D&D 4e: The New Player’s Option

I was actually very surprised while looking through the Wizards Spring 2011 catalog when I stumbled across a new book coming out in March, Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow. There are a lot of aspects to this book that are interesting, for one it is supposedly going to be a 6″x9″ and 320 page book selling for $19.95 in trade paperback format. The description for the book mentions three specific classes that it will support – Assassins, Necromancers, and Hexblades. Any other content beyond simply introducing the Shadow power source is not defined, but I think the inclusion of those two new classes alone is enough for most people to get excited about it.

I am a big fan of the decision to make this book something more unique than simply another power source supplement (and “Shadow Power” doesn’t have a great ring to it anyway). The shadow power source was introduced with the Assassin, a D&D Insider exclusive class which will apparently be supported by this book as well, but was not addressed at all in the Player’s Handbook 3. On top of that, this book seems to be the beginning of the Player’s Option series, which is described with:

Player’s Option books are aimed at players who are ready to move beyond the Player Essentials books, Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. The Player’s Option series presents advanced Dungeons &  Dragons character options as well as new ways to customize and optimize one’s existing character.

I’m confused as to the tie-in between the Essentials line and this book that seems to be more in line with the previous books released. Heroes of the Fallen Lands is going to have content for Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Wizards while Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms will have content for Druids, Paladins, Rangers, and Warlocks. With such a limited selection of the classes that are now available for 4th Edition, it seems odd to bill the Player’s Option series as an expansion to the Essentials line. That said, I am a very big fan of the Assassin class (so much so that I asked Mike Mearls some questions about it when it was released) and its Hex based abilities so I can’t wait to see how the other shadow classes come out!

My guesses for right now are that the Hexblade will be a defender (or maybe leader) class, possibly utilizing the ki focus rules like the Assassin and Monk do but either way I would imagine it more like a melee version of the warlock/seeker in how it uses its weapon to inflict various effects on enemies. The Necromancer I would peg as being a controller, but could end up as a leader or strongly lean that way, and pretty much would be a shadow magic version of the invoker with a much darker twist to its powers and abilities. I’d love to see some classes that go into new conceptual ground for a shadow defender or one of the other roles not covered above.

I’ve also updated our 4th Edition Character Class Reference with this new information and will try to keep it up to date as we learn more.

Update: Here is a better quality scan of the image from the catalog!


  1. carolinacharlie says:

    I don’t see how this book can be 320 pages; seems more likely to me that the number is a typo and should be 32 pages. But we’ll see!

  2. yesnomu says:

    I guess we’re done with the Players Handbooks now! Kinda unfortunate, since they were my favorite cycle of 4th edition books.

    I wonder if the move to paperback is a response to falling book sales in the wake of DDI? I only know one person who bought MP2, and you can’t argue with the fact that near 100% of the PHs and Power books content is duplicated online.

  3. I understand WotC needs to keep cranking out books to stay in business… but it seems like the game is getting buried under a plethora of classes.

  4. I thought that WotC said that the Assassins would be supported exclusively through D&DI? Is it an error in the copy, are they going back on their word, or (most likely of all), am I misremembering it?

  5. Yeah, it sounds to me like the Player’s Handbook series might be over, as well as the ‘XXXX Power’ series. Instead, classes will be presented in full with all their builds in ‘power source’ books, like this.

    I don’t mind myself, and in fact this might have some benefits.

  6. I was wondering how long PHBs could go on. PHB4 just had an odd ring to it. But it seems a little confusing to me, all these different lines they now have going.

  7. The way I read it, this sounds like a bridge product between the Essentials line and the Core Rules. Remember, the Essentials are paired down, only 4 classes in the Basic set. The Player’s Options books add on to that, slowly graduating the players to the PHBs.

  8. They mentioned that the essentials line would be expanded by sourcebooks which introduced ‘new’ races and classes… I’d strongly suspect that this is just one of those.

