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How advantageous is it for all players to have their own copy of the Player's Handbook?

I've never played any tabletop RPG and am about to start a 5th edition campaign. I almost joined another campaign a good while back; the DM was pretty adamant that every player have their own handbook. That campaign never got running, so I'm not really sure how important it really is.

This new campaign is gonna be a DM and 5 players. So, should I get one, or is it okay if a couple of players are missing one?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you know that the basic D&D 5e rules are available for free download? This doesn't cover everything in the Player's Handbook (eg. no feats, limited spells), but it does cover initial character construction. If you only want to mitigate bottlenecks during character construction and rules disputes, printing out a couple of copies of this might help. \$\endgroup\$ – detly Dec 28 '14 at 7:14
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It is generally helpful for players to have a Player's Handbook readily available, especially for spellcasters who need to reference spell descriptions every now and then. Aside from that, the most help that it will do is speed up character generation and leveling-up, which is good at the table because it allows for more game-time in the session. I find that in a party of 4 players and 1 DM, having two Player's Handbooks available is generally acceptable for our group, though more would be spectacular. In your case, your table should have 3-4, possibly one of which would be for the DM to reference behind the screen.

Hope that helped give you some additional perspective on the matter!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe that 3 is actually already too much. Not mentioning 5ed easy rules (especially lack of "exceptions" and lack of AoO complex rules), in my years of experience we never needed more than 2 for a really large group. If DM knows where to look for specific info even 1 was more than enough. Buying more in my eyes is just a waste of money. \$\endgroup\$ – DarkSage Dec 28 '14 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that some players like being able to consult the rules between sessions, and so might want their own copies of the PHB for that purpose. That depends on the individual players, though. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 12 '15 at 6:10
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There's no requirement in any role-playing game that I've played that every player need have there own copy of the rulebook. While it is indeed convenient to have multiple copies of books in a gaming group it is by no means a necessity.

At the table when more than one person would like to look something up, the worst inconvenience would be that people will have to wait their turn to take a look (if they're bored while waiting, they can always amuse themselves by-- oh, I don't know-- playing the game?). It can be very helpful for players to have their own books between games so they don't have to rely on borrowing the book or waiting until the next session. The best time to have multiple books would be during character creation, since everyone will be looking up rules and statistics all the time to make their characters, however during the course of the campaign I doubt there is likely to be nearly so much of a need again.

I don't think I've ever played in a game that had more than two copies of the core rules and it's never been a large issue. Most of the time there's only been one. I would suggest doing character creation and advancement as a group during normal sessions, that way the bookkeeping can be done together at once where books can be shared and no one risks forgetting to do it before the next session.

In brief: save some money and share your books. Once you're past character creation everything should be fine.

Full disclosure: I haven't played 5th edition specifically, but I've played 2nd and 3rd and from what I've heard there isn't that much that's changed to effect my basis for my answer.

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If you're willing to do a little more work writing out commonly needed info like spell descriptions (just for the spells your players' characters use), then you're probably fine with one for the DM and one for the players. It's pretty rare that the players need to reference more than one thing at the same time. The more you play, the less you'll use the PHB, honestly. After you get familiar with the system, the only times you use the book are for character generation/advancement and looking up equipment or spells. Most of the rules become pretty second nature a few sessions into a campaign, and the spells your players use most will become familiar to your group pretty quickly too. It's silly to invest that much into books that will only make the first few games only slightly easier.

Requiring that every single player have a PHB is kind of ridiculous. There's really no good reason to do that.

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The biggest time players all need the book at once is character creation. Once you get past that point, it's usually not too bad to share. If your players are good at making characters ahead of time, or if you have players who are system monkeys and can whip together a character in about 5-10 minutes, then you can usually get to where you only need 1 or 2 players to take their time with the book.

If you have players who are learning basic rules (or, never seem to absorb them), it can be helpful to write a "quicksheet" - a 2 page reference sheet (front and back) that covers the basics that the group can pass around druing play. This helps avoid looking to the rulebook for really basic or common issues. ("How does Advantage work?" "What is the penalty for getting up from Prone?" "How does Death Saves work?" etc.)

For D&D specifically, the next biggest cause of rulebook need is spells. If you have more than one spellcaster or magic-type character, it might be helpful to have those players have their own copies or pay to photocopy the pages with the spells they need.

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I've not found an RPG yet where everyone needed the core book. We generally got by with just one core book for anywhere from 2-8 players. In general terms, 1 core book per 2-4 players is plenty.

Note, a 1:1 ratio can actually be a detrimental distraction during gameplay. Players may get bored/itchy/etc and stick their noses in the book instead of paying a polite amount of attention to what's going on, resulting in a slowdown from having to rehash what just happened to them. This can lead to a lot of frustration, and a loss of potential enjoyment should they thereby miss something they would otherwise have found fun! Some self-discipline (or table discipline) can mitigate this... but there's no significant benefit given sufficient copies to borrow at the table. Even during chargen, 1:1 or even 2:3 can lead to a very harried GM (depending on how involved the GM wants/needs to be).

The only time I've seen 1:1 be actually beneficial is for online games, since you can't just pass the core book over to another player to look up various things. While yes, this can lead to the same distractions as during gameplay at a physical tabletop, the potential distraction is mitigated by the number of other distractions the have at hand and is far outweighed by all players having access to the core rules, charts, references, etc.

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I think the rule "everyone has a handbook" is most helpful in games where players are expected to be progressing during "off-time." If you need to scour the PHB during the week to find the one item you need to buy to beat the Beholder guarding the citadel, you'll need your own book.

There is a sense of dedication that is to be had by forcing everyone to pony up precious dollars. However, I find this doesn't work in the long run: you want players that want to adventure in a world, not players trying to make the best of their $20

In game, I actually prefer a smaller number of handbooks. 2-3 seems optimal for groups I have played in.

  • 3 handbooks seems to be the most we have ever needed, except perhaps during character creation. There were a few times where someone wanted to look something up, the DM needed one, and a third person needed to quick check the rules on something.
  • 2 handbooks may be better than 3, depending on your playstyle. The availability of rules may actually hinder development of a game. If it is too easy to find the "correct" rules, it becomes less likely that the group will accept a "good enough" rule that does a better job of pushing the game forward. Too many "correct" rules and you start ending up with I really want to stab him in the eye, but there's no rule in the PHB for doing so... I'll just slash him with a sword like I always do, which can seriously hamper creativity.
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A game store offering public/official play may require players to have a PHB to play characters that are not covered by the basic rules. This is to promote the store and the game that people are playing. If the game store doesn't require it for official adventure league play, or you are playing outside of a store, then it shouldn't be necessary. My recommendation is 2-3 books for a group of up to 6-7 players.

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