PHB 3 Review

I picked up the Player’s Handbook 3 at the game store when I was there for World Wide Game Day this past weekend. Normally I’d be on the fence about such a purchase (c’mon PHB….3, srlsy guys).  But, since I have been playing a Psion since they released it in Dragon magazine, I know I’ll get plenty of use out of it. Plus I’ve been looking forward to psionic feats and items to replace the normal ones I’ve been using. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole book yet in detail, but I have skimmed the whole thing, and here’s my breakdown:

Races

There are four new races: Wilden (a fey-plant hybird), Shardmind (humanoid crystal constructs), Githerzai (what elves would be if made by Ithillids), and Minotaurs. The Wilden and Githerzai don’t do much for me, as I think there are already plenty of exotic races. I did play a Minotaur over the weekend and it was a lot of fun; I liked being the literal “bull in a china shop.” The Shardmind are interesting-looking and I wouldn’t mind giving their teleport abilities a try once or twice, but I think I’m too traditional to play one regularly. I think the Githerzai, Shardmind, and Wilden fit the theme of the PHB3, but in all, this chapter is the shortest and weakest of the book.

Classes

PHB3’s main focus are the new Psionic classes, but there is also a new divine leader (Runepriest) and martial primal controller (Seeker). For the psionic classes, we’ve got the leader (Ardent), defender (Battlemind), striker (Monk), and controller (Psion). The psionic classes use power points to enhance at-will attacks instead of regular encounter powers. Their abilities focus on affecting emotions, as well as charming and confusing enemies. Unlike 3.5 psionics the flavor isn’t over-the-top and the powers are similar-enough to the other classes of similar roles, that they can fit in well with a traditional group. I previously gave a review of the Psion, but I haven’t had time to read the details of the other classes. The Monk is certainly the most interesting with their Ki focuses (non-weapon implements) and powers that insinuate crazy footwork and punching. The Monk’s power names are Evocative of Karate Kid, and I won’t be surprised if people have a house epic destiny of “Chuck Norris.”

The non-psionic classes are the Runepriest and Seeker. I played the Runepriest at the Game Day, and I wasn’t that impressed. The powers are all “Rune of…” or “Word of…” and I had hard time visualizing what exactly it was my character was doing on the battlefield to generate the power’s effect. Also each power seems to convey a series of situational bonuses and I had hard time keeping track of who had what and for how long. Because the different powers give bonuses to nearby allies on a turn-by-turn basis, I had to pay more attention to what everyone else was doing and remind them of their the particular bonus I was granting that round. If you’re into the rune-thing, this character might be fun to RP;  I imagined my character had runes carved and painted all over his gear and body.

The Seeker uses arrows to control enemies by create deadly zones on the battlefield and pushing around monsters. In the game day encounters the seeker was very effective with its Thorn Cloud (a zone you don’t want to stand near) and attacks that pushed or limited movement. I still think if I had an “archer” character in mind I’d go with a Ranger, but I think the Seeker is a very clever way to make a martial weaspon-based controller.

The next section of the Classes chapter is on hybrid characters. These feel more like the old-school multiclasses instead of the PHB1 feat-based multiclassing. To make a hybrid character you sorta blend the class abilities and choose some powers from one and some from the other. It’s nice that they give you a lot of advice and warnings when constructing these characters; because unless you choose two hybrids from the same role, you’re likely to end up with a 2E mage/cleric… very underpowered compared to your party-mates. The chapter has hybrid rules for every published class which makes the chapter long and non-scalable, but it has good per-class advice for how to build its hybrid version. Based on the fact that the first few paragraphs advise against making a hybrid character unless you have a 5th or 6th player makes me wonder why this section is in the book, other than to pad the pages. It seems like it should have been a Dragon article instead of a major release.

Rounding out the chapter are new epic destinies for the new classes. Since I have yet to play an epic-level 4e character I don’t have much to say about this part.

Skill Powers

Skill powers lets you select a from a list of alternate utility powers based on your trained skills instead of your class. Since they’re utility powers most of them aren’t too exciting. For my character, I would only choose one if it fit with the character’s concept better than the available class powers. The athletics and acrobatics powers seem the most useful in combat as they help with movement, the others are special rather situational (increased ritual speed, use one skill to make check instead of another, or get an extra shift or healing surge). I’m not sure if I will retrain one or not yet, but it is nice to have the options and does make skill training a little more consequential.

Feats

I won’t go too much into the feats since like the PHB2, it’s about 15% general feats and the rest are for the new races and classes, which are necessary to make the new classes as customizable as the existing races and classes. I’d like to see more feats like “Teamwork Defense” that increase in usefulness with each party member that has it.

Toys

As with PHB2, in addition to new feats there are usually lots of shiny new items to acquire. In particular I’ve been looking forward to items that work with Psionic classes, and this book does not disappoint. In addition to synergizing with the class abilities, many items can either restore power points or absorb power points for augmented abilities…very cool. The section starts off with “superior implements” which I don’t think I fully understand. They’re not magical, but have special abilities due to their exotic materials. They cost between 13 and 25 gp to get that special ability, which puts them on par with regular weapons and not so much with other exotic materials. The bonuses are in the vain of +1 to hit, +2 to damage, bigger crit die, increased range, etc. Which seems like something that would be taken care of by a magical item’s powers/bonuses. The confusing thing is that in order to get the benefit you need to to take a separate feat. I’d don’t appreciate how taking “superior implement” feat and hoping you get an accurate implement for +1 to hit is better than just taking “implement expertise” and getting a +1 to hit with any implement. Do the +1’s then stack? Does the +1 also stack with a +1 implement?

I won’t go into any detail on the individual magic items, but they span a range of items, with a big section Ki focuses (since this is a new focus area), and orbs and staffs for psionics. There are two new crystal consumables: Cognizance Crystals that let you recoup misspent power points and Talent Shards that give a bonus to skill checks.

Summary

PHB3 is a good rule book and of a far better quality than I would expect for the 3rd installment of PHB. I think the book got more polish and play than it would have if it had come out as the “Complete Psionics.” Unless one of the classes interests you, there’s no reason to pick up this book. You can get the race info and general feats pretty easy from DDI; the book’s value really comes from the new classes and the feat and item support for those. The artwork is nice and consistent with the other books, but nothing I found wanting to linger over. I assume there’ll be a PHB4, but I am afraid of what lengths they’ll go to make up new exotic stuff for it… perhaps bringing back Incarnum for another round?

EDIT (25-Mar-10): Seeker is primal, not martial.

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2 thoughts on “PHB 3 Review

  1. @kensanoni,

    thanks for the correction. It’s a pretty big correction meta-game wise, but honestly other than the flowery power names I think it could have been martial class. What would a true martial controller look like? A grenadier?

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