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A Veteran GM's Preview of the D&D Player's Handbook 2 74

Martin Ralya writes "I've had the Player's Handbook 2 for two weeks (it releases on the 17th), and I've written an in-depth preview of the book from a GM's perspective for Gnome Stew. It's billed as 'the most significant expansion' of D&D 4th Edition yet, and that's accurate. The short version: No power creep, no balance problems, and all of the new classes are excellent — even the bard. They'll become part of D&D's lore in nothing flat."
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A Veteran GM's Preview of the D&D Player's Handbook 2

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  • Books are cheap on eBay. Why does anyone feel the need to pay exorbitant amounts of money for, what is in principle, the same game released over 30 years ago.

    Boy, do I feel old and cranky.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This is like saying "First Person Shooters are cheap elsewhere. Why do people keep buying exorbitant amounts of money for, what is in principle, the same game released over 30 years ago (Wolfenstein 3d)"

      Theres a large difference between old school D&D and 4th edition.

    • Re:1st Ed. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bonch ( 38532 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:36AM (#27190407)

      I have a solution for you if you're not interested in the latest book. Don't buy the book.

      You're welcome,
      Your friendly neighborhood Spider-man

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Agreed. Not sure what all the hate for 4ed comes from. If you don't like it, don't play it. Its not like the previous edition's books exploded at a certain date and were not usable.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Datamonstar ( 845886 )
          Exploding books are awesome! Thanks for giving me another way to kill my players!
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Myrimos ( 1495513 )

          Agreed. Not sure what all the hate for 4ed comes from.

          4th edition? Hell, until they bring back THAC0, screw 'em.

          Now get off my lawn.

          • You're funny as hell and earned some lawn food, but did anyone actually LIKE THAC0 or were we just stuck with it?

            That's why the net is awesome. Answering cutting edge 1984 questions in 2009.

            • by Creepy ( 93888 )

              THAC0 was just a convention that allowed for simple addition (or subtraction) to figure out the chance to hit, so yes, I liked it for early D&D because it sped the game up. Technically we were not stuck with it because 1st edition AD&D used a lookup table that did basically the same thing - you'd cross-reference a base chance to hit against armor type, add in any bonuses and get a target number.

              Now if you really meant to ask if I thought it was bad comparatively to 3 or 4 then yes ;)

              If I really wan

        • by Crash Culligan ( 227354 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:34AM (#27190807) Journal

          gizmoiscariot: Agreed. Not sure what all the hate for 4ed comes from. If you don't like it, don't play it. Its not like the previous edition's books exploded at a certain date and were not usable.

          The problem is that depending how they get the books, they might not know how much they're going to hate it until they get the books, sit down with them, and find out just how limited this edition really is.

          If you're lucky enough to live near a game store that has a back room or upstairs dedicated to playing games (a dying breed, those, but that's a rant for another time), then odds are good that either someone there plays 4th or the store itself runs demos. That's the best opportunity to play the game without needing the books yourself, because someone else likely already has them.

          If you're just browsing in a bookstore, there's less opportunity to see the thing in action. You can read snippets and passages, but unless your bookstore is progressive and offers places where you can sit down and peruse what you want to buy, you're likely not going to capture the spirit of what makes a game good or bad.

          As for why there's no love for 4th, I think it's limitation shock: 3.5 had become a hairy, unkempt, unruly man-child with many stress fractures where the added-on feats and features were causing bloat. The attempt to streamline it, give it a nice haircut, and maybe even get back to old-fashioned values (i.e. its wargaming roots) was overdone and overdone hard, to the point where I now refer to it as "the bastard child of role-playing and slot-car racing."

          Counterpoint: At the risk of the "troll" moderation, those people who insist that roleplaying is impossible with 4th edition rules is doing it wrong. Roleplaying is a matter of characterization, independent of whatever structure of rules is at the table. It has more to do with imagination than the list of moves that your character can execute in combat, though they serve well as a reference for definition.

