Player’s Handbook 3 (PHB3) Review (Part 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 9, 2010

In our Player’s Handbook 3 Review (Part 1) we looked at the new Shardmind race and one of the new classes, the Runepriest. Today in our PHB3 Review (Part 2) we’re looking at skill powers, feats, superior implements and new magic items. In our PHB3 Review (Part 3) we’ll delve into a detailed look at the psionic classes.

Here’s a quick recap of the new races and classes available in the PHB3.

New Races

  • Githzerai
  • Minotaur
  • Shardmind
  • Wilden

New Classes

There are also complete rules for building Hybrid characters of all classes (including all six new classes introduced in the PHB3).

Skill Powers

Skill powers were release online as preview content through Dragon in back in September. At the time we provided our commentary in First Look PHB3: Skill Powers. By now, anyone with a DDI subscription is familiar with the concept of skill powers and has likely seen some of the examples in Character Builder. For those without a DDI subscription, skill powers are utility powers available to any PC trained in that particular skill. The PHB3 expands on what we’ve already seen and gives more skill power choices for all 17 skills.

When skill powers were first previewed I was very excited. I’ve believed from day one that skill challenges are one of the best improvements of 4e D&D. The addition of skill powers to the game encourage more players to use their skills more often both in and out of structured skill challenges. Skill powers give players a better idea of just how versatile their skills actually are.

Since Dungeon’s Master launched we’ve done what we can to encourage players to be creative with their skills. In our ongoing Skill Focus serieswe provide many examples of how players can use their skills more imaginatively. However, until skill powers were introduced most of these creative options were subject to DM approval. Now that skill powers are an official part of D&D there’s no worry that the DM will balk at your creative use of Acrobatics or Dungeoneering. Taking the appropriate skill power lets you do the incredible more easily and more often.

Skill powers are an excellent way to make a combat heavy character more versatile. This is beneficial if your class has a very limited skill list to choose training in (like Fighter, for example). With a skill power like the level 10 Navigate Crowds, which lets you shift your speed and move through an enemies square, a Fighter with a low Charisma may still see benefit in training Streetwise.

As more players move into the paragon and epic tiers I suspect that skill powers will become even more popular. After all, a PC with a dozen or more attack powers can afford to choose a skill power or two to round out their character.

There are 102 skill powers in the PHB3. That’s double the amount currently in Character Builder as preview content. Here’s how they break down by level.

  • Level 2, 28 skill powers
  • Level 6, 41 skill powers
  • Level 10, 26 skill powers
  • Level 16, 7 skill powers

At level 10 Arcana is the only skill lacking a skill power. At level 16 skill powers are only offered for these seven skills: Acrobatics, Arcana, Diplomacy, Endurance, Heal, Insight and Stealth. There are no level 22 skill powers in the PHB3.

These are a few of the new skill powers that I expect will become the standard choices for many adventurers.

  • Incredible Stride (Athletics, level 10 Daily). Minor action. You gain +4 to speed until the end of the stance.
  • False Bravado (Bluff, level 2 At-will). Minor action. You remove an enemy’s mark from yourself.
  • Third Wind (Endurance, level 6 Daily). Minor action. You spend a healing surge.
  • Reactive Surge (Endurance, level 10 Encounter). Immediate interrupt. You spend a healing surge when you’re bloodied.
  • Try the Stick (Intimidate, level 6 Encounter). Make an Intimidate check in place of a Diplomacy check.
  • Hasty Retreat (Thievery, level 6 Encounter). Free action. You shift a number of squares equal to half your Dexterity modifier when you trigger a trap.

Feats

As expected, most of the new feats in PHB3 are geared towards the new races and classes debuting in this book. But there are still some great feats open to all characters. Here are a few that jumped out at me when I read through the list.

  • Directed Bull Rush lets you slide an opponent rather than push him.
  • Focused Mind gives you +4 to save against daze and stun.
  • Grounding Shot lets you ignore penalties for attacking prone opponents from range and you deal +2 damage.
  • Low Crawl lets you shift while prone.
  • Skill Power lets you choose a skill power of your level or lower in a trained skill.
  • Spring Step lets you shift 1 after standing up from prone.
  • Unarmored Agility gives you +2 AC when wearing light or no armor.
  • Unfailing Vigorlets you expend your second wind if you roll 18-20 on a death save.

Rune feats are a new category of feats designed specifically for the Runepriest class. Each feat grants a bonus that improves as you select more Rune feats. For example, Rune of Eloquence gives you +1 to Bluff and Diplomacy for each Rune feat you have. Rune of Hope grants the target of your Rune of Mending +1 temporary hit point for each Rune feat you have. There are only eight Rune feats in the PHB3 (4 heroic, 2 paragon, 2 epic) but I’m sure we’ll see more of them in future releases. If you play a Runepriest you’re likely to take as many Rune feats as possible or avoid them all together. There’s no real benefit to just dabbling.

Superior Implements

When I first read this section I immediately thought of Dragonshard Augments from the Eberron campaign setting. Here’s a way to take a magical or non-magical implement and make it a little bit better. These are especially beneficial if you’re low level. For 30 gp or less your implement can have the Accuracy property giving you +1 to attacks or the Distance property increasing the range of your area and ranged attack power by 2. As someone who’s played numerous implement wielding PCs, I consider this a huge improvement to implements that’s long overdue.

