Player’s Handbook: Chapter 2

A chapter-by-chapter breakdown seems the easiest way to comment, so here we go.

Chapter 1, incidentally, is “How To Play” — it explains what a roleplaying game is, what the roles of the players and Dungeon Master are, what the heck a “d20” is, and so on. It seems to do a pretty good job in a couple of pages, but I’m more interested in the mechanics.

Chapter 2 is “Making Characters.” It touches on most of the aspects of doing so, which are then covered in more depth in later chapters (like the ones on races, classes, and skills). In fact, it starts with a brief summary of the eight races and eight classes available in the core game, and then discusses the roles the classes fill.

Each class is designed to fit one of these four roles. Controllers (wizards) handle large numbers of enemies. Defenders (fighters and paladins) are the “tanks,” standing in the front lines and taking the brunt of the enemy attack. Leaders (clerics and warlords) buff their allies while also serving as secondary offense or defense. Finally, strikers (rangers, rogues, and warlocks) deal high amounts of single-target damage. It’s recommended that a party have members that fill each role, but they note that that’s not required. Oh, good. Also, they recommend doubling up on defenders first, then on strikers, if the party should have more than four members. In 3e, we usually doubled up on wizards or clerics, so that might be a change. (Then again, in 4e, the spellcasters don’t run out of spells. At least, not entirely.)

There’s also a note that “future volumes of the Player’s Handbook will introduce additional classes for all these roles.” So I suppose that answers where the barbarian, bard, druid, and monk have gone. (Somehow I don’t see the sorcerer making a reappearance — the 4e wizard addresses many of the versatility issues the old wizard class suffered, and those issues were what gave rise to the 3e sorcerer in the first place.) I imagine we’ll see some of the 3e prestige classes reintroduced as either 4e base classes or as paragon paths.

I miss the monk, though.

Anyway, next, ability scores are treated in depth. They’re the same six. Constitution is still important for everyone, maybe even more so with the new healing surge rules. Dexterity is less important for spellcasters now, though, and it’s less meaningful to the heavy-armor types, too. Intelligence no longer gives extra skills.

The standard array has gotten a bit better; from the old { 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 }, it’s increased to {16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 }. Yes, the standard character has no ability-score penalties, now — and those numbers don’t include the racial bonuses (there are no more racial penalties, either).

There’s a customized point-buy method that differs a bit from 3e’s; it starts with { 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 8 } instead of all 8s, and offers 22 points on a slightly different cost scale. There’s a handy table showing 15 possible sets of ability scores that can be generated, so people who want something different but don’t want to go through the point-counting can choose one of those. Not a bad thing, I suppose, and it does present a clear picture of what you’re giving up in order to have that 18.

The third method is the random “4d6, drop lowest”, which they note will give, on average, scores slightly worse than the standard array. Also, it notes that ability modifiers that total lower than +4 or higher than +8 may need to be adjusted by the DM for balance. I imagine that note was added for the DM’s convenience; personally, I’ve always used point-buy in 3e, so I’ll just continue to do so in 4e.

Alignment is touched on. Now there are only 5 options: lawful good, good, unaligned, evil, and chaotic evil. Lawful good and chaotic evil are sometimes treated as also belonging to good or evil, respectively — but occasionally the separation is enforced (for instance, with paladins and their deities), which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I suspect I’ll be house-ruling this one, maybe even just reducing it to good/unaligned/evil. Hey, three alignments worked for the Basic Set…

Next, there’s a pantheon of deities. Most of the Greyhawk gods are gone, and some of the remaining ones are altered. Pelor’s still the god of the sun, but he’s an agriculture god now. Kord is the god of storms and battle, sort of a Thor gloss. Corellon, Bahamut, and Moradin are still around, and the evil gods include Bane, Gruumsh, Lolth, Tiamat, and Vecna. They’re joined by a smattering of new names, like Melora (goddess of the wilderness and the seas) and the Raven Queen (goddess of death and winter). Seems like a decent sample pantheon, but it could take some time to get used to, and it makes older material, like modules, just that little bit harder to translate. When I develop my own worlds, though, I also develop my own pantheons, so the change won’t affect me much. I particularly like the Raven Queen, since I’ve been using a similar goddess for quite a while.

Following the deities, there are sections on personality, mannerisms, appearance, and background. If anything, I think a little more could have been written on these — they take up only about a page and a half, together. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that’s entirely up to the player (with guidance from the GM, especially as regards background), so perhaps it’s best to raise a few questions, offer some thoughts to guide the player, and step out of the way.

Languages get about a quarter-page. There are fewer now; all the elemental languages have been combined, for instance. First-level characters can’t take Supernal (spoken by angels and devils) or Abyssal (spoken by demons and, somewhat strangely, gnolls). Those need to be learned later through a feat.

There’s a section on making checks, which covers the basic “1d20 + half your level + modifiers” mechanic I mentioned earlier.

Gaining levels gets a page and a half, and guides players step by step, much like 3e did. One of the biggest changes here is that hit points are no longer rolled — you get a set amount each level, depending on your class. At first level, you have a lot more, but you could end up gaining less. A fighter, for instance, gains 6 hp per level, with no constitution modifier added. (Your full constitution score is added to your hp at first level, though, and if your ability score increases, you do gain that many extra hp.) Some feats, like Toughness, can modify that.

Other than that, it’s worth noting that you gain something — a feat, a new or replacement power, an ability score increase — at every single level. You can also retrain once per level, switching out an old feat, power , or skill for a new one. You can’t lose anything that’s a prerequisite for something else you already have, but this adds somewhat to a character’s flexibility. It does make things a little more videogame-ish, though.

The chapter wraps up by explaining the three tiers and how to read the sample character sheet provided at the back of the book.

There aren’t a lot of surprises here so far — the biggest changes will probably be concentrated in the chaper on character class, since class is now so much more central.

Artwork: I like the chapter title page. The wizard is fairly evocative. Aside from that, there’s one small, somewhat murky piece, plus a couple of alphabet scripts and deity sigils, which are nice but not particularly inspiring.

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One Response to Player’s Handbook: Chapter 2

  1. […] a good review of the 4e books, starting by reviewing the PHB chapter by chapter. PHB: Overview, Making Characters, Races, Classes, Skills and Feats, Equipment and Adventuring, Combat and Rituals, DMG and Monster […]

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