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The Player's Handbook, released in 2003, is one of the three core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It provides the main rules required to play that edition of the game.

It referred to as the Player's Handbook v.3.5, and abbreviated PHB or PH. It superceded the third edition Player's Handbook (2000), which was retroactively and unofficially termed by the community Player's Handbook 3.0.


Changes from D&D 3.0

The Player's Handbook (3.5) was largely similar to its predecessor, the third edition Player's Handbook released in 2000. However, numerous edits and rules changes were made, as well as changes to design and art, including a new design for the cover.

Several races and character classes changed, primarily increasing in power. The ranger changes most radically, going from d10 to d8 hit die, gaining good Reflex saves, gaining improved Favored Enemy bonuses, an archery combat style option, an animal companion, woodland stride, and the ability to hide in plain sight at high level. Bards gain more forms of music, while dwarves are less encumbered by heavy armor, and half-elves gain a bonus to Diplomacy and Gather Information. The gnome's favored class is now bard rather than illusionist, with the introduction of the character of Gimble as the bard iconic to represent this combination.

Several skills were removed, modified, or rolled into other skills, particularly overspecific or underused skills like Innuendo (now Bluff), Read Lips (now a form of Spot), Pick Pocket (now Sleight of Hand) Intuit Direction, and Scry. Wilderness Lore became Survival. Class-exclusive skills were removed. New feats were added, many previously appearing in earlier sourcebooks such as Sword and Fist (2001) and Tome and Blood (2001), with several new feats granting +2 to two related skills, an innovation attributed to writer Andy Collins.

The rules for weapons for Small characters (primarily halflings and gnomes) changed significantly. Previously, for example, any one-handed weapon for a Medium creature was a two-handed weapon for a Small creature, so a gnome could wield a longsword two-handed. In D&D 3.5, a gnome must instead use a gnome-sized greatsword or face an attack penalty. This has been criticized as making it more difficult for characters to use magic weapons they find, as all weapons are now sized only for one size of character.

D&D 3.5 now assumes the player characters are using miniatures and a grid of five feet squares. Early printings of the Player's Handbook 3.0 suggested a wargame-like gridless miniature system, and miniatures were optional. In 3.5, likely influenced by Wizards of the Coast's desire to sell their miniatures line, the rules are officially written to assume the use of miniatures; however, miniature-less combat is still supported equally well.

Among other small changes to combat, "partial actions" are no longer used. Damage reduction. Rules for facing are also removed, and as a result all creatures now take up square space on a grid. Damage reduction has changed, although this is primarily detailed in the other two core rulebooks.

Some new spells have been added, and others changed, with many reduced in power. The spell bull's strength and others have been reduced in duration from 1 hour per caster level to 1 minute, effectively reducing them from long-term buffs to once per encounter. Haste now affects multiple targets, but can no longer be used to cast two spells per round. Instant-kill spells like disintegrate and harm, once exceptionally powerful at high level, now have a cap to hit point damage. Several spells changed name, level, school, or effect, and a significant number of new spells were added, primarily from 3.0 sourcebooks like Tome and Blood (2001).

In addition to the above, numerous small changes were made to the rules or their presentation. The 3.5 book is altogether larger than its predecessor, having 320 pages. A short PDF summary of the major changes between 3.0 and 3.5 appears in the free D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet.[1]

Alternate versions

In October 2004, a deluxe leatherbound edition of the Player's Handbook (3.5) was released to commemorate D&D's thirtieth anniversary. It is bound in embossed black leather and highlighted with gunmetal silver, with gunmetal gilt-edged premium paper. The edition also incorporated errata. This version is referred to as the Special Edition Player's Handbook, and retailed for $75. Its ISBN is 0-7869-3432-8, and its internal product code 179230000.[2][3]

The 3.5 Player's Handbook was reproduced as a premium reprint on September 18, 2012. The ISBN number of this edition is 978-0786962464. Its cover appears to be a modified version of the original 3.5 Player's Handbook cover, depicting less gold binding and gemstones, replaced instead with fine engraving. It includes the most up-to-date errata. The release of this book in 2012, four years after D&D 4th edition had already launched, was seen by many fans as an acceptance by Wizards of the Coast that 4th edition had failed to see commercial success.


See also: Player's Handbook (3.0)#Development

Plans for a revised version of the Dungeons & Dragons third edition core rulebooks were discussed even before 3.0 went to press in 2000. D&D's business team initially intended the update to be a straightforward, backwardly-compatible update incorporating errata, rules clarifications, and new art, scheduled for release in 2004 or 2005 to increase revnue during a projected sales slump. A revision of this sort had previously occurred with AD&D 2nd edition, with the original 1989 core rule books superceded by a revised editions in 1995.

The revision was initially opposed by the 3.0 core designers (Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams, and Monte Cook). However, by 2003, most of the core design team and business team were no longer with the company, and Jonathan Tweet had moved to miniature games. In 2003, Monte Cook would cite this change in leadership as the reason why the third edition revision was both moved up in schedule to 2003, and why the the rules changes were significantly more major than originally planned.[4]

The Player's Handbook revision team was Andy Collins, Rich Baker, David Noonan, Rich Redman, and Skip Williams, with additional development by Bill Slavicsek and Ed Stark.[5]

Designer Skip Williams described a strong impetus to overhaul D&D in a major way, which designers had to fight constantly. He was ultimately happy with amount of change in the final product, noting that a few new ideas which didn't make the cut may appear in Dragon Magazine, though no further articles by Williams appeared in the magazine after Dragon #308 (Jun 2003). Andy Collins described two new systems which were ultimately cut from the final product: a new metamagic system, and a new item creation system, which he speculated would eventually appear in a later product.[6]

