Review: “Forgotten Heroes: Fang, Fist, and Song”

Overview: “Forgotten Heroes: Fang, Fist, and Song” (hereafter referred to as FH) is another option for adding Barbarians, Druids, Bards, and Monks into your 4e game before the official versions are fully released. Many of the classes feel a bit complex, but do a good job of capturing a particular aspect of each of these classes, and the book comes with a very inspiring “hook” to introduce the characters into your game and to shape your campaign world.

Available from: RPG Now (PDF), print version to come to game stores in a few weeks. This review is based on a free review copy provided by the publisher.

In-Depth: FH is 88 pages, black and white interior, with a fair amount of good-quality artwork (including the occasional full-page piece.) Written by Tavis Allison, Eytan Bernstein, Brian Cortijo, and Greg Tito, published by Goodman Games.

The book begins with a discussion of “The Apocalypse” as a way to introduce the classes into the game. You see, the suggested take is that these classes are a result of some great cataclysm. Barbarians and Druids, the two primal characters, are those who have adjusted to a new life after civilization has collapsed. The Bard and Monk are defenders of ancient traditions that they are attempting to keep alive in the new world. The chapter also contains comparisons of classic Gygax campaigns and their relation to apocalypses, as well as suggestions and resources for your own campaign world’s apocalypse. This chapter is a great source of inspiration, and a very clever way to tie the four disparate character classes together (instead of admitting that they were just the ones on the cutting room floor of 4e.) Even if you don’t care about the classes at all, it still is a resource for anyone interested in an Apocalyptic campaign, though the section is pretty short compared to the rest of the book.

Afterward comes the write-ups for the character classes.

Barbarian: The FH Barbarian is a Primal Defender. Goodman Games has extrapolated the Primal power source to be based around different animal totems (since the druid shares those elements) , and judging from the WotC Barbarian preview that’s not far off. They focus on Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity, though all of their attacks use Strength. They choose one of three animal totems, and that determines some of their class features. They have a mark that allows them to shift and swing when the marked opponent attacks someone else, which is worse than the Swordmage’s mark (and probably the worst all around) but at least it’s a mark that does something. They also have a Rage power that lowers their defenses in exchange for a bonus to attack rolls and retributive opportunity attacks.

The Barbarian has two Paragon paths: the Berserker (like the Frenzied Berserker, naturally) and the Mundane (based on the Forsaker, a magic-hating class).

Bard: The Bard is an Arcane Leader, natch. They have Bardic Intelligence and Knowledge, which allow them to help assist with skills and use their lore knowledge as a damage bonus against enemies. They also have 15 different Songs that are “played” along with certain powers, which give the Leader-style bonuses to allies. They have a specific ability that lets them perform with money (in the absence of a perform skill.) They have the standard Leader healing ability. Finally, like a wizard, they have a choice of Instrument that gives them a special ability and serves as the implement for many of their powers.

Whew, get all that? The bard definitely has a lot of different abilities to it, to the point of being overwhelming. However, I’ve always wanted a Bard that could use different song types and instruments, and this does deliver on that. Overall, though they have powers that go both ways, the Bard definitely seems more like a “music mage” than a swashbuckler.

The two Paragon paths included for Bard are Songweaver (more focus on magic Bardic music) and Loremaster (emphasis on the bonus damage for lore abilities.)

Druid: Druid is a primal controller, and shares some similarities with the Wizard. (My guess is that we’ll see a lot of that until WotC reveals the rules to a new controller.) They have an animal companion (chosen from three different kinds, the same kinds as the Barbarian) that can act as a Mage Hand, extend ranges, or attack. Druids also get a wildshape at every tier, which provides a utility-style effect (instead of being a whole pile of new rules.) Their powers are a lot of what you’d expect from a controller, hitting areas and providing status effects. However, they do get Call Lightning as an at-will, which is pretty badass. They also have a number of higher level powers that are based on extreme weather, and a few “summon treant” abilities that stand out. Many of the power names are taken from older edition spells.

