My last blog entry saw me reviewing the core books, now lets head on to the splat books. I have to say upfront that i expect the following three from splat books:
A) spice up the classes, and deliver new options for everyone (versatility)
B) power creep. It's inevitable, but it has to be kept to a minimum in order for the game to not break. Most importantly, this means that there should be few obviously already broken powers to start with (like blade cascade or orb of imposition) - stuff like that can happen, and will always happen - but it should not be the theme of the book.
C) Only a few flavor parts. Such books are meant for players and DMs wanting to get even the last portion of power out of a given class or feature, and as such, flavor is mostly irrelevant.
It took me quite a while to decide whether I wanted to have the "other" splat books or not. I started buying and preordering all of themin January, but the only one i really needed at that time is Divine Power for my poor, poor Paladin.
Martial Power [February 2009]
If you are a ranger, rogue or warlord, this book perfectly delivered. While the new rogue and ranger builds just add something on par with the other builds, and just some gamestyle flavors are different, the new warlord builds really change the way you want to build your 'lord. Bravura presence makes you totally independent from your secondary stats, Resourceful presence relies on both. It was not really a big surprise for me that our party Warlord changed to Resourceful immediately.
Now to the big offender: fighter. There is now a two-weapon fighter build. something that should have been best left to the ranger. Worst of all, it could even outdamage the ranger, if built properly. An Errata-fix took care of the ill-balanced dual strike, but still this kind of fighter is far to offensive minded to really fulfill the role of "defender" properly.
Second big offender: fighter, again. The Battlerager is one of the nicest concepts I have ever seen - to bad it fails in practical play. Stacking temporary hitpoints is just mean, and gaining them for nearly every attack made against you, makes you nigh unkillable. A DM really would have to go through hoops to challenge you. Of course, this was also "fixed" in the meantime. Which means, they dropped the whole old feature, and replaced it with a new one. Playtest => Failed.
Feats are "as expected". Many of them seem better than the ones already in existance, but overall, they are still balanced. Some of them needed fixes, and some of them already received them - but nevertheless, mostly solid work.
I won't go into details with epic destinies - sure, there's some cheesy combinations to be found, but this will always be the case for epic destinies - and to be blunt: it looks like nothing will ever outdo the core epic destiny of demigod.
Arcane Power [June 2009]
The second in line for all those who seek power, and again, it was delivered very late in europe. This book I'll have to do class-by-class:
Bard: At long last, a ranged weapon leader! On the downside, this build gets a lot more attention than the already existing. You're mostly better off with the existing powers if you are a cunning or valorous bard. The same holds true for bardic feats.
Sorcerer: Both builds are well done, with cosmic adding a strong secondary controller feeling, and storm adding the ability to play a dex-secondary sorcerer without the feel of managing 200 different options for every die roll, like it happens with the wild one. Contrary to the bard, the "old" builds also are supported, and partially this holds true for feats. All in all, a chapter well done.
Swordmage: I have to say, I'm not happy with the inclusion of this class into this book, and the reasons are various:
A) it takes aways space from the other classes - while there were only 4 martial classes in martial power, there are now 5 classes in arcane power, with both having equal pagecount. logical conclusion is, that arcane classes are less supported than martial ones, and it shows.
B) including something that is rather optional (Forgotten Realms Setting) into a Core-Option-Book, just feels like they want to force you to buy that book as well. Setting Specific Classes should just be handled with the setting books, that's my take on that.
C) If there is a swordmage, then where is the artificer? FR being supported early , but the Eberron class not at all, is something hard to swallow as hardcore Eberron fan.
But back to the mechanical - it's new aegis is probably the weakest around, and it's feats are thin. Powers are mostly run-of-the mill, so overall, I'd say not much to buy here if you just take it for your swordmage.
Warlock: For anyone feeling that their Warlock is not hard enough to play, we'Ve got a new tool: Vestige Pact! You basically get lots of options how your pact boon works, and it can change with powers used. The Downside of it is: a lot more management to be done. I advise anyone who wants to play such a Warlock to not only have powercards, but Vestige-Cards as well, in order to make it more manageable. Warlock received the biggest love in this book, and even if you did not choose Vestige pact, you'll have a lot new powers to chose from. feats are rather slim pickings, but most of them are useful.
Wizard: Many people wanted to play an illusionist or summoner. This book provides those mechanics. Both builds feel nice to play, and you've got enough to choose from this book - but if you don't want to be a summoner or illusionist, the powers are mostly wasted for you. A search for elemental keywords is pretty much a waste of your time - you'll really be better off using just PHB material. The feats are again slim, especially in paragon tier - but the crown jewel of offenders in this book can also be found: Enlarge Spell. -2 damage, to increase the size of a spell? Yes, please, anyday, we're not controller because we care about damage that much. Hitting a possible 49 instead of 25 creatures with a single spell, is nothing to be sneered at.
Now to come to my last offender, a feat which is pretty nice in its concept, but will always help breaking mechanics: arcane admixture. As of now, you can e.g. mix cold with fire, and gain everlasting combat advantage with frost-cheese and deal more damage at the same time. Admix thunder to your scorching burst, add in resounding thunder and enlarge spell feats - makes an at-will 7x7 spell. this is only the tip of the iceberg - but one can easily see how this will be problematic over and over again. (makes also a nice multiclass features for arcane strikers)
Divine Power [July 2009]
The last one to arrive, and the one i was waiting for most. (paladin player, remember?) It adds the concept of domains, which are pretty much feats that aid you with your chosen god. I'm not yet sure what to make of it, but it seems to me like this is once again, like Channel Divinity, something that will only get cherry-picked now and then, and not be an integral part of any divine build. Part of this failure is that every domain only supports one of the at-wills of each class. Take another build, and you don't have any of the powers supported by your domains!
I'm not done analyzing all the options yet, but here are my impressions on the classes:
Avenger: Solid support. Censure of Unity is probably better than Censure of Pursuit, as monsters usually do not flee from strikers...
Cleric: A new build focussed on not dealing damage and instead controlling the field more. While this is a neat addition, it also is a trap. Don't build your entire character around it, you just need to damage someone, sometimes!
Invoker: The new covenant is within the same power curve as the old ones, and the powers just supply more options. Nothing really new to be gained here.
Paladin: Straladins rejoice! You're less MAD now. Oh, no, sorry, wishful thinking. But some of the flaws have been adjusted. You can make your challenge finally worth a grain with mighty challenge, and you have options that do not focus on lay on hands but damage (ardent vow) or the stalwart image of a paladin shrugging everything off (virtue's touch). The build that really has gained a lot from the DP book is accidentally the one I am playing - Chaladin with Wisdom secondary. No need for melee training anymore, as virtous strike fixes all that. Also, with divine sanction being a rider effect of many powers, no more fear that your paladin is not sticky enough. if at all, you need to be careful now that not everyone gangs up on you.
Many of the new feats to be had in Divine Power are Racial Feats. This is a bit sad, because while it allows players of said races to gain one nifty item in their repertoire, it leaves general options out there to dry.
All in all, this book adressed many of the issues that the PHB left open for clerics and paladins. Some issues still remain, however: Strength paladins still suck at marking, and need 4 to 5 attributes to be an effective defender. Clerics still don't have real different builds, just channel divinities and powers based on STR or WIS, but nothing added onto that difference.
So, that's it for today. Might get back with AV1+2 as well as the settings books (most of which I do not own myself) when i feel like it.