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Other than thematically, does the source of power for a character really make a difference in how they are built? Should I be paying more attention to the character's power sources as I build adventures? I guess I'm confused because frankly some of the sources don't make sense as separate (Primal or Psionics being different from Arcane how?) and I don't see exactly how they lead to different characters. So insight is appreciated.

I'm also curious. Are the differences between Primal, Divine, Arcane and Psionic really just flavors or are they really different "energies." Is there a default dial on this?

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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

If nothing else, it's worth noting that the power source will appear as a keyword on powers. So, Magic Missile has Arcane as a keyword. Similar powers on a Psion would not. If a monster has resistance to Arcane powers, he can resist Magic Missile but not Psionic Missile.

I think they're also useful for lots of other little things. "Only characters with access to the X power source can use this magic item" or "+1d4 vs characters with Primal power source."

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Power sources do tend to offer their own flavor to a character--for instance, Divine characters have a little more of a Leader bent than normal, while Martial tend a little more towards Striker/Defender. Some mechanics do tend to give advantages for similar characters--feats that give bonuses to Radiant damage are more useful for a Divine party, all else being equal.

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Although the "metaphysics" of 4e is generally less developed than previous editions, the implication is that these are actually separate sources of power that exist in the world and explain HOW the character manages to do what they do.

This is slightly different from it being just flavor, in that it can lead to important story developments rather than just change how a power looks. In my campaign the assassin's shadow power source has definitely come into play and made the story take a very different route than if he were, say, a rogue. He has bound part of his soul to the shadowfell and his spirit will not pass beyond that realm when he dies (at least its not supposed to). This has guided his interests and the direction of the campaign toward the Shadowfell.

Another example (again, from my campaign; sorry, that's what I have to work with) is that in my homebrew setting the primal power source is almost entirely ignored by the contemporary civilizations, but served as the basis of the ancient human cultures there. Spoiler Alert for anyone in my campaign who comes across this, but I even have some things left over from that culture that can change the class of the character to an equivalent primal sourced class.

Not all of the power differences need be significant, but they certainly provide some interesting story opportunities.

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I think power sources matter given the campaign and the setting. For instance, in the previous editions of the Dark Sun setting, there are no gods. This makes a divine power source a bit sketchy--unless, of course, one subscribes to the idea of the "divine spark in all creatures." Mechanically, I think power sources matter in the sense that the provide access to feats and powers. The themes imparted by particular power sources, however, matter within the context of your campaign.

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I think they matter! But you say "other than for thematic reasons..." so maybe not. So my answer may not apply, but I want to give it anyway in the hopes that gets other users thinking about power sources and why they are cool.

Here's some examples we've used:

You can use power sources to put thematic handles on things.

One of the adventure groups we set up last year was "the PCs are all students at a magic academy." How to do it? We simply made it a requirement that all of the PCs had the Arcane power source. All roles were covered- strikers, defenders, controllers, leaders.. were all in there.

Another handle: I have an "All Drow" group- an underdark house-- although it's reaching a bit outside of canon, we thought it would be cool that only female drow PCs could have the divine power source. Because Lolth only truly blesses female characters.

Finally: Dark Sun - no divine character classes, but still the roles can get filled.

Thematically, that really has an effect on the campaign.

Adventure-wise- as a DM the power sources are great ways to shine a spotlight on different types of characters. We've definitely had games where a PC had to have a certain power source in order to attempt a certain task. For example, in one game, the PCs had to recruit, train, and lead a militia.. it's a diplomacy check, but I further restricted it to "martial characters only", because I assumed martial characters would not only have the necessary experience, they'd have "cred". Cleansing a shrine might require a divine source, speaking to an ancient elemental- maybe primal. Attempting to interface with an intelligent alien crystal in a dungeon? Maybe that's arcane or psionic only.

So "other than thematically"..maybe not? But thematically, definitely!

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Aside from Thematics, there are now some Paradon Paths and Epic Destinies that have a certain power source as a requirement no?

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In addition to Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies that have power source requirements, there are a number of feats that require specific power sources, and there are also feats that act on power sources.

Arcane Admixture would be an example of both requiring a power source, and effecting powers with that power source.

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