The Player’s Handbook 3 is the newest core release for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons that introduces a lot of new content including the psionic power source. In much the same way the PHB2 introduced primal classes with a back story, this book lays out the changes to any D&D world that might bring about psionic characters and races. The new races presented are the githzerai, minotaurs, shardminds, and wilden while the new classes are the Ardent (psionic leader), Battlemind (psionic defender), Monk (psionic striker), Psion (psionic controller), Runepriest (divine leader), and Seeker (primal controller). In addition we finally see the full hybrid class rules that allow you to create a character that skirts the boundaries between roles and classes. A ton of new utility powers are also introduced for characters trained in particular skills, along with a bunch of new feats not just for the new classes and races but also many available to all characters. If you’re a fan of psionics, miss rangers that could cast natural spells, want to play classes that are more versatile and flexible, or if you’re just looking for some new options for your 4th edition game you really should check out this book.
The story elements that are presented at the beginning of this book add a lot to the concepts of aberrant creatures and psionic characters, making them more than just random elements in a game. A few of the base 4E gods are involved that could tie divine followers into psionics in some very cool ways. It all revolves around a living gate to the far realm that was destroyed and has been the cause of all aberrant creatures invading the other planes, which have manifested psionics as a defense mechanism. All of the new races except for minotaurs tie into this story perfectly, with the githzerai as a naturally psionic race, the wilden as nature’s wrath given sentience, and my favorite are shardminds which are living constructs made of crystalline fragments of the living gate itself. The overall theme of the PHB3 seems to be versatility, as each of the new races has one primary ability score bonus and the choice between two for your secondary bonus (instead of most other races having two fixed bonuses to ability scores).
The githzerai have been beefed up from their entry in the Monster Manual, and are always wise but can choose between being dexterous or intelligent. The defended mind racial feature provides a bonus to saves against daze, dominate, and stun effects which I can see being a big benefit in the paragon and epic tiers. Minotaurs are strong and can choose between tough or wise, but their features don’t really impress me much. As a character being able to make a basic attack just before I drop to zero hit points doesn’t appeal to me, though the bonuses to charging could make for some very brutal barbarians and fighters. The shardmind steals the show for me, not only because a lot of the artwork for the race in the book is really badass looking, but also because they present an opposing side of the living construct spectrum from warforged. Shardminds are all intelligent, with some choosing to be more wise and others more charismatic so they have the three mental stats completely covered. Stack on top of that some minor telepathy, psychic resistance, and the immortal origin and they start to sound like a really fun race to play. However their shard swarm power is kind of lackluster, causing enemies in a burst to grant combat advantage, at least it allows you to teleport a short distance as well.
Lastly we have the fey origin wilden that are all wise, with some being more tough and others more dexterous. They are presented as an almost cat-like race with leaves and branches for skin and bones, whereas I might have preferred a more classic view of them as dryads but thankfully re-skinning their appearance is not difficult at all. I feel the wilden are actually a bit lacking in racial features, instead they have access to three different encounter powers that they can choose between each day, but each power has relatively limited usefulness so I’m not sure how much of an advantage it really is. The paragon paths for each race are what we’ve come to expect from all of the other races, although the githzerai path called Rrathmal comes with a vicious at-will utility that lets you shift your speed to stay adjacent to shifting enemies. The Shard Disciple path for shardminds could be a very defining choice for a character, boosting and building upon the shard swarm power and providing some really unique powers – it’s not often a character gets to turn their body in a swarm of deadly crystals and then reform somewhere else.
While we have seen much of the PHB3 class content from previews in Dragon magazine, seeing the psionic classes in full is really impressive. Each of them provides a great deal more flexibility and versatility than the other classes. Each psionic class other than the monk gains three at-will powers which they can augment (using power points) to be more powerful in place of using encounter powers. A theme I noticed in the book that was not so apparent in the previews is that the cheaper augments for all of the powers are much more situational and specific. The augmentation of powers allows the psionic classes to adjust to situations in a wide variety of ways that other classes may have trouble doing.