Ed Stark thanked the RPGA for their value in playtesting and providing feedback on D&D third edition, describing their contribution as significant. Skip Williams specifically cited feedback letters from D&D players, as well as internal feedback, as important sources of information. Skip also incorporated feedback into the text, improved the wording of ambiguous or awkward sections, and led an internal focus group to improve the usability of monster entries.[6]

Rich Baker, who came to the team after Skip, was given a mandate to change the Monster Manual more aggressively. He made the decision to change monsters to gain the same number of feats and skill points as player characters, a decision would would aid Savage Species (2003). However, this created a significant amount of work, as it required small, detailed changes to every monster, tasks eventually delegated to editors Gwendolyn Kestrel and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes. Late in development, additional staff were brought onto the Monster Manual, including Dave Eckelberry and Andrew Finch, who reworked demons and devils; and James Wyatt and Mike Donais, who worked on the advanced variants of monsters.[6]

At the Winter Fantasy 2003 convention, Wizards of the Coast released a preview of updated 3.5 statistics for the pit fiend, leading players to speculate over rules changes, drawing poor conclusions as a result.[7]

The name "3.5" was chosen to represent that it is a major revision, but not a completely new edition. In February 2003, D&D design manager Ed Stark stated:[8]

"We actually talked about this quite a bit. We feel the changes we're making to the D&D RPG are important enough to warrant the "3.5" label, but not nearly significant enough to be a 4th edition. We also want to send the message that this is an upgrade, not a new edition. Whether we're "halfway" to a new edition, I couldn't say. I will say that I would have a hard time backing any upgrade beyond this that wasn't a new edition. A "3.1" label might imply there could be a bunch more upgrades before 4.0, and we don't want to imply that at all."

Reception and influence


According to industry veteran Monte Cook, the D&D 3.5 core rulebooks sold very well, but not as successfully as the 3.0 books.[9]

Negative feedback

In 2003, Dungeons & Dragons third edition had a large and active internet community, many of whom were initially skeptical about the changeover. Complaints included the expense of repurchasing core rulebooks, the number of small rules changes undermining players' mastery of the system, incompatibility issues, reduced power of popular spells, and the lack of a free update booklet for the core rulebooks as had been done with other 3.0 sourcebooks.

Monte Cook, one of the 3.0 core designers, was highly critical of the numerous changes made in 3.5. In a blog article titled Looking at D&D v.3.5, posted on July 17, 2003, Cook described the changes as "too much, too soon", and financially motivated. He specifically criticized the increased focus on miniature use—a popular play-style in the Wizards of the Coast offices, but far from ubiquitous in the D&D community—as well as the weapon size rules, reduced buff spell durations, and poor handling of new prestige classes. Cook speculated that more rules changes were made than necessary, in order to force players to purchase the new rulebooks to retain compatibility with new rulebooks.[4] Cook later suggested that the 3.5 revision also harmed sales of third-party d20 system products written for D&D 3.0, contributing to the collapse of the d20 system market bubble.[9]

Writer Sean K. Reynolds concurred with several of Cook's criticisms. He points blame at the Wizards of the Coast brand team for not giving enough direction to the R&D team, who in turn made too many changes with the intent of improving the game. He also criticized the lack of playtester credits, and the lack of credits for himself and other writers whose work on D&D 3.0 still appeared in 3.5. Reynolds suspected that many players would ultimately play a hybrid of D&D 3.0 and 3.5.[10]

Positive reception

Despite some initial poor reception online, Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 successfully supplanted 3.0 and was soon widely accepted by the D&D community. D&D 3.5 continued to be popular even after the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition in 2008, and retained a significant playerbase even after the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition in 2014.

Online roleplaying game community Roll20 reported that as of Q4 2019, D&D 3.5 was the second most popular edition of the game played on the site, with 1.25% of accounts having played at least one hour of D&D 3.5 in the reporting period. The only games more popular were Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (53.36%), Pathfinder 1st edition (5.64%), and the Warhammer, World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu franchises (each taken as a group). D&D 3.5 was more popular than Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (0.28%), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd edition (0.25%), and Original D&D (0.07%).[11]


D&D 3.5 formed the rules basis of Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder RPG (2009), which continued to develop the 3.5-style rules as a third-party product while Wizards of the Coast produced the more radically different D&D 4th edition from 2004 to 2013.

Troll Lord Games' Castles & Crusades (2004) is based on a stripped-down version of the D&D 3.5 rules, combining Original D&D or Basic D&D sensibilities with the d20 system rules.

D&D 3.5's core d20 system was a major inspiration of the core rules for Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008) and Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014).

Some references from this book appear in the rulebooks of later editions. For example, the list of male gnome names in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.36 includes Gimble, the iconic gnome bard who first appeared in this book. Gimble is later quoted in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018), p.91 and Volo's Guide to Monsters (2016), p.106,109.

External links


  1. D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet
  2. The Special Edition Player’s Handbook: Get the Best for the 30th Anniversary (Oct 15, 2004), Wizards.com.
  3. Special Edition Player's Handbook, Wizards.com.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Looking at D&D v.3.5 (July 17, 2003), Montecook.com.
  5. Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.2.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 D&D 3.5 (July 4, 2003), Wizards.com.
  7. Batezu Sneak Peak (Jan 31, 2003), Wizards.com
  8. Compiled D&D Revision Spotlight (Feb 25, 2003), Wizards.com.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Open Game License as I See It, Part II
  10. My Initial Comments on D&D 3.5 (2003), Sean K. Reynolds.
  11. The Orr Group Industry Report: Q4 2019 - A Momentum Occasion (Feb 5, 2020)

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