Embrace Nature with D&D 4E’s Primal Power

In the revision of Dungeons and Dragons that is Wizards of the Coast’s 4th Edition, Power Sources have been created as the explanation for why the heroes of the game are so, well, heroic. As an example, the quintessential Wizards of the game can cast the spells that are their raison d’être because they can tap into the Arcane Power Source, the magical energy that infuses the world. In the Player’s Handbook, three such Power Sources are presented. The Arcane, Divine, and Martial Power Sources cover a wide variety of classes, including the archetypal Wizards, Clerics, and Fighters. Following the release of the PHB, WotC released subsequent books that separately explore each of the original three Power Sources further, expanding upon the options available to classes that tap into those sources.

That original PHB does include a sidebar commenting on the fact that the first three Power Sources introduced are not, however, the only Power Sources available to a character. With Player’s Handbook 2, WotC introduced its fourth Power Source: the Primal Power Source. The PHB2 includes the Barbarian, the Druid, the Shaman, and the Warden as the four classes that tap into this new Power Source. It explains the Primal Power Source as the spirit of the natural world, and describes each of these classes as being able to harness the power of those spirits and of nature itself in varying ways and to varying extents. The powers, paths, and feats available to each of these classes are based upon the relationship the character has with nature and the spirits of the world that surround him or her.

WotC’s supplement, Primal Power: Options for Barbarians, Druids, Shamans, and Wardens, therefore, exists as the book that presents expanded choices for each of the classes that draw power from the Primal Power Source. It offers new possibilities for these classes in the same way that the books Divine Power, Arcane Power, and Martial Power did for their respective classes. This book hews closely to the format established by those previous tomes, presenting alternative options for each of the four Primal Power Source-based classes, including new builds, many new powers, and new paragon paths. Primal Power also includes many new backgrounds, feats, epic destinies, and rituals that are not class-specific, but are intended to help players fully flesh out characters of any of these four classes. In this way, players creating a Primal Power Source hero have options equal to those already presented for characters fueled by one of the “core” Power Sources.

Primal Options

The first four chapters of Primal Power are each dedicated to one of the four classes: Barbarian, Druid, Shaman, and Warden. Each class is given two new builds, which not only give a player creating one of these classes more options, but taken in context with the builds presented for each class in the PHB2 serve to broaden the understanding of the basic characteristics of each class. The bulk of each of those first chapters is given over to a litany of new powers for each class, running the gamut of at-will, encounter, daily, and utility powers. These powers are not only designed to work for the new builds in this book, but many of them also dovetail nicely with the original builds for each class. The powers described herein seem very balanced, and do not seem to suffer from any “power creep” when compared to the powers presented in the PHB2.

Each chapter concludes with the introduction of a few new paragon paths designed to complement the new builds and powers. As the stereotypical builds and paths for Barbarians, Druids, Shamans, and Wardens were presented in the PHB2, the paragon paths presented here offer unique and different conceptions of the potential of each of these classes, and as with the builds introduced here, serve to create a much stronger image of the roles and flavors of each of these classes.

Exploring the The Spirit Way

Following the class-specific chapters is the final chapter of Primal Power. While ostensibly presenting new feats, rituals, and the like, the cornerstone of this chapter is its 14 pages on The Spirit Way. In this essay, the Primal Power Source is more deeply expanded upon, and the introduction to the Power Source given in the PHB2 is further expounded upon. More “fluff” than the rules-heavy “crunch” of the rest of the book, this section is chock full of inspiring ideas, not only for character creation, but also for campaign- and world-building.

The details discussed regarding the spirits and the manifestations of the Primal Power Source in the natural world serve not only to provide a better understanding of the classes and their powers and abilities, but also to illustrate how characters of these classes could fit into the game world surrounding them. This is essential, as many of the medieval high fantasy settings in which D&D is played do not always have the sort of backstories and histories that provide for the existence of Barbarians and Druids, let alone the more exotic new 4th Edition classes such as the Shaman and the Warden.

In addition to The Spirit Way passage itself, the entire book is infused with information offered as further illumination of the Primal Power Source. This additional information is presented in the form of sidebar articles within each chapter. These sidebars often give examples of or explanations for things such as barbarian rages, summoned creatures, spirit companions, and warden circles, shedding further light on how these could flavor the roleplaying side of the game.

Overall, I was surprised and excited by Primal Power. I haven’t spent much time looking through the previously released supplements for the other Power Sources, as my history with D&D leaves me feeling as if I understand the Arcane, Divine, and Martial Power Sources pretty well. When the Primal Power Source was introduced, I was intrigued by what I read in the PHB2, as I’d always liked the concepts of Barbarians and especially Druids as character classes. This book made those classes, as well as their new counterparts the Shaman and the Warden, really shine.

Certainly players wanting to run one of these classes could do so solely with the material presented in the PHB2, but they would be well-served by the money and time spent in purchasing and reviewing the options presented here. Even without all the new powers and character design choices, the explanation of the Primal Power Source contained in The Spirit Way should serve to enrich the roleplaying of primal heroes. Dungeon Masters, especially those with players interested in playing these classes, may well find this book essential for the ideas it presents for ways to incorporate the Primal Power Source within and throughout the worlds of the games they are running.

Final Analysis

Ultimately, reading through Primal Power excited me and made me want to roll up a primal hero and play more 4th Ed. D&D. I’m not sure there’s a more ringing endorsement I could offer.

Product Details

  • Primal Power: Options for Barbarians, Druids, Shamans, and Wardens
  • ByMike Mearls, Rob Heinsoo, Logan Bonner, and Robert J. Schwalb
  • Published by Wizards of the Coast
  • MSRP: $29.95
  • Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Note: This review is based on a review copy of the book.
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