What should new DM’s expect from the Player’s Handbook 2?

Posted on March 18, 2009 by


So you are a relatively new DM.  You’ve read the core rules in and out, and feel pretty confident at the table when you run your games.  Good for you, because now comes a curve ball your way, the PHB2!  Don’t worry, I’m a new DM as well, so let’s go through this together, as I’m sure my players will love to bring in a class or race from this book unto my campaign. 

Is there anything new in the book?  Any new rules we need to learn?  Lets’ take a look under the hood of the latest 4th Ed. book to hit the shelves.

That's a big ass axe my friend.

That's a big ass axe my friend.

Chapter 1:  Races 

This Chapter introduces 5 new races to the world of 4th Ed. D&D, with 2 of them (Gnome and Shifter) leaping out from the pages of the Monster Manual.  The others are Deva, Goliath and Half-Orc.  I won’t get into the specific of each race here, as I want to limit this article only to new rules or options for the beginner DM to have to learn and take into account. 

In this particular chapter, the only new thing are the “Racial Paragon Paths”.  These are, obviously, paragon paths where the pre-requisite is that the PC has to be of a particular race, not a class like those offered in the PHB 1.  There are a total of 12 of these, for all races from both PHB’s.  The only race not getting a racial paragon path is the Half-Elf.  Instead, they can pick up a feat called “Versatile Master” which lets them use the power they picked up through their dilettante racial trait as an at-will power, along with some other cool stuff.  I’m not sure why they were excluded from a racial paragon path, but it’s not my job to design games or question those that do.  I just play. 🙂

Chapter 2:  Classes

Here, your players have 8 new classes to bring to your game, and introduces the “Primal” power source.  All the character roles are represented here.  So now, your party’s wizard can stop crying about being the only controller.  There are no surprises here.  If you are comfortable reading the powers from the first PHB, then you should have no problems. 

The one thing that stands out for me in this chapter is the fact the all classes now come with a “secondary role” description.  I guess this was included to counter some of those that argue against the strict “pigeonhole” feel of assigning one  role to the classes, along with the mandatory video game comparisons. 

Chapter 3:  Character Options

This should be the bulk of your reading as a DM.  (Although yes, you should be extremely familiar with all the classes and races.)  Here there are new rules injected into the game to breathe a sense of role-playing and flavor to the PC’s stories, with some cruch thrown in for good measure.   The chapter includes:  backgrounds, feats, gear, magic items, and rituals.

The Backgrounds

This section provides players with background elements for the players to use in the creation of their characters.  The idea is to give the character more depth and flavor.  The elements also come with a bit of crunch, as each has a skill associated with it.  The DM, at his/her discretion, can then allow the player to add a +2 to a skill check associated with the background, or allow that skill to be part of the character’s class skill list at creation.  Interesting.

The five categories are geography, society, birth, occupation, and racial background.


The feats, as expected, revolve mostly around the new classes introduced in the book.  Nothing to surprise you here, except for the following…

There are a set of feats which you may need to look at and even house rule, depending on how you see it.  “Implement Expertise” and “Weapon Expertise” are identical feats, one applying to a type of implement, the other to a weapon group.  The feat can be taken multiple times to account for the multiple implements and weapon groups in the game. 

Here’s the benefit, it grants a +1 to attack rolls with any weapon from the weapon group, and the bonus goes up to +2 at 15th, and +3 at 25th level.  Odd level advancement, no?  Usually things scale when you hit 11th and 21st.  Conventional thinking amongst math guys much smarter than me on forums at WOTC and ENWorld, is that the game breaks at higher levels of play, and it is harder to hit monsters’ AC.  So WOTC has, in essence, errata’d this problem through a feat. 

Now, If this is true, I do not think it’s fair to charge the players a feat slot to fix a math error in the game.  No way.  I am leaning towards giving them the bonus automatically when they hit these levels.  I need to read more about it though before I decide.  But it is clear these feats are must have for any player.  Who would turn down such a powerful feat?  Think about this carefully newbie DM’s….

Adventuring Gear

Not much here, except the addition of musical instruments as wondrous item implements  for the bards, and totems.


There are new rituals introduced here, along with a new concept you should know about:  Variant Ritual Books.  These are simply a way to make the character’s background adjust to the way rituals were presented in the first PHB.  After all, a barbarian, druid, or shaman may not have a nice and fancy ritual book.  So here, we are introduced to rituals carved on stone tablets, inscribed unto hides, or even patterns made from knots tied on a rope.  It’s more flavor-typer fluff to add to primal characters I think.  The mechanics are the same, but the presentation is different. 

Appendix:  Rules Update

This is another must-read chapter.  Here, they take the errata that has been updated for the first PHB, the stealth rules, targeting what you can’t see, etc. and put them in a book.  Also, new keywords that are introduced in certain powers, like “Conjuration” for example, are detailed and explained. 

All in all, I like the book.  I would have to do some work in order to make some of these races/classes fit in my homebrew campaign though.  I wasn’t accounting for shapeshifters and immortals in my campaign world, but I also can’t tell a player “no” if that’s really what he’d like to play…

I hope this guide helps those new DM’s out there just getting into 4th ed., and are wondering what’s in store for them this weekend when a PC decides to bring this book to the game!

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