Heroes of Primal Might and Ancient Power!
From the bright towns and darkened wilderness they come: mighty heroes intent on exploring dungeons, slaying monsters, and battling evil.
This companion to the Player's Handbook® core rulebook introduces the primal power source, which draws on the spirits that preserve and sustain the world. Player's Handbook 2 includes four classes tied to the primal power source: the barbarian, the druid, the shaman, and the warden. It also presents four new arcane and divine classes: the avenger, the bard, the invoker, and the sorcerer.
This essential book for D&D® players contains other exciting options, including new races, powers, feats, paragon paths (including racial paragon paths), epic destinies, magic items (including totems), rituals, and a background section designed to help you develop your character's history and personality.
Player's Handbook 2 (2009), by Logan Bonner, Jesse Decker, Mike Mearls, Robert J. Schwalb, Stephen Schubert, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, and Peter Schaefer, is the second core player's book for D&D 4e. It was released in March 2009.
A History of Player Handbooks. D&D is one of the few roleplaying games to maintain a split between core books for players and game masters throughout most of its history. It started with AD&D, which was released with a Players Handbook (1978) and a Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). In the years that followed, TSR published books mostly for game masters — including geomorphs, adventures, and additional monster manuals. That changed in 1985, which saw the release of Unearthed Arcana (1985), which could easily have been called "Player's Handbook 2", and Oriental Adventures (1985), an "alternate players handbook" for the east.
When AD&D 2e was released, the Player's Handbook (1989) returned, now with an apostrophe. TSR also decide to publish a player-focused series of splatbooks, the "PHBR" Complete series (1989-1995). This would set the direction for D&D — and for the roleplaying field — in the years to come. Thereafter, lots of player resources would be brought to market. D&D 3e (2000) thus had plenty of splat books, but more notably it was the first edition to explicitly include a second hardcover player's handbook: the Player's Handbook II (2006). Additional player's handbooks would be even more central to the D&D 4e (2008) line.
Continuing the Core Series. The original plan for D&D 4e was to publish a new set of core books every year. The Player's Handbook 2 (2009) thus led off the second core book series. It was followed by the Monster Manual 2 (2009) and the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 (2009) later in the year.
The new Player's Handbook 2 showed exactly what this continuing core series meant for D&D 4e. It expanded the game a phenomenal amount by detailing a new power source, eight new classes (doubling the total available to the game), and five new races — as well as new paragon path, new epic destinies, new rituals, and other new rules.
The Forgotten Heroes. The Player's Handbook 2 described the avenger, barbarian, bard, druid, invoker, shaman, sorcerer, and warden — which was a mix of new and old character classes. The avenger, invoker, shaman, and warden were the new kids on the block, with the shaman being the only one that had clear predecessors in previous editions of D&D. However, the barbarian, bard, druid, and sorcerer had all previously been notably missing from D&D 4e. Their loss had been so deeply felt that third-party publisher Goodman Games had published a book called Forgotten Heroes: Fang, Fist and Song (2008) the previous year, revealing their own version of the barbarian, bard, and druid.
Even following the expansion of D&D 4e from 8 to 16 character classes, there were still some notable gaps in the class roster, particularly the monk and the assassin. Goodman Games would again jump ahead of Wizards when they published their own assassin in Forgotten Heroes: Scythe and Shroud (2009). Meanwhile, Wizards' official versions of the assassin would appear in Dragon #379 (September 2009) and Heroes of Shadows (2011), while the monk would return in Player's Handbook 3 (2010).
The Resurrected Races. Two classic races had also been missing from the D&D 4e core books: the gnome and the half-orc. The gnome had been kept out of the original Player's Handbook because Wizards wanted to highlight a greater variety of races, including newcomers like the dragonborn and the tiefling. Meanwhile, the half-orc was missing because the design team was concerned about the "dark tendencies that led to their creation". Now, a year later, Wizards was ready to reinvent both races.
The gnome was reimagined as a tiny fey, good at hiding, with none of the mechanical ability of the tinker gnomes that had proliferated in D&D starting in the mid '80s. This new vision of the race had been previewed in Monster Manual (2008) and was finalized here.
The half-orc was initially based on the idea that the race had been purposefully bred to combine the "strength and savagery of orcs with the decisive action of humans", but at the last minute the writers decided instead to present a multitude of options for how the race came to be, which is what appears in the Player's Handbook 2.
Three other races appear in Player's Handbook 2. Two had originated in D&D 3.5e (2003). The goliath came from Races of Stone (2004), while the shifter first appeared in the Eberron Campaign Setting (2004). The fifth and final race had a more complex origin.
The deva was a reimagination of the angelic races that had premiered in Dragon #63 (July 1982) and Monster Manual II (1983), which were now frequently called the aasimar. However, the design team felt that angelic outsiders weren't a good fit for D&D 4e, because in the dark Points of Light world, the designers had "slowly but surely removed from the game any living embodiments of goodness in the cosmos." So the team reinvented the aasimar as angels reincarnated into mortal forms. They also changed the name from aasimar to deva. Rob Heinsoo explained the reasoning, saying, "Even now I struggle to type that word without spelling it like buttocks."
Expanding D&D. The Player's Handbook 2's biggest expansion of the core D&D 4e rules was the introduction of the primal power source, supplementing the arcane, divine, and martial power sources that had been found in the core rules. The designers made the druid the foundation of this new source by imagining it as something more than just a cleric for the wilderness. They then linked the druid with the barbarian, much as the cleric was linked to the paladin under the divine power source. Finally, they created one more unifying element for the source, by focusing most of the primal classes on transformation.
The Player's Handbook 2 also introduced one other notable rule to D&D 4e: backgrounds. They were meant to flesh out the backstory of a character while also providing a minor bonus to skills. Unfortunately, they were very similar to the regional bonuses introduced in the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (2008) despite being a distinctly named mechanic.
The PDF Problem. The Player's Handbook 2 caused a surprisingly large upheaval at Wizards of the Coast that had nothing to do with its content. The public learned about it on April 6, 2009 when Wizards filed three lawsuits against a total of eight defendants who were illegally distributing digital files of the Player's Handbook 2 online. More importantly, Wizards simultaneously announced that they were withdrawing all of their products from the digital marketplace. At the time D&D PDFs been available for sale at DriveThruRPG and Paizo; afterward, D&D was totally absent from the digital marketplace for three and a half long years — the rest of D&D 4e's viable lifespan. D&D PDFs only reappeared in January 2013 when DriveThruRPG began publishing them again through DnDClassics.com.
About the Creators. The team of seven designers working on the Player's Handbook 2 was large, even for the 4e era. About half of the designers worked on numerous 4e products, but this was the only 4e book for Jesse Decker and Peter Schaefer, and one of just two for Stephen Radney-MacFarland.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.