Comments on The Players Handbook Review You Don't Want To Read

Quick update – this post is being discussed on the paizo messageboards! Great stuff :)

GreyWulf 2008-06-27 10:51 UTC

Hey GreyWulf,

A question about your comments on the PHB.

I completely agree that the PHB is dreadfully put together, and although having powers in the order they’re in for levelling up may be very useful, looking up specific ones is indeed more difficult.

The trouble is, you start by saying that you are not tied to 3.X enough to be able to review this PHB well, but then you start laying into it as a direct comparison to 3.X. The number of powers, the amount of adventuring kit, etc.

Are you sure you’re not tied to 3.X? Are you sure you’re taking 4th as a separate product? ^_^

I may well be wrong, and I may have taken your comments in the wrong light, so feel free to tell me so.

– Ross Mills 2008-07-02 11:28 UTC

Good question!

The problem with the 4e PHB is that, whether Wizards’ like it or not, it is a follow-on from 3.5e. While a lot of the changes they’ve made (addition of Powers system, simple Monster and Encounter generation, etc) are great, they’ve also messed with stuff that just didn’t need changing. The 3.5e equipment list was just fine as it was, so what possible reason could they have for reducing it so much. Unless they’re planning a Big Book of Equipment further down the line, of course…….

When it comes to Powers, it sticks out like a sore thumb that they go against the layout of the rest of the book. Races, Feats and Skills each get a chapter of their own with the contents sorted in alphabetic order, whereas the Classes chapter munges a couple of pages about the Classes into a huge list of Powers sorted in a completely different order. Even without the 3.5e PHB for comparison, that’s hard to miss.

And as for the number of Powers at each level – we have a 300+ page book that contains nothing more than character generation and combat in the same space that other RPGs ( d20 Modern, Star Wars, RIFTS, Everquest, Warhammer….. the list goes on) manage to fit that plus monsters, a campaign setting, GM information and much, much more. The least I’d expect is them to provide a decent number of Powers and abilities of each level in the space they have. Just 4 (or 5) at-will Powers to pick at first level is crazy – and that’s got nothing to do with 3.5e, at all :)

GreyWulf 2008-07-02 12:53 UTC

Hmmm… while I’ll admit that the power selection might feel low for wizards or clerics when compared to 3.5 – I’d have to say it’s a pretty big bump for every other single class. All I know is I have a lot more choices when building most characters now. Never mind the fact that you also get feats more often… and race and magical items provide daily or encounter powers.

I’ve never opened Saga, so I’m surprised to hear that they somehow managed to get more powers/page. I personally love the splash pages for the chapters in the PHB – both because of the scenes they depict, and also as a navigation tool when referencing the book. Index size has not bothered me one iota – I’ve always found what I needed when looking there. Granted, I’ve never had to use it to search for a power – I find it very easy to just flip straight to the class page.

Also, I strongly disagree with you in terms of splitting class and powers into seperate chapters. I mean, why? I’m making a ranger, let me get record the class abilities, train in skills, and select my powers. Why would I want to have to flip to another chapter?

I’m seriously surprised that someone with as much gaming experience is having such a hard time with the book. I’m DMed 2 games and made about a half-dozen characters at this point and any time I’ve needed to find something on the fly it’s been as easy as pie. I don’t believe I have any amazing powers of memory or deduction… just that everything is just easy to find.

Oh, and splitting out the rituals? Sorry, but I love the mechanic. Why force characters to memorize a bunch of spells they ‘might’ use each day. Having non-combat spells require some time adds some nice flavor that can be used by a GM, and having a component cost prevents casters from casually casting spells that step on the toes of other characters’ abilities.

Heh, and finally, you allude several times to Wizards desire to create more books and to sell them to people. Well… I mean, you realize that that’s sort of what their company does? It’s only a problem if the core books don’t contain enough material for you to actually play. And I know for a fact that that isn’t the case. The three core books contain PLENTY to keep me busy with my group for a long time.

Will I buy additional books? Yeah, probably. This is my hobby after all. And 80 bucks a year works out to a pretty good return when I think about how much enjoyment I get out of them…

– Ablefish 2008-07-05 07:55 UTC

A hard time? Nope, not really, but that doesn’t stop me from criticizing something if it’s wrong.

The thing is that the PHB should be accessible to experienced gamer and new player alike. I’d agree that any experienced gamer won’t have much problem with the layout of the PHB at all, but – and I’ve seen this first hand several times already – new players are going to struggle. These are exactly the kind of players who are going to frequently need to refer to the rules during play, and having the Powers “sorted” as they are isn’t going to help that. Add in the lack of glossary and limited index and sheer lack of examples in the text, and it’s exactly what I called it. A mess.

Rituals seems to be something that’s polarizing players more than even the new Power system (which has been very well received, as a whole). Folks either like ‘em, or don’t. We don’t, and clearly you do. That’s cool :)

GreyWulf 2008-07-05 09:46 UTC

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