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Martial Power
Spotlight Interview

Armor and shield, blade and bow, stealth and cunning, tactics and command—all of these are the tools of a warrior. One warrior might favor some of these assets over others, depending on training and inclination. All legendary warriors develop martial power to such an extent that their abilities are the equal of magical abilities. Such warriors are always looking for an edge or a technique that exemplifies their manner of fighting.

That’s what you’ll find in Martial Power, set to release this November 18th, 2008.

It’s a manual of mighty deeds and wily tricks. In its pages are new ways to build a martial character, along with new options to fill out your role as a fighter, a ranger, a rogue, or a warlord. Members of nonmartial classes might find an appropriate multiclass feat in these pages, but everything else is for martial characters. It is intended to expand your martial horizons in the game. To learn more, we asked Lead Designer Rob Heinsoo a few questions about the design and development of Martial Power.


Wizards of the Coast: Let’s take a step back into general 4th Edition design philosophy… what can you tell us about the rationale for “power sources”—why were they created, what did you hope to accomplish with them, and how is the “martial” power source best defined?

Rob Heinsoo: Power sources are a way of describing the magical rules and flavor of our world while grouping classes who share some fundamental aspect of their approach to their power. The D&D world already contained the notion that some characters used arcane magic while others used divine magic; we just extended that notion to cover all our characters and to organize our class creation as the game develops over the years.

Martial classes get most of their personal power from skill that may start as innate but increases as a matter of constant training. Compared to all the other power sources, the martial power source doesn’t tend to look or feel magical. But since it’s the type of highly skilled weapon training that occurs in a world that’s full of magic, there are effects created by highly skilled martial characters that would certainly seem magical if they were occurring in our world. Unlike all the other power sources, the powers used by martial characters don’t have obvious magical special effects, no flashing auras, or looming spirits, or rays and bolts, or even after-effect images of an incredibly fast sword. Martial powers look like powers that a warrior or rogue in our non-magical world might use, even if they accomplish things that people in our world would have almost no chance of accomplishing.

Wotc: Why did Wizards of the Coast start out with expanding the martial power source? What other power sourcebooks are being planned; and, for that matter, what other power sources are being planned? (What, for instance, is the difference between the martial and ki power sources?)

RH: Starting with your parenthetical question and working backwards, the ki power source will have some very marked differences from the martial power source because there is a lot that can be done with the special effects and power flavors of martial arts movies that’s different from our current martial power source. But I’m not telling you now what the differences are going to be.

We started with the martial power source for several reasons. There are four martial classes in the Player’s Handbook, so we always knew we would handle Martial Power first. People have an easy time understanding martial classes—rogues and fighters and rangers and maybe even warlords are the closest thing to characters who could really exist in our world—so even though there powers become somewhat super-heroic, they’re still easy for new players to get into. Martial classes are kind of like a staple food in the D&D diet; you want to take care of the martial classes as a baseline to compare others to. We also know that a lot of people play martial classes, so we had a pretty good idea that there would be the most demand for a martial book early in the game’s life. And if you think back to 3e, you’ll remember that Sword & Fist came out of the same expectation of our audience. We were right about Sword & Fist in one way—it sold really well. But in all design and development aspects, Martial Power should do a much better job of carrying this edition’s war banner forward than S&F managed.

As to the other power sources, there’s a list on page 54 of the Player’s Handbook of some of the power sources we’ll see. Everything on the list still holds true: elemental, ki, primal, psionic, and shadow. I’m excited about the primal power source that arrives in force in Player’s Handbook 2 in 2009.

WotC: Martial Power provides a wealth of options to the current martial classes: fighter, ranger, rogue, and warlord. In general terms, what does the book offer these classes? Without exploring every option for each class, can you give us an example from each—a new build, paragon path, or epic destiny perhaps—that helps illustrate what you hoped to provide these classes through Martial Power?

RH: I’m going to touch on this briefly, a quick fly by of one example apiece.

Fighter: People wanted to play a two-weapon fighter, and now one of the two new fighter builds makes that possible. The Tempest Fighter puts a defender-style twist on fighting with two weapons, different than the ranger though still pretty powerful.

Ranger: Pets are a big deal for many people. I confess I wasn’t one of those people, to start, but I like the results, and think that pet-lovers will be happy with the slightly different way each of the many types of pets plays.

Rogue: The many paragon paths available to the rogue run the gamut; there should be something for every type of character, from the Death Dealer (at home in the center of melee) to the Cloaked Sniper (a crossbow-wielding killer), to the Guildmaster Thief (a rogue with a bit of leadership potential that helps the rest of your party operate as more effective semi-rogues).

