Review: Heroes of Shadow

The book Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow is the first real print product we have seen for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons since the Essentials line and also marks what I hope is the end in what I perceived as a lag in print products for the game. Heroes of Shadow was delayed from March until April so that it could be printed as a hard cover book instead of a smaller format paperback, and I am very pleased with having a larger sized hardcover in my hands with 4E content in it after months without one. What this book contains is exactly what you would expect from a book focusing on player characters that tap into the shadow power source and draw their inspiration from the darker corners of your D&D universes. Its contents range from entirely new classes to new builds for existing classes to new races and more than a handful of new options for characters of all types that want to have a bit darker tilt to their abilities.

My first impression of this book is that it is a perfect combination of the production level of the original 4th Edition books with the quality of content that we have come to expect as 4th Edition and Essentials have progressed. One of the highlights that has stood out to me so far is that in reading through the book nearly every option presented for players seems appealing and immediately playable to me whereas in many 4E products usually 1/3 of the content has felt too specific or restricted for me to consider using it right away, in this book it seems like once you are past the primary caveat of wanting to play a character based in using the shadow power source many of the options are very interesting. If you are at all interested in playing classes like the Assassin and the Blackguard, races like the Revenant and the Shade, or making a Wizard that specializes in necromancy then this is a book that you will definitely want to pick up!

Details of the Book

The book is hardcover and is 159 pages long, overall the production quality appears to be top notch and consistent with some of the best 4th Edition content we have seen to date if not better. Classes included are the Essentials build for the Assassin, the Black Guard build for Paladins, the Vampire presented as a full class, and a Binder build for Warlocks. A selection of shadow based powers are presented for Clerics including some focusing on the death domain, as well as a selection of new warlock powers and the new Gloom Pact for the Essentials Hexblade build and the full Necromancy and Nethermancy schools for Wizards.

Races presented in the book include the new rules for the Revenant, the Shade race that represent people who have traded their souls to the darkness in exchange for new abilities, and the Vryloka that are aristocratic pseudo-vampiric humanoids. At first I was unimpressed with the Vryloka but as I read more about their concept and back story I was reminded of the first time I ever read about Tieflings and I started to enjoy the race more and brainstorm various interesting character ideas that could be used with this race. On top of that both the Shade and the Vryloka have a racial feature that inherently allows you to swap out utility powers for racial utilities which I think allows for some further customization and character to be added to the race and is an interesting design decision for the game. Lastly the book includes quite a few pages to the classic D&D races and how they relate to the shadow power source and presents ideas for shadow characters of each of those races.

The next chapter is simply called Shadow Options, but what it presents are numerous paragon paths, epic destinies, feats, and other resources for all types of characters that can tie them to the shadowfell and the elements this book is all about. The Paragon Paths included and a bit about their prerequisites are:

  • Battleweaver (arcane illusion characters)
  • Dark Watcher (good or lawful characters)
  • Disciple of Razaundra (Warlocks – Gloom Pact)
  • Dusk Oracle (training in insight and religion)
  • Nocturnal (Primal characters)
  • Ravenkin (arcane, trained in religion)
  • Shadow Dancer (teleportation powers and stealth)
  • Shadow Shaper (Wizard, illusion spells)
  • Shadowthief (arcane characters)
  • Veiled Master (training in stealth and perception)

The Epic Destinies presented in the book are:

  • Guardian of the Void
  • Keeper of the Everflow
  • Marshal of Letherna
  • Twilight Tribune

One element that surprised and intrigued me is that all of the new epic destinies have powers that are enhanced if more than one character of the same epic destiny is present in the encounter, meaning a Guardian of the Void is boosted if there are more Guardians of the Void around. This confused me at first but I can see it adding some interesting roleplaying and game play elements into a campaign as two characters decide to pick the same destiny or even the entire party devotes itself to the same shadow-based cause and the majority of them choose one of these epic destinies. This is an interesting design move for WotC and I will be watching future Epic Destinies to see if it continues or how it’s built upon in upcoming products.

At the end of the Shadow Options chapter there are a handful of new feats, some for the new races but mostly just a selection of feats that build on the shadow themes already set forth by the book. I did notice that it seems like for the most part the feats are mostly free of prerequisites which seems to be a trend lately of making the majority of feats more accessible to a wider range of characters, and I think that with very thematic feats like those presented in this book that is a good decision. Lastly there are a handful of new adventuring gear items presented that relate to the shadowfell and to the assassin class, but there’s really nothing ground breaking here in the form of items and no new magic items are presented which I think is a missed opportunity.

A Few Months of Anticipation

I have to say right up front that this book was the only book in the last several months that I have been really excited for, not just for a seeming lull in 4E content but also because back in June I posted the preview catalog shot of the cover and ever since then I have been waiting and waiting for things like the Black Guard, more support of the Assassin class, and most of all a more complete option for Necromancy in 4th Edition. Back then I posted the catalog snippet for this book, and I will post it again here:

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.

It was made pretty clear back then, and I had my share of concern about it, that this book was a clear progression from the Essentials D&D products into the future products for 4th Edition. So that raises what may be one of the biggest questions about this book…

Is it Essentials?

Many people when they pick up this book are going to feel like it is an Essentials D&D product, and the book even states at the bottom of the first page of content in the ‘About This Book’ section that it is a supplemental book designed to be the next step after the two player’s books from Essentials. This bothered me, and I imagine it’s going to bother quite a few of you as well, so what I have set out to do is to look at the book in an objective manner and determine what in the book is explicitly Essentials content and what can apply to the 4E content before Essentials.

