I find it very odd when, out of all things, the preview material out of Dragon is more interesting than some of the actual articles, and the Ampersand column is utterly notorious for this kind of behavior. First it was the 10-level bard preview, now its a combination of Eberron and summoning powers for the wizard.
Not a whole lot seems new with Eberron. Khorvaire looks the same and I'm eager to get right back into the thick of things as soon as the books roll out, seeing as I sold the ones that I owned for 3rd Edition. I've been keeping myself occupied with my own homebrew world for the first time since 2nd Edition, and with three adventure paths on the menu I think I could keep myself entertained until Hasbro implodes from too much money and we're forced to all play Palladium Fantasy or some shit. Of course if that were to happen I'd probably just fire up Tetris since its got more depth to it.
They mention some epic-level character that was featured in one of the first Dragon articles, Mordain the Fleshweaver. I vaguely recall some twisted forest located squarely in the ass-end of No-One-Goes-There-Anyway, but I cant remember if he was part of the 3rd Edition run. Oh well, I'll probably add him to my To-Do list of villians that need killing when I start running Eberron again in June. He's immune to scrying attempts which brings back painful memories from 3rd Edition in which the best way to handle high-level abilities was to just arbitrarily ensure that your villians were impervious to them through either DM fiat or just plain old-fashioned magic item fiat.
Summoning magic gets shiny new mechanics, and I'm envious for a returning player to my group, Alan. He was out touring the world experiencing new sights and diseases, and managed to completely miss the launch of 4th Edition in the process. He also managed to miss out on all the bitching about alleged "missing" mechanics, not the least of which was summoning magic. Sure, wizards could conjure up a flaming sphere and warlocks could indenture imps as their personal IM clients, but really clerics got the lion's share of things you could arguably call true summons.
Arcane Power introduces the Summoning keyword and the summoner build for wizards. There is an entire sidebar for summoned creatures and the rules that govern them, and Wizards was also kind enough to show us more than a few of the things we can expect.
Summoned creatures follow the economy of actions, by which I mean that the summoner has to burn her own actions to maneuver her pet to and fro. Unlike 3rd Edition, you dont end up with several sets of actions on each of your turns, forcing the party to watch as you get to tiddle around with your own retinue of demons, elementals, or hellish livestock. On the other hand, the summons this time around are actually viable in combat, so its one of those tradeoffs that you have to make.
Each summon is designed with a purpose in mind: the attack ones are used to kill things, and the utility ones can spy, defend, or do other things that dont involve killing things. I like this, as it avoids summoning creatures that sound cool in theory but end up being a waste of a spell slot and the entire round it took to conjure it. I've always wanted to play a summoning wizard but quickly ran out of steam once I realized that no one cares that I can summon a celestial dog that couldnt bite the broad side of a blind and slowed ogre.
Summons dont require actions to maintain, and unless they are killed off or dismissed because they are overshadowing the real members of the party last until the end of the encounter. They can make opportunity attacks, but otherwise need a standard action granted by you to rouse them from their stupor long enough to take a swat at whatever monster is currently within their Reach.
People are unfavorably comparing (as they do) summon fire warrior to flaming sphere, which is another level 1 wizard daily attack, targeting the lower damage output from the fire warrior. Flaming sphere does 2d6, while the fire warrior deals 1d8, for a difference 2.5 points of damage on average. Aside from the fact that the fire warrior doesnt need to be encouraged to stick around and will trundle about if you give it only a minor action instead of a move, it can provide flanking benefits to your party as well as not burn the shit out of allies that happen to get stuck next to it.
To get the flaming sphere to do anything you have to just sit there and maintain it, then move it, and finally use up your standard action to make it attack again. At least with the fire warrior I could still leg it if I felt that things were going badly.