Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Player's Handbook

I received my copy of the Player's Handbook yesterday (see, the gods do smile upon me!), so I've put aside the Dungeon Master's Guide for now, to read a bit of that. I might alternate about them, though I'm going to try and get as much of them read for Saturday, which is when our group is hoping to give 4th edition a try for the first time.

Chapter 1 - HOW TO PLAY

This is the typical chapter on what D&D is about; what roleplaying games are like, the role that the player takes, the role that the DM takes, etc. It's pretty typical of the same chapter from earlier editions, explaining to the newcomer to D&D what the game is about.


Here we're finally getting to the good stuff - the tables, charts and rules that make up D&D, and specifically, this new version.

The races and classes are detailed lightly (they're done in more detail in later chapters), spelling out the three new base player races (dragonborn, eladrin and tiefling). This isn't anything new to those who have been following the sneak-peeks of 4e. The classes also have the two new base ones mentioned, Warlock and Warlord, and the absence of the sorcerer, druid and monk are a bit noticeable.

The roles are only very slightly mentioned here. I'm not sure if this is more the DM's area, and thus the PHB won't have much on the subject, or if that's just a later chapter.

Ability scores are nicely explained, both for the newcomer who might have an inkling on what each of them means, as well as their application to the most common rules, as well as the new rules, such as figuring out saving throws or how the powers are affected. There are three methods provided for rolling up your abilities: using a standard array (16,14,13,12,11,10) and assigning them as desired; using a point-buy of 22 on a base of 8,10,10,10,10,10 , which I found interesting (that you're only allowed to have one ability, maximum, at 8 or 9, not counting racial penalties that might exist); and of course the good old standby of rolling, using 6 4d6 rolls assigned as desired.

Skills, feats and powers are all glossed over here, guiding the player to the appropriate chapters. The new alignment chart is discussed, providing the typical explanation of how it might affect your character's outlook and attitude. Deities have always been closely tied to alignment, and the good ones are briefly described here for the players (where the evil ones are described in the DMG). The last touch-ups of character creation are also given a little attention, such as mannerisms, appearance and background -- all things that seasoned players probably do without thought, but a newcomer will find useful to know about.

The Making Checks section seems a bit wordy. Given that there's no more Base Attack Bonus, and that they, for the time being at least, are avoiding the term "rank" when discussing skills, the checklist for making an attack, a skill check or an ability check all look like:

<type of check>
To make a <type of check>, roll 1d20 and add the following:
o One-half your level
o The relevant ability score modifier
o All other modifiers (see page xxx)
The total is your <type of check> result.

This is repeated three times, making me feel like I should be wearing a helmet while reading this section. Okay, I get it. There's a roll, my half-level, a relevant ability, and other stuff.

The leveling up section was more interesting. Obvious was the missing "choose what class you're taking a level in", since multi-classing is basically gone, or, rather, faked through feats and powers. What I didn't know, and would be surprised if was previously mentioned (and missed by me), is every four levels you don't just gain a point in one ability score, but two. Plus one more at levels 11 and 21 -- the entrance to Paragon and Epic status.

Also mentioned here is the choosing of powers, which brings up the Retraining at later levels. To me, retraining doesn't fit, and doesn't make sense. I used to know how to spin around and hit two foes, but today I've completely forgotten how to do so -- but can now trip as a free action? In online games such as Dungeons and Dragons Online, I can see retraining (or respecking) being used because the game introduces new feats, new classes and new races as it goes. And I realize that the retraining could have been intended not as a "I've changed my mind" type of change, but meant to be an advancement. But that's not the case:

Sometimes you make decisions when you create or advance your character that you later regret.

Perhaps retraining should only improve upon like powers, so I go from hitting two to hitting three? And of course, while I'd like to say "House Rule: no retraining!", but it's such a core rule, I don't know that that will work. In fact, the retraining paragraph goes on to mention that "when the class table tells you to replace a power you know with a different power of a higher level, that doesn't count as retraining". I think this is a design weakness, but for now I think I'll let it play through. It might turn out that my players never take advantage of it. We've already heard what Griff thinks about it.

The chapter ends with the three tiers explained, showing the progress of your character from mere Hero to Epic saviour of the planes, and a point-by-point explanation of the layout of the character sheet found at the back of the book.


Anonymous said...

They ditched Druids? That is not cool. Did they get rid iof gnomes? I am curious.

Colin VD

Crwth said...

Yep. Gnomes are not a player race either -- they've been relegated to the role of monster.

Anonymous said...

My two favourite things were a gnome druid and a gnome paladin and now they're gone, I blame everyone for this.......THEY TOOK OUT GNOMES, I have to cry somewhere, and start begging gms to still let me play gnomes

btw there's an entry in the monster manual on gnomes, they look pretty decent, and they get this immediate reaction (I think it's encounter, could be daily) that lets them become invisible when hit or something like that, doesn't sound too overpowered so that they won't go into the players handbook....

btw I'm starting a save the gnomes crusade everyone is welcome to join

Anonymous said...

When you actually start to read through the abilities and feats it is easy to see why retraining is integral to the game. Many feats and abilities grant the same type of bonuses that will not stack. The mechanic allows you to continue to have useful abilities as your character grows.

Regarding the Gnome issue that was commented on:
Look in the Monster Manual. Damn near any monster that is vaguely humanoid is stated for character creation. Talk to you GM if you want to play something atypical.

Crwth said...

A good point, but I think it should have been done differently.

Instead of requiring retraining to get that later bonus (or to not make the earlier ones useless), why not have the ability/feat worded with "this bonus increases to +2 at 11th level, and +3 at 21st level" as they do with other entries?

Also, retraining allows you to not keep the same "path" as the above solution would force you to keep -- you could decide you don't want that type of bonus anymore, and all-of-a-sudden you've forgotten how to spin that way or zap that way. It still feels artificial.

I just finished flipping through the Monster Manual and found that same section about the monster races as player races. Handy, but why oh why did they have to include the Drow? *:^)

Anonymous said...

and i quote "Friends dont let friends play gnomes"