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Opportunity Actions: Late to the Picnic – PHB3 Review

Admittedly, I should have written this a while ago.  I guess I was delaying. If you really wanted to know if The Player’s Handbook 3 was worth reading, there are plenty of reviews out there.  Still, I submit mine, some time after its release.  I’ll do a quick rundown of each chapter, and my thoughts on them, just like any other review you may have read thus far.  Hopefully you gain new insight from me, and figure out interesting ways to integrate the ideas presented.

Chapter 1:  Races

So, the new races are here.  I always get anxious when new races are produced.  They frequently fall into one of two categories: 1) Monsters that somebody suggested don’t always have to be villains, or 2) something we just made up to fill a mechanical gap.

There are problems with both. You can read more on this debate here:  Question: Do We Really NEED More Races?

When somebody gives  a monster the shoehorn treatment, we end up with scenarios that I often find to be ridiculous, and detrimental to role playing.  Have you ever had a PC gnoll enter a gnoll den to stop the gnolls from eating babies in a nearby village?  I have, and let me tell you, it makes set-up ten times harder when a gnoll just waltzes into a village, not knowing that *EVERYBODY* in town wants him dead, and they’re supposed to be on HIS side.  Yeah.  Messy.

Now about just making it up.  I don’t often see the point in just making up something new, when you can always find legitimate reasons for that sort of thing.  In 4e especially, with so many options available (bloodline feats, etc.), there’s not much need to invent many of these alien races.

(“…A what-mind?”)

That being said, let’s talk about these races.

  • Githzerai – These guys have been around for just about ever, mainly as the mysterious villains from another plane.  They have been a playable race in the past.  Generally speaking, I don’t mind these guys as a race that embodies the Psionic power source.  Given some of the images out there, I’m even more encouraged.
  • Minotaur – I have always been a fan of the Minotaur.  Certain books have painted them as noble beasts, gifted with great intelligence as well as fierce cunning.  Since they ditched the idea of oversized weapons, they play out a lot better.
  • Shardmind – These guys are a fantastic example of my second sticking point with new races.  They have never existed before, and to suddenly throw them into the mix now seems forced.  I will admit, though, now that they’re here, they look like a lot of fun.  Some interesting points:
    • They’re constructs.  Yup, just like Warforged.  This means they can take components, embed weapons, and armor, and more.  Now, whether they look like mechanical bits or more geodesic crystal is, I think, a totally subjective matter.  I’d opt to make a cyborg crystal thingy.
    • As of right now, there’s nothing remotely available for a decent mini for these guys.  Makes it tough on us table toppers, you know?
  • Wilden – I don’t get these guys.  We’ve had a few races already from the Feywild, and as we keep adding more and more, it cheapens the experience of Plane-hopping, as far as I’m concerned.  Call me a fantasy Luddite (there’s a new insult for this week), but I think we need to focus on the stuff we have before creating all these whacked-out ideas.  (A thought just occurred to me.  Gamma World comes out later this year.  Are they trying to push forward the idea of the sentient plant?)

Summing up the races, they are, overall pretty good.  I can take or leave the Wilden, but otherwise, I’m pretty happy with what I see.  The Minotaur Paragon Path is pretty sick, too.  If you play a character that often sees the negative side of the hit point scale, give that path a whirl, and make the DM pay for taking you down.

Chapter 2:  Classes

The classes in this book are pretty cool, I have to say.  In fact I’ll go so far as to say this is where the book shines, with one major exception.  The Psionic classes are interesting enough by themselves, but for the sake of time and space, I’ll only go into the standout for me: the Monk (see below).  I’ll give you the full assessment of the others, because these are the ones I want to focus on here.

  • Ardent – The Psionic Leader.
  • Battlemind – Psionic Defender.
  • Monk – I love what they’ve done with this one. I do agree with many that it doesn’t totally fit the Psionic power source, but the mechanics are really fun to play with.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen the Psionic striker that fries your brain inside your head, but we’ll hopefully see that in Psionic Power, or somewhere else.
    • Stone Fist is a great build.  I went with a half-orc, Stone Fist, with Crashing Tempest Style.  He gains a  +7 bonus with Flurry of Blows, he’s +2 to hit when he holds a club, and, once per encounter, can tack on an additional 1d8.  There’s more to this, but I could write a whole post about this guy alone.
    • Full Disciplines make for some interesting complications that can cause some serious headaches to opponents.  It’s these that give the Monk its Controller features, and boy, oh boy, do they control.
    • Paragon Paths offer a ton of fun little options.  I’ll also add  about the Mountain Devotee:  hubba-hubba.  I’d ask her out, but after she beats me into oblivion, I’d then have to deal with my wife (Love you, hunny!).
  • Psion – The Psionic Controller.
  • Runepriest – This one seems hard at first, but, if you know what you’re doing, this can be a lot of fun.  I made a Minotaur into one of these, and he’s a lot of fun to fiddle around with.
    • This is a new take on the Divine Leader, and one that offers a new flavor to offset the cleric
    • This class is built on Feats, and it’s a fun way to work.  The feats make the class.
    • Rune Master is one of those things that really draws me to the class.  It’s a class feature that changes every time you use a Runic power, and lasts until you use another.  Clean, elegant, and nothing unnecessary to remember.
  • Seeker – Totally useless.  There, I said it.  A Controller that uses a bow.  Did he have to be Primal?  I’m not pushing for a Martial Controller, but if I was going to make the argument, I’d say that this class could be re-flavored into such a thing without any effort at all.  In fact, I’m of a mind that says WOTC were working hard on writing up a Martial Controller, and then the word came down that there absolutely wouldn’t be one, instead of throwing out all their hard work, they reflavored THAT class into the Seeker.  I can’t read more than the first paragraph before it becomes a total turn-off.

