Excerpts Archive | 4/25/2008
Article Header Image
4th Edition Player's Handbook

No part of the D&D game has as much variety as the powers that describe what characters can do—and which we’ve started to preview within the warlord and paragon path excerpts. Be sure to consult pgs. 54-59 of the Player’s Handbook for complete and detailed information regarding how powers work, but today we present a slightly condensed version of this information to better explain power entries. At the end, Logan Bonner takes us on a tour of one way to keep track of your powers: with the power cards from the Character Record Sheets product (which comes out in July).

Name and Level

Acid Wave Wizard Attack 19

The first line of a power description gives the name of the power, the class it’s associated with, the kind of power it is (attack or utility), and the power’s level (or the fact that it’s a class feature). In the above example, acid wave is an attack power that a wizard can choose at 19th level.

Some powers, such as the racial powers in Chapter 3 and the feat powers in Chapter 6 of the Player’s Handbook, carry different information on the right side of this line.

Flavor Text

A wave of acid dissolves all creatures that stand before you.

The next section of a power description gives a brief explanation of what the power does, sometimes including information about what it looks or sounds like. The flavor text for acid wave appears here as an example. A power’s flavor text helps you understand what happens when you use a power and how you might describe it when you use it. You can alter this description as you like, to fit your own idea of what your power looks like. Your wizard’s magic missile spell, for example, might create phantasmal skulls that howl through the air to strike your opponent, rather than simple bolts of magical energy.


At-Will Martial, Weapon
Encounter Divine
Daily Acid, Arcane, Implement

A power’s keyword entry gives you important rules information about the power. The first keyword indicates whether the power is an at-will, encounter, or daily power. (One example of each type is given above.) The color used in the line containing the power name also conveys this information: At-will powers have a green bar, encounter powers have a red bar, and daily powers have a black bar.

The other keywords define the fundamental effects of a power. For instance, a power that deals acid damage is an acid effect and thus has the acid keyword. A power that has the poison keyword might deal poison damage, or it might slow the target, immobilize the target, or stun the target. But the poison keyword indicates that it’s a poison effect, and other rules in the game relate to that fact in different ways. Dwarves have a bonus to saving throws against poison effects, for example.

Keywords help to determine how, or if, a power works when the target has resistance, vulnerability, or immunity to a damage type or an effect type, or if the power interacts with existing effects. For example, a ritual that forbids teleportation could block a power that has the teleportation keyword.

Resistance or immunity to one keyword of a power does not protect a target from the power’s other effects. When damage of a power is described as more than one type, divide the damage evenly between the damage types (round up for the first damage type, round down for all others). For example, a power that deals 25 fire and thunder damage deals 13 fire damage and 12 thunder damage.

If a power allows you to choose the damage type, the power then has that keyword for feats, resistances, and any other information that applies. For example, the wizard spell elemental maw does 6d6 + Intelligence modifier damage of a type chosen from the following list: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. If you choose lightning damage, the Astral Fire feat (+1 feat bonus to damage rolls when you use powers that have the fire or radiant keywords) doesn’t add to the power’s damage, but the Raging Storm feat (+1 feat bonus to damage rolls when you use powers that have the lightning or thunder keywords) does.

Keyword Categories

Aside from usage keywords (at-will, encounter, and daily), keywords fall into four categories.

Power Source: The power sources described in the Player’s Handbook are arcane, divine, and martial. Basic attacks, racial powers, and epic destiny powers have no power source. Every class relies on a particular source of energy for the “fuel” that enables members of that class to use powers.

The three power sources associated with the classes in this book are arcane, divine, and martial.

Arcane: Drawing on magical energy that permeates the cosmos, the arcane power source can be used for a wide variety of effects, from fireballs to flight to invisibility. Warlocks and wizards, for example, use arcane magic. Each class is the representative of a different tradition of arcane study, and other traditions exist. Arcane powers are called spells.

Divine: Divine magic comes from the gods. The gods grant power to their devotees, which clerics and paladins, for example, access through prayers and litanies. Divine magic excels at healing, protection, and smiting the enemies of the gods. Divine powers are called prayers.