Warlord: I like the Resourceful Warlord who gets different flexible advantages out of both of the warlord class’ secondary abilities: Intelligence and Charisma. There’s also an interesting heroic backstory for the various strands of warlord martial tradition visible in the paragon paths that are part of the warlord chapter, a thread that even runs into the book’s epic destinies.

WotC: With Dragon Magazine’s release of the gladiator, there’s been speculation that Martial Power will continue presenting options through new fighting styles and weapon specializations—is this a fair assessment, and if so how does Martial Power explore these areas?

RH: No, surprisingly enough, that is not the type of stuff that’s in Martial Power. Here’s why not: our plan with D&DI content that supports a specific book is often to provide a type of content that didn’t appear in the original book. So the gladiator material was originally conceived as an approach that was different than the much more straightforward class power approach taken in most of Martial Power.

And then a few funny things happened. Our first attempt at the mechanical approach for the gladiator theme didn’t work out. And we noticed that an approach we had come up while designing a different power book would fit the gladiator theme quite well.

So the gladiator approach is something that shows up in a later power book, but not in Martial Power itself.

WotC: For the ranger in particular, Martial Power brings the return of animal companions; how does Martial Power address this mechanic, in ways different from previous editions?

RH: The trick with player characters that have pets or companions is to avoid simply giving the player what amounts to a second character. PCs are meant to share highlight film time somewhat equally in 4E, and PCs who manage to always be two creatures at the same time have a way of eating up a lot of camera time.

Playing 3E in a game with a low level halfling ranger, we used to joke all the time about the party’s valuable badger player character and his halfling companion.

We wanted to avoid having the pet overshadow the PC, but still to give the player the fun sense of running a pet that really mattered. So the ranger and their pet share the ranger’s three actions: minor, move, and standard. The ranger is already a class that often attacks two targets, or makes two attacks, when the ranger and its pet use a standard action to attack, the trick is that they can’t be as good as two other rangers, they need to stay just as dangerous as the two-weapon ranger or the bow ranger.

WotC: Is there a fear of power creep for the martial classes—that is, will access to Martial Power allow stronger character builds than non-martial classes or those martial class builds originally appearing in the Player’s Handbook?

RH: Well, Martial Power does contain many powers intended for the class builds that were in the Player’s Handbook, or simply useable by them even if they weren’t directly aimed at the existing builds. So I can see your point of wondering whether more options makes a class more powerful. In a sense, it probably does. But in the game’s lifespan, each of the other classes will have their turn in the bright lights.

As far as actual power creep is concerned, we have a mathematical understanding of what constitutes balanced powers. We don’t always live up to our balanced understanding, and as time goes on we might well produce a few powers that are better than others.

WotC: Can you pull the curtain back a little on the development of Martial Power—what, for instance, may have changed significantly from design to development, and why?

RH: Pieces that really changed? Well, the blunt fact is that we had written large pieces of Martial Handbook before the Players Handbook was truly finished. Adapting the design to match the final Players Handbook and to match our steadily growing understanding of what constituted good design is a task that largely fell upon the developers and editors.

But to pick a specific example, at one point we thought it would be an OK idea to let the new fighter and rogue builds use abilities other than the classes’ PH abilities as attack abilities. The list of reasons why that was a bad idea included the fact that rogues built around a high ability score other than Dexterity are, of course, not very interested in most all the other rogue powers in the game. We want to give players and characters interesting and expansive options, not to design characters into small boxes, so that approach had to change to what the book features now: rogues and fighters who still use Dexterity and Strength as their key abilities, but find ways of using secondary abilities that are a bit different than what was in the PH.

WotC: Anything else you want to mention about the Martial Power book?

RH: This was the first book that I got to write all the art suggestions for, which gave me a bigger stake in the way the art turned out. Ryan Sansaver, the art director, did a great job of wrestling the book’s art into shape.

I’m particularly happy with the way the chapter start illustrations turned out as hugely dynamic action scenes. The artists spoiled me in these chapter-starts by giving me nearly everything I asked for, not something you can expect when you’ve written suggestions as detailed as these chapter starts were. I’m going to be using several of them as screensavers, truly wonderful action scenes. Another art stunt came off well in the Horizon Walker paragon path illustration by Jim Pavelec. And for inside the normal chapters, I really love the feel and the look of Adam Gillespie’s wonderful illustrations for rangers and their many types of pets.

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