Product Review: 4e Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 2

4e Players Handbook 2The Fourth Edition (4e) Player’s Handbook 2, released earlier this month, includes new races, classes, feats, rituals and equipment for the D&D game, along with a chapter on character background and rule clarifications regarding stealth and targeting invisible creatures. A brief overview of the book’s contents follows.

Races

The volume provides rules for five character races: The deva, gnome, goliath, half-orc and shifter.

The deva, which first appeared as a monstrous species in the first edition Monster Manual II, are described as rare creatures native to the Astral Sea, which live and die battling evil in a continuous cycle of reincarnation. Their racial power allows them to tap into the memories of past lives, and apply that knowledge to the task at hand; in game terms, this means adding 1d6 to one roll the player doesn’t like during each encounter.

Gnomes have returned from the dark pages of the Monster Manual. Masters of diversion and trickery, they boast a racial encounter power the allows them to turn invisible after being damaged, and to remain so until they attack or their next turn ends.

The competitive goliath are a race of seven-foot, physically powerful humanoids with close elemental ties to the earth, somewhat like scaled-down earth giants. Their racial power enables them to increase the hardness of  their skins to a rock-like texture, which grants damage resistance that increases with level.

Half-orcs are very much in keeping with what veteran players have come to expect: fast, powerful warriors with high endurance and high damage potential, without too much emphasis on social grace. Their racial ability allows them to add extra damage to an enemy already hit, once per encounter.

Shifters have also been moved from the Monster Manual. These humanoids have traces of lycanthrope blood in their veins, with razorclaw shifters favoring feline ancestry and longtooth shifters claiming canine descent. The race’s encounter powers are triggered when the characters are bloodied, but vary with lineage; longtooth specimens gain regeneration when bloodied, while razorclaws become faster and harder to hit.

Paragon paths

The Player’s Handbook 2 offers paragon paths for all races represented in its own pages and those of the first Player’s Handbook. The only prerequisite for these paths, which govern play from levels 11 to 20, is race; the paths are completely independent of character class. While there are too many paths to describe in detail here, it will suffice to say that the paragon powers presented  will make characters more “themselves” with respect to racial abilities. For example, dragonborn begin with the capacity to detonate their Dragon Breath racial power up to 10 squares away, with greatly increased damage. A utility power gained later enables the dragonborn to sprout wings for short flights, and the highest power enables the character’s Dragon Breath power to cause ongoing damage, even if it misses.

Classes

The number of available character classes doubles with the release of this volume, adding three strikers, two leaders, two controllers and one defender to a player’s options. Each are presented with their own paragon paths, as well.

The Avenger is a striker with a divine power source; she fights effectively with high-damage weapons, but wears virtually no armor. She exists to punish the enemies of the immortal she serves, either with a weapon or via damaging prayers, and excels at isolating or following enemies across the battlefield.

The Barbarian returns to the fold as a striker, one of four classes with the “primal” power source. Primal heroes are connected to the natural world, in much the same way that eladrin are tied to the Feywild. They embody the ferocity and resilience of the world itself. As one might expect, the barbarian unleashes this primal energy in the form of beserk rages. Many of the barbarian’s encounter and daily powers are “rage” powers which, upon the attainment of fifth level, the barbarian can exchange for a special Rage Strike power; twice daily, the barbarian can sacrifice a rage power for a highly damaging attack.

As always, the Bard is something of a jack-of-all-trades; he is an arcane hero with the leader role, provided with a fair selection of armor and weapons and the ability to use a wand as an implement. Many of his powers are based in songs and poetry, and the mechanics of 4e enable those powers to affect combat in a much wider variety of ways than in previous editions.

The Druid, a primal controller, combines the various nature-related abilities experienced players expect  with a bit of the unexpected: the ability to assume beast form, at will, at first level. In fact, many of the druid’s powers can only be employed when in beast form. other powers employ nature’s elements – fire, frost, wind, etc. – to damage, restrain or limit options for enemies.

The Invoker is nothing like her counterpart in prior editions. She is now a divine heroine, assuming the controller role. While she can be equipped in much the same way as a cleric, her powers are more about controlling enemy movement, controlling battlefield position, and unleashing divine wrath that reduces her enemies to their component atoms.

The Shaman is the third of the primal heroes. A leader, he is tuned to the spirits of the natural world, who empower him and do his bidding. Each shaman has a companion spirit, which offers an in-game boon and a special attack form which is delivered through the spirit.  His armor and weapons are severely limited due to his primitive nature, but that deficiency is offest by a wide range of useful powers: a player creating a shaman will have many difficult choices to make.

Like the Invoker, the Sorceror is nothing like her counterpart in prior editions. While she is still an arcane heroine, she holds more in common with the wild mages made popular by the Forgotten Realms setting in prior editions of the D&D game. The sorceror is a striker, who channels raw magical energies within her body, shaping it as it is unleashed. At first, she must choose between wild magic or dragon magic as a power source, a choice that can affect the performance of powers in the future in much the same way as the character “builds” presented in the first Player’s Handbook.

The fourth primal class, and the last one presented in the book, is the Warden. The warden embodies nature’s resilience, and by doing so performs as a powerful defender. While his selection of armor is poor when compared with other defenders, the warden has a number of abilities that enhance defenses, and daily powers that allow him to change form and control the line of battle in ways other defenders cannot; for example, the first level daily attack, “Form of the Relentless Panther,” causes the warden to sprout bestial fangs and grow panther’s fur, gaining bonuses to reflex defense and attack bonuses against marked enemies along with an encounter weapon attack usable in the form.

Epic Destinies

Six new epic destinies are defined:

  • The Fatesinger, who represents the pinnacle in bardic achievement;
  • The Glorious Spirit, to which primal heroes can aspire;
  • The Harbinger of Doom, who brings ill fate to all enemies;
  • The Lorekeeper, peerless among scholars and researchers;
  • The Primal Avatar, who is at one with nature; and
  • The Revered One, who is the epitome of all divine heroes.

The book also includes a number of feats for all tiers, nearly all of which are exclusive to the races and classes presented in Player’s Handbook 2. There is an expanded list of adventuring gear, magic armor, weapons, totems, staffs and wondrous items. The book also provides a list of new rituals, mostly geared toward the primal classes and the bard.

Player’s Handbook 2 concludes with rule updates, such as explanations of new keywords presented and clarification on stealth and invisibility.

***

Is this book for you? The answer lies in what you and your players expect from your 4e D&D game. My personal gaming style is minimalist; I’ve hardly exhausted the potential of the first Player’s Handbook in the nine months since it was released, and most of my players seem to be enjoying my campaign without this new volume. Note that I said most, for I do have a couple of players who enjoy the novelty of new material, and said they wanted to explore the new character options presented in this book – two months before it was released. I had this viewpoint difference in mind as I wrote this review; one reason this post ran to such length was that I wanted to provide readers with an understanding of the book’s content, without passing judgment on whether or not it was “good.” Hopefully, this review has provided enough information for you to decide for yourself.

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One comment on “Product Review: 4e Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 2

  1. […] the recent release of the fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 2 (reviewed here), it appears to be the appropriate time to discuss what happens to the game system when certain […]

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