Martial: Martial powers are not magic in the traditional sense, although some martial powers stand well beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals. Martial characters use their own strength and willpower to vanquish their enemies. Training and dedication replace arcane formulas and prayers to grant fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords, among others, their power. Martial powers are called exploits.

Damage Type: Many powers create energy or a substance that deals damage to their targets.

Acid: Corrosive liquid.
Cold: Ice crystals, arctic air, or frigid liquid.
Fire: Explosive bursts, fiery rays, or simple ignition.
Force: Invisible energy formed into incredibly hard yet nonsolid shapes.
Lightning: Electrical energy.
Necrotic: Purple-black energy that deadens flesh and wounds the soul.
Poison: Toxins that reduce a creature’s hit points.
Psychic: Effects that target the mind.
Radiant: Searing white light or shimmering colors.
Thunder: Shock waves and deafening sounds.

Effect Type: Some powers are classified according to how their effects work.

Charm: Mental effects that control or influence the subject’s actions.
Conjuration: Powers that create objects or creatures of magical energy.
Fear: Effects that inspire fright.
Healing: Powers that restore hit points.
Illusion: Powers that deceive the senses or the mind.
Poison: Substances that hamper or impede a creature.
Polymorph: Effects that alter a creature’s physical form.
Reliable: If you miss when using a reliable power, you don’t expend the use of that power.
Sleep: Powers that cause sleep or unconsciousness.
Stance: A stance power lasts until the end of the encounter, for 5 minutes, or until you use another stance power.
Teleportation: Powers that transport creatures instantaneously from one location to another.
Zone: Powers that create lingering effects that extend over an area.

Accessories: These keywords identify items used with the power. If you have a proficiency bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls from your weapon or an enhancement bonus to your attack rolls and damage rolls from a magic weapon or an implement, you add that bonus when you use a power that has the associated keyword.

Implement: Many arcane spells are more effective when used in conjunction with an implement—a wizard’s staff, orb, or wand, or a warlock’s rod or wand. Many divine prayers use holy symbols as implements. To grant its benefit to a divine character, a holy symbol must represent the character’s patron deity or one of a group of deities the character serves. It’s not necessary to have an implement in order to use a power that has the implement keyword.
Weapon: Many martial powers, as well as several divine powers, can be used only if you’re wielding a weapon. (You can use an unarmed attack as your weapon.) A weapon’s reach or range determines the reach or range of a power it’s used with.

Action Type

The next line of a power description begins with what type of action you have to take when you use the power. Most powers require a standard action. Some powers are move actions, a few are immediate interrupts or immediate reactions, a handful are minor actions or free actions, and a scant few require no action.

Trigger: Some powers come into effect only if a triggering condition occurs.

Attack Type and Range

Following a power’s action type on the same line is the power’s attack type and its range. The four attack types are melee, ranged, close, and area. Each of these attack types (fully described in Chapter 9 of the Player’s Handbook) has rules for range and targeting.

Even though these terms are called “attack types,” they apply to utility powers as well as attack powers.

Prerequisite or Requirement

Certain powers are usable only if you meet a predetermined condition.

Prerequisite: You must meet this provision to select this power. If you ever lose a prerequisite for a power (for example, if you use the retraining system to replace training in a skill with training in a different skill), you can’t use that power thereafter.

Requirement: You must meet this provision to use this power. You can have the power in your repertoire, but it is not available to you unless you fulfill the requirement.


If a power directly affects one or more creatures or objects, it has a “Target” or “Targets” entry.

When a power’s target entry specifies that it affects you and one or more of your allies, then you can take advantage of the power’s effect along with your teammates. Otherwise, “ally” or “allies” does not include you, and both terms assume willing targets. “Enemy” or “enemies” means a creature or creatures that aren’t your allies (whether those creatures are hostile toward you or not). “Creature” or “creatures” means allies and enemies both, as well as you.