          • "Edition 4 ServicePack3!"

            Sorry, Editions & Versions fascinate me. But we are moving towards a weird mix of EvolvingItem vs. Authenticity.

            Just suppose they did strip it hard. Do you think they did the baseline right so they can add back as needed?

        • Actually, they are, sorta.

          Wizards successfully hauled certain parts of gamer culture into "Authorized Edition or Bust". They developed the model on Magic the Gathering, but I think they're successfully getting some crossover into D&D, to the boost of their sales.

          Granted, Businesses are there to make money, and Wizards is good at it. Gamers have an ethic where "cheaper is purer" in many ways, so when a corp Makes Money, it starts little tidepools of grumbling. But it takes the corp to make the quality ga

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Wizards successfully hauled certain parts of gamer culture into "Authorized Edition or Bust".

            Nah, this ethic goes back to the original D&D pamphlets when TSR pushed out books to undermine third party rules.

            When the revenue model is based on selling rule books, new rules are to be expected.

        • Re:1st Ed. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @04:15AM (#27190937)
          If you don't like it, don't play it.

          Well, but those of us who played older versions of these games and realized that they were broken in certain ways are disappointed to see that they won't be getting any more "patches," so to speak, to their favorite edition of the game.

          It's like being a huge Battlefield:Vietnam fan, and then Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142 come out. You like BF:V, and don't like BF2142, and so you don't buy or play BF2142--but it does mean that you're stuck with the BF:V gameplay that you have, rather than getting fixes or updates that the game might sorely need. And it still means that you're disappointed that they took the games in a direction that you don't like. Not playing the new game doesn't really remove the disappointment, and it does make it tough to find new people to play the old game with. Naturally, this makes a person want to complain--it's perfectly natural, and it's just as natural to dislike complainers, which is why this "don't like don't play" attitude is to some extent understandable.
      • Of course, it's a lot easier to play something that hasn't changed in 30 years, lol.

        When I'm 80, in an Altzheimer's ward, I'll still be able to run 1sd ed games from memory...

        I committed all the tables (all the original ed books)to memory long ago, all I need are players and some dice.

        • Me too, thank you! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dr. Spork ( 142693 )
          At my table I use certain "house rules" that simplify annoying things like to-hit modifiers for armor type, but yeah, it's 1st ed all the way for me.

          Back then, the game world looked recognizably like the Middle Ages, and character classes were defined by social roles, not by combat system mechanics.

          4th edition is a game, and it feels like one. To complain about its realism would be akin to complaining that actual knights and bishops act nothing like their corresponding chess pieces. They can make them d

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      Books are cheap on eBay. Why does anyone feel the need to pay exorbitant amounts of money for, what is in principle, the same game released over 30 years ago.

      Boy, do I feel old and cranky.

      You sound it too. You're essentially judging "youth culture" without making any effort to investigate it; like old people griping about rap music or the internet. If you'd actually open up and read a 4e book, you'd see how radically different it is from 1e.

      You probably wouldn't like it 'cause your tastes have fossilized, but at least you'd be able to voice a semi-intelligent complaint about it at that point.

    • Re:1st Ed. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @08:53AM (#27191823) Homepage Journal

      I ran a number of AD&D 1st Edition campaigns, but never bothered to pick up the 2nd Edition.

      I was very aware of consideral systemic problems wth AD&D, but by in large every DM I knew tweaked the rules to his liking. AD&D is not a game you play like chess or bridge, that really needs tournament rules. As DM, you control the mythos of the universe in which your players play, therefore you control the implicit rules of the campaign. It's a short step from there from making up your own explicit rules. Virtually no DM I knew followed the AD&D rules exactly, and many of us replaced sections of the rules entirely to suit our preferences.As DM you set the rules in order to maximize the enjoyment of your players; if they don't like them, you change them but if one player objects to what other players like, he can find a different game. My philosophy was the a campaign was group storytelling, and I tweaked the rules appropriately. This attracted like minded players.