The other parts of this are, in my opinion, the places for the optimizers to goof around.  Hybrid Characters and Epic Destinies.

Having seen hybrids in action, I think they’re a good move.  The give you multiclassing without having to spend a feat for it, and you sre just playing two nerfed classes.  Not bad.

Epic Destinies, for me, are pipe dreams.  I’ll start thinking about those when a campaign I’m playing or DMing in finds itself in epic tier.  Narrow-minded I know, but I prefer to think of it as leaving treasures for me to find later.  If (or when) I start really thinking about epic tier, I’ll write a post about it.

Chapter 3:  Options

This chapter is all the fun new stuff they’re throwing at us: Skill Powers, Feats, & Magic Items.

Skill Powers

I like these, since they seem to fill a specific niche in character development. This would be one of those cases where I’m less concerned with the crunch, and more interested in how these powers are integrated into the person whose story a player is telling. For example, the Level 2 Thievery power Lock Tap is one of those things that I can picture a master thief not only doing, but doing with a great deal of pride as doing so fondly reminds him of his youth spent breaking into some mansion somewhere, and not stealing anything, but vowing to himself that he’d someday own a home like that.

It’s like Darth Vader’s Force Choke. The first time he ever used it was against his own wife, who, as a result, died in childbirth. Knowing this, you might realize that he remembers what he did every time he chokes someone, adding to the character’s tragic profile. It’s true that any power can be thought of this way, but I guess it works differently for me when it relates to an ability that the character had already learned.

Feats

The most important thing I got out of this section was that this is where they put all the things that we all thought were missing from the Runepriest.  It’s all here, and you’ll be taking more than a few Runic Feats, if you know what’s good for you.

Magic items

Way too much to put here…

Overall Assessment

I like this book.  It’s a great resource, especially if you want to play a Psionic character, which, after playing this book, I do.  It’s worth a look.

Links to other reviews:

Dungeon’s Master

Critical-Hits.com

Mike’s D&D Blog

About

The Opportunist (a.k.a Seamus) has been playing D&D and/or some other form of RPG for the last 24 years. For the past two years he has been at the head of the table, behind a screen, in the role of the DM. He began at Cub Scout Camp, played through high school, and still enjoys gaming today. Seamus is a graphic designer by day, a devoted husband and father of two all the time, and an all around good guy. That is, until you get him behind the DMing screen, then he can be a nightmare (in a good way, no, really!).

3 Responses to “Opportunity Actions: Late to the Picnic – PHB3 Review”

  • The best content in PHB3 can be boiled down as follows:

    ++Races: Minotaur yes, everything else, no. Minotaurs are iconic beings that have been offered to PCs to play before. The angle about them having to “escape their labyrinths” (i.e. rise above their own bestial impulses) is especially clever.

    ++Classes: Monk yes, everything else no. Again: We’ve been playing monks since first edition. Monk is an iconic D&D class. I think it should have been in the original PHB. Yes, I agree: The psionic power source is a little quirky.

    Regarding the other psionic classes? Nah. I never liked psionics. No matter how they dressed it up as “inner power” is was JUST MORE MAGIC. And we already had at least 2 or 3 other good sources of magic. No need for more. Complete distraction.

    The Runepriest is powerful but far, FAR too complicated to run smoothly.

    The Seeker, I agree, is a complete waste. The only remotely interesting thing about the Seeker: A fair number of Weapon attacks versus Will. So a reliable hitter, anyway. But the damage is uninspiring. Frankly Primal seems overstocked with classes: Shaman is underpowered, Warden is unnecessary. They should’ve taken the best elements of Shaman and Warden and given them to the Druid (another iconic class), kept the *excellent* Barbarian, and left it at that.

    ++Skill Powers: Terrific stuff, mostly. The quality varies hugely (i.e. the powers for Endurance are game-changing; the powers for Arcana are yawn-inducing), but overall, I like them.

    ++Feats: Again, good stuff. Especially noteworthy are some basic improvements in defense like Unarmored Agility and Hafted Defense.

  • Should’ve added this: The very word “Shaman” is toxic. I have never encountered a single game *system*–never mind just D&D–in which the Shaman is not a third-tier option. Shadowrun, Rifts*, D20 Modern, Call of Cthulhu (any edition), Palladium Fantasy, TORG, GURPS, Legend of the 5 Rings: The Shaman always sucks. The spells are sub-par. The healing is always second-tier. There’s often some sort of weird spiritual restrictions. Shamans are just never worth the dice their rolled with.

    *Heck, in Rifts there are like 12 different kinds of sucky Shamans, depending on which world book you’re going with

  • How do you qualify the *toxic* moniker? Is it by in-game mechanics, or is it political?
    I ask because a funny idea has occurred to me. D&D has been clear to eliminate classes like the Samurai and the Ninja, to show a sense of cultural cultural sensitivity. However, the Monk keeps its Eastern flavor, and the Shaman is a clear reference to mystics from other tribal cultures. The Druid has clear cultural pinnings.
    I’m not terribly concerned with keeping it PC, just a funny observation.