Most attack powers that deal damage require you to make an attack roll. The “Attack” entry specifies the kind of attack you make and which of the target’s defenses you check against. If you have a modifier to your attack roll, that’s mentioned here as well.

If your power can attack multiple targets, you make a separate attack roll against each target.


Every power that requires an attack roll includes a “Hit” entry, which explains what happens when an attack roll succeeds. See “Attacks and Defenses,” page 269 of the Player’s Handbook, for how to make attack rolls, how to deal damage, and how to apply various effects, including conditions and forced movement.

Ongoing damage is a fixed amount rather than an amount determined by a die roll. Ongoing damage is applied to a target each round at the start of the target’s turn until the target makes a successful saving throw.

If a “Hit” (or “Effect”) entry contains “(save ends)” or “(save ends both),” the indicated consequence of the successful attack persists until the target makes a successful saving throw.

If a hit grants you the ability to compel the target to move, whether through forced movement or teleportation, you can move it any number of squares up to the number specified (or not move it at all, if you so choose).

Some powers add modifiers to attack rolls or damage rolls. These modifiers apply to any roll of the dice, but not to ongoing damage or other static, nonvariable effects. The paladin’s wrath of the gods prayer, for example, adds her Charisma modifier to her and her allies’ damage rolls until the end of the encounter. When her cleric ally invokes flame strike, the damage equals 2d10 + Wisdom modifier + the paladin’s Charisma modifier fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage. The ongoing damage doesn’t increase, because it’s a static effect.

Whenever you affect a creature with a power, that creature knows exactly what you’ve done to it and what conditions you’ve imposed. For example, when a paladin uses divine challenge against an enemy, the enemy knows that it has been marked and that it will therefore take a penalty to attack rolls and some damage if it attacks anyone aside from the paladin.


Sometimes the dice are against you, and you miss your target. Missing isn’t always the end of the story, however. A miss can indicate a splash effect, a glancing blow, or some other incidental effect of a power.

Secondary Target and Secondary Attack

Some powers allow you to make secondary (or even tertiary) attacks. The power description indicates if you can make such an attack after the previous attack was a hit, if that attack was a miss, or regardless of whether the previous attack hits or misses.

Unless otherwise noted, the range of a secondary (or tertiary) attack is the same as for the attack that preceded it.


Many powers produce effects that take place regardless of whether your attack roll succeeds, and other powers have effects that occur without an attack roll being required.

The effects of powers are as varied as the powers themselves. Some effects impose a condition on the power’s target. Other effects provide a bonus or a benefit (for you or your allies) or a penalty (for enemies). Still others change the nature of the battlefield or create something that didn’t exist a moment ago.

Two kinds of powers—conjurations and zones—produce distinctive effects that are governed by special rules.


If a power has a “Sustain” entry, you can keep that power active by taking a specified type of action (minor, move, or standard) during your turn. The “Sustain” entry tells you if a power has an effect that occurs when you take the action to sustain it.

Power Cards

One of the best ways to keep track of your powers is with power cards. The D&D Character Record Sheets package contains not only character sheets, but also perforated cards to write your powers (and magic items) on. These cards contain spaces for all the important info. Here’s a playtest version of what the cards looked like; it’s what I’ve been using for awhile now. Although this is more of a work in progress, it gives you the general idea of how the information is broken out.

The cards have spots for all the information in a power entry, and an “Additional Effects” section at the bottom. In this section, you can include things like the Arcane Reach feat, which lets you fire a close arcane attack from a square other than your own.

Personally, I like to put my cards in sleeves (Magic: the Gathering sleeves are shown in these images) and mark my attack and damage (with critical damage/damage with sneak attack listed separately) with a wet-erase marker. That way, I can update my numbers whenever I need to.

There are a couple ways to keep track of your powers. You can keep your cards in a hand and discard them as you use them. I prefer to set mine up on the table, more like a game of Magic. If I use an encounter power, I flip the card upside-down until the end of the encounter. For a daily power, I flip the card around inside the sleeve so I know it’s expended when I come to the session next week.
--Logan Bonner

We've already given you a look at devils. Be sure to return Monday for a look at angels!