The Ardent class did not really impress me in the preview, but when you look at the spread of at-will powers available to them it really starts to come together. As a friend pointed out to me while reading the book, the Ardent seems to have one at-will power for every single thing you would expect or want a leader to do. Buffs, debuffs, aiding and healing, or allowing allies to make attacks with bonuses – all of these aspects are presented in the Ardent power list across most levels. The fluff builds up the character even more with the concept of going into enemies minds and tearing them down mentally while at the same time you psionically boost your allies. This is the class that I didn’t expect to like but has really surprised me in writing.
Battlemind was Dave’s clear favorite coming out of D&D XP, and I have to say it is one of my favorites as well. I have to admit that I don’t say that solely because of the badass artwork of a dwarf with his hand melded into a red-crystal sword. Right away I was excited by a defender that could spend a power point, a portion of its encounter attack ability, to mark two creatures instead of just one with Battlemind’s Demand. With its other at-will class powers, Blurred Step and Mind Spike, this class specializes in sticking to large melee monsters and dealing large amounts of damage right back at them. The class’ powers add on top a slew of body and weapon altering abilities including many aspect daily powers similar to those the warden class uses. If you were a fan of the 3rd Edition Psychic Warrior, then you will almost definitely love this class. The Iron Guardian paragon path also leaped out at me with its level 12 at-will utility Iron Defense – if you spend a standard action, whenever you take damage you roll a d20, on a 10 or higher the damaged is reduced to zero and on lower than a 10 the damage is halved.
The Monk is the unique psionic class that does not use power points (thank god for that) and thankfully evokes a lot of the same flavor that the class did in previous editions. The stone first monk is the more powerful striker build, with centered breath monk adding in controller as a strong secondary role. Though monks are proficient with a number of specific weapons and can use unarmed strikes, all of their powers are implement powers using ki-focuses. This means that all of their powers have set damage dice, which is a bit of a disappointment that the decision to fight unarmed doesn’t change anything with how the monk actually plays. What it does mean is that no matter where a monk is or what they have to fight with as a weapon, they will always be doing lots of damage. If you decide to play a monk, the flurry of blows at-will power can be used as a free action every time you hit a creature, adding a decent amount of extra damage and also allowing you to hit a target other than the one you originally attacked. The monk’s at-will and encounter powers are all full discipline powers that include move actions that let your character move around combat or across a room incredibly quickly. All of the class’ powers give you the feeling that you’re in the thick of combat, throwing punches and kicks at every enemy you can, throwing enemies into each other, and tumbling out of harms way.
Psions are no longer an all-encompassing class with one build per stat, now they are a psionic controller that all use intelligence to attack and can choose between focusing on telekinesis or telepathy (although I’m sure the psionic power book will add others). The psion class takes a similar concept as the ardent, getting into the minds of enemies, and expands it to a huge degree. Whether it is through telepathy or telekinetic force, the psion is going to be blasting and moving enemies all over the place. While some of the powers are similar to those a wizard might use, the augmentations of the powers give them a unique flavor that makes this class really stand out. Many of my favorite psionic powers are back in one form or another, such as the concussive blast attacks, mind wipe, mind blast, and psychic leech. The two builds for this class accomplish the same tasks in very different ways. The Dreamwalker paragon path allows you to manifest a dream form duplicate of yourself, while the Time Bender path has some very cool features and powers involving borrowing resources from yourself in the future or speeding up time for yourself.
Runepriest is a class that fills the same role as the cleric, but can manifest a different rune state each time it uses an at-will or encounter attack power to change the benefits it grants allies. Unlike the cleric this class is entirely melee based and always uses strength as a primary stat, but has weaker healing than some of the other leader classes. When using attack powers, the runepriest can choose to manifest a rune of destruction or a rune of protection, with a different effect per rune for each power. In addition while manifesting a particular rune, the priest grants allies either a bonus to hit adjacent enemies or resistance to damage while adjacent to the runepriest. Rune state is an interesting new mechanic that allows the class to fill the leader role and switch between offense and defense as needed during the course of a fight. This ability diminishes the importance of build choice that many other classes are defined by, and makes the runepriest a more versatile class.
