Review: “Advanced Player’s Guide”

Overview: Advanced Player’s Guide is one of the first licensed 3rd party products for D&D 4th Edition. It bridges the gap between editions for races and classes, providing options for those who miss certain iconic classes and races from previous editions. It is highly recommended for anyone who wants to play one of the missing races or classes from the 4e core books and/or is trying to convert over an existing campaign to 4e.

Available from: Your Games Now (in PDF) or directly from Expeditious Retreat Press (Print).

In-Depth: Advanced Player’s Guide is authored by Ari Marmell (Fortress of the Yuan-ti, Last Breath of Ashenport.) The book is 110 pages with a B&W interior. It contains a fair amount of interior artwork (with a decidedly old-school feel), though it is mostly dense text, and formats the rules material similarly to how the core books from WotC do it.

The introduction explains the checkered past of the book from conception to print. Ari was a playtester on 4e, and thus bound to an NDA, but he was allowed to work on this book as long as he didn’t tell the planned publisher what he was writing. A strange scenario for sure, but it does demonstrate that Ari has a lot of experience working with 4e.

The book contains the following parts:

Races

  • Earth Gnome (Gnome analogue.) Masters of illusion, who also have an affinity with animals.
  • Orc-Blooded (Half-Orc analogue.) Strong warriors of mixed heritage, who have a “non-disturbing” backstory.
  • Shire Halfling (Hobbit analogue.) Stout travelers, ideally suited to carrying evil magic rings. Not really, but they do get extra saving throws.

Classes

  • Martial Artist (Monk analogue.) Divine Striker. More kung-fu than the 3e monk, nonetheless all the pieces that you would associate with a monk, along with some neat extra mechanics. Easily the class I’m most impressed with in the book.
  • Nature Priest (Druid analogue.) Divine Controller. Very similar in feel to the existing controller, the Wizard, plus some extra powers to conjure. Many of the powers have similar names to older Druid spells.
  • Savage Warrior (Barbarian analogue.) Martial Defender. The Savage Warrior gains extra abilities when bloodied, and is master of the charge. In fact, the Savage Warrior fills his Defender role by marking when he charges, which is a great idea. However, oddly, they gain no additional abilities when marking, unlike the other defenders.
  • Troubadour (Bard analogue.) Arcane Leader. Like the other Leaders, he gets a “Healing Word” type power, though for some reason it follows a different progression in healing power than the other leaders we’ve seen. The Troubadour also has other similar powers to assist allies, like granting re-rolls and extending ranges. The Troubadour also has my favorite name of a power I’ve ever seen, “I Am Not Left Handed!”
  • Spellbinder (Illusionist analogue.) Arcane Controller. Uses mostly powers from other classes, mainly the Wizard and Warlock.

All the classes, with the exception of Spellbinder, have their own Paragon paths that also are call-backs to previous editions. You can see the complete list in the free preview PDF. Additionally, there are a few more generic paragon paths that have some familiar faces, including the Acrobat (Theif-Acrobat), Merciless Assassin (Assassin), Specialist Mage (School-focused wizard, but more like the Elementalist), and Stalwart Cavalier (Cavalier.)

The rest of the book is filled with supplementary material. There are a variety of feats for the new classes, mostly in heroic tier, with only two paragon tier feats and no epic feats. There are also multi-class feats for the new classes. New rituals also supplement the new classes, primarily for the Nature Priest.

The last chapter in the book are two new sub-systems. The first is a system to re-introduce crafting rules to the game. Not a big deal for me since I never had a player use the rules for crafting n a previous edition, but there are definitely some who will want this. It’s only crafting, however. If you’re hoping for other profession rules, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The final chapter also contains rules for long-term injuries that are treated like the 4e disease rules.

Downsides: Like most of the 3rd party D&D products I’ve read, it manages to get most of the rules down, but there always seem to be little pieces that seem off. The Barbarian’s lack of mark effect as a defender, for one.

