Review: Martial Power 2

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 16, 2010

Do any of us really need Martial Powers 2? As a DDI subscriber, I’ve really struggled with whether or not I should purchase the various “Power” books. After all, the class powers, feats, paragon paths, epic destinies, rituals and background options will all be rolled into the next update of Character Builder. I can run out and purchase the book when it’s released or I can wait two or three weeks and, as part of the price I’ve already paid for my DDI subscription, I’ll have access to all of this material anyway. With a cover price of $29.95 for each book (or $37.00 for us Canadians) the additional costs can really add up over a year.

Normally when reviewing a D&D accessory like this one, I’d simply ask myself, “What’s the quality of the content like?” and “Do I think I’ll use this book often enough to warrant buying it?” However, knowing that many us (myself included) have DDI subscriptions, I have to also add the question, “Why should I buy this book if I’ve got Character Builder?” So with that in mind I’ll give you a rundown of Martial Powers 2. I’ll highlight the good and bad, and I’ll try to provide enough information that you can make an informed decision for yourself.

Chapter1: Fighter

New Build: Brawling Fighter. You must have one hand free for grabbing. You can’t use a shield. +1 to AC, +2 to Fortitude, +2 proficiency bonus to unarmed attacks, +2 to grab attacks.

Class Feature: Combat Agility replaces Combat Superiority. When an adjacent enemy provokes an opportunity attack you can shift and make an attack that trips your opponent.

New Powers: Most of the new powers associated with this build let you grab, push, pull, slide or move your opponent in some way.

New Paragon Paths:

  • Avernian Knight
  • Glorious Myrmidon
  • Ironstar Mauler
  • Kulkor Arms Master
  • Rakehell Duelist
  • Rampaging Brute
  • Steel Vanguard Master
  • Warhound of Bane

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Fighters.

Chapter 2: Ranger

New Build: Hunter Ranger. Hunter Fighting Style. Quick Draw feat for free, +4 AC vs opportunity attacks provoked from making ranged attacks.

New Build: Marauder Ranger. Marauder Fighting Style. Two-Weapon Defense feat for free. +1 to speed if you don’t have a shield or aren’t using a two-handed weapon.

Class Features: Running Attack replaces Prime Shot. When you use a standard action to move as part of an attack and you move at least 2 squares you get +1 to attack as part of that action.

New Powers: Many of the new powers specifically state that you much be wielding a thrown weapon in order to make the ranged attack and not just a ranged weapon. There are also powers that let you make a ranged attack with a thrown weapon and a melee attack with a melee weapon. Most of the new powers also focus on mobility and movement allowing you to shift or move before, during or after your attack.

New Paragon Paths:

  • Bloodfury Hunter
  • Darkstrider
  • Harrowing Swarm Archer
  • Huntmaster
  • Lone Wolf
  • Reaving Axe Savant
  • Shinaelestran Guardian
  • Snow Tiger

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Rangers.

Chapter 3: Rogue

New Build: Shadow Rogue.

Rouge Tactics: Cunning Sneak. You don’t take penalties to Stealth for moving more than 2 squares and you only take -5 to Stealth when running. If you move at least 3 squares and have any concealment or cover you can make a Stealth check to remain hidden.

Class Features: Sharpshooter Talent replaces Rogue Weapon Talent. +1 to attacks with crossbows or slings and gain the Far Shot feat for free.

New Powers: The new powers focus mainly on stealth and concealment. After making an attack you can try to hide or gain concealment. Many of the powers also have focus on movement. The powers specific to Cunning Sneak are Intelligence based.

New Paragon Paths:

  • Arcane Trickster
  • Blade Bravo
  • Daring Slinger
  • Jack-of-all-Trades
  • Verdant Stalker
  • Master of Poisons
  • Red Cloak
  • Whisperknife

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Rogues.

Chapter 4: Warlord

New Build: Insightful Warlord.

Commanding Presence: Insightful Presence. When an ally spends as action point to attack they get a bonus to their defenses by half of you Wisdom or Charisma. Canny Leader replaces Combat Leader. You and allies within 10 squares get +2 bonus to Insight and Perception.

New Build: Skirmishing Warlord. Archer Warlord. You loose proficiency with chain mail and light shields, but gain proficiency with military ranged weapons. You make basic ranged attacks with bows using Strength rather than Dexterity.

Commanding Presence: Skirmishing Presence. When an ally spends as action point to attack they can shift a number of squares equal to half of you Intelligence or Wisdom before or after the attack.

Class Features: Battlefront Leader replaces Combat Leader. You gain proficiency with heavy shields and can use the Battlefront Shift power. Close burst 3, when you roll initiative you or 1 ally can shift half your speed as a free action.

New Powers: Most of the new powers are designed for the Archer Warlord and are ranged powers. They all rely on Strength and not Dexterity.

New Paragon Paths:

  • Arcane Battlemaster
  • Arkhosian Blademaster
  • Arrowhead Commander
  • Captain of fortune
  • Chainbinder
  • Prince of Knaves
  • White Raven
  • Zephyr Warchief

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Warlords.