The Paragon Paths are Shapeshifter (who uses a few transformations at the same time) and Purifier (the Greenpeace paragon path.)

Monk: Martial Striker, all attacks based on Dex but with bonuses for Wisdom and Strength. They have an internal and external fighting style choices (basically, damage vs. grappling) and several stances that they can adopt at-will with a minor action. They gain their bonus striker damage by flanking, but also through the use of certain powers. (However, their damage dice are weaker than the Rogue’s.) Their powers are very reminiscent of the way Monks worked in 3e, down to the names: the at-wills include Flurry of Blows (which works identically to the 3e version) and Grapple. They have several other higher-level powers that mimic the 3e counterparts as well, though some unique and very Monkish ones stand out (Elbow Drop being a particular favorite- when you knock someone prone, you can elbow drop to deal more damage, but then are prone yourself.)

The oddest part to me is that they are proficient in a number of weapons, and many of their powers involve holding weapons. It may be me that tends to prefer his Monks unarmed, but I suppose there are many who liked to use nunchuking/quarterstaffing/sianghaming Monks. It just seems like you’d end up with Minotaur Monks with Executioner Axes, which seems odd.

Monk Paragon Paths include Long Hand Acolyte (become Dhalsim) and Drunken Master (which uses a “drink total” mechanic but stops short of including penalties for inebriation.)

Feats and Magic Items: Of course, the book closes with more feats for the character classes included, with a good number for all three tiers of play. Multi-class feats are included as well. If you take “Sage of the Wild” you can use Call Lightning as an encounter power, which is fun, but “Musical Savant” specifically says “You are able to play musical instruments.”

Magic items are included as well to support the classes. Druids get magic shillelaghs and fetishes. Bards get magic instruments, which includes several classic D&D item names. Monks learn secret techniques as a way to enhance their weapons.

Comparison to Advanced Player’s Guide: I tried very hard to judge the product on its own merits. However, the Advanced Player’s Guide happened to be the one that I heard about first and received first (despite FH being announced earlier.)  Obviously, they both cover much of the same conceptual ground. If I were paying for them, I definitely couldn’t justify buying both. But there are some differences in style and approach. The APG goes for a more “old-school” approach to the classes, and has its own flavor for each, whereas FH sticks closer to 3e ideals. (Though both seem to have their own divergent take on the Barbarian.) The APG has races in addition to just classes, but FH is more complete for the classes it provides by including magic items and more feats. Also, the APG often relies on referencing existing powers from the book, which I didn’t catch at all in FH. FH also contains more campaign information, whereas the APG is mainly focused on rules.

Ultimately, I think you’re going to have to pick the book that has more to offer your campaign, both in terms of options and in terms of feel. If you’re a 3e convert, then you’re more likely to want FH. If you’re going for a more old school feel with simpler options, APG is probably what you want. And if you want more races, it’s going to have to be the APG.

Overview: I love the opening chapter, as I noted, full of ideas even if you’re not running a strictly apocalyptic game. However, the classes are by far the meat of the book, and I can’t help but be turned off a bit by the complicated nature of each of the classes. It seems like it would be tough to fit a lot of the abilities and powers simply onto power cards, and to remember everything you do. On the other hand, I know that there are those that prefer a bit of complexity. The Monk in particular would be pretty easy to pick up if you’ve played the 3e version, and the Druid is a fine substitute for the Wizard in terms of playability. The Bard has a very cool flavor, but the player is probably going to have to be a jack of all trades to play effectively. And it’s hard for the Barbarian to not be overshadowed by his “official” cousin, though this Barbarian doesn’t feature some of the weirdness that many don’t like in the WotC version.

It’s also hard to tell, because of the complexity, if the classes are balanced amongst the others or not. I suspect it will take some play to figure that out, though nothing jumped out and screamed imbalance.

Finally, you have to give credit to Goodman Games for putting out a solid and professional looking product. While there are errors I noticed, both in rules and in formatting, this is a clear cut above many other 3rd party products. The book feels very complete, with feats and magic items doing a great job of providing everything you need for the classes therein. I’m quite looking forward to what else Goodman Games has on the horizon for future 4e products.