      Recently, my kids were interested in learning about D&D, so I picked up the latest edition. My impression of it is that it is far better by many measures, but worse in others. It'd be a much better system if you wanted to play D&D as a tournament game, if you registered your characters the way bridge players are registered and took them around to different campaigns.

      On the other hand, it was much worse from other standpoints. For example the Gygax mythos, which was fine as a starter mythos but rubbish from a literary standpoint, seems wired more deeply than ever into the structure of the game.

      The improvements of the recent rules move the game more down the road of simulation. Under the old rules the cure to balance problem was a judicious application of Deus ex Machina; done cleverly enough it becomes part of the story and is not even noticed by the players. You take the player with an unbeatable character and you cut him down a notch, which motivates the player to respond. So from a DM perspective the rule improvements reduced the need to play dirty tricks on the players, but this is not an improvement in fun.

      What the rules do do is make playing more complicated. The AD&D 1st edition rules,with all their faults, could be explained to a new player in about fifteen minutes and learned by a new DM in a few hours. This, combined with the ready made but hackneyed Gygax mythose, bootstrapped many a fine campaign.

      So, I'm in the market for a simpler system. It doesn't have to be perfect, because perfection isn't really that important. Perhaps I'll go to Ebay, as you suggest, but ideally it'd be something that is designed from the outset to be simpler to play and extend.

  • and already slashdotted. Nice.
  • DM (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Shouldn't it be veteran DM? Silly noobs... =P

  • Nitpicking here, since the original site requires an account to post...

    First, while technically there are 16 core classes, in reality that number is 17 counting the Swordmage. This is slated to be expanded upon in Arcane Power, and has had material released in DDI. It's clear WotC considers this a fully realized class (Arcane Defender, for those interested), as much as any other class in the PHBs.

    Second, Deva is a re-imagined Aasimar. It may be unfair to the author, but I have to question the opinion

    • The author made clear that they were only considering core material and not setting-specific material. When the Eberron books come out, I doubt he would consider the Artificer either. His reasons for doing so were fair in my opinion.

      Second, it's not unfair to consider them a new race. The background and flavor of the race is sufficiently different. Deva are angels who chose to incarnate as mortals and not reincarnate endlessly. Aasimar were humans with angelic ancestry. Also, Rodney Thompson from Wot

      • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

        angels who chose to incarnate as mortals and not reincarnate endlessly

        I meant, "and now reincarnate endlessly."

      • Sorry, hate to burst your bubble but artificers are LFA legal(only to third level currently). There is no more setting specific crunch.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I learned to play on 2nd edition, and it was great, except for the fact that you had to check on each die roll whether you wanted a high result, or a low result.

    Atk roll high
    Skill Check, low
    saving throw high
    Turning undead???? I still can't remember

    3rd edition simplified all of this, as well as initiative, Players ALWAYS want to roll high.

    A higher AC is always better than a lower AC.

    • Did this inconsistency really get in your way once you spent the necessary 30 seconds to learn that on saving throws, you want to roll low?
  • RP vs. G (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `eromsnidm'> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @03:25AM (#27190783) Homepage Journal

    I read TFA, and I saw no discussion of how this book (or any of 4e, really) fosters the RP of the G. Pretty much the whole review was about how these different characters will function differently in combat. It reads like we're back to miniature gaming with some background character information for color--and much less focus on the fostering of interesting characters with subtle motivations, backgrounds, and non-strategic interactions with the party or NPCs.

    One could argue, I think, that any class-based system constrains the ability of even experienced players to come up with unique character ideas. You might play a character with an interesting motivation and background, but at the end of the day you're the "striker, divine" (or whatever).

    Maybe DnD isn't the place for that, and if you want to play characters one should play Amber (or arguably WoD). And I'm sure that I'll hear from folks that say any good gamer can wedge a character into whatever they're given to play, and that's true to an extent.

