Review: Players Handbook 3; Part 4: Skill Powers, Feats, Magic Items

This is the final part of our multi-post look at Player’s Handbook 3. In previous installments, we took a look at the debut classes for the new psionic power source, which introduced some interesting and exciting mechanics, some of which are more suited for experienced players. We also took a look at the mechanics for Hybrid classes, possibly developed as an answer to those unsatisfied by multi-clasing, as well as two other classes from the primal and divine power sources, respectively: The Runepriest and the Seeker, and we’ve thoroughly examined the exotic new races available for play. Today, we take a look at the remaining character options for players.

First off, we have Skill Powers. I’ll admit that I had my reservations about these, which when first announced read to me like a cheap way of providing a content fix to D&D Insider subscribers. “Oh God, we have nothing this month! And all our Know Your Roles, Essentials and Class Acts won’t be submitted till October! We have to make something up!” Skill Powers represent extraordinary abilities based on skills, which at first smelled fishy to me since I thought that these are things that can easily be ruled by DM fiat. For example, Scrambling Climb – which allows a Level 2 character with 11 in Athletics to move 7-8 squares up – is something I’d probably rule as possible through skill training alone, simply to allow a player that moment of awesome.

However, I’ve warmed up to it because most of the powers that are in the book are sensible Rules As Written (RAW). The Level 2 power False Bravado allows the use of Bluff to undo a mark without a skill check. The Level 6 power Hasty Retreat allows Thievery-trained characters to shift back from a triggered trap, reflecting a canny recognition of when a check has been botched. In my opinion, the Level 2 power Faith Healing, which gives a character trained in Religion the ability to use prayer to allow a creature to spend a healing surge, should have a fluff requirement that the character is a person of faith.

As such, I have mixed feelings about Skill Powers. They are a decent enough set of character options, but they feel like an attempt to codify something that can easily be houseruled into undebatable mechanical form. It’s nice that it can remove some of the ambiguity that helps players be creative – “If I’ve been picking locks all my life why can’t I do a ‘hasty pick’ in one standard action, perhaps at a penalty” – but it also means that more dogmatic DMs and players end up imposing limitations – “no, you cannot use your Bluff to make a ‘distracting shot’ to divert the enemy’s attention” – that might be better off being left fuzzy and open to discussion.

Player’s Handbook 3 also introduces new forms of loot for players. Psionic classes get Ki Focuses as their implement of choice, but other notable additions abound. Many of the new magic items introduce the concept of augmentable powers, which allow you to spend power points to increase their effects. For now, only Psionic classes benefit from this, but who knows what we’ll see in the future? Also, two new consumables – Talent Shards, which grant a bonus to skill checks for an encounter and Cognizance Crystals, which return a power point spent on an augmented psionic attack that missed – would make fun gifts that see great use.

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Another interesting addition is the bevy of Superior Implements, which are similar in design to the Masterwork Armors introduced in Player’s Handbook 2. Whereas Masterwork Armor will grant you greater AC bonuses than normal armor, Superior Implements stack on mechanical benefits that enhance the powers of divine, primal and arcane classes. For example, a Warding Holy Symbol grants ‘unstoppable’ and ‘shielding’ benefits, which means that on a hit, the character gains a +1 bonus to AC and Reflex, and +1 bonus to attack rolls against Fortitude. Superior Implements allow for the equipment diversity that most classes enjoy with weapons, but I’m a little dismayed that they require a character burn a feat to be able to use them.

The new feats that PHB3 introduces are pretty interesting. In addition to the new Rune keyword for Runepriest themed feats, the selection provided extends significantly beyond the classes introduced in the book, reflecting an attempt perhaps to ensure that the old classes don’t get the short end of the stick. Shield-bearing defenders will enjoy Battering Shield, which allows them to add another square of forced movement to push and slide attacks. Overwhelming Critical knocks a target prone when one scores a critical hit, while Vicious Advantage, which makes immobilized and slowed targets grant combat advantage has synergy potential for strikers working with controller-types or Wardens.

All that being said, Player’s Handbook 3 is a great extension to the core of the D&D 4th Edition game. I have some reservations about things like Hybrid classes and the Skill Powers might be something I’ll just hand-wave out since I don’t want people burning power slots to extend the mechanical merits of the skill training. However, the heart of the new book – Psionic classes and new races – easily make up for those bits by bringing in an exotic flavor that might have been missing in some campaigns.

Other reviews of Player’s Handbook 3 by friends of My Girlfriend is a DM:

If you enjoyed this post, kindly consider supporting us by purchasing Player’s Handbook 3: Psionic, Divine and Primal Heroes, the Player’s Handbook 2: Arcane, Divine and Primal Heroes, as well as any number of 4th Edition D&D products from Amazon.com

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