Arcane Power – A Short (Well, It STARTED Short…) Review

Arcane Power for D&D 4E came out last week, and now that I’ve had time to read and digest it, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

Overall, I really like the book. One of the interesting things to see creeping into these supplements are sidebars and sections aimed specifically at adding flavour and roleplaying options to the various mechanical options presented. For example, the sidebar on Bardic Virtues on p 15 of the book talks about how the choice of virtue you make for your bard can guide character development and play. The section on adding quirks to familiars on p 141 is another good example.

Why do I like this? Because it’s redressing what I ‘ve seen (and blogged about) as a bit of an imbalance in the material for 4E so far. Options that play to non-combat situations, options that speak directly to roleplaying. It makes me very happy to see these becoming more prevalent in the system.

Anyway, I thought I’d go chapter by chapter through the book and give you my thoughts.

Chapter 1: The Bard

I’ve always liked bards, but I’ll admit that the jack-of-all-trades approach that’s been taken in the past has seriously reduced their effectiveness in combat situations, and generally made them unbeatable in social situations (Why is that a problem? Because in social situations, everyone just says, “Let the bard do our talking for us.”). I’m cautiously pleased with the 4E implementation of the bard, and the additionaly juicy bits added in Arcane Power make it even more pleasing to me.

The Virtue of Presience class feature is very nice, and fits in nicely with the previous bardic class feature choices. The new powers do a lot to continue making the bard a resourceful, sneaky, talented character, with a lot of interesting and surprising options.

The Paragon Paths presented also do a lot to show off the different facets of the bardic character, ranging from singing warriors to cunning tricksters to skilled diplomats to holders of secret lore. I was happy with the bard before this book; now I’m very happy.

Chapter 2: The Sorcerer

To be honest, I was less thrilled with the 4E implementation of the sorcerer, mainly because I wasn’t all that taken with the choices of Spell Source in the PHB2. Neither Wild Magic nor Dragon Magic really caught my fancy. The addition of Cosmic Magic is interesting to me, but I really like the Storm Magic source. Just reading about it made me start thinking about a character to create*.

The new powers continue to differentiate the sorcerer from the other arcane classes very nicely. They make the point that, while the wizard learns magic and the warlock bargains for magic, the sorcerer is magic. There’s also a very nice sidebar called Sorcerers in the World that gives some nice insight into where sorcerers fit.

The Paragon Paths continue the focus on the sorcerer as magic, showing a number of different ways that sorcerers can proceed to manifest more magic that is tied closely to who and what they are. Nothing is really remarkable among the new paths presented, but all seem solid and flavourful.

Chapter 3: The Swordmage

Up until the avenger class came out in PHB2, the swordmage was king of the “gotcha” moves, with sweet little tricks like aegis of assault and lightning lure right from the get-go. Now, with the new aegis of ensnarement, they may have reclaimed the crown from the avenger. The idea of snatching a foe out of combat and teleporting him right next to you has an immense appeal to me.

The powers seem to have a lot of different ways to move foes around on the battlefield, as well: pushing them, pulling them, sliding them, and swapping positions with them. They work together nicely to give the swordmage some good battlefield dominance to go with his decent attacks and defenses.

As with the sorcerer, the new Paragon Paths are nothing truly spectacular, but do show different ways of envisioning a magical swordsman, and different ways you can take your character.

Chapter 4: The Warlock

Man, I’ve loved the warlock ever since it debuted in Complete Arcane in 3E. Not so much the leather-clad, bad-boy image, but the idea that magic is an exchange, a transaction between the caster and the power source. I loved the pacts offered in the PHB and FRPG, and was looking forward to the new Vestige Pact.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, it pretty closely mirrors what I’ve been doing with my 3E warlock in a game one of my friends is running, and that I’m having a lot of fun with. The implementation in Arcane Power produces a lot of the same sort of flavour I was aiming for when I made Dunael, and decided that his powers came from a wide array of pacts that he has made with the small gods and forgotten spirits of the world.

So, yeah. I like the Vestige Pact.

