Posted on March 21st, 2009 in Axel Night, Tabletop Gaming by Axel Night

It’s been about six months since the release of D&D 4th Edition.  Since launch, Wizards of the Coast has been churning out books and side material at a dizzying pace in trying to hush the inevitable "but my 3.5 has more options to play with" gripes.  This month, the Player’s Handbook 2 dropped, and I dashed to pick mine up yesterday.  If your biggest complaint about 4th Ed was the missing core classes from 3.5, this might be what tips the scale for you.  Is that all its worth, and does it deliver?  Jump, man, jump!

If you’re looking for the 3.5 conversion quick-and-dirty, and can’t stand to read anymore, here goes.  Bard, Barbarian, Druid, and Sorcerer are back.  As for races, the half-orc and gnome round out the old core values.  Monk does not make an appearance.  No kung-fu in your fantasy just yet.

Now that those people have left, let’s get down to biznizz.

The PHB2 is mostly material for new characters.  8 new classes, 5 new races, and a trough of feats mostly meant to customize the afore mentioned two aspects.  New magic items and ritual spells round off the package, as well as a few rule updates and clarifications from the past book, in case you haven’t already taken to the Internets to see what got tweaked.  If you’ve already made your character, there’ll be somethings here to put to use, but it’s mostly meant for you to roll up that brand new gnome bard you’ve had your heart set on.

Classes

8 new character classes are offered up, many of which are of the new Primal persuasion.  That is, they’re all hippy nature ‘n shit.  Just in case the Ranger wasn’t Green enough for you, you tofu munching stoner you.

Avenger

A divine, zealot, assassin dude; the Avenger hunts down heretics to his god and guts ‘em gud.  He’s of the damage-dealing persuasion.  Raised on the darker side of religion, the Avenger does the dirty work that the clerics don’t like to admit goes on behind the curtains.  Even a goody goody god needs a good crusade and genocide now and then, and that’s this guy’s MO.  His primary death-dealing ability is his Oath of Enmity.  By swearing the end of one target, you get various conditional bonuses.  For example, one variation lets you add your Intelligence bonus to damage against the target for each enemy who isn’t him that hits you.  And if you can get the sucka alone, you get to roll two attacks and take the better one.

It’s a fairly odd but flavorful class that takes a variety of approaches besides a simple "plus to make dead" approach to being a damage dealer.  And if you ever hated the "do what your god says or lose your power" factor in being a deity’s pawn, the Avenger gets a "get out of morals free" card.  The book out and states he doesn’t have to follow the practices of his deity.  Its your job to do the dirty work, and sometimes little things like ethics and orphanages get in the way.

Barbarian

Returned is that guy you sent into the trapped room first, cuz he had the most hit points.  Barbarians have seen their fair share of reworking for round 4.  Not simply a beefy bag of HP tied off in a leather loin-cloth, he’s now considered primarily a damage dealer, with the luxury of a healthy HP stock instead of the damage-avoidance tactics most Strikers in 4e employ.  Rages make up a lot of the strategy (?!) involved in playing a Barbarian.

Wait, who, what?  Strategy?  Barbarian?  Well, maybe.  Some say they’re actually somewhat difficult to play, and I can see where they’re coming from.  Every one of the Barbarian’s Daily attacks are "Rages".  They have some immediate, typically powerful attack, then a lingering effect that lasts for the rest of the fight.  Many of their weaker attacks also have some added bonus if used during a rage.  When not in a rage, a barbarian is a fun, though somewhat sub-par character.  In a rage, he’s a deadly force beyond what "+4 Strength, +4 Constitution, -2 AC" could’ve ever captured.  The rages are fun to employ, varied in style, and flavorful in design. 

He’s a bit more work than "I hit it and survive it hitting me", but if you enjoy the flavor of the Barbarian, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Bard

In early editions, Bards owned your face.  They were hard to get, but amazing at everything.  In 3rd edition, they were a running joke, with no real combat edge to bring to the brawl.  I’m happy to say that the new Bard is balanced and well done.  Inspirational, tricky, and versatile describe her (You see how I did that, mixing the genders and such.  I’m so damn PC.) best.  They fill the Leader role, much like the Cleric and Warlord from the first PHB.  That means they favor aiding and directing their allies over dealing or taking damage. 

