Friday, May 7, 2010

Players Handbook 3

I realize I'm late to the game here, but it took me a while to actually look through the Player's Handbook 3 and play around with the new builds in the Character Builder. I still haven't looked closely at a few of the classes, but I've seen enough to know that the PHB3 is not quite as big a release as the PHB2.

Races: Githzerai, Minotaur, Shardmind, Wilden

We seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Not only are there only four, but they're a bit too exotic for a PHB, in my opinion. None of these are races you expect to see walking around town, or serving beer at the local tavern. But then that's one of the big differences between the tone of 4e as opposed to previous editions. D&D used to be about ordinary people who were destined for greatness, farmers and apprentices who only became heroes after doing great deeds and earning experience points. But Fourth Edition is about people who were exceptional to begin with, people who stood out from the crowd even before the first play session. I'm okay with that, but it turns some players off.

Of the new races, I really don't see myself trying any of them out. I can see Minotaurs appealing to the same people who play brutish Dragonborn, Half-Orcs, and Goliaths. The other three appear to have been added just to fit the new classes. The Shardmind seems especially alien to me; I just don't know how someone would roleplay one. It's hard enough to think through your motivations when you're playing a Dragonborn, but I can't even imagine the wants and desires of a creature made of animated crystal.

Classes: Ardent, Battlemind, Monk, Psion, Runepriest, Seeker, Hybrid

Well, we finally got the Monk, and we'd been needing that for a while. I like what they've done to the class, giving them both moves and attacks in their powers. I really want to try one sometime.

The new Psionic classes are very different. The biggest change is the "Power Point" sytem - instead of encounter powers, you get a certain number of PP per encounter. (C'mon, WOTC, think about the potential abbreviations before you name things.) The PP can be used to augment your At-Wills, to make them as powerful as Encounter powers. It's a lot more versatile than normal Encounter powers, because you can either spend 1 PP to make your At-Will a little bit more powerful, or 2 PP to make it a lot more powerful. So if you have 2 PP per encounter, basically you can use two mediocre Encounter powers that battle, or 1 really good Encounter power instead.

Since the Psionic power source is the PHB3's big thing, they had to make sure they had at least one Psionic class for each battle role. So whether you prefer Controllers, Strikers, Leaders, or Defenders, there is something Psionic you can try out. Personally I'd like to try the Battlemind. They're the second 4e class to use CON as their primary stat (the other being certain Warlocks), but they have the same armor proficiencies as Fighters. So they get high AC and a lot of hit points right off the bat. Plus their marking system is pretty neat - They can damage adjacent marked enemies who attack the Battlemind's allies, and they get to shift with their marked foe as an immediate reaction to the foe's shifting.

The Hybrids are complicated but interesting, and combinations range from useless to potentially gamebreaking. A lot of really creative combinations could come from this, and there's a few I'm hoping to try sometime. I'll give them a blog of their own.

Skill Powers

One of my favorite things in the PHB3 is the skill powers. These are utility powers that can be taken by any class, as long as they're trained in a specific skill. I used to hate the choices of utility powers, as a lot of them are worthless to me. So this is a nice way to give us more options.

A lot of them are kind of useless unless you're in a completely roleplay-based campaign. For example, they might let you reroll certain skill checks, or let you roll one kind of check in place of another. Meh. Some of them have been done before for specific classes, but are now available to anyone who trains in a certain skill. For example, Graceful Maneuver is a level 6 Acrobatics power that lets you shift half your speed, which is similar to the Rogue Level 2 power Tumble.

My favorites are the ones for Endurance and Heal, as they can give any class a little bit of healing. I'll likely make sure all my characters are trained in at least one of those from now on. One really neat one is the Level 2 Endurance Daily power Invigorating Presence, which allows you to give nearby allies 10+(CON mod) temporary hitpoints when you use your second wind. There's also Third Wind (Endurance Daily 6) which lets you spend a healing surge as a minor action, Physicians Care (Heal Encounter 6) which lets you or an ally spend a surge, Reactive Surge (Endurance Encounter 6) which lets you spend a healing surge as an immediate reaction to being bloodied, Miraculous Treatment (Heal Daily 16) which heals an ally without spending a surge, and so on.

In a pinch, almost character could fill in for the party healer. So in addition to Hybrids and Multiclass feats, we now have a third way to dabble in another role.


The PHB3 does include some new feats, but most of them are just extras for the new races and classes. There is one interesting feat that's been the source of a lot of debate on the D&D forums. Versatile Expertise is like taking Weapon Expertise and Implement Expertise at the same time. You can choose one weapon group and one implement group, and you get an attack roll bonus when using either. With two feats for the price of one, why would anyone still take Weapon or Implement Expertise? Some say that the feat is broken, giving an unfair advantage to implement users. Other say it's a math fix, helping the classes who unfairly had to take more feats to be as effective as their allies. And still others say we're reading the feat incorrectly, and that it's not nearly as powerful as it first sounds.


There's also some new items, but nothing really big to report. Overall, this was the least interesting of the PHB series to me, and I hope they don't feel the need to release a PHB4. Now that we have the Monk - the last missing "core" class - there's just no need for more. If they want to make more playable monster classes, like goblins or kobolds, I'd rather they make that a book in itself. Actually, a whole book dedicated to playable monsters would actually be kind of interesting. But I can't imagine where else the PHB series could possibly go.

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