  9. MJtheProphet says:

    If the necromancer doesn’t play around with summoning and auras, I’ll be disappointed. But I guess we’ll see now.

  10. Aww what the heck, I had bets that they would do shadow up right. I was expecting shadow to get Player’s handbook 4 with a full list of classes, that Hexblade better not be a defender, I am pretty sure that a shadow defender is the Blackguard or an anti-paladin!

    Finally Necromancers I have been waiting so long, but i don’t want to see them selfed in some backwater book!

    I don’t see the purpose of stopping the PBH series

  11. Is the catalog in question available online?

  12. carolinacharlie: I agree, I’m a bit surprised by the 320 number and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a mistake, but if it isn’t then that’s a lot of new content for Shadow classes which would be sweet!

    yesnomu: that’s probably a part of it, though I wouldn’t list Martial Power 2 as a good reference for this because it only really appeals to a select group of players to begin with.

    Oz: It seems to be the trend for the D&D editions over the last 20-30 years to become buried in class (and typically race) options. I personally don’t mind it that much, but I can see it being a problem for some people – most of all to me it does end up making new content per class spread thinner the more there are and opens up more possibilities for imbalance to creep in.

    Aaron: I believe you are correct, they did say that at one point but apparently have changed that. We’re not sure yet if the Assassin will be printed in full in this book or simply supported and still require D&D Insider to get the main rules. Time will tell.

    Kameron & Asmor: I get that placement of a book conceptually, but to me that would mean these Player’s Option books would introduce the rest of the already published classes (sorcerer, bard, swordmage, etc.) into the Essentials line. Instead this book is not only giving us some new classes but it’s also the first print version of support for a whole new power source. That’s where my confusion comes from, this isn’t simply an expansion on the Essentials line but it’s adding stuff to the rules as a whole which is more of a main-series product in my mind.

    Patmos: I personally don’t see how this book would be any worse than if this content was in a PHB, in fact I could see it getting better treatment in its own book than being a part of something that presented Primal, Psionic, and Shadow heroes all at once. Blackguard is a good call, but I believe (and Dave reminded me) that the Hexblade in 3E was closest to the defender role so I won’t be surprised if that’s what it ends up being. I think that Blackguard could also make a good leader class!

    Scott: Not that I know of, but I’ll keep my eyes open for it and let you know if I find it online. I can write about the other things in the catalog as well, if that’s something people would be interested in. (I assumed most people who wanted to know had already read about this stuff elsewhere so I haven’t done it yet)

  13. I would be interested. I watch DDI pretty closely, and there hasn’t been any information on anything after December.

  14. TheMainEvent says:

    Its 6×9 rather than 8 1/2 x 11 size… maybe that accounts for the length?

  15. @Main Event. I think that’s exactly right.

    Personally I’d rather have the classes consolidated into power books. We’re really getting to the point now with DDI, the PHBs, the Power Books that we’re starting to saturate choices now I think.

  16. Papabaloo says:

    I just got to say this, Necromancer as a full fledged playable class? awesome.

    At first i felt they where kind of pushing it to develop a line of books to supplement the supplements, but then i realized it could be a good thing, in the end there is just more options and customization and above all NEW fresh content for the game, there is really no down side into it imo.

  17. I think what bothers me the most about this ever-changing product lineup and series branding is that it’s just so confusing. Between the PHB and the Power Source books, it was easy to get things straight as to what you were supposed to buy – get the working basics of the class in the PHB or a player’s guide and get the ‘expansion’ in the relevant power book.

    Options and Essentials make me go wha-huh? 4e is already entering its 3rd year next year, but it’s going to be harder for new players to start their own collections with the 4e catalog being such a maze.

  18. Shilling says:

    It certainly makes the line-up feel incomplete. So there is no Shadow Power Source book? Or is this players option book a Power Source book by another name? Will there ever be other Power source books are are they gone for good? Are the previous ones still valid or should we consider player options to be a replacement?