The book addresses one of the only weaknesses I found in the design of the warlock class: one feels a little constrained to take only powers related to the pact one has chosen. Most of the warlock powers in this book don’t have a specific pact identified in their title, and there’s a nice sidebar on p 77 that goes out of its way to tell you that you can pick whatever powers you want, no matter what pact you’ve chosen. It really opens the field up. And the fact that there are a few new powers with slightly different effects depending on your pact really adds to the flexibility. Kudos.

The Paragon Paths for warlocks have a couple of real gems among them, in my opinon. Personally, I was quite taken by the God Fragment, Entrancing Mystic, and Storm Scourge. That said, it’s because they play to my weak points, rather than anything really outstanding about them.

Chapter 5: The Wizard

Summoning. Illusions. Magical tomes. A new way to use the orb. All good stuff, and giving the wizard back some of the wide range of abilities that was their hallmark in 3E, without letting them be all things to all people, as sometimes happened in 3E. Wizards in 4E can either be generalists, with a little bit of ability in a wide range of disciplines, or specialists, with a deep knowledge of one discipline at the expense of the others. It’s not a new idea, it makes a nice balance, and I’m pleased to see it come back into 4E, so wizards aren’t just about blowing things up.

Though they can still do that, if they choose.

The new powers for summoning and illusions are very nice. Summoning is pretty straightforward – you get a creature that does your bidding with each summoning spell. Illusions, however, really come up with interesting ways to do things in the game, from moving your targets around to impeding their movement to inflicting conditions on them to direct damage**. I like it.

The Paragon Paths, again, show some interesting ways to specialize***, but don’t break any really new ground. Well, except maybe for the Weaver of Chance, with an existential outlook and some interesting entropy mechanics.

Chapter 6: Arcane Options

I’m not going to say too much about the feats: they’re pretty standard. None of them looked bad, but none of them jumped out and grabbed me. Decent stuff, and more options are always welcome in my game.

Familiars, though. I see great potential in the 4E treatment of familiars. They’ve taken to heart the fact that many players just forget about or ignore their familiar until they need it to do something, and built a mechanic and functionality for the familiar that embraces the issue. Familiars are, by default, assumed to be in passive mode, where they can’t be hit, can’t be hurt, and can’t do anything, except grant their masters a bonus. They can be switched to active mode, where they can do more, but become more vulnerable. See? It goes away when you don’t need it, and comes out when you do. And it’s part of the game now, not just you forgetting about that toad in your pocket.

There are also some good tips on customizing and roleplaying your familiar, with some suggestions for quirks for each of the different types of familiar. And, of course, a list of 12 different familiars to get you started****.

The Epic Destinies here are interesting. They include (among others) the Archlich, the Fey Liege, and the Sage of Ages, giving an interesting assortment of abilities and powers, along with some very nice background flavour in the fluff. I generally like the new Epic Destinies that WotC is putting in the supplements; I thought there weren’t enough in the PHB.

The magic item section is all about magic tomes, the new implement for wizards. Lots of magic tomes. Many have interesting powers. Not much more to say about that.

The new rituals are all quite nice. There are a couple reprints (with some modifications) from a Dragon article, but the majority of them are new and interesting. There are even a couple more bard-only rituals.

The book closes with a page of arcane backgrounds. I like the background system for 4E, and these options are nice additions.

So, there you have it. Arcane Power is a good book. I like it. I’m glad I bought it.

I’m sad that I couldn’t also buy a pdf of it, but that’s a discussion that’s been hammered into the ground on way too many sites, so I’m not going to say any more about it.




*I’m the only one in our group running 4E. The other GMs are running 3E in various forms. This means that me coming up with 4E character ideas is just a sophisticated and subtle mental torture.

**Usually psychic damage.

***That is, after all, what Paragon Paths do.

****Dragon Magazine has an article with another 31 familiars, including some only available at Paragon and Epic tiers. You need a D&D Insider subscription to read it.

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One Response to Arcane Power – A Short (Well, It STARTED Short…) Review

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