The mechanics are open to play a melee-focused bard who, in the fray, buffs and and inspires his allies, or a cunning bard, who hangs back with his wand and causes mischief.  They have some healing, both active like the cleric’s, and passive in the form of a bonus to healing done out of battle.  She can multi-class into as many classes as she qualifies for, too.  What’s that mean?  Them sexy multi-class feats that grant skill training and abilities all wrapped into one little feat?  She can take lots of ‘em.  Freakin’ A.  On the heap, she also gets ritual spells, much like clerics or wizards, as well as a variety of Bard-only rituals that she can even cast for free a few times a day. 

Druid

Rehash #3 is the Druid.  Once upon a time, the Druid got a fairly wide array of bonuses and abilities.  In keeping with the 4e tradition, a lot of that has been streamlined, rearranged, or removed.  He’s a Controller, by nature, meaning he blankets the area with effects, and hinders or hurts large groups of enemies.  Depending on your style, he’ll also bend some towards taking or dealing damage. 

If you played your old Druid as a fire-tossing, lightning-calling, plague-inducing, ranged spell ass-hat, then you’re in about the same boat as the rest of the casters.  You can do all the same cool things, but without the book-o-thousand-spells at your disposal.  If you favored the shapeshifter Druid, your world is turned on its side.  For better or worse will depend on the individual.

The Druid can now shapeshift right out of the gate.  The whole process, however, has become very abstracted.  You can become just about any remotely natural form your imagination can dictate, but it doesn’t change anything.  Not really.  Some of your powers are lobbed spells of death and others are pouncy-stabby-animal powers.  While an animal, you can only use animal powers, and as a human, you can use everything else.  Turning into a bird doesn’t let you fly.  Becoming a fish doesn’t let you swim.  You just kind of look different, and well, good for you.  Once you get looking at the beast form powers, it gets cooler, I promise.  But, this light-switch attitude to shapeshifting may turn off some.

Invoker

A new class, the Invoker has nothing to do with what your old-school terminology might lead you to think an Invoker is.  He’s basically a divine nuke.  Lots of big, area-of-effect blasts, direct from god to your mouth.  This guy is essentially the divine equivalent to a wizard.  There are flavor differences, and he gets a few things like Channel Divinity, like the other divine classes, including undead turning.  Expect to be sliding enemy pieces around, stopping them in their tracks, and littering the board with flaming angels and swords of gleaming light.

"I’m on a Mission from God" – Dan Akroyd the Invoker

Shaman

It’s a primal party, and what would it be without the Shaman.  Like the Bard, Cleric, and Warlord, the Shaman is a Leader type Pokémon.  She summons a spirit animal, through which the majority of her abilities will be channeled.  The spirit animal can block enemies, make special opportunity attacks, tank bosses, provide healing and mobility to allies, and has your espresso hot and ready on the counter every morning.  The Shaman, herself, can learn a few ranged spells and can use a spear.  Oooh.  I’m so scared.  Yup, your spirit animal is 10 times cooler than you.  That’s how it goes.  Take comfort in knowing that you’re at least capable of better healing than a cleric.  That counts for something.  It has to, because you damage output stinks as bad as your unwashed tribal ass crack.

To counter the fact that your primary job is to make everyone else cooler than you, you get Speak with the Spirits, which gives you your Wisdom modifier on to one skill check per encounter.  Since Wisdom is your primary attack ability, it’s going to be a very solid bonus.  It’s a small gift, but rocking one skill check per encounter like it was your bitch has to count for something.

Sorcerer

The fourth and final 3.x remake is the Sorcerer.  The Sorc changed the face of spell casting, with a scorching hot fireball to the, um, face, by giving 3e players an all new way to play a caster.  Since spell casting got turned on its head in 4e, it was assumed by most that the Sorcerer got left out in the Shadowfell because there was no need for something so redundant.  Still, Sorcy lovers cried, and this is what we got. 

The concept of "you are a descendant of a dragon" from before is now blown up and out like never before.  If you adopt the dragon blooded variant, you’ll get to pick the element of your scaled senior (for example, fire for a red dragon), and gain both resistances to that element and the ability to pierce those resistances in others.  Charisma is still your primary ability, but as a brutish dragon, Strength is your secondary, and applies directly as extra damage to your spells.  It also makes you passable in a toe-to-toe brawl.