The only catch is that in order to actually gain the benefits superior implements offer you need to take the Superior Implement Training feat. When I read this it felt like a punch in the gut. Here’s a cool new way to make your implement powers more interesting. There’s a monetary cost and, oh yeah, you need a to take a feat too. Bad call Wizards. The benefits aren’t that spectacular that I should have to spend a feat to gain this benefit. Charging a fee (even a small fee) on top of the feat seems unnecessarily punitive.

Magic Items

Much like the feats, most of the magic items are most beneficial to the new races and classes. In addition to new armor, weapons, orbs, staffs, rings and consumables there are 12 Ki focus items – each ranging from +1 to +6 enchantment. Ki focus items allow psionic characters to improve their attack powers (they’re basically psionic implements).

One of the consumable items that I found interesting was the Talent Shard. It’s a level 3 item that costs 30 gp. As a minor action you choose 1 skill and gain +1 to that skill until the end of the encounter. It comes in +1 to +6 versions. Skill challenges are about to get a whole lot easier.

Tomorrow in our PHB3 Review (Part 3) we’ll take a look at the new psionic classes.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Swordgleam March 9, 2010 at 11:20 am

“Skill Power lets you choose a skill power of your level or lower in a trained skill.”

Wait, I thought skill powers were free if you qualified? Having to potentially take two feats to get access to a skill power (the one to get the skill, and the one to get the power) but at very least one feat makes it far less likely anyone but heavy roleplayers or those with very specific character themes will take them.

The ones you posted seem better than some utility powers, but not “blow a feat slot” better.

That’s too bad. I’ll probably just houserule the feat requirement out if our group ends up with a PHB3.

2 Ameron March 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

@Swordgleam
I believe the Skill Power feat lets you choose a skill power above and beyond your normal Utility power allotment. So at level 6 you get a Utility power from either your class list or the skill powers applicable to the powers you’re trained in. If you choose the Skill Power feat you could choose a level 6 skill power in addition to whatever you just selected. That’s my take on it.

3 Wyatt March 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

That is pretty much how it works, yes.
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..RELEASE: NAA D6 V1.3 =-.

4 Swordgleam March 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Ah, that’s much, much better. I wonder if you’ll have people taking Skill Power to get an extra utility, then a multiclass power swap feat to switch it for something else? And does this mean Skill Power gives wizards two extra skill powers?

5 Tialla March 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Your statement about superior implements seems just a little off–it’s not a punch in the gut, it’s a bit of equality–superior implements are, for all intents and purposes, the same sort of thing as exotic weapons–which also cost negligibly more for non-magical ones, and a feat. And honestly…+2 radiant damage for a cleric, for instance, or +2 necrotic damage for a dark pact warlock…is certainly worth a feat–anyone who might take one of the +1/+2/+3 damage feats for a specific damage type might jump at the chance to get it instead as +2/+3/+4 and a +1 vs Fort, Ref, or Will.

6 Steven March 10, 2010 at 11:38 am

I think implements are underpowered and I still don’t see parity. Implements don’t get the proficiency bonus that weapon users enjoy for free. I know the argument is that implement powers attack non-ac defenses, but I don’t buy it. I think implements need those bonus’s…

7 Mike Karkabe-Olson March 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm

@Steven: I don’t believe implements are underpowered. Why? Because Will, Reflex and Fortitude defenses tend to, overall, be lower for most creatures and PCs than their AC (because of armor and shield bonuses). At best, weapon proficiency bonuses simply offset this difference that stems from the armor (and the AC) people are wearing.

8 Ameron March 11, 2010 at 11:02 am

@Tialla
I’ll admit that I may have overreacted when I was writing this article. I just thought it a bit unfair that you had to take a feat and pay gp. But I guess you could compare it to ritual casting in that regard.

@Steven
You and I are in complete agreement on this one.

@Mike Karkabe-Olson
I’ve noticed that in the paragon and epic tier most monsters have almost identical defenses between AC, Fort, Ref and Will. Getting a +3 proficiency bonus with your sword suddenly makes hitting AC easier than me hitting Ref with my implement.

9 Thindelock March 18, 2010 at 12:46 am

@Ameron You’re right, in higher levels non-AC defenses are, on average, about the same as AC. But implement users usually have two advantages to cover this difference that you might not have considered.

1) They’re more frequently targeting multiple foes. If you’re 10-15% less likely to hit, but targeting 2-3x the foes per power used, the math is still in your favor compared to the guy swinging the sword. This isn’t just controllers… most implement-based strikers, leaders, and defenders get more area effects than weapon users.

2) It’s not about hitting “non-AC defenses” generally, it’s about CHOOSING which defense to hit. Yes, on average the defenses are roughly equal across the board, but a quick look at the level 22-28 monsters in the Monster Builder shows a trend of having one or two defenses that are 2 to 5 points lower than the others, and weapon users have no way to exploit that. Simply being able to select which defense to target is an advantage the guy swinging the sword doesn’t have. Some monsters have truly average defenses, and the weapon user is at an advantage, but if a single defense is 2-3 points low, an implement user can be on even footing… and if the difference is 4 or more, the implement user that picks the right defense is actually at an advantage even without the proficiency bonus.

So yeah, weapon users can hit AC more reliably. But implement users can target a vulnerable defense to make up that difference, and do it to more enemies at once. It just requires a bit more care and thought, as spellcasters generally have in every edition of the game.

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