Starting my discussion of the Player’s Handbook 2 proper, I first discuss the new feats introduced.
Paragon Defenses and Robust Defenses are clearly designed to compensate for the increasing discrepancy between armor class and other defenses as you gain levels, as I noted back in a previous blog entry. It does appear that they've got the math correctly, and that the +3 to all defenses that you get from taking both feats is about what you need. The main problem here (aside from stealing feats from the players, which I shall discuss later), is that the Paragon Defenses feat is good but not so outstanding that players would take it in preference to the wide and ever-increasing variety of other interesting feats. Combined with the fact that the bonus is small, it is likely that there will be very little relief for the problem at paragon level, when the discrepancy is already very large and noticeable. Then, at epic level, there will be a sudden shift towards better non-AC defenses, which could potentially be very pronounced if the characters also take the epic feats to improve specific defenses.
Weapon/Implement Expertise is the other huge fix. It is clearly meant to cause the accuracy of the characters to scale more closely to the monster defenses, and in particular to correspond to the bonus defenses earned by light armor wearers with masterwork armor. I have to say, I hadn't realized that this was an unintentional mistake. I had thought they might have done this to compensate for the various abilities high-level characters have to increase their chances of hitting. But apparently this was a mistake and they are fixing it. I’d tend to say this is a good thing, my limited experience with high-level play was that trying to hit the target was annoyingly difficult. The other thing this feat does, in addition to compensating to giving you the +2 accuracy you need to fit the mathematics, is to give you an additional flat +1 accuracy. I'm not sure whether they actually wanted to increase the accuracy of all characters in the game, or whether they simply felt compelled to do it this way in order to make the feat “look” like a normal feat.
Aside from the mathematics, the fact is that they chose to implement these fixes by providing feats that all characters must take in order to fix the mathematics. Therefore, it essentially reduces the number of feats available to the characters for actual interesting abilities. Admittedly, a number of the classes were starved for interesting feats before, and this spares them the annoyance of having to pick between a wide assortment of unwanted feats. But other classes in character types had way too few feats for what they needed, and they will really suffer. What I really dislike is that a lot of flexible characters, who already had too few feats for what they wanted, are now double punished because they have to get both Weapon expertise and Implement expertise separately.
You can see why they would do things this way. Changing some of the basic rules of the game is a troublesome process that makes a lot of people upset for various reasons. But if they sneak the change into a feat, they can maintain plausible deniability, it is “just a new option” and everyone knows that new books have new options. But from my vantage point, I'd rather this was done a bit more openly. At least some designers notes – “by the way, we inserted some new feats that all characters are required to get at high-level.”
Anyway, the obvious fix for this is to simply incorporate these fixes directly into the game. One method that I was already using for my own game is to have master work bonuses for Neck items: increasing the defense bonus by +1/+2/+3 for neck items with enhancement bonuses of +3/+5/+6. In other words, a “+5 magic amulet of protection” adds +7 each defense. Or you could be more direct and give a +1 bonus based on your level (perhaps +1 every 8 levels). Of course, none of this will fix the fundamental problem that your defenses become more and more different from each other as you gain levels, but that issue is baked much more tightly into the design of the game.
For the expertise, the simple solution would be to give, essentially, expertise in everything to all characters for free.
Another 2 feats which struck me as highly important were Distant Advantage and Vexing Flanker. These make ranged rogues much more practical, which may be a good thing because I've had a lot of trouble with rogues getting beat up a lot. They also seem to make ranged attackers of all sorts generally more powerful, as they can now arrange to get the flanking bonuses that melee characters get. This might, perhaps, improve the fairness of the game, or it might take away an important advantage of melee characters, I'm not sure which. But what I don't like is that it encourages focused fire even more. Flanking is cool because it encourages movement in combat by rewarding you for moving around. But when a ranged character can get flanking without having to do anything, I don't find it very interesting, just annoying that the ranged character is now compelled to attack the same target as the melee characters.
Melee Training, on the other hand, I think is just great. It is really nice that it is now possible for non-melee characters to learn how to fight to some degree in melee combat, and it is possible for characters without a high Strength to learn how to charge and make opportunity attacks. I guess the only question here is whether charisma paladins, artful dodgers, and the like should have been able to make effective opportunity attacks before. I'm not sure what the answer to this is. It seems I kind of an amusing balance factor between the classes that some can make charge attacks effectively and some can't, but on the other hand it is sort of annoying and weird that monsters almost invariably have effective opportunity attacks while many characters have little or no "zone of control". I often wonder whether the monsters are supposed to know or guess that they don't need to be too worried about opportunity attacks from many of the characters they are fighting.
Restful Healing I do not like at all because it exacerbates the I mentioned in a previous blog entry, that spending healing surges in combat is wasteful if you play in a game in which healing surges are important (and if you aren’t playing in such a game, Restful Healing is irrelevant). It also very powerful compared to Durable, which I thought wasn’t such a bad feat to begin with. I won’t be using this feat.
Since this entry covers feats, my last comment is on the multi-class Avenger feat. I thought a lot of multi-class feats were awfully good for the price before. But boy, does that Avenger feat seem over the top. If you are tired of missing with those daily powers, here is the feat for you!