Well, I’ve had the PHB 2 for a couple of weeks, now, and ran the World Wide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day adventure with the new material over at Imagine Games. About time I spouted off on my opinions.
In general, I want to say that I was really impressed with the overall quality and ideas presented in the book. I love it. Some bits more than others, but that’s the way with every sourcebook, right? I’m going to walk through the book section by section, but I want to talk about some of the overall things I noticed in the book.
- One of my main complaints about 4E at the time it was released was that there weren’t enough options for my taste. Specifically, I bemoaned the fact that there was only one class that filled the Controller role. Well, now we have three, and I’m very happy about that.
- The ways the various roles are filled by the different classes show a nice variety in approach and jazz. Even when the same power source powers the same role, such as the Warlock and the Sorcerer both being Arcane Strikers, the difference in powers and outlook really makes the two classes different in feel and play. This is a good thing.
- A great many of the new classes work in interesting and surprising ways, giving me a lot of ideas for different characters I’d like to play. This is what I want out of a character book.
- Nothing in the book is necessary to play 4E. You don’t need this book. But it’s a bunch of good stuff that builds on what has come before. It is a true expansion, giving new options and choices, but not required for play.
Now, on to the specifics. I’m gonna go chapter by chapter.
Introduction: The Primal Power Source
I was a little leery of how they were going to fit Primal power into the whole range of power sources, and what they could do with it outside of Druids and Barbarians. I was especially wary of how it would fit into the story elements of the gods vs. primordials background myth. Well, they made it work, and I like it. It makes for an interesting difference between Clerics and Druids, and gives a basis for an “Old Religion” style paganism in the midst of the polytheistic basic D&D religion set-up. Very flavourful, adding interesting choices, without adding too many built-in difficulties, such as rivalries between Druids and Clerics, or between the primal spirits and the gods.
Chapter One: Character Races
New races never really thrill me. Most races seem pretty bland, and there always seems to be overlap in the design goal of various races. I mean, we still get three different types of elf in the core rules (elf, eladrin, half-elf), and one almost-an-elf (halfling). Given that, I’m not very taken by the addition of the gnome, though I know there are people out there who love the little guys. The half-orc is fine for nostalgia’s sake, but I didn’t really feel the loss when it didn’t show up in the core rules. And I never cared much one way or the other about goliaths in 3E, and still don’t care much about them in 4E.
The shifter I cared about, because I’m an Eberron fan, and I really liked the way they worked in that world. I found their roles interesting and their culture rife with gaming hooks. Also, they did cool stuff when they shifted. I’m not as impressed by the new mechanics of the shifting – it requires the shifter to be bloodied, and doesn’t seem as flavourful as in 3E. The Razorclaw Shifting power doesn’t seem to make your claws very razorlike, for example. And the racial feats don’t do a whole lot to add to the flavour. It’s not that the shifters are a bad race, now; they just don’t have the same flavour that I used to like.
This is balanced by the devas. I really like the idea behind the race, which seems to be inspired by the aasimar and the kalashtar of 3E. They have an interesting background, a fun little racial ability to draw on their past incarnations, and a cool look to them. Score.
The Racial Paragon Paths are another thing that I think was really needed in the game. The requirement to either take a paragon path or take paragon multiclassing at 11th level is something that I’m still not sure I like, but adding the racial paths is certainly a step in the right direction. My only regret is that there aren’t more of them, because I’m greedy for choices, but I expect we’ll see some show up in Dragon.
Chapter Two: Character Classes
This is, of course, the meat of the book. Eight new character classes: four Primal, two Divine, two Arcane. This brings us to a nice range of four of each power source in the PHB and the PHB2, not counting the Swordmage from Forgotten Realms or the Artificer playtest. It’s a nice field of choices.
One thing that struck me was the way this book acknowledges that the four roles are not restrictive. Each class has a primary role, but can focus on different secondary roles based on their choices of power. This means that, even without multiclassing, your character can reasonably fill multiple roles. Now, it won’t be as good at the secondary role as at its primary role, but the options are there. The roles are guidelines, not straitjackets.
So, the classes.
We’ve got the return of the Barbarian, the Bard, the Druid, and the Sorcerer. Nothing terribly surprising, there, though I was very impressed by the way they implemented them in 4E. The Druid’s wildshape, the Barbarian’s rages, the Bard’s musical ability, and the Sorcerer’s innate magic, all of it was handled in very interesting and playable ways. In the WWDDGD adventure, I got to see the Barbarian in action, and it was a thing of beauty.
For new classes, we’ve got the Avenger, the Invoker, the Shaman, and the Warden. In play, the Avenger and Invoker were a lot of fun, each of them fitting into their niche nicely, but complementing each other in what they could do. I love the idea of the Shaman with a spirit companion, as well. The Warden has got one of my players drooling over the ideas it puts into his head.
All in all, the classes are a win. All of them.
I only skimmed the Paragon Paths associated with the different classes, but they each look as solid and fun as any in the PHB, giving interesting focus to the base class. Same thing with the Epic Destinies – nothing stands out as amazing, but nothing stands out as terrible, either.
Chapter Three: Character Options
The background system offered in this chapter is primarily useful for new players, and for giving idea seeds to others trying to come up with their backgrounds. Granting a minor mechanical benefit to the background is a nice way to encourage folks to come up with a backstory, and the suggestions are not overpowered. A good, if not really earthshattering, addition to the game.
The feats mainly focus on the new races and classes presented in the book, as they should, though the addition of Weapon Expertise and Implement Expertise feats will be very popular with other classes, if my play groups are any example.
Not a whole lot to say about the new gear, though they have some useful charts consolidating the masterwork armour types from both the PHB and Adventurer’s Vault in a way that clears up some of the confusion about those things. New magic items are primarily for use with the new classes and races, and seem a decent assortment.
The ritual assortment is small, but has a number of good things in it. The Bard rituals are nice, and give that class a bit of the musical and language-based abilities that make the Bard feel like a Bard. The other rituals fill in some gaps that existed in the ritual list – it’s not completely filled, but it’s a nice addition, and I expect more in Arcane Power this month. The section on alternate ritual books, while short, opens up some good roleplaying possibilities for the various classes.
Appendix: Rule Updates
Very much an appendix. The section on reading a power clarifies a few things nicely, and the Stealth errata is useful, but nothing actually necessary, seeing as the errata exists in several other places. Handy, but far from essential.
So, that’s my take on the PHB2. A very good book that bodes well for the continuation of the game line. If they keep producing books of this quality, I will be very, very happy.