If your Fourth Edition character is a fighter, ranger, warlord or rogue, you’ll find plenty of new options, variant builds and an endless supply of Paragon Paths in Martial Power 2. If you’re not? I’m sure Arcane Power 2 will be along any week now.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Martial Power 2. It’s a fine book full of balanced powers, new feats and some interesting character options, with a bit more attention paid to background information and other fluff than in other 4E books. The art is solid and colorful. It’s coherently organized. It is every bit as good as the first Martial Power book was. And yet, I’m not as excited about these subsequent “power” iterations.
Maybe I’m becoming a bit jaded with 4E, but it feels like Wizards is continually releasing more of the same stuff we’ve seen before. As far as I can tell, people are eating it up, so I can’t fault the business model. As someone who sees a lot of potential in the simple and elegant core rules of 4E D&D (Standard/Move/Minor, At-Will/Encounter/Daily), I can’t help but be a bit disappointed.
But maybe I’m being a gamer snob. If you got to the end of Martial Power and said, “More more more!” then you’ll love the sequel. Each of the Martial classes gets one or two new variant builds and a full set of new powers, from level one to 30. This will certainly help answer all the critics who feel that 4E rules lead to cookie-cutter builds. By cherry picking your favorite powers from the Player’s Handbook, Martial Power and Martial Power 2, you can build a human fighter who is a unique snowflake in a world full of human fighters. And that’s before we get into feats, skills and Paragon Paths.
The fighter gets one alt build, the Brawling Fighter. This is a cool twist that I think will scratch a certain itch for many players who’ve been wanting to build a character like this. You wield a single one-handed weapon, leaving your other hand free to punch or grab your enemies. Powers that drive your opponents back as you move into the vacated space, or grab them and drag them across the battlefield seem pretty awesome. Expanding players’ ability to grab enemies gives them a whole new combat tool.
The new Hunter Ranger is a build focused on versatility and mobility. Shoot on the run, deal with opponents in melee range, loose an arrow and then run across the field to make a sword attack…this build gives up some striker focus at the benefit of being able to deal with any situation. Many of the new powers work well with rangers who have beast companions.
It’s always struck me as a little odd that rogues are martial. I don’t know where else they’d fit, so maybe it’s some of my experience with rogues in earlier editions (where they were not especially martial). The new build is the Shadowy Rogue, which I think makes it rather clear Wizards was stretching to come up with a rogue variant. The new powers emphasize hit-and-run tactics and battlefield stealth. In other words, pretty much exactly what rogues always do.
Finally, warlords get a pair of builds, Insightful and Skirmishing. The best innovation is the ability to create a warlord who excels at ranged combat and can lead from somewhere other than the front line.
Paragon Paths? By the dozen, and you’ll probably never touch 98 percent of them. A few pages are devoted purely to fluff, expounding on “the Martial Outlook” with some backgrounds and motivations. I hate to criticize the fluff, because 4E needs more of it, but most of this stuff is so painfully obvious it didn’t really need to be printed. Your fighter could be, like, a mercenary type who views combat as a competition! Whoa, you’re turning my D&D world upside down!
A much better use of pages is combat styles. These are basically small feat trees that give you a minor benefit and a +2 skill bonus. Each style is tied to a concise backstory, with extra options scattered around for fitting a style into your campaign. An example is in order: Longhand Style is a polearm fighting method derived from the exhaustive training required of some castle guards to satisfy a particularly demanding noblewoman. The lesser style gives you a +2 Intimidate bonus (swinging that wicked looking glaive around with such obvious expertise will give anyone pause), plus the ability to push an enemy one square when hit with certain qualifying attacks. The greater style depends on class — the fighter version grants a +1 AC bonus when you hit with a qualifying attack. You can also use a qualifying attack in place of a basic attack in certain situations. The qualifying attacks are listed for each style — the lesser Longhand Style works with a fighter’s Cleave or Warlord’s Viper’s Strike, while Greater Longhand for fighters has a list of five encounter powers that qualify.
Martial characters also get their own rituals, referred to as “martial practices.” Feign death, explore one square mile thoroughly, predict the weather, all without having to take an extra feat to gain access to these rituals.
For all my grumbling, this book is probably a must-have for anyone running a martial character. It’s just too cool to have so many different options to work with. But I really wish Wizards would do something more interesting with 4E. Maybe use the rules in an entirely different RPG genre. Maybe illusionists can affect the battlefield in profound and significant ways. Maybe…I don’t know, I don’t get paid to come up with this stuff. Actually, I’m going to give Wizards the benefit of the doubt. Dark Sun is a very different game world than your typical fantasy RPG setting, so there’s a very good chance they’re going to break some molds when that comes out. Fingers crossed.
You can score your own copy of Martial Power 2 at Robot Viking sponsor TrollandToad.com.