Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Player's Handbook 3 Review (4e)

I received a review copy of Player's Handbook 3.  Part One of my review was published today at Eye of the Vortex.  Part one has a detailed breakdown of the content, goes over the races and analyses the Hybrid Character rules and the new Skill Powers.  Part two will cover the new classes, stay tuned!

I personally think PHB3 marks a significant change in the design philosophy of 4e.  Up till now, if I had to choose a single overriding design goal as the obvious priority of 4e, it would have been balance.  Every class and race and power was carefully balanced against the other options.  Unlike 3e, it was genuinely difficult if not impossible to make a character that could not hold her own against the min-maxers best efforts.  Unlike 3e, you did not have to carefully analyze what impact feat choices would have far down the road.  You could pretty much just pick what sounded cool in 4e character creation and rest assured that the carefully balanced mechanics behind the scene would allow your character to hit and do damage within the frequencies specified by the design parameters.

Well, in a way that is all in the past now.  The Hybrid Character rules (see my review for more details on these rules) pretty much throw balance out the window.  By allowing complete freedom to mix and max classes, you could easily end up with a horribly unbalanced class that could not pull its weight in combat if you were not careful.  I see this as a major shift for 4e - the desire to provide options for players to build the character of their dreams has trumped the desire for balance.

By the way, if you are reading this and have a RPG product you want me to review, drop me an email (carlgnash AT gmail DOT com).  The Eye of the Vortex is about to enter another Magic the Gathering spoiler season, and they get a TON of traffic during spoiler season.  If you want to expose your product to thousands of kids with disposable income, this is your chance!


  1. "the desire to provide options for players to build the character of their dreams has trumped the desire for balance."

    This does not bode well for the game as a whole.

  2. NO! Say it ain't so, Joe!

    The balance was the point to me. I shall have to get one of these for myself. Then I can know exactly what to disallow in my game (there's already a list of verboten choices and we haven't even rolled characters once yet).

    But from what I've seen, there are some things worth keeping from that book. I like the skill powers, and I like Monks. But I'll probably treat it like I treat a lot of the stuff that comes out of Dragon magazine. Amusing, but not in my game.

  3. I should clarify that the balance is upset towards the weak end - nothing that I have seen in playtesting the hybrid rules has been overpowered, if that is what you are worried about eabod. Basically, if you choose two classes to hybridize that have enough overlap in terms of role and what stats their powers key on, you will get a well balanced product.

  4. I haven't seen the PH3 boo, but I've read the previews of Hybrid rules in Dragon magazine on DDI, and in the designer commentary they make it >very< clear that Hybrid rules can make sub-optimal character combinations. They really go out of their way to warn you that two classes with no attribute synergy can make for a difficult class to play. So I'm curious -- does the final PH3 book version also contain all of this handholding?

  5. There is only a short sidebar (roughly 1/6 of one page) entitled "Proceed With Care" that basically says there are so many combinations that it was impossible to ensure that every combination would be equally effective. There is also a sidebar called "Assigning Ability Scores" that does mention that you should try to choose classes that have complementary key abilities, secondary abilities or both. The main focus of this sidebar isn't on the perils of poor choices, but on how to use racial ability bonuses and the point buy system to make an effective character.

  6. Guys, this third installment of the Players Handbook series features rules that are generally more complex than those in Phb 1 and 2. Balance is -with the exception of the slightly overpowered 'Shardmind'race- not majorly hampered by these rules: Hybrid characters are simply not meant for players that are new to the game.

    The system of powerpoints is also slightly more complex than the power rules for basic classes of Phb 1 & 2. I can't commend Wizards enough in that they seem to have provided a lot of new options for experienced players while at the same time making sure that none of those options cause earlier published classes to pale in comparrison.

    Other than the usual balance issues for a few individual powers and feats (undoubtedly leading to errata in the future), Phb 3 does not endanger balance if the product is used by the targeted audience. Its not the book you buy when new to 4rd edition. Not the second either. But if you love 4rd as much as I do... You will get this book eventually.

  7. I know eventually that I will read PH3, but I'm getting tired of the really wierd, off the wall classes and races. Sometimes I think they're just looking for books to put out. If I hear one more time, "Hey, this new book came out, can I change..."


  8. as a D and D second edition, is my obligation say this third edition suck, but also have many new option to make more easy at the time you play.


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