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

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 11, 2010

Psionics. I’ll admit that over the years I’ve never been a huge fan of psionics in D&D. I cringed when Wizards announced that PHB3 would introduce psionic powered character classes to 4e D&D. My initial (and completely uninformed) opinion on the matter was that psionics suck. However, over the past few months as preview material was released through DDI, I got a chance to see some of these new psionic classes first hand. I’ll admit that the preview content started bringing me around on psionics. Now that I’ve actually got a PHB3 with the full builds for each of the new psionic classes I find myself completely turned around on psionics.

In our Player’s Handbook 3 Review (Part 1) we covered the new races and the new divine leader class, the Runepriest. In Player’s Handbook 3 Review (Part 2) we covered skill powers, feats and new magic items. In today’s article we’ll look at psionics.

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).

Psionic Classes

Wizards has already released a lot of material about the new psionic classes as preview content through DDI. All four classes are already in character builder to some extent. Rather than cover a lot of information you’ve already read on the Wizards site or seen in character builder, I’m going to talk about the psionic power source more generally as it applies to all the new classes.

Psionic Augmentation

The Ardent, Battlemind and Psion all use psionic augmentation. They don’t have encounter powers; instead they have a pool of power points they can draw upon to make their at-will powers better and more effective. Every time the hit a level where other classes get new encounter powers, these classes get new at-will powers and more power points.

I’m a little bit fuzzy on exactly how the power points work. I understand the idea of spending the points, but I’m just not sure how to read the resulting effects.

Let’s look at the Battlemind’s level 1 at-will power Iron Fist as an example. Normally it deals 1[W] + Con on a successful hit. The effect is that until the end of your next turn you gain resistance to all damage equal to your Wisdom modifier. By spending 1 power point the augment 1 effect is that until the end of your turn you gain resistance to fire equal to 5 + your Wisdom modifier. By spending 2 power points the augment 2 damage is 2[W] + Con modifier.

So if the power is augment 1 does the PC still do 1[W] + Con damage, gain resistance to all damage equal to his Wisdom modifier and gain resistance to fire equal to 5 + hisr Wisdom modifier? Of does the augment 1 description replace the normal effects? If the power is augment 2 does the 2[W] + Con damage replace the normal damage or stack with it?

By calling it an augment I have to believe that all the effects happen and that if the augment 1 and augment 2 descriptions provide the same kind of effect or benefit that only the best one applies. If this is the case then in the example above the PC would indeed gain both resistances but the damage would only be 2[W] + Con since it’s the best one listed and not 1[W] + 2[W] + Con.

I really like the versatility that psionic augmentation and power points bring to these classes. With augmentation possibilities each power is like having three different powers (which in a way they are). PCs who find at-will powers they really like don’t have to give them up as quickly as most PCs give up encounter powers. The power seem to scale pretty well and in some cases the level 1 at-will powers are potentially better than anything else offered all the way up to the epic tier. Most notably anything that’s tied directly the PCs best ability score.

For example, the Psion’s level 1 at-will powers Mind Thrust and Dishearten reduce an enemies defenses and cause the enemy to suffer penalties to their attack roll respectively each equal to the PC’s Charisma modifier. It’s conceivable that a PC’s Charisma modifier could be 8 or more by epic level. That kind of penalty to an enemy’s defenses or reduction to their attack rolls applied over just a few short rounds will change the course of a battle significantly.

Battlemind (psionic, defender)

The best defender in 4e award goes to the Battlemind. A defender is supposed to draw attacks from other PCs and punish any opponent who doesn’t focus everything he’s got at the defender. All defenders can mark foes, but the Battlemind’s mark is far superior to all others.

The Battlemind marks his foes as a minor action using Battlemind’s Demand. Marked foes that don’t attack the Battlemind are in for a lot of hurt. If the Battlemind isn’t included in the attack he can use his Mind Spike as an immediate reaction to cause the marked opponent to take damage equal to the damage that his attack dealt to the ally.

The more damage the marked foe deals out the more he’s punished for not attacking the Battlemind. This is much more punitive than any other defender’s power. Other defenders get a free attack or cause a set amount of automatic damage. Because the Battlemind’s mark is directly proportional to the enemy’s power, this mark will be more versatile as the PC advances in level.

The only down side to the Battlemind’s mark is that foes don’t suffer the -2 when attacking others that the rest of the defenders’ marks provide. I think that’s a fair trade off. It’s almost worth a marked foe hitting an ally for 50 points of damage if it means the enemy is going to take 50 points of damage as well.

Update: I didn’t realize that all marks confer the -2 penalty to a marked foe who doesn’t attack the defender. Because I didn’t see it clearly spelled out in the Battlemind’s description I assumed that this defender was different in that regard. However, The Marked Condition is spelled out in the PHB2 Appendix and it states that all marks result in the -2 to attacks. It’s also in the Glossary of the PHB3. So I stand corrected. In light of this revelation the Battlemind seems unparalleled as a defender.

Monk (psionic, striker)

When I first heard that the Monk was going to use the psionic power source I was confused. I expected the Monk to be martial or even divine, but not psionic. Then I read the preview content and I started to see what Wizards had in mind for the Monk. I’ve never been a big fan of the Monk. I despised them in AD&D and I was on the fence with them in 3.5e, but now that I’ve seen the entire build I’m thoroughly impressed.

