Players Handbook 2

By on 10 April 2009

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Handbook 2
An overview from Tim Bancroft/Halfbat.

Super-fast Summary
Good: Gnomes, half-orcs as player races; bard is now _really_ useful – love it; barbarian and druid now back; range of other intersting classes; powers very flavoursome; rules addenda printed at rear; great production; superb illustrations; all-colour hardback. Gnome, Half-orc, Bard, Druid, Sorcerer and Barbarian added to the SGL SRD.
Not-so-good: The powers can be somewhat complicated (inter-dependency, additional dice within powers, too many small ongoing effects) and can slow down play; character backrgounds weak: a lot of effort for little gain.
Consider: This is a crunch book. And doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

A bit longer
I’ve made no secret that I like 4th Edition. It’s _much_ better than 3.5 to play, simplifies skills, acknowledges and rewards non-combat encounters, simplifies movement, makes combat interesting and tactical choices important, and it invites buy-in from all players. You can even be really useful as a standard fighter. It becomes far more of a co-operative enterprise but still within the D&D basic shape of a Dungeon Master (DM) and 4-6 players. I’ve actually really enjoyed almost all of my sessions with it as a player or DM – and that’s something that never happened with 3/3.5.

So what does PHB2 bring to the mix? Well, for a start, some of the old favourite classes and races are back. Druid and Barbarian are here, as well as Sorceror and Bard; Gnome and Half-orc are outlined in more detail as well. But the book also brings in a few more, interesting races, some of which appeared in 3.5 supplements. And it also adds a range of divine- and primal-sourced classes that fill in the spaces in the existing classes nicely – especially lthe gaps in the controller group.

The book is solid, well laid out, and all-colour, as you expect from Wizards of the Coast. There’s a small section on new races, a section on racial paragon paths (11th-20th level), a large section on the new classes with their powers, of course, some new feats to match the powers and races, some epic destinies to go with the classes, a section on character options and backgrounds, a few new magic items to support the classes, new rituals and an appendix with the rule updates. [Draws breath] As you can see, after having written that lot, it’s fairly full with a great deal of crunch.

That’s not to say it’s just a boring crunch book, though. The fluff in the races is as you’d expect, as is that around the classes. And the crunch is very well thought out. Generally it’s a very well written book, in a well-planned format. The only downside for me is that the format becomes too regular – I know, before I’m shouted at, for many that’s useful as you know where to go and what to look for as a reference. Reading it through, though, it can become wearisome. It’s a balance, I know.

The Races
Love ’em: Deva (perpetually reborn, spiritual beings attempting support the goals of good – and avoid falling to the temptation of evil); Gnomes (small fey who have developed the ability to go invisible in response to an attack); Goliaths (huge, competitive mountain-born); Half-orcs (!); and Shifters (part-animal, but not full lycanthropes). The most interesting to play, I feel, is the Deva as the write-up makes it clear that, though good, they may be constantly worried by their fall to evil and being reborn as a rakshasa. I’m looking forward to trying one. Though I think that Goliaths are the weakest, one of my group has leapt on them with joy.

The racial paragon paths that follow cover all the core races so far. Some of these are really fun, and better (read: more interesting to play) than the core paragon paths. Those for the deva and halfling are, in particular, intriguing and the best of a pretty good bunch.

The Classes
We are now spoilt for choice. Some have wonderfully interesting roleplaying potential, others correct the over-/under-powered abilities of those classes in 3rd edition. I’ve already used or GM’d these, so some comments are already as a result of initial experiences. A quick summary:

