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Primal Power (4e)

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New options for barbarians, druids, shamans, and wardens

Take a walk on the wild side! This must-have book is the latest in a line of player-friendly game supplements offering hundreds of new options for D&D characters, specifically focusing on heroes who draw power from the spirits that preserve and sustain the world. It provides new archetypal builds for barbarians, druids, shamans, and wardens, including new character powers, feats, paragon paths, and epic destinies.

Product History

Primal Power (2009), by Mike Mearls with Eytan Bernstein, Logan Bonner, Rob Heinsoo, and Robert J. Schwalb, is the fourth Powered splatbook for D&D 4e. It was published in October 2009.

Continuing the Powers Books. The Power books formed a strong fourth line for D&D 4e (2008), following the yearly core books, the yearly setting books, and the "HPE" adventure path. However, after the publication of Martial Power (2008), Arcane Power (2009), and Divine Power (2009), Wizards had used up the three power sources that they'd detailed in the 4e Player's Handbook (2008).

Enter the Player's Handbook 2 (2009). This core player's book revealed some of the "forgotten heroes" of 4e, such as the barbarian and the druid, as part of a new source: primal power. And that gave Wizards something new to write about for their Power line, showing how intricately constructed and interwoven the 4e publication schedule was.

As with the previous Power books, Primal Power rebuilds four previous classes. Here it's the barbarian, the druid, the shaman, and the warden — all of whom had originated in Player's Handbook 2. It also includes new paragon paths and epic destinies for these classes.

This wasn't D&D's first splat book for these primal classes. Previous releases include PHBR13: The Complete Druid's Handbook (1994), PHBR14: The Complete Barbarian's Handbook (1995), the Mayfair-originated Shaman (1995), and Masters of the Wild (2002). However, the late publication of many of these books in their individual sequences, and the lack of a primal book for 3.5e, shows that historically these classes hadn't been quite as popular as some of their arcane, divine, or martial brethren.

Even with the expectation that a new power source would appear each year, Wizards was still facing a slow-down in their Power line, so their next publication would be Martial Power 2 (2010).

About the Barbarian. The barbarian was created by Gary Gygax as a subclass of the fighter for Dragon #63 (July 1982). Gygax's original barbarian was a bit hard to play because he hated magic items and tried to destroy them, which definitely didn't make him a hit at parties. The barbarian became more official with the release of Unearthed Arcana (1985), the same year that Zeb Cook introduced an Oriental Barbarian for Oriental Adventures (1985). Following the release of AD&D 2e (1989), barbarians disappeared as a core class and were instead consigned to being a character kit in PHBR1: The Complete Fighter's Handbook (1989). They only reappeared as a core class years later in PHBR14: The Complete Barbarian's Handbook (1995), which updated the Unearthed Arcana class, minus the magic-item hating. The barbarian was also a core class in D&D 3e (2000) which played up his rage ability, turning it into a centerpiece of the class. When the barbarian appeared in Player's Handbook 2 (2009) for D&D 4e (2008), he was revised once again. In order to support the primal power source, the barbarian was now more closely paired with the druid, becoming the "paladin" for primal power, which the designers described as "nature’s fury given physical form".

About the Druid. The druid was invented by zoology grad student B. Dennis Sustare for his house campaign; Sustare's mimeographed rules made their way into Gary Gygax's hands at a Gen Con, and from there they made the jump to D&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976). Sustare was credited as the "Great Druid" in that supplement; later, after the druid was published as part of AD&D 1e (1977-1979), he was further honored with a druid spell called "Chariot of Sustarre", which almost got his name right. In AD&D 1e, the druid was Celtic influenced; that changed in AD&D 2e (1989) when he became more of a nature priest, though HR3: Celts Campaign Sourcebook (1992) provided a more Celtic variant during that era. The druid was a core class in D&D 3e (2000), where he was considered a bit overpowered. Then for D&D 4e (2008), he was introduced in Player's Handbook 2 (2009) as the heart of primal power.

About the Shaman. Shamans appeared sporadically in older editions of D&D, primarily as spirit magicians, but occasionally as primitive spellcasters. The first was the humanoid shaman that appeared in Dragon #141 (January 1989), followed very quickly by a complete shaman class in GAZ12: The Golden Khan of Ethengar (1989) for Basic D&D. In AD&D 2e (1989), shamans first appeared as character kits in PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993) and Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales (1994). A huge onrush of full shaman classes then were published in PHBR14: The Complete Barbarian's Handbook (1995), Shaman (1995), Faiths and Avatars (1996), and Player's Option: Spells & Magic (1996). The Mayfair-originated Shaman was the most important of these because it dedicated a whole book to the character class. Shamans largely disappeared from D&D 3e (2000), other than the Asian-influenced shaman that was published in Oriental Adventures (2001). Then in D&D 4e (2008)they appeared for the first time ever as a core class in Player's Handbook 2 (2009).

D&D 4e's primal power source focuses on transformation: the barbarian rages, the druid wild shapes, and the warden hybridizes. The shaman the only standard build that didn't follow this trend; the designers thought that it was complex enough already.

About the Warden. The D&D Player's Handbook 2 (2009) presented the traditional D&D 4e character roles for the primal power source; the barbarian was a striker, the druid was a controller, and the shaman was a leader. This left one role, the defender. The Brand-new warden class was created to fill this position.

About the Creators. Mearls, the lead designer of Primal Power, began writing for Wizards just as 4e was published. He would be one of the most prolific authors during the era, with another of his contributions for 2009 being the Player's Handbook 2 that introduced the primal power source. He'd go on to greater fame as the lead of D&D 5e (2014).

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 shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on January 13, 2015.