Player's Handbook II


Player's Handbook II

Author: David Noonan
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 05/2006
ISBN: 13: 978-0-7869-3918-3
Pages: 221
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $34.95


Player’s Handbook II opens, as so many books from Wizards of the Coast do these days, with the presentation of new classes. Contrary to some of WotC’s other splat books, this class list was somewhat balanced. Two of the classes didn’t interest me much, but weren’t broken or badly written, being mostly a combination of existing core classes. The third class, the dragon shaman, completely turned me off. The entire basis behind this class seems to be the worship of dragonkind, which somehow grants them abilities like a breath weapon and dragon-like auras. The final class, the knight, was actually extremely well-written and is something I wouldn’t mind adding to my own game.

The next chapter presents a discussion about how to alter existing classes (including those presented in the various “Complete” and “Races of” books) to fit different concepts. For example, using the changes suggested in this chapter, a cleric build could be made that doesn’t get spontaneous cure spells, but can drop a domain spell to cast any known spell of that level instead. There were some ideas that I thought were shoehorned into the chapter, but there wasn’t much that looked broken. Frankly, this chapter pretty much bored me to tears and it was a struggle to read through it.

Next, the book moved into the obligatory chapter about feats. Normally, most WotC books I’ve read have about 5% decent feats to 95% garbage. This book, however, had a much better ratio of good feats to poor ones. I was actually extremely impressed with the number of social-based feats. Many of these opened up new options for using old mechanics to do things like talking your way into or out of a situation, catching someone in a lie, communicating on a basic level with someone that doesn’t share your language, etc. For these feats alone, the book is probably worth the (reduced) cost I paid over the internet.

The following chapter deals with spells... over 30 pages of them! Before presenting the spells, though, a new sub-school was presented, the polymorph sub-school, which did a fair job of laying out a rules foundation for any spell that changes your shape. The most obvious thing about this chapter is that the author was trying to make up for the original Player’s Handbook’s lack of spells that require swift or immediate actions (as those mechanics didn’t exist when it was published). I have no problem with this, though someone that was dead-set against swift and immediate actions would probably get very little from this chapter. I had no problem with most of the spells presented in this chapter, save for one or two that had effects that just stuck in my craw a bit. For example, the Luminous Assassin spell summons a creature with rogue levels to fight an opponent for you. The problem is that it summons said creature in mid-air above the opponent, who is considered flat-footed against the attack, making him eligible for the assassin’s sneak attacks.

The next chapter is what I expected from the book from the start... thoughts and ideas on how to build a character’s personality. There were some very good ideas for backgrounds, personality traits and the like in this chapter. The best thing is that the author didn’t use them as an excuse to pile more useless mechanics into the game. The best thing about this chapter, however, was the section that dealt with being a good player at the table. I thought it was a bit short, but I was happy to see it included nonetheless. It dealt with ideas like determining table rules, not hogging the spotlight all the time and the like. Short, but nice.

Chapter 6 was titled “The Adventuring Group.” It had a small amount of information about how to build a group with a story behind it near the beginning, but it quickly moved on to teamwork benefits. Teamwork benefits is a system introduced in Dungeon Master’s Guide II that allows the party to act in a coordinated manner, much like a SWAT team. Door opening procedures, phalanx fighting styles and the like are common. I have no problem with the benefits, and most of the ones given in this chapter were fine... but I wish that there had been less of them and more discussion about the group itself.

Chapter 7 was very interesting. It dealt with affiliations, groups that a character or party can associate themselves with and even join. Knightly organizations and thieves guilds are one example, but less formal groups such as Robin Hood’s merry men are also viable associations. The draw to joining an association, obviously, is gaining related benefits. For example, joining a thieves guild is a good idea because you can fence off illegal loot through them. The problem I have with the associations as they’re presented is that while you can join as many affiliations as you want, you can only gain the benefits of one affiliation per day. This becomes a clunky mechanic when you are a member of an affiliation that grants you a bonus to a skill check. So, for example, let’s assume that someone is a member of a craftsman’s guild that grants a bonus to craft checks and a merchant’s guild that lets him sell his crafted items at a higher than average price. If he chooses the merchant’s guild as his affiliation today because he needs to sell his inventory, once he gets home from the store and starts work on a craft project, he finds he’s simply not as good at his trade as he was the day before. As I said&it becomes a clunky mechanic and should probably be re-designed.

WotC broke precedent with this book... they saved the worst for last. The final chapter deals with the rebuilding of a character. The idea is that a character can retrain himself to be something completely different than what he is. So, for example, player could decide he doesn’t want to be a fighter anymore, he’d rather be a wizard. Rather than rolling up a new PC and working with the DM to phase the old PC out and the new PC in, he can simply tweak the existing PC so that he forgets how to be a fighter and suddenly learns how to be a wizard. I was exceptionally bored (and somewhat disgusted) with this chapter and I’d advise most readers to simply not read it.

Having read Dungeon Master’s Guide II, I looked forward to the arrival of Player’s Handbook II. I assumed that since the first was fairly good, the new book would be as well. I won’t say I’m disappointed, because the book was not bad, but Player’s Handbook II was missing something that Dungeon Master’s Guide II had. Perhaps I was wrong in assuming that the two would be comparable, given that comparing a DM to a player is like comparing apples to oranges. Still, Player’s Handbook II is not a bad book and contains things that could be used in just about any game, both by players and DMs.