    Will other book lines go the same way? Can we expect a Feywild planes book or are the planes/settings books also a dead line?

    When it comes to rule books, consistency is a virtue. Finish what you start.

  19. @Shilling: I think (and hope) that this is just the Shadow Power source book for all intents and purposes just under a different name.

    @Matthew Arcilla: I wouldn’t really call it an “ever-changing” product line-up, with respects to 4E this is the first change we’re seeing. That said, I still think it’s a bit confusing at the moment as I mention in the post with how certain books are being billed/marketed, but we’ll have to wait and see when they are closer to being released what they will actually be.

  20. I suspect we’ll hear more about it at GenCon.

  21. Lordredraven says:

    I think the tag about it begin the next step after the Essentials line is not so much an indication of it being part of the Essentials line, but instead to show new players a clear path to new more advanced content. That being said, all of us old folk with the PHB line will just find it to be the book about the Shadow power source. I think the cover is indicative that it is not an Essential line product. The advertisement is just designed to tell new players “get these after you have played around with the Full essential line”

    It’s not just the Shadow Power book as people have talked about. The “X” power books, just built on existing builds, but they never introduced new class or races to the game. This appears to be a PHB style section on classes and enough options and builds to be the Shadow Power as well. Seems they are scrapping the idea of PHB4, and putting the intital shadow builds you would have found there, together with the expanded options of a Shadow Power book together.

  22. Syrsuro says:

    Just to be clear: Did the description indicate it would SUPPORT the necromancer, hexblade and assassin or INTRODUCE them? If the wording was “suppport’ I would not assume that those classes would appear for the first time (or in print for the first time in the case of the assassin) in that book, but rather than those classes would be appearing in some other resource between now and then and that this book would be providing additional support. (i.e. more feats, powers and paths).

    Edit: Ok, I found the actual wording of the blurb and it does seem to indicate that the book will be introducing both new races and classes.

    The Shadowfell is a cold place through which the spirits of the dead must pass on their way to…whatever. Dark, evil things live there, suffused with the power of shadow.. Some mortals in the natural world learn how to tap into this source. Assassins. Necromancers. Hexblades. By all accounts, a ruthless lot. However, not all beings that draw strength from the Shadowfell are vile, blackhearted fiends. A few even dare to call themselves heroes, using the power of darkness to fight darkness. Are they evil? No. Deeply disturbed and hounded by their own dark demons? You bet.
    Player’s Options: Heroes of Shadow focuses on characters that fight evil in ways that make others cringe. In addition to exploring the nature of the shadow power source, this book presents races, classes, feats, powers, and other options aimed at players hungry to play the archetypal antihero with a dark edge.


  23. Well, I (for one) am tired of all these new races and classes. If I have to hear a fellow gamer ask to change his character one more time I just might shave my head.

    Instead of more races and classes, I want to see books that help you run a game, get into character, build an adventure, develop a campaign, make you a better player, make you a better DM. Books for the planes, settings, monster manuals, DM’s guides (etc.) are great. Crank out more of those babies. Races and classes? I’ve had enough.

  24. Scott: I’ve posted a new preview of the rest of the RPG 2011 Spring catalog, check the front page for it!

    Syrsuro: Sorry I didn’t get back to you soon enough, but yes that is the catalog text and it appears it will be introducing new classes.

    Charisma: That is, and has been, the problem of playing D&D while new content like classes are being released. I don’t really think it’s a reason for them to not release new player content, and I think it will fade away once they’ve hit something akin to a critical mass of content (which I think they’re getting close to with 4E). From everything I’ve heard from WotC designers (last year at GenCon specifically), they are aware of the critical mass of content so I expect they will be dwindling down on the new races and classes soon.

    That said, there is still the Elemental power source that was mentioned in the core books that we have seen nothing for, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some things for that in the next year or two.

  25. Shilling says:

    Elemental power source? I always assumed that arcane magic hailed from the Elemental Chaos, or draw from it. Hmm.


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