Chapter 5: Martial Options

Martial Outlook

This four-page section provides a lot of great role-playing insight into martial characters.

Combat Styles

This was definitely one of the highlights of this book for me. Combat Styles are feats that make a particular power better (depending on your class). Each of the 23 different combat styles are designed for a specific weapon or weapon group. The lesser feats are open to multiple martial classes. Each provides a +2 bonus to a related skill and an enhancement to a specific at-will power. Each martial class has unique greater feats that build on the lesser feat by further enhancing 4-6 encounter powers.

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Combat Styles.

Feats

We get 16 pages of new feats. Many of the feats are designed to overcome some weakness or penalties, or enhance existing class features. Things like not suffering armor penalties to skills or movement, shifting after you stand up from prone, extra damage with a specific weapon group, and foregoing a class power to get some other benefit. A lot of these feats have very specific prerequisites, so they won’t apply to many PCs, but if you qualify it’s probably worth checking them out.

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Feats.

Martial Practices

This was the part I was most looking forward to and the section that let me down the hardest. Martial practices are essentially rituals for non-spellcasters. I’m a big believer that there is a place for these in 4e D&D. But after I read through this section I realized that of the 25 martial practices presented, only a few of them seemed to make sense for martial characters.

The problem was that some of the martial practices were very appropriate for Rogues, but in no way appropriate for Fighters. Others had Ranger written all over them, but a Warlord would never use it. At least arcane and divine characters have magic in common. So no matter what a ritual might do, you can say that it’s magic and that explains everything. With martial characters they share a prowess for combat, but outside of combat their roles are very different from one another.

All of the martial practices require the PC performing it to spend a healing surge. For martial practices like forge armor or long-distance runner I totally get it. But I just don’t understand why decipher script or travel sense would require a healing surge.

Many of the martial practices (like Forge Armor and Forge Weapon) let PCs do things that I might run as a skill challenge if I was the DM (See Crafting Items).

I’m sure that as I see some of these martial practices in use at my game table I’ll start to come around a bit on the subject, but my initial impression is that it’s still a work-in-progress.

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Martial Practices.

Martial Backgrounds

We get 13 new background options. Since so few players seem to use these backgrounds for anything other than gaining +2 to a skill I’m glad that there wasn’t too much time devoted to this particular topic. The content is solid, but I think most reader will skip these three pages.

Epic Destinies

I don’t think many players are into Epic play yet so the fact that there are only four new options presented isn’t such a bad thing. I suspect that Martial Powers 3 (and all of the Powers books we’re likely to see in 2011) will have more emphasis on the highest tier of play.

  • Dragonheart
  • Invincible Vanguard
  • Legendary Sovereign
  • Star-Favored Champion

See preview content on Wizards of the Coast website, Martial Power 2 Excerpts: Epic Destiny.

Final Thoughts

Martial Powers 2 is a pretty good book. It’s chalked full of the powers and feats you’ve come to expect from this series as well as a lot of great stuff to enhance the role-playing. The side bars scattered throughout the book provide a lot of interesting ideas and suggestions for players to keep in mind when play martial characters. I was particularly glad to see the side bar bringing Thieves’ Cant back into D&D.

But the real question is should you buy Martial Powers 2 if you already have a DDI subscription? I suppose it depend on how important role-playing and character development is to you and your gaming group. If you’re just looking for the nut and bolts (powers and feats) then you’ll get all of that through Character Builder. What you won’t get is all of the additional information (like the great side bars) that emphasizes role-playing. Personally I find a lot of value in having the actual book to read and reference.

The content is pretty solid (despite my misgivings about the new martial practices). However, I think most players will get what they need through Character Builder. If you don’t have a DDI subscription then I’d put this book a lot higher on your wish list or better yet, pass on the “Powers 2” lineup and get a DDI subscription.

7 on a d10

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Groumy February 16, 2010 at 10:21 am

Don’t forget, when you’ll ask your self if you should buy this book, to think about possible updates for the character options. Because, may be in the long run you won’t trust your own books. If my memories serves me correctly, they updated the fighter’s Battlerager Vigor class feature, changing the build based on it radically (I don’t want to argue if it was a good or bad update, just state the fact it was).

2 Swordgleam February 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

Based on the excerpt linked, I see no reason why any martial character would /not/ take a fighting style. The first feat gives you 2/3rds the bonus of skill focus plus some things that are as good as racial traits or better, and the second feat is even stronger.

3 Steven February 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I am a D&DI subscriber and I own most of the books. I agree with your argument that the character builder decreases the value of the paper books. I have stopped buying the books recently, but not because of the character builder; it is all the errata.

The errata kills paper books, IMHO. The 4e system, like online MMORPs, requires frequent power adjustments and changes (aka ‘nerfing’). These changes make the paper books obsolete shortly after they are sold.

However, it is often much easier to find the data in the paper books than on the compendium. The compendium is awful (probably by design). For example, how does one find the character advancement chart in the compendium? If the compendium was better it really would kill the print medium.