To close, here’s a piece of art from the book, a Dwarf playing a triangle.

“I wish this were a cowbell.”

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

Comments

  1. Thanks for an astute review, Dave! People in a RPG.net thread have been wishing there were designer’s notes, and I agree – the non-transparency of the way that a class’s flavor is expressed 99% through mechanics means it’s sometimes hard to get the spirit across to the reader.

    To choose an example dear to my own heart, you’re right that monks can have lots of weapons powers, but note that many of them require the monk to throw away or break the weapon. As I watched my favorite martial arts movies, it seemed to me that the hero isn’t typically an unarmed warrior; rather, it’s someone who uses many weapons well in the space of a single battle but relies on none of them. I designed the monk’s weapon hurling or shattering powers and their secret technique magic-weapon-equivalency in order to encourage that kind of fight scene. Which, to be sure, isn’t going to be what everyone wants from their monk, but it would have been cool to highlight this aspect so it’d be easier to pick up on for people who do.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Tavis. That makes a lot of sense and is certainly an interesting way to go with the Monk. I suppose it’s a little bit of disconnect in addition because it’s part 3e Monk and part new. But now that you say that and I look at the powers again, it makes perfect sense, and is a lot more interesting than I first took it to be.

  3. Thanks for the great writeup, Dave.

    The 3e idea of the bard as a jack of all trades was something I wanted to preserve, as well as the ability to heal and buff your allies through song. That is a lot to put into one class, sure, but I took it as a challenge. I think it’s important to note that with the powers available at each tier, it’s possible to be a more melee-oriented bard and still be able to fulfill the Leader role.

    Glad you liked the different instruments! That’s something I’ve always wanted to see in the game as well. A dwarf playing a triangle is a different kind of bard than an eladrin violinist and they have different abilities which illustrate that.

  4. I noticed that neither supplement included a Sorcerer. Talk about your forgotten hero! :(

    My own vision of the Monk would be as a Divine Striker, but I like Goodman’s take on the Druid and Barbarian power sources/roles.

    Kameron´s last post: I am a revisionist

  5. Greg: Thanks, Greg. I definitely like the concept of the Bard a lot, and is a lot closer to how I always wanted the Bard to be. I’m just worried about ease of play.

    Kameron: I think game designers are still figuring out how to differentiate the Sorcerer and Wizard now that Vancian casting is gone.

    The APG has Monk as Divine Striker, though doesn’t really use the hallmark of the Divine power source at all.

  6. From Races & Classes, Wizards revealed that their initial thoughts on the Sorcerer is someone who is much more tied to the magic they cast than a Wizard is. The example they use is if a sorcerer casts a cold spell they may be surrounded by frost and cold for a short time, which slows attacking enemies down, or if one casts fireball they might catch fire and do damage to nearby enemies. I like the concept, but it starts to sound almost like a Primal class to me than anything else, not sure how I feel about that.

    Plus I’m still trying to figure out my Martial Controller idea.

  7. I always thought of the monk to draw on internal power (Chi) or from anamil-spirit powers. Not divine from gods.

    The other thing that I seem to see more in the movies now is the martial artist relying on a lot on ad-hoc weapons, not just a fix set. We see them pick up a chair, hub-cat, pool-cue, pie tin, or whateven is lying around and make it into a deadly weapon. Does the FH monk capture this, or just some predefine weapons?

    I also read the preview of the Druid, and so far, liked it better than any I’ve seen on the web. Not as overpowered as some, and nice mix of nature and shapechanging, without relying on one or the other.

    It would be interesting to know what are the main differences between FH and AGP takes on a class by class basis, as well as comparison to the Wizards preview of the Barbarian.

    Scott

  8. Dave,

    Thanks for the link ;)

    I’ll have to pick this one up based on your review, because some of the most-missed classes for me seem to be in it, and because of one word above all others…apocalypse! :D

    Tomcat1066´s last post: Pirates Versus Ninjas

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