    But certainly the system can foster the sense of character and RP, mostly by how much emphasis they put on combat rules and differentiation between characters. A class-based system limits that differentiation, by design, so you more or less have a pre-determined function in a squad of people that you need to fill or you're leaving a gap during melee.

    It seems like 4e has borrowed from WoW to the extent that playing characters is mostly an afterthought, just as it is in WoW. (Yeah, I tried to play on some "RP" WoW servers too, and barely ever ran into others that would also RP. Most of the other folks didn't even know it was an RP server, and frankly, again, the system was all about combat effects, and had very very few character driven effects or story, so it's extremely hard to differentiate yourself outside of combat.) I don't fault WotC for that--it's hard to not want to replicate the success of WoW.

    But really, if I want to play combat miniatures, I'll do something else (like Warhammer). If I want to RP, it doesn't sound like 4e is the system to do it.

    Am I wrong?

    • Re:RP vs. G (Score:4, Interesting)

      by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @04:01AM (#27190901)
      You're absolutely right, and it sounds like 4e continued the downward spiral of the RP element in D&D.

      I also agree that class based systems will tend to make people RP less because the character's not different enough. I thought the Firefly system did a decent of helping RP, and I think Palladium does a decent job as well simply because there's just so much detail to the world that it makes players want to incorporate their character into it.

      However, IMHO, the best system for RP is GURPS. I've never seen a mechanic encourage RP more than the disadvantage system. Most players who do strong characterization in the other systems do it by giving their characters disadvantages anyway, it's just not incorporated into the system. It's easy to make a characters that's good at things, it's what every player does naturally. But when you incorporate the other aspects of the character into the game, character will gain more dimensions naturally and be a lot more fun to play.

      However, many of my friends disagree with me on that (sometimes violently), so YMMV.
      • Re:RP vs. G (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Johnny Mnemonic ( 176043 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `eromsnidm'> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @01:56PM (#27193949) Homepage Journal

          However, IMHO, the best system for RP is GURPS.
        Whatever works for you; nowhere is YMMV is as true as it is in game design.

        However, I have followed the development of GURPS for years and years. While I love the system for individual character design, everytime I have tried to develop a party around it, the characters are too individual. The party often just won't have a single cohesive focus because none of the players work together. Most GURPS campaigns that I have been in have fallen apart after a few sessions as a result--everyone is off doing their own thing.

        Again, this can be corrected with good DMing--it's really their job to find the motivator that unites the party. And, they can help during character creation by giving each character a "god" part that will serve as a unifier later. But that put a lot more work on the DM.

        The best system I have developed a character in, personally, is WoD. I think the new version is even better--instead of 7 classes, there are now 5. Each major class has a multitude of minor classes, including rules for creating your own variation. So every character is broadly slotted into a major class, with a lot of opportunity for the refinement and differentiation of that concept with a minor class. Also what helps WoD, imo, is that many of the powers have pretty subjective interpretation--so if you haven't designed the character, and played the character, to back up your application of that power in combat (or otherwise) it's not going to work. Therefore, good RP lends itself to what you are able to accomplish in combat, not vice versa.

        btw, GURPs "borrowed" the concept of disadvantages from the original Hero Superpower games. But I think you're right, it's a key element to creating different characters.

        Another thing that I really like about GURPs is the ability to RP during combat. By this I mean the mechanic that lets you choose between actively defending, aggressively attacking, or blending them. While it serves a strategic purpose, it also allows some RP--a fearless barbarian would also aggressively attack without consideration of defense, while a spineless wizard might always maximize their defense until just the right moment for an attack.

        Finally, I'm having a debate about game mechanics on slashdot. Thank Gygax I'm already married with kids--I think I just lost my "check vs. social skills" saving throw. ;)

      • I thought that the first edition of AD&D was pretty good for roleplaying. I loved the feel, and I still use it. I'm glad that WotC don't own the trademarks to chess or monopoly or go or some other classic game. If they did and tried to make an "updated edition" of the rules, I bet some people would play by them, but nobody would think it's strange if you just wanted to play "real" unWotc'd chess or go. It's not like the old rules get overwritten. 4th edition D&D is its own game, a very different gam

        • by MykeBNY ( 303290 )

          I'm glad that WotC don't own the trademarks to chess or monopoly or go or some other classic game.