Instead of the classic dragon-breed, you can focus on Chaos Magic.  You’ll get resistances similar to your dragon counterpart, but instead, it’s random each day which element it is.  Many of your spells will have an added chance factor involved, making you roll for added effects or which element bombs your target.

Sorcerer spells are more uni-target than that of a wizard, and focus mainly on pure damage output.  There’s little thought involved in playing one, making for an amazing point, click, kill experience.  Expect him to remain an old favorite.

Warden

The last primal mate is the Warden.  He’s your new jungle tank.  Before I even get into the flavor-factor, I have to comment that this man has an INSANE number of hit points.  Insane, man!  He’s the only Defender in the book, but by no means a bad one.

The Warden is a guardian of nature.  His first note of cool-factor is found in his Daily attacks.  Each of them are a special form, such as that of a tree or panther or so on and so forth.  Each form gets an assortment of bonuses, and a special attack he can make once while in that form.  Cool point #2:  He’s extremely resilient to ongoing status effects and damage.  He gets to make his saves both at the beginning and the end of his turn, so he could potentially break free of a stun or poison before they even effect him.  His aggro management is, by default, lacking in comparison to that of a Fighter or Paladin.  He can mark everyone around him for a round, meaning he can draw the attention of many more enemies than the others, but the incentive for the enemy to care is somewhat lacking until you take some extra feats to customize the experience.

All in all, the classes range from not bad to great fun.  But lo, for thar be races to cover. 

Lo, Races!

Deva

Not Diva, Deva.  A new race to those who weren’t into the more distant supplement books of last edition, the Deva are goodly immortals who thought it’d be fun to know what it was like to get Syphilis and die.  So they went mortal.  When they die, they are reborn as new adults with only faint memories of their past life.  This is of little use to you as a player, since new person = new character = level 1.  You can, however, benefit from generations of flashbacks in the form of the occasional 1d6 bonus to a d20 roll you weren’t fond of.

Gnome

If you’ve not had your eyes gouged out, you’ve seen the new rendition of gnomes in 4e.  WHY?!  Why must the poor creatures be the victim of a creative backhand in each revision.  They did nothing to you besides put sneezing powder in your coffee then show you illusions of your mother taking it from behind.  On second thought, hang the bastards.  If you looked in the back of your Monster Manual, they’re basically the same, with a few additions.  This time, though, they’ve got the full treatment of feats and PC-friendly write-ups.

Goliath

Another invention of the lesser-sold splat-book lore, Goliaths are 7 to 8 foot tall mounds of overcompensation.  I could tell you how they’re fiercely competetive or describe the pebble-like scales dotting their skin, but really, all you need to know is that they’re stronger and tougher than you.  Where many races have racial affinity in weapons close to their personal heritage, the Goliath favor anything big enough to take two hands.  That’s what she said!

Half-Orc

The half-orc makes it back into a new addition, and this time without so much as an implication of rape anywhere in the book.  What is D&D coming to, I swear.  But aside from the pink frilly tutus and foam-padded back story, the abilities, bonuses, and feats do a great job of capturing the offensive and rage-oriented nature of these legitimately born tiddlywanks.  No longer is mental retardation a racial requirement, but we all know better than to branch from the established stereotypes.  Long may Intelligence and Charisma be dump stats.

Shifter

I think these guys came from Ebberon or some such.  I honestly don’t know, but you’ll find them too in the back of your Monster Manual.  Essentially, Shifters are animalistic decendancts of werewolves and weretigers.  And if you say "wait, but isn’t lycanthropy a disease and curse passed down from generation to generation, undiluted by the ills of time," the book would quietly tell you to go eat a fat one, because it has better things to do than listen to you cry about it.

And there you have it.  There’s plenty more to be had in the book, but you’re not going to drop your $3X.XX on that piddly crap.  They’re mostly designed to compliment the classes and races presented above, anyways.  I don’t think it blows 4th ed up into anything it wasn’t already, but it diversifies the experience and offers a lot more options than were formerly available.  If you haven’t had a chance to give it a go, now might be a time to sneak in on a short adventure and roll yourself up a Sorcerer.  Toasty!