Additionally, while there’s a lot of good stuff in the class features of the new classes, many of the powers end up running together. This tends to be a complaint of 4e in general, but the problem seems even worse in the book, with “X damage, slowed” and “push 3 squares” being more prominent in many of the class lists.

The book mentions specialized magic implements for Nature Priests and Troubadours, but there are no mention of how they work. Fortunately, the author knows of the problem, and is discussing the book over in ENWorld. Hopefully there will be a web-enhancement that fills these in, and that it also contains errata for some of the missing or erroneous pieces.

This isn’t the fault of the author or the publisher, but it’s really annoying to have the book reference existing powers from the PHB and not be able to give a page number. This is a result of the onerous version of the GSL that it is released under. I’m hoping that, at the very least, the long-promised revised GSL makes referencing existing books easier.

Summary: Despite the flaws, I still highly recommend picking up the Advanced Player’s Guide. In the 3e era, I tended to be very leary of 3rd party products, but this one is a solid addition that fills a need that many people want. (In fact, it makes me want to run a continuation of my 3e campaign now that Bard and Monk are available.) Will this book do well after the “real” versions of the classes are available? I’d be inclined to say no, but with the stagerred release schedule of classes, some of the ones in this book may be the only ones available for a long time. We’ll get out first comparison this Monday when the Barbarian playtest is revealed, but I would not be surprised to find that Aril Marmell has nailed the flavor of these classes and the WotC classes end up being similar.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. OriginalSultan says:

    It will be interesting to see how close the classes and races in this book are compared to the official classes and races (when they eventually get released).

    I hope that they differentiate the classes of the same role enough that they don’t feel like 6 one way vs. half dozen the other. In regards to the Druid class, I would hope that they gave it a different feel than the Wizard, particularly since the other controller class mentioned (Spellbinder) also uses wizard spells. What’s the point in having 3 classes of controller when they all feel the same?

    I think they could easily make the druid feel different than the wizard, if only by doing something simple like decreasing the damage output of his powers and increasing the non-damaging effects (slow, restrain, daze, stun, etc.). That simple change would also mesh well with the ‘traditional’ druid powers involving weather, swarms, entangling roots / vines, etc.

    While material like this is really interesting, I don’t think most gamers who play D&D would buy a product like this. 1) Most gamers who play D&D also play games other than D&D and as such must ration their spending appropriately. 2) At some point in the future much of the material in this book will become superseded by official 4e releases. These 2 factors combined mean that, in all likelihood, only serious D&D players will buy something like this. And even players that are serious D&Ders might not buy this book if they have a friend who purchased this book and will let them borrow it. :-)

  2. Indeed, you make some good points. The author does specifically say that he tried to make his versions of the classes different than the new ones that come out from WotC so the book will still have value. Still, there’s got to be some conceptual overlap… I would be very surprised if the Barbarian doesn’t get bonuses from being bloodied.

    The Nature Priest in the book feels a lot like the Wizard in the at-wills, though at higher levels, definitely a lot more zones/conjurations/things that require sustaining that are similar to what you talk about. There’s very little in the way of shape-changing and focuses on the spells you talk about. (Though there is a Wildshaper paragon path.)

    I actually predict this book will do very well to grab up the people who ONLY play Druids or ONLY play Bards and so forth. There’s a surprising number of people that have dealbreakers in one specific class or race.

  3. I’m glad they’ve included Monk as a character (Martial Artist). Believe it or not, I actually enjoy playing monks. ;)

    Tony´s last post: Nuke-Con is this weekend!

  4. I agree with your comments on 3rd party products. Generally they were lower quality and because most GMs did not have them, they often weren’t considered ‘canon’.

    The 4e 3rd party market probably won’t pan out either. WotC can produce bigger, prettier products for less money and get them into all the gaming shops. Even if some 3rd party manages to produce something new and original that catches people’s imagination, WotC can have a spoiler product out in a few months.

    Chris Tregenza´s last post: The Boss Monster’s Boss

  5. I’ve decided all my 4e characters shall multiclass into troubadour – it gives me an excuse to play rock band while playing D&D.

    joshx0rfz´s last post: Critical Hits is a Trilogy

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