Mind you, the ultimate demise of the printed medium would be a kindle or iPad version of the books that automatically updates. If that was available I would buy all the books!

4 Michael February 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I have a question, which may seem rude, but how was this a review? You spent very few words on the central premise you brought up (that of the value of the books vs. DDI updates), you did little more analysis of content, and most of your wordcount was (very) barebones summary.

Saying, “Martial Powers 2 is a pretty good book.” is not review, it’s simple opinion, and does not help me decide if I want the book or not in any way…

Again, this may seem rude, but it is meant to be an honest question about the nature of “reviews” of RPG products. I see so many like yours that I never really assume I’ll get anything better.

5 Ameron February 17, 2010 at 8:29 am

@Groumy
You raise an excellent point that I hadn’t even considered. Your example about the Battlerage Fighter is spot on. No sooner are the books released then we start seeing updates to curb the power level of the “broken” powers.

@Swordgleam
One reason I can think of not to take a fighting style is that it costs two feats. Perhaps you’ve got a very specific build in mind and need all of your feats to accomplish it. But I’ll admit that this is more likely the exception when it comes to martial characters. They tend to take the feats that make them better combatants anyway. Another reason not to take the feat is that you have no desire or intent to actually take the powers that are enhanced by the feat associated with your weapon. Again, I suspect martial character will strongly consider changing when they read the feat and see the huge up-side.

@Steven
I’m with you on the organizational benefits. The presentation of the materials in the print books is vastly superior to that of the content in the character builder. And you’re right that certain information is much more easily accessed in the printed books (like the XP table) than in the character builder (where you have to actually build a character of the appropriate level to see the powers).

@Michael
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master. I don’t think this is a rude or inappropriate question at all. We welcome all discussion and feedback on our articles.

When I wrote this article I thought “what would I want to know before I purchase this book?” and proceeded to present the information with that in mind. I only gave a “barebones summary” because I didn’t want to just reprint word-for-word what’s in the book. In stead I wanted to just hit the highlights.

Considering how much is actually in this book I had to pick and choose what areas to talk about in more detail. The stuff on classes isn’t groundbreaking so I tried to limit my comments to just the facts. Chapter 5 was when we really got into the new stuff and that’s where I tried to offer more opinion.

I didn’t see a lot of value in adding “I like this” or “this was lame” beside every point. Just because I posted an article on the internet doesn’t make me an authority. So probably won’t change your mind on buying this book or not if I say I like it or not. Knowing that’s the case I tried to provide a lot of detail without too much opinion and let you, the reader, draw your own conclusion on whether or not you think you want to buy Martial Power 2 based on what I shared.

Thanks for the comment.

6 btorgin February 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I think review is an overloaded term. I think you reviewed what material was included, and Michael expected a full analysis of the content. While either meet the criteria for the term, I agree with Michael, I was expecting more analysis.

I appreciate you listing the content of the book, but it would be nice to get information about things like: Does it expand the options for current classes in new and unique ways? Does it present balanced new options? Do you see obvious ways to “break” the game? How will this enhance the overall experience of players?

I know you give some opinions of the book at the end in the summary, but this would be a better summary with analysis in front of it.

But, like I said, I’m more for the hard core review as opposed to the covering what the contents are.

Either way, it was nice to see what all came out in the book.

Cheers

7 Michael February 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Thank you for your response. I was worried about seeming rude because, well, it is often difficult to dissent on the internet without seeming angry, or rude. I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my comments.

Now I understand better your goal in presenting the information you did, in the way you did. I think, when I hear the word “review” instead of “preview”, “overview”, or even “buyer’s guide” it sets up certain expectations of anaylsis. But, that’s just coming from me, and I don’t expect you to be beholden to my definitions.

Again, thanks for responding, and keep writing.

–Michael

PS — if you are interested (and I understand if you’re not, at this point) I am posting a link to a review I did of the new Warhammer Boxed Set RPG. It might explain the POV I bring to a “review.”

http://morrisonmp.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/review-of-new-edition-of-warhammer-fantasy-rpg-part-1/

8 Dungeon Newbie March 1, 2010 at 3:45 am

Not bad a review, but Michael HAD some point.. Still, im not gonna buy the books as they cost too much… :D Can save money for the really good books

9 Adrian April 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm

In my opinion, MP2 is the best thing ever to happen to sniper rogues.

As long as you can move 3 squares into concealment or cover each turn, you can make a Stealth check, allowing endless Sneak Attack (shoot while hidden, causing you to become visible, move into cover/concealment, become hidden again.) If you can’t get any cover or concealment by moving, just use Preparatory Strike to maintain CA until you can.

Far Shot as a free feat allows you to have a larger selection of places you can shoot from, increasing the probability that you will be able to get some cover or concealment.

Not to mention that Sharpshooter Talent now improves all crossbow attacks, like Weapon Talent did with daggers. That’s on top of all crossbows having larger damage dice than daggers.

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