The Seeker is a new primal controller that uses ranged and thrown weapons rather than implements. The counterpoint to the martial ranger in the first PHB, the seeker is all about shooting arrows into enemies and causing them to sprout constricting vines or nasty fungal blooms. I am a big fan of the seeker because it is the first weapon based controller and also has an entire build focused on thrown weapons. Also, though I am a fan of the aragorn-style martial ranger, I feel that the seeker fills the same role as a druid in a completely different way that fleshes out the primal power source in a very good way.
In addition to the new classes, rules for creating hybrid characters are also presented. A similar concept to multi-classing, hybrid characters are created from the start as one character belonging to two different classes. Instead of having a primary class and spending feats to gain powers in a secondary one, a hybrid character is equally split between both of its classes and can fill the role of either class to a certain degree. This system feels a lot closer to what cross-class and multi-classing were in 3rd edition, giving you the opportunity to mix-and-match a lot more than the standard rules do. While I am not a huge fan of hybrid characters, some very intriguing concepts can come about such as the Eldritch Knight – a warlock-paladin that can use eyebite to blind creatures and then punish them with divine challenge when they are unable to see and attack.
An epic destiny is presented for each new class, though instead of one specifically for psions instead the Godmind destiny is available to any psionic class. Diamond Soul is very reminiscent of previous edition monks with features like diamond body that allows you to stop aging and diamond perfection that allows you to reroll one attack roll per round. Godmind is ideal for psions but can benefit the ardent and battlemind as well, granting four addition power points at 30th level. The Invincible Mind destiny for battleminds is really durable and impressive, letting you spend a healing surge every time you drop to zero hit points which makes for one tough character to drop. Master of the Eternal Hunt lets your seeker ignore all types of cover and concealment with ranged attacks, in addition to granting you darkvision and tremorsense. The runepriest destiny, Rune Maker, allows you to change rune states as a minor action, and the War Master destiny for the ardent allows you to sacrifice healing surges to save dying allies.
Skill powers are a great way to further differentiate a character, with several at-will utility powers that can become signature moves such as fast hands. The best addition for skill powers in the PHB3 is the Skill Power feat that lets you gain one skill utility without giving up one from your class. Other feats include the typical racial, class feats, and feats for hybrid character options, but also a handful of new feats that boost specific saving throws, enhance special moves like bull rush, or allow you to spend a healing surge with a roll of 18-20 on a death save. Rune feats are also introduced for the runepriest that grant increasing benefits depending upon how many rune feats you have total.
Overall it seems that Wizards has gone more out of their way to include feats that any character would take when compared to the PHB2 which focused more on the new classes and races. Also introduced are superior implements, which require a new feat to use, with benefits like accurate that grants a +1 to hit or a bonus to damage when attacking with a particular damage type. I love the concept of defining implements more, to mirror the variety of weapons available to character, but I’m still not sold on the idea of requiring a feat to use them. The magic items section of the book includes mostly psionic based armor, weapons, and implements that have augmentable powers, and ki focuses for the monk (and assassin) classes.
If your campaign world needs a touch of the extremely exotic, or you or one of your players wants to play a unique and other-worldly character, then the PHB3 might be just the right thing for you. If you are even remotely interested in psionics and the psionic classes, or enjoyed them in previous editions, then I can’t recommend the book enough because it really delivers on psionic power that integrates well with 4E and yet still retains that unique flavor they had in previous editions. The PHB3 contains mostly more complex classes and rules so it is probably not for new players, especially not players that are new to D&D entirely, it does present some entirely new things to 4th Edition that many people will greatly enjoy.