 

What are people saying about "Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2"?

Ethos
Re: Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2

If you still play DND (sorry if that's a stupid question, I know I would be like WHAT?! OF COURSE I PLAY DND) which do you prefer 4 or 3.5? And for what reasons?

Only reason I'm stuck on 3.5 is because I haven't had the time to learn 4.0, but I'm not against 4.0 by any means. Just ignorant, of the details.
Othgar the Flamboyant
Re: Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2

I was curious initially now I am downright wanting to try 4th edition.  Im wanting a shifter shaman!... alliteration aside, I may be close to a nerdgasm
Axel Night
Re: Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2

Indeed I do play.  I currently DM 4th ed semi-occasional for room mates and the like.  The hardest part of moving to 4e was getting out of my head the way 3.x made me think of classes.  Third Edition introduced a great deal of freedom.  Feats and very liberal multiclassing (including prestige classes) allowed us to create something unique compared to someone else's character.  The problem with classes were (aside from maybe the fighter, who was just a pool of feats) they were nothing more than a series of static abilities gained level to level.  To combat their static nature, we'd take different combinations of classes, aiming for the abilities we wanted from each.  Feats helped customize even the non-multiclassed, but most had requirements, often in the form of other feats.  No one wanted to take Expertise or Power Attack, but you had to if you wanted lots of the good stuff.  My rogue couldn't even take Weapon Finesse (that feat necessary for him to hit things) until level 3.  Multiclassing also had problems in that most classes didn't synergize well.  If I wanted to be a melee caster, I had to suffer both substandard casting and a heavily penalized attack bonus.

I point out these annoyances (which we certainly had no problem with, back when we played 3e), because it's probably where 4e shines best.  It's argued that multiclassing in 4e sucks.  It does.  Diversity costs you, probably unfairly.  That is to say, diversity outside of your class costs you.  Where 4e shines is diversity within classes.  So much so that I really don't miss multiclassing that much.  If I pick Fighter, I get, right up front, a few bonuses such as adding my Wisdom modifier to Opportunity Attacks and the ability to mark targets with my attacks.  (Marking is a mechanic that encourages an enemy to attack you, rather than your friends, by imposing some sort of penelty for doing so.  All marks impose a -2 to attack for not attacking you, but fighters also get things like free attacks if they try to 5-foot step away or attack other people.  How's that for being a meat shield?)  Beyond that (ie, I get all my "ooh, I'm a fighter aren't I cool" abilities up front, no waiting), all of my fighter stuff I get beyond that are in my power choices.  The powers I might pick for a sword fighter would be different than an axe fighter, which would be different from a dual-weilder, or I might just pick whatever sounds cool and ignore my weapon's theme entirely.  Just what I pick as my powers makes me very different from another fighter, but I also get a lot more feats than I would in 3e.  Also, gone are the "feat trains".  Most have very basic requirements, and so I get to start picking the cool ones right off.  Lots of passive abilities like Evasion are now feats, so I don't have to multiclass rogue to get it.  I just have to be level 11.  Those feats are also how multiclassing works.  I never stop being a fighter.  But, if I have the intelligence, I might play with taking some feats and trading out a few of my fighter powers for some wizard ones.  Multiclassing is more about dabbling, than being a full-boar hybrid.

Is 4e god's answer to RPG?  No.  It answered a few of my prayers, but it isn't everyone's cup of tea.  When I DMed 3e, my secret was to improvise a lot on the fly.  I broke a lot of the conventional rules to make things dynamic and fun.  Monsters had abilities that weren't necessarily conventional.  I did my best to make environments and terrain dynamic and a factor in the fights.  The good news is that this is pretty much the standard in 4e.  Monsters work on very different rules than PCs and have some amazingly interesting abilities.  I'd also let players get by with breaking the rules, if they could impress me with dramatic ideas.  If the roleplay impressed me, I'd let it slide.  While 4e sort of encourages this in the text, I find it harder to implement in the rules.  Because the players' powers often do these sort of interesting things all on their own, its hard to let a player come up with something interesting and let it slide, when another character might have such a feat of acrobatics as one of his basic abilities.  Ironically, 4e basically steps on toes by making examples and rules of things we used to bullshit, while making things more interesting in other areas by giving us the freedom to bullshit them where there used to be rules.  I figure 5th Edition will be the perfect D&D, by just giving us a blank book and letting us make it all up as we go along.

