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New Releases: Player's Strategy Guide

You've got the Player's Handbook. If you're the Dungeon Master, you've got the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual, too. You know how to play Dungeons and Dragons, of course you do. So, why do the makers of the game think you don't?

Psg This month sees Wizards of the Coast release the Player's Strategy Guide, a book that is plainly and simply all about how to play Dungeons and Dragons. But the latest edition of the game was released back in 2008, so you'd think we might have got the hang of it now.

Check out the official forums for the game, and there are heaps of threads such as this one, which teaches you how to build the perfectly overpowered sorcerer. (Warning: if you don't know a thing about the game, that link leads to nought but impenetrable arcane writings.) But that level of powergaming is missing a point, and it's one that this book tries to bring back to the table: the game is about fun, and it's about storytelling as much (if not more than) rolling a die and hoping for a 20.

Let's not oversell it, the Strategy Guide contains a lot of material on how to build optimal characters and assemble optimal parties. It has a big section on good combat tactics, too. (Something our group could have done with here.) But each time it talks about these things, it throws in a caveat like this:

... don't worry too much about making a suboptimal decision [when creating a new character]. Even a few subpar feats or powers can't reduce your character's effectiveness too much. When in doubt, pick the option that seems like it offers the most fun.

Not to do down the work done by those who write incredibly detailed, thought-out guides like the sorcerer one above - but Wizards have a point here. In The Forest Of Mathematical Perfection, it's easy to lose sight of The Castle Of Awesome Fun. And, for all that this new book is full of tips and tricks to build the best character, it keeps signposting the road back to that Castle.

The book's mere existence raises a question, though: has Wizards of the Coast built a game that encourages a focus on the numbers more than the story? Is that why, two years down the line, they've seen the need for a book like this?

The overriding impression I take away from it is that it's telling players lost in that mathematical forest to take a breath, look up at the sky, and remember that we're all here to have fun. Though the questions behind the need for the book might raise an eyebrow, it's still an enjoyable book nonetheless, and a brilliant reminder of why we keep coming back to the game - as well as a solid guide on how to have the most fun, both with the stats and the story.