          Actually Hasbro owns the trademarks to both D&D and Monopoly.

    • From everything that I've heard about 4th edition--honestly, it's not much--it's been compared to the "WoW" of D&D. The game at least pretended, at one time, to be about role-playing--which is why your character stats were generated randomly in the default system. The statistical distillation of the game mechanics, though, inevitably resulted in the same kind of treatment happening to D&D as happens to every other game out there--people thoroughly and empirically evaluate every practical combination
    • I agree can be hard to find good RP on WoW. But surely consenting adults in a room together can RP to their hearts' content?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abreu ( 173023 )

      You don't need a system to roleplay. You need a good GM

      The 4th edition rules actually encourage good roleplaying by not placing too many kludgy rules in its way

      • Oh yeah, why are there TWO 300+ page player handbooks then, whose primary focus is on discussing the combat mechanics of various classes? The way the old game encouraged roleplaying is that it defined the character classes by social roles, which everyone who knows history intuitively understood. Players easily understood 1st ed roleplaying principles because the game world sort of looked like the Middle Ages in which all the middle-age superstitions were actually true. Anyone who knows something about his
        • by Abreu ( 173023 )

          Because, lets be honest, the whole point of the D&D game since the days of Gygax has been to kick down the door, kill some monsters and take their treasure.

          The 1st edition books also heavily emphasized combat... Non-weapon proficiencies were an "optional rule" even in 2nd edition.

          ...and now that I think about it, the vast majority of roleplaying rules sets dedicate most of their pages to two things: character generation and combat. Because everything in between is just roleplaying, and we all know how

    • by Fozzyuw ( 950608 )

      You're pretty good in your analysis. 4E doesn't not foster RP, infact, it pretty much states this to some degree in the PHBI as well as being easily inferred through how they deal with "flavor text" for each spell (what they now call powers).

      However, I reject the claim that this prevents RP or interesting characters. Since when was an interesting character determined by their role? Be it that they're a healer(4E Leaders), a DPS (4E Strikers), tank (4E Defenders) or utility (4E Controllers). I still find

  • All I can really say is as a GM back in the days of 1st and 2nd edition (I stopped playing once WOTC took over), the fact that there were no specific rules for certain situations is exactly why it was fun to play. The GM could make up whatever was necessary to move the game along without having to worry about some player screaming about the rules. Most of the folks complaining about the lack of ability to role-play with the new ruleset -- this is really what they mean. If you want rigid game mechanics, p

  • The Power Creep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @05:39AM (#27191193) Homepage Journal

    "No power creep"?

    Sorry, I have to take exception to this.

    One of the major problems with 4th edition is how hard it is to hit things. When I sat in on a Gencon panel with the 4ed designers last summer, they said they balanced the game around a 50%-60% hit rate. While this may have made their math easy, it doesn't make the game fun. Seriously - when you use your awesome encounter ability and it misses half the time, it kills a lot of the fun in the game.

    Worse, over the course of the 30 levels 4th Edition is designed for, PCs pick up a net -5 to hit along the way (Monster AC goes up linearly with level, PC's attack bonus goes up proportional to half your level (a -15 to hit change), but +6 for using a magic weapon, +4 for stat bumps), meaning that PCs end up missing 75% of the time or so without using anything special. This means that PCs that needed 11s or better to hit Irontooth (a +2 level monster) need 17s or better to hit Orcus (a +3 level solo). Sure, there's powers like Lead the Charge that give a large bonus to hit, but in order to apply the bonus, you have to hit with it.

    4th edition has been very cautious at assigning bonuses to hit - almost all feats in the game (like Weapon Focus) were rewritten to add bonuses to damage instead of bonuses to hit. There's only very limited ways of gaining bonuses to hit (Tieflings using fire attacks have a feat available, as do Warforged with another ally adjacent to the target).