Adding the full discipline keyword to Monk powers is a stroke of genius. This combines an attack action and a move action that together make the Monk’s attacks much more fluid. I think this is what I felt was lacking from Monks in previous editions. Power with full discipline better convey the extreme mobility that an unarmed combatant would employ when battling monsters and heavily armored opponents. Giving the Monk a specific kind of move action in conjunction with his power lets him do so much more than just shift 1 square on his turn.

Final Thoughts

When I first picked up the PHB3 I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a good buy. My love/hate relationship with psionics and my understanding that most of this book is already available through DDI and character builder made me somewhat reluctant to buy it. But now that I’ve pretty much read the PHB3 cover to cover I’m convinced that it was money well spent.

In my opinion, the PHB3 is the best 4e D&D book to hit shelves since the PHB and DMG. It adds exciting new elements to the game of D&D and shows that changes can make the game better.

The PHB3 is not a book for beginners. If you’ve just discovered D&D then I’d recommend you stick to the PHB and PHB2. The psionic classes bring a completely new rule set to PCs that new player may find overwhelming. If you’re a hardcore D&D enthusiast like me then this book will blow you away. I’m always looking for ways to take D&D to the next level and this book provides that opportunity. If this is the kind of quality we can expect in the forthcoming, psionic-based Dark Sun campaign setting then I can’t wait.

10 on a d10

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ross Mills March 11, 2010 at 10:02 am

Where does it say that the Battlemind does not give the enemy -2 to hit others when marked?

ALL marks do that, do they not?

2 Mark March 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

I appreciate the recent PHB3 articles a lot. However, you made an important error in this last article about how augmentations work. Below is a quote from the rules about how augmentations interact with each other.

“When you augment a power, changes to the power are noted in the augmentation. If an augmentation includes a specific power entry, like “Hit” or “Effect,” that entry replaces the entry in the base power that has the same name. An augmented version of a power is otherwise identical to the base power.”

So in the example above you can gain a low damage resistance to all damage (and the difference between augment 0 and 2 is how much damage you do), OR you can gain a very high resistance to fire. The idea with the lower augments is to give a high situational bonus which would be very useful in some situations, but not worth the effort as a regular thing.

3 Ameron March 11, 2010 at 10:50 am

@Ross Mills
Thanks to your comment I dug a little deeper. It turns out that you are absolutely correct. All marks give foes the -2 to attack. I’ve added an amendment to the article. Thanks for pointing that out.

@Mark
I did say I was fuzzy about how the augmented powers worked. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I guess in the example you’d really only use the augment 1 if you were getting attacked by fire (the specific situation you referred to). Any other time it’s more beneficial to keep the lower resistance to all damage and not use any power points.

4 Michael March 11, 2010 at 10:59 am

I would expect to see the psion’s defense and to-hit altering at-will powers errated almost immediately. Considering the change to Righteous Brand, I can’t imagine them leaving something which lowers the opponent’s defenses alone… it is a very similar problem.
.-= Michael´s last blog ..Madicon Prep =-.

5 Toldain March 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Battlemind’s Demand seems pretty good all right, but I don’t think it’s as unbalanced as you seem to think. First of all, if the marked enemy misses, you get nothing. I have an Avenger in a group with my Fighter. He loves to sometimes take a turn where he runs around the battlefield, provoking opportunity attacks from people I have marked. But he has better AC than I do. So he’s hard to hit, but I still get a free swing with my 2 hander. And I rarely miss.

Second, my attack interrupts their attack. So I can potentially down them, and completely kill the attack on the squishy I’m protecting. Not often, but its happened.

It’s pretty interesting, to be sure, but it’s a different play style, and not particularly unbalanced, IMHO. Not everyone in my group would be convinced that a 1-1 damage trade with a big mob is a good idea. Sometimes it might be.
.-= Toldain´s last blog ..Innovation in EQ2 =-.

6 Ameron March 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm

@everyone
Sorry for the delayed responses, I’ve been sick for the past few days.

@Michael
In that case I’d better start playing one immediately and power-game my butt off until it’s fixed. :)

@Toldain
I forget that some defenders are actually really good at dishing out damage. I played a Paladin for a long time and he was laughing stock of the defender community. Fighters on the other hand hit harder and more often because of the mark’s effects. Still, at higher levels I find that the monsters tend to hit harder than the PCs so a 1:1 damage trade has the potential to really change the course of a battle. If for no other reason that to keep the monsters focused on the defenders.

7 The Opportunist June 21, 2010 at 10:22 am

Nice overall review. I just reviewed this one over at rpgmusings.com. It’s good to get other perspectives on a new product.

8 Bensteroni December 23, 2011 at 10:54 am

I am fairly new to D&D. I only started two and a half years ago, and I have only played 4e. However, I was instantly drawn to the psionics classes due to their source.
Divine power comes from gods, which means you play by their rules. Primal power almost makes it impossible to be evil, since you must honour the spirits in what you do (Although it is not impossible to be evil as one). Arcane power is just so common, and martial power is, well, normal. But psionic power is my favourite.
Your article on the Battlemind is wonderful. Battleminds are the most Striker-like Defenders I have seen, excepting only the Blackguard (which Heroes of Shadow labels as a Striker, anyway). However, as a Defender, I find Battleminds are lacking. The only build that is good at it (in my opinon) is the Resilient one, because the others focus on hit and run tactics, which isn’t very Defender like.
Keep in mind, this opinion is coming from a recently graduated D&D noob.

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