Review: Players Handbook 3; Part 2: New Races
In the first installment of my review of Player’s Handbook 3, I took a deep look at the classes introduced by the Psionic power source. They’ve all turned out to be pretty exciting classes to play, but with some quirks that may make them suited for more experienced players. I don’t think I mentioned this, but most of my thoughts are based on how they would play in the heroic tier, and it remains to be seen how they will scale in the paragon and epic tier. Today, we’re going to look at the new races, all of which seem to be of the exotic variety that may appeal to those who have tired of dwarves, elves and gnomes.
Each of the new races gives one fixed attribute bonus and a choice of one bonus on one of two attributes. The only race to do that so far is the Changeling from the Eberron Player’s Guide, which allows the choice of a +2 to Dexterity or Intelligence in addition to a fixed +2 bonus to Charisma. The result is that the new races (and the Changeling) are very flexible for min-maxers. The Minotaur for example, is suited for anyone interested in playing just about any class that has at least a partial focus on hitting things in melee.
The first race is the Githzerai, well known to D&D veterans as well as CRPG enthusiasts who’ve played Planescape: Torment and Neverwinter Nights 2. The Githzerai retain their backstory from AD&D 2nd Edition: Descendants of an ancient race that was enslaved by the mind flayers who eventually fought back and then split into two ideological factions. The Githzerai retreated into the Elemental Chaos, following a path towards self-reflection and discipline, becoming more introspective and calm than their counterparts, the fanatical and martially inclined Githyanki.
With the Iron Mind racial power, a Githzerai can gain a small but meaningful bonus to his defenses after being hit by an attack. This is very useful because he doesn’t gain any stat bonuses to Fortitude, a weakness in some of the classes favored by the Githzerai such as the Wizard, Druid and Seeker A Githzerai also has a good spread of attribute bonuses: the option of adding to Dexterity or Intelligence affect his Reflex and/or Armor Class, which is great since it doesn’t conflict with the natural bonus he gets to Will from his Wisdom. Also, between the natural bonus to Acrobatics and Athletics, the ability to resist mental effects such as dominate and daze and his ability to shift after using second wind, the Githzerai seems a natural fit for the Ranger or Monk class.
The Shardmind is a new race that ties in significantly with the planar-oriented fluff that permeates the lore of the D&D world. See, there was a Living Gate which kept the Far Realm barricaded from the Astral Sea and the planes beyond. Although it remained safe during most of the Dawn War (PHB1 lore), an unnamed god destroyed the gate and let the aberrant horrors of the Far Realm loose upon the cosmos. The Shardmind are essentially the sentient fragments of the Living Gate: crystalline humanoid constructs animated by psionic energy. Yeah, let that sink in for a while. The Shardmind aren’t the strangest race ever concocted in D&D, but they certainly take the cake as far as 4th Edition goes.
One of the first things I noticed about the Shardmind is that they get bonuses to Arcana, Endurance and a skill of the player’s choice. That’s 50% more skill bonus-osity than other races, with the exception of the Eladrin. Furthermore, as living constructs, they have the same immunity to effects of starvation, sleeplessness, thirst and suffocation as the Warforged. They also possess the ability to telepathically communicate with any creature, an ability first seen in the Kalashtar. Their racial power is Shard Swarm, which allows them to teleport at half-speed distance after forcing any enemy within a close burst 1 to grant combat advantage to them. That’s a pretty potent set of abilities! Their attribute bonus spread consists of a bonus to Intelligence and a choice of Wisdom or Charisma as their second bonus. The mix of fluff and crunch makes them suited to being Ardents and Psions, but I foresee renewed popularity for Warlocks, who can abuse Shard Swarm in tandem with the Fey Pact Misty Step.
The Minotaur race is the one I didn’t find as mechanically exciting as the other races. Their fluff is interesting enough: they wrestle with their bestial impulses and navigate the world spiritually and psychologically through the metaphor of the labyrinth and view compromise as a failure to maintain personal integrity. At a cursory glance, they seem to overlap with existing animalistic races such as Shifters, carry the same noble savage allure of the Half-Orcs and are burdened with the kind of distrust that follows Tieflings. Still, I tend to favor the ‘racial heavies’ such as Dragonborn and Warforged, as a player, so I probably wouldn’t mind playing one.
Like the other PHB3 races, the Minotaur carries a diverse set of ability bonuses: Strength and a choice of Constitution or Wisdom. He doesn’t get the same broad coverage as the other races – minmaxers might want to steer clear of the Con bonus, as it is keyed into the Fortitude defense already bolstered by Strength. However, his additional healing surge and the racial power Goring Charge, might make him a great Barbarian. The Minotaur can also make a melee basic attack as an interrupt whenever he is knocked down to 0 hit points. I’ve yet to put him through his paces, but a good mix of charging attacks, rage abilities and invigorating keywords could make him unstoppable. That said, the Minotaur has the potential to excel as just about any type of Warden, since his bonuses ensure that he as high scores in Fortitude or AC.
The most flexible race, I think, is the Wilden. Their attribute bonuses and racial powers make them very adaptable. Plant-like fey creatures made of wood, leaves and bark; their form changes depending on which aspect of nature they assume. This bit of fluff ties in to their racial power: the ability to manifest different aspects after an extended rest, giving them a unique encounter power for each aspect. Each power can be adapted to any party role. Voyage of the Ancients grants the ability to teleport after an attack, while gaining combat advantage while Pursuit of the Hunter allows the Wilden to shift as an immediate reaction to an enemy’s movement, while allowing him to ignore cover or concealment and gaining bonus damage on the next attack against it. Wrath of the Destroyer grants the Wilden the functions of a defender, allowing him to punish bloodied enemies that attack him or his allies.
The Wilden’s natural bonus to Wisdom and Constitution or Dexterity has the book list the battlemind, invoker, druid and shaman as her favored classes. However, her racial powers and skill bonuses to nature and stealth seem to lead to great possibilities as a bow ranger, or as an avenger. I think the latter would be interesting in terms of fluff. Imagine a Wilden disregarding his primal origins and turning to divine faith as the guiding hand on his quest to cleanse the world of aberrant creatures. Simply put, Wilden seem suited to stealth oriented strikers that rely on either Dexterity or Wisdom to use his class powers.
All in all, the new races are actually exciting in terms of mechanics, even if some of their high concept fluff can be a bit difficult to grasp. Their flexible set of attribute bonuses means that they enjoy great class spread, and might even tempt away those who think previous races were too limited in terms of class choices. I think the Minotaur is limited in terms of how to incorporate his racial power, and the Shardmind is a bit too weird, but they still remain sound additions to the game. Tune in next time, when I will talk about Skill Powers, Runepriests, Seekers and many of the other player choices introduced by Player’s Handbook 3.
Other reviews of Player’s Handbook 3 by friends of My Girlfriend is a DM:
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