The Cover Up: D&D Player’s Handbook Part 3

Welcome back to the Cover up! Today we’ll have a bit of a quick-fire round to analyse the 3.5 (the 3rd edition cover was essentially the same but less fancy, so for the sake of time it has been left out) and 4th edition players handbooks. So let’s get right to it.


The 3.5 line of books went for looking like books that exist within the fantasy universe. This is certainly a bold choice, as it means that unlike the previous editions of the Players Handbook it can’t rely on an image of Fantasy Adventure to sell. But of course by this time Dungeons and Dragons was big business, and had been bought by Wizards of the Coast. So we can assume the name would be enough to give players an idea of what the product is about.

The book certainly puts across the image that it’s an in-universe book. The earthy golds and browns bring old books to the forefront of the mind. However at the same time as it does this it clashes with what we know about said old books. What’s up with the inlaid gemstones?, I ask. Sure they look fancy, but why put them on a book? Surely all that will do is make it a pain in the arse to put on a shelf with other, unadorned, books. (I’m certainly saying ‘book’ a lot this time aren’t I)


But you can’t help but notice that while the cover itself is flat, the design seems to be trying to go for 3d. This is incredibly odd, as rather than looking like a fancy book, it looks like the a picture of a fancy book that’s been put onto a regular book.  This creates a very odd affect, as your holding a physical object in your hands, and it appears to be trying to trick you into seeing it differently. Its like putting on a paper Mache mask and trying to put it across as your real face.

Overall the idea behind the cover is solid, but its execution leaves much to be desired. Later re-prints of the book put the idea across far better.


In this image on the front of the 4th edition Players Handbook, two heroes stand ready in a cave, prepared for what’s coming at them. Closer inspection also reveals there are two other members of the party in the background. I only noticed them when looking back over this cover for this segment, and while the foreground figures are ready for battle, these blue lit party members don’t seem to be in any sort of hurry. Guess whatever monster they’re facing isn’t that big of a deal.


The two in the forefront seem to be jostling for dominance of the image. I’m not entirely sure which one I should be focusing on. The Wizard’s heavy use of red in comparison to her scaly friend seems to suggest she should be the focus, as well as the fact her staff overlaps the bars displaying the titles. But at the same time the sheer size of the fighter beside her in comparison to the other elements means that he seems to be the focus as well.


This isn’t helped by the way in which parts of their clothes and weapons go of the page, out of view.  All these elements come into making the image seem incredibly busy, and not in a good way. I don’t quite know where to look. This over design seems to be a problem with a lot of 4th edition art, but my feelings on that could make up an entire different article.

Out of all the Players Handbook’s I think this one is the weakest, it’s messy composition does it in, in comparison to the others which present themselves so well. The 3 to 3.5 editions while clunky in there execution, at least were properly arranged.

Next week will see the end of our look through the ages of Players Handbook’s with 5th edition.

1 Comment

  1. I know the gemstones were a bit kitschy, but I like ’em. Still got my 3.5 books, as this was my jumping-on point for D&D, and I think the covers are fantastic.

    I agree that it’s unusual and perhaps bold to go with this, rather than with a traditional fantasy scene, but going down the route of shunning artwork, have you seen the cover of Traveller?


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