    So where does PHB II's power creep come in? The major, obscene jump in power is a pair of feats called Weapon Expertise and Implement Expertise, that add +1/+2/+3 to hit at the heroic/paragon/epic tiers. It's approximately 10 trillion times better than any feat released before (the Warforged feat mentioned above - which is a racial feat - only gives a +1 bonus, and only when you have another ally touching the monster), and obsoletes immediately those feats that have tried to give a bonus to hit.

    This is combined with melee mastery, which lets you swap out strength for your highest stat when making basic melee attacks. So a 10 Str, 20 Cha Paladin - who'd flail weakly at any enemy provoking an Opportunity Attack before - picks up the equivalent of +5 to hit and damage.

    Sorry for the math, but the nutshell idea is: with just two feats, it works out to a +8 bonus to hit, which is insanely out of whack with everything they've done before.

    The current theory is that WOTC realized they screwed up the math in their to-hit rolls and/or realized that PCs missing 75% of the time is simply not a very enjoyable way to spend an evening (my group is ready to go back to 3rd Edition, they're so pissed off at missing all the time), that they released this "patch" to correct the problems in their math. Which sounds fine at first, until you realize that they probably should have just patched the system to give a +1 bonus to hit at 5th/15th/25th levels. Creating a feat to do the work for them is bad, since it just set the new standard in feat design, and because the feat is now mandatory for all characters, and feats are supposed to be minor options that people can use to tailor their specific characters. No feats should be mandatory.

    The rest of the PHBII seems to follow this theme. Bards have a paragon path that lets people automatically hit. Avengers get to roll twice every time they attack, and take the better roll, etc.

    While this is all welcome news for those of us that play the game:
    1) It reveals how badly made 4th Edition was and is.
    2) It is a tremendous power creep, which is rather the opposite of what the reviewer for Slashdot said.

    4th Edition is the snack food of the role playing world.

    • by gorckat ( 960852 )
      until you realize that they probably should have just patched the system to give a +1 bonus to hit at 5th/15th/25th levels. and because the feat is now mandatory for all characters, and feats are supposed to be minor options that people can use to tailor their specific characters. No feats should be mandatory. Don't they still have a little blurb somewhere in there about how you can make any changes you desire to the rules...these sound like excellent starting points! Either give the +1s or give everyone
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The to-hit thing sounds like an interesting point. I used Google to find this forum discussion [enworld.org] of it.

      Some people claim that hit rates aren't really that low (people are always trying to optimize, so few people really have "average" characters) and that team cooperation can more than make up for it.

      I have no idea. The only contact I have with 4e has been the Penny Arcade podcasts [wizards.com].
      • >>Some people claim that hit rates aren't really that low (people are always trying to optimize, so few people really have "average" characters) and that team cooperation can more than make up for it.

        Low level combat hides the problem.

        A second level paladin attacking irontooth, with a 20 Charisma (as optimized as you can make it), will have a +6 to hit. Irontooth is AC18. That's a 12+ (45% hit chance). With flanking, that's a 10+ needed (55% hit chance), which seems about on par for the design of the

    • Why should it be easy to hit? Look, I won't ever use 4th edition rules, I want to play something else, but this doesn't seem like a good objection to the game system. In fact, it's my experience that starting characters in 4th ed feel incredibly overpowered. Original AD&D also had a 50% chance to hit a guy in chain mail at first level, if you weren't a fighter.

      So much of 4th ed seems focused on combat mechanics that in a way, I applaud them for making combat hard for the players. There's already grea

  • Old Joke (Score:3, Funny)

    by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:29AM (#27191973) Homepage

    Ahh, yes, Dungeons and Dragons. A game that that combines the breathless excitement of Parcheesi with all the thrills of double-entry bookkeeping.

The relative importance of files depends on their cost in terms of the human effort needed to regenerate them. -- T.A. Dolotta