In short, I do enjoy 4th Ed, but not everyone will.  I think the races and classes are far more customizable and flavorful than they used to be.  But, there will be things that bother some, because it is a significantly different way of playing.  I think I do like 4e more than 3.5, simply because I went back to Neverwinter Nights 2 (a 3.5 based video game) and found myself frustrated with the limitations I'd grown used to ignoring when designing my ideal character.  Sure, I could do a lot more things by combining a variety of classes, but a lot of them just weren't effective in a fight, and I had to wait several levels before I was "cool".  There's also a lot to be said for unlimited magic missiles per day.
Othgar the Flamboyant
Re: Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2

The bullshit on the fly mechanics of the game are the most enjoyable to me.  Hell I have guns in my world but they are steam powered and don't have a very high range.  When gun powder was invented I made the mechanics of something similar to a sawed off shotgun.  Ammo is limited of course but still whipping out a gun to shoot an ogre is fairly fun. 

With what you say about the way the rules work in 4ed. makes it sound like that will be the make or break for me.
Axel Night
Re: Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Player’s Handbook 2

The bullshit on the fly mechanics of the game are the most enjoyable to me.  Hell I have guns in my world but they are steam powered and don't have a very high range.  When gun powder was invented I made the mechanics of something similar to a sawed off shotgun.  Ammo is limited of course but still whipping out a gun to shoot an ogre is fairly fun. 

With what you say about the way the rules work in 4ed. makes it sound like that will be the make or break for me.

That it will.  Mainly, I find the problem is that 4e has an inherently balanced edge to it that 3e did not.  If you made up a new custom element for 3e, it just had to sound fair.  If it did, it probably was, because D&D was just an unfair environment.  If you were a wizard, you sucked at level 1 and melted faces with your mind at 20.  Rogues were shamelessly amazing 50% of the time, and utterly worthless the other 50%.  Bards died, and we laughed.  Clerics were perpetually pwning machines, but it was cool, cuz their god kept them in check.  Barbarian rage was never that good, but we used it anyways, cuz yer fuckin' ragin' man!  Making things up for the game wasn't that hard.  It didn't have to be exactly fair.  D&D wasn't fair.  Life wasn't fair.  That's how it rolls, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that.

Enter 4e, and there is an obvious effort made to make sure everyone is always useful, cool, fun, and fair.  There are mechanics that seem to be invisibly looking over your shoulder and making sure that no matter what hair-brained scheme you come up with, you don't end up with someone hopelessly broken.  And where it doesn't, the books are more than happy to give useful building and roleplay suggestions to put you off on the right foot.  So, at least for me, it's hard to just up and throw together some custom player option out of fear of damaging what was obviously crafted with the utmost care.

That is for players, though.  When it comes to monsters, I feel free as a bird.  Once I figured out the basic numbers, making my own monsters on the fly was super easy and rewarding.  The simplified mechanics make throwing strange and new attacks and obstacles at your PCs with little prep time really easy.  If it's a little over or under powered, well, they're just going to kill that monster in a few rounds, and a variety in challenge is good to have.

For example, the group's first adventure took them to a cursed circus.  One encounter had them facing the Fire Eater, the Strong Man, and the Fat Lady.  I roughed up the numbers for a typical trio of 2nd level monsters (+1 level wouldn't be too bad, since they were out numbered).  The Fire Eater was the frail artillery.  He could lob highly damaging balls of fire that left the target taking continuous burning damage.  I also gave him two sword attacks per round as an option, in case he was forced into melee (which is pretty powerful, given that multiple attacks per round are pretty much gone).  The Strong Man was a generic, beefy guy.  Lots of hit points and damage with a poor chance to hit.  The Fat Lady took up a 2x2 block of squares, and had a special attack she could use once that rolled over everyone in a line.  Each player that had their Reflex defense (it's a defense like AC now, no longer a save) beat would be rolled up inside her, taking damage each turn until they could roll to escape her grab.  The encounter took about a minute to mock up and have ready, once I had the ideas.

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