. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11 at 12:27

4 Answers 4


"PHB" was the official abbreviation in the AD&D era.

Although "PH" is more gramatically correct and has been the official abbreviation for some time now, "PHB" was previously used in official sourcebooks as far back as AD&D. It stuck around in the community.

For example, the index of the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide:

Page numbers for the listings in the PHB are in regular type, and follow those in boldface (where simultaneous listings occur.).

Various other sourcebooks used the abbreviation PHB. The official product code for the "Complete" Handbook series begin with "PHBR", for Player's Handbook Rules Supplement; e.g. PHBR1 The Complete Fighter's Handbook.

"PH" became the official abbreviation from the D&D 3e era onward, but some staff continued to make erroneous use of "PHB" in some contexts. "PHB" is frequently cited in the D&D 3.5 FAQ, and the filename of the Player's Handbook v.3.5 errata document began with "PHBErrata". Dragon #304's D&D 3.5 preview described giving certain monsters playable stats as the "PHB Treatment", and Dragon #350's The Archer's Art also erroneously used the abreviations PHB and PHB2. Even in the 4e era, Dragon #369 used "PHB", and this in an official article by Mike Mearls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So the PH abreviation was made by WoTC? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TreeSpawned It was used earlier in a few instances, but I believe it was WotC who made PH the official abbreviation over PHB. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's like how today's MB = 10^6 and MiB = 2^10, but older computer users still use MB = 2^10 and dislike MiB, especially given the (IMO) flimsy reason why it was redefined. \$\endgroup\$
    – phyrfox
    Commented Jun 12 at 14:04

The community and Wizards of the Coast have different use-cases and goals for their abbreviations. If either blindly followed the other, the abbreviations wouldn’t be doing their respective jobs.

To begin, this split is at least 20 years old. And as that list demonstrates, it doesn’t end with the Player’s Handbook—several books have such dichotomies. In the “v.3.5 revised edition” of D&D, we see “SC” used by the community exclusively for Spell Compendium, while officially that’s the abbreviation for The Sunless Citadel. Officially, Spell Compendium is “SpC” but that is rarely used by the community, and the community’s abbreviation for The Sunless Citadel is simply that the community doesn’t abbreviate The Sunless Citadel, it’s simply not referred to often enough for it. So that’s a much more serious difference than the Player’s Handbook has.

Why? Because the community and Wizards of the Coast have different purposes for their abbreviations.

Wizards of the Coast uses the abbreviations in printed material—stuff they cannot change later. They also seem to use them as product codes, which are also fixed and inflexible—and require uniqueness absent of context. To meet these needs, there are some rules evident in their abbreviations:

  1. Abbreviations are at least 2 letters, but otherwise they are as short as possible.

  2. Abbreviations are assigned on a “first come, first served” basis.

  3. Every product must have an abbreviation.

  4. Abbreviations absolutely cannot be reused.

That’s why the Player’s Handbook gets “PH” and Planar Handbook gets “PlH”—Player’s Handbook was published first, and “PH” is the obvious minimum two-letter abbreviation for it. It’s also why The Sunless Citadel is abbreviated “SC”—it came out long before Spell Compendium. When Spell Compendium came out, Wizards of the Coast couldn’t use SC for it—it had already used that for The Sunless Citadel. Spell Compendium had to be SpC.

The community does not have any of these requirements. Abbreviations are used ephemerally, for one discussion or post, and can be different from context to context. If a later publication is a better candidate for an abbreviation, it can take that one from then on, and even if some people keep using it for the old thing, context can usually handle things. Plenty of publications don’t need an abbreviation at all. So those free the community up in ways Wizards of the Coast isn’t. On top of that, the community has one iron-clad priority that is decidedly secondary for Wizards of the Coast: abbreviations must be clear without having to look them up. They don’t save time or effort otherwise.

As a result, it’s entirely sensible and expected that the community abbreviations won’t match the official ones. Why does “PHB” feel more natural to players than “PH”? As Kirt’s fine answer and Quadratic Wizard’s—as well as comments by VLAZ and Nobody the Hobgoblin—indicate, “PHB” is what TSR used for the Player’s Handbook going back to the original in 1978. Changing the abbreviation would have been confusing—and that violates the community’s cardinal rule.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: at least 20 years old - the term "PHB" is found in the foreword of AD&D Player's Handbook, 2nd Ed. Revised (ISBN: 0-7869-0329-5) from 1995. The whole passage of few paragraphs is attributed to Steve Winter and dated as February 6, 1995. The concrete part where PHB is mentioned is the following (context: talks about the revised editions of AD&D books): "And as long as AD&D was getting a new suit of clothes, we elected to let out the seams a bit, too. Both books are a lot bigger: 25% more pages in the PHB, 33% more in the DMG." This dates it to almost 30 years ago. Very likely older. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jun 11 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I did check my copy of the 1e DMG, dated 1979, and it is mentioning PHB 7 times in the Glossary, referring to the players handbook with page numbers, e.g. "Astral - Pertaining to or within the Astral Plane (see PHB, p. 120)." In OD&D, the names of the three books were different. The MM, published in 1977/78 makes no refrence with this abbreviation, but spells it out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Knowing when a thing happened is not the same thing as knowing why. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jun 11 at 21:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I didn't know when I asked the question, I checked in response to Kirt's answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin OK, got it. Should have looked at time tags. 😎 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 12 at 14:30

WOTC legally required d20 licensees to abbreviate it "PHB".

As others have noted, there's a legacy of calling it the PHB since the time of 1E AD&D. But even WOTC has been inconsistent about the abbreviation. If we look to licensing materials for the d20 System mark by WOTC (written in 2003 by Ryan Dancey, WOTC VP for D&D at the time), they also use and require the use of "PHB" there. I'll say that personally, although I'd played since 1E, I didn't pick up the habit of this abbreviation until this era. From the d20 System Trademark Guide Version 5.0 (archived here):

Citations of other Wizards of the Coast products in Covered Works:

You may refer to the Player’s Handbook by title or as the PHB. You may refer to the Dungeon Master’s Guide only as the DMG and the Monster Manual only as the MM... You may cite chapter, heading, and subheading titles from the PHB, the DMG, the MM, the Psionics Handbook, the Epic Level Handbook, or the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game.


I learned it from the use of others

KRyan's answer is a great explanation for why WoTC doesn't use PHB. For myself (playing 1e since 1986, and Basic five years before that) PHB is what it 'has always been'.

Cracking my 1e DMG, at the top of the Index (231), I find (emphases in the original):

This is a combined index for both the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE and the ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS PLAYERS HANDBOOK, include to provide a handy reference to those areas most often consulted by the AD&D DM and player. (It is not designed to be a totally exhaustive listing.) DMG page numbers are always listed first and in boldface. Page numbers for listings in the PHB are in regular type, and follow those in boldface (where simultaneous listings occur.).

So the abbreviation PHB was used deliberately and officially at least as far back as the 1979 printing of the DMG, 45 years ago as of this writing and less than a year after the publication of the first Player's Handbook.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this may be it. I did check old Dragon magazines, and in #28 Gary discusses the release of the DMG, but up to that date, the term PHB has never been mentioned there. Even in that issue on page 4, Players Handbook is spelled out and DMG is abbreviated. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11 at 16:57

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