  • Avenger (Divine Striker). Very much a weapon of their chosen deity and mainly melee based. This could lead to some interesting intra-party goal struggles. Can readily fit into many fantasy archetypes, not just the avenging paladin style. The melee powers are mixed, appearing to focus on mobility and vision which makes a nice change. Some of the ranged powers are similar to a warlock, though, which I guess is inevitable given the 4e structure.
  • Barbarian (Primal Striker). The powerful Conan the barbarian was meant to be. Very much a heart of melee, striker, unlike many other strikers and is wonderful used in conjunction with a fighter/defender who can take the heat. It does need an experienced player to get used to one quickly, though, to remember the ongoing effects from the different rages as it is no longer a simple hack-and-slay character. The rages (an ongoing effect) are a solid approach to supporting the concept. A strong flavour and peeps are enjoying playing this. (Try a goliath barbarian.)
  • Bard (Arcane Leader). Yes!! Superb leader using music and stirring speech to motivate allies and demean opponents. This will probably be a favourite for many as it fixes the old bard weaknesses but retains his flexibility. Like all 4e leaders he boosts allies, and ends conditions, and his effects are mostly psychic/charm. On the whole, the flavour text really adds. And for those who want to get stuck in, he has some powerful melee-based spells.
  • Druid (Primal Controller). A shapeshifter, changing from form to form, with some powers that work only in beast form. Like the old druid, there are loads of natural/weather spells, as well, but has no summonings – mind you, that’s fixed the overpowered druid of 3rd Ed. To my mind it takes it back to the grumpy-and-feared-hermit-in-the-wilds type of druid. Good stuff.
  • Invoker (Divine Controller). Dedicated servants of their deities: an interesting mix between paladin and wizard. His summonings and conjurations make for a really different type of controller, but one which can really control. Placing and moving the summonings are important – do read the summoning rules in the appendix before playing. This is one of those that any gamer could get get to tgrips with.
  • Shaman (Primal Leader). Like the Invoker, deals a lot through an avatar, in this case it’s a really interesting game-ploy where many powers are delivered through his spirit companion, who moves around within 20 squares of the shaman. Rumour has it he’s rock solid when coupled with a fighter, and that I can believe. Like teh invoker, this is going to be interesting to play and I want to see more.
  • Sorcerer (Arcane Striker). Drawing power from either a dragon-source or chaos, his spells match his 3e role: a damage dealer. Whilst it makes the sorcerer more interesting than 3rd ed, I couldn’t help but think some of the powers are a bit too complicated just for effect and I was left with a ho-hum feeling. I’m sure some will have fun rolling for random effects, though.
  • Warden (Primal Defender). A shapechanger who uses different forms to apply different forms of control, including a ‘mass mark’ to make all opponents focus on the Warden. Complex powers make him a demanding defender to play, I feel. One to reserve judgement on until it’s been run through a lot of play. Definitely a solid defender though, and one which I suspect could replace the fighter and/or paladin in any party.

Feats
What you’d expect, really. New feats to support multi-classing, a few feats for the new races and classes. But also a few good new feats for grab, bull rush, implement expertise. I can’t see any power creep here, either.

Equipment
As you’d suspect, normal and magical equipment is given for the new classes that need them. The best part of this section, though, is the addition of masterwork armour. This fills a hole in the existing armour bonuses and allows a smoother progression up through the armour AC. Every armour group now has a scale of armour bonus to magical enhancement bonus from +1 onwards. This bugged me in the core book, so I’m really please to see it here.

Rituals
More rituals. This is needed as the bard is very much a ritual user. Many of the rituals are utility tool-box types, ‘Create Campsite’, ‘Song of Sustenance’ and ‘Traveller’s Chant’, for example, being very much oriented towards making camping easy. Others, such as ‘Tree Stride’ (step from one tree to another, are quite useful in the druid’s arsenal and definitely worth getting in some wilderness campaigns. I’m all for these sort of rituals: they get rid of the everyday tedium but also give PCs the choice of getting useful Rituals to help them overcome encounter problems. I like the idea of Rituals, anyway, but these somehow really make me feel comfortable. My favourite? ‘Tree Shape’ – transform into a tree for 6 hours at a cost of 20gp. It conjures so many ideas. 😀

Appendix: Rule Updates
This seems to merge a whole set of rules from the Forgotten Realms books, Martial Power and the current errata. I’m relieved to see them in one place, in a core book, too. Clear rules on conjuration, polymorph and summonings are here (much needed for the classes in this book). And the problematic areas of Stealth and Invisibility are given here, too! Good stuff, again.

Overall, the powers are a somewhat more complicated than the PHB and even Martial Prowess. And that’s really their only downfall. No power creep that I can see, and no really duff powers. Of course, you can pick at a few weak ones here and there, but they all, strongly support the flavour of each class really well, and make each class different – and fun – to play. And that’s the point. A few new races, which are going to be good; added objects into the SGL, which I’m relieved to see; great feel… I’m pleased I got it as, overall, it adds nicely to 4th Ed. with very little waste.

The more I read PHB2, the more comfortable and pleased I am with it It is certainly one of the books I’ll regard as core. It’s one that’ll accompany the other three core books on my perambulations, when Martial Power and Adventurer’s Vault (for example) would be left at home.

Have fun! This will certainly help. If you’re in to 4e, at all, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest you get hold of PHB2. 😀

About Tim Bancroft

Tim's been a roleplayer since the mid 70's and now just enjoys running or playing tabletop RPGs as long as they are not too complicated. He's written for a variety of RPGs over the years and has even helped develop one or two. He occasionally releases products through Sceaptune Games, but is happy to write for anyone providing he doesn't have to do too much production work (not laziness, just physical constraints). He's playtested a variety of RPG and wargame rulesets, though he prefers board games to the latter. In addition to a little knowledge of computers, history and theology, he also studies choral music, voice and spirituality in Winchester. If you want to be nice, buy him a curry, a bottle of good mead or port, or even invite him along to, or offer to come round to his place for, a RPG session.

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