The Assassin class is presented in the same style and format as the Essentials classes, and though the class has daily powers in the form of poison items it can use it clearly lacks encounter powers chosen as you level up and so I would categorize this pretty clearly as Essentials content. The same can be said for the Black Guard Paladin build and the Vampire class, they are presented in the Essentials formatting, style, and they clearly lack choices for encounter powers as they level so I’d say they are obviously Essentials as well. The Binder build for Warlocks is presented in the Essential formatting, but the power progression appears to be the same as other Arcane classes both regular 4E and Essentials, encompassing options for the Star Pact and the Gloom Pact, and though I would pretty much call this an Essentials class as well it seems like it would be incredibly easy to swap powers and builds with a regular 4E Warlock so I’m going to call this one Essentials but perfectly compatible with regular 4E.

So all of the new classes are basically Essentials material, but the 7 pages following those classes that present new shadow based powers for Clerics and Warlocks are clearly intended to be used with all 4E content, and even the 4 pages in that section specifically for Warpriest powers can be incredibly easily used by any 4E cleric no matter the build. The 4 pages for the Hexblade Gloom Pact seems like it would be harder to use as a non-Hexblade Warlock, so I’m considering that Essentials style content. The next 12 pages are filled with new Wizard powers for the Necromancy and Nethermancy schools of magic, and the book clearly states that ANY Wizard can choose these spells. This is where I see a clear presentation decision from WotC in the distinction between Essentials content and regular 4E, these pages of powers are followed by 4 pages that specifically cover the Essentials Mage build for Wizards and covering how they specialize in either of these two new schools, but from what I can tell out of those 12 pages of new Wizard powers only the one or two summoning powers reference the Mage schools while the rest are perfectly accessible to any type of 4E Wizard. To me this was a pretty clear indicator that some content is specifically designed to be compatible with all 4E content and some is designed to cover the bases of the new Essentials options that have come out.

The new races all incorporate some of the recent changes in race design introduced with Essentials, but the presentation in both style and formatting is largely the same throughout 4E so I’m going to call this non-Essentials content because it would be right at home in any 4E book. All of the Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, with the exception of one or two paths that specifically require an Essentials build to take, are 100% compatible with all 4E content. The handful of new feats are also perfectly compatible with all 4E content.

If you were to ask me if the book Heroes of Shadow is an Essentials D&D product, I would say no on the principle that it does not say Essentials on the cover and that I have a pretty clear definition of what the product line was and entailed. However, I don’t feel that WotC has done a sufficient job making the definitions clear, and so I would say that this book very heavily favors Essentials content (especially in the front end of the book) and that it presents more new options for Essentials characters than for base 4th Edition characters. I think it is a shame that the book does not contain rules for creating a regular 4E Paladin Black Guard, Warlock Binder, or Gloom Pact Warlock character, but I am very happy to see options for Necromancy that are available to all Wizards and a slew of shadow based powers for all Clerics and Warlocks. Certainly you could take any of the content in this book and adapt it to non-Essentials characters, but I’m judging it on the basis of minimal effort needing to be put forth to make use of the content within the rules presented.

I think that what this book tells us about the direction for 4E D&D that WotC is taking is that new class design will be following the guidelines set forth in the Essentials products. New races, feats, items, and monsters all follow a new set of guidelines that came around mostly with Essentials, but I think the place we feel the difference the most, and the place where we really care, is in the design of classes. Overall I feel that this book tells us that the primary design direction for 4th Edition is going to be supporting the Essentials style of character classes, but with the vast array of options already available to non-Essentials classes (especially when it comes to powers), I have to really debate with myself if this is so much of a bad thing or not. Do I really want 2 new encounter powers to choose from amongst the 11 that I already have for my character? Perhaps if they were very specifically Shadow based powers, and I think that if you really search within this book you can find those powers and simply extract them for whatever character you may have.

So is it a Valuable Book?

If you’re interested in trying out new classes, whether they’re essentials or not, then yes this book is definitely worth it. If you’re even slightly interested in the darker aspect of heroic characters, most specifically in relation to death, necrotics, and the Shadowfell then this is a must-have book for you. If you like Assassins, Black Guards, Vampires, Shades, or Undead then this book will have a good selection of content that will be of specific interest to you. However, if none of these apply, or you’re looking specifically for shadow based abilities that aren’t for the Cleric, Warlock, or Wizard than this book doesn’t really present much that you’d be interested in.

I encourage you to check out Neuroglyph’s review of this book on EN World, and his own blog post discussing his more personal feelings on the product. A decent chunk of my own review was influenced by reading the book yesterday and today and then checking out his review first, so I thank him for staying up all night (a task I myself was not quite up to) just to review it so quickly!


  1. If the criteria of whether a class is “Essentials” is whether or not it follows the same at-will/encounter/daily/utility structure of PHB one and two, then classes found in PHB3 also qualify.

    Also, freelancers (like Claudio Pozas) have confirmed that they worked on Heroes of Shadow before Essentials came out and that the Essentials primer/guide they got part way through the process changed nothing about the mechanics they submitted as it was about formatting and presentation only.

    We really need to stop manufacturing edition wars. Especially when the criteria for what we’re fighting over is met by products both released and worked on prior to the release of a product we arbitrarily decide is the new edition.

    Breaking away from At-will/Encounter/Daily/Utility power organization goes back way, way further than Essentials. Considering the lead time of projects like PHB3, the expansion outside of the AEDU framework was probably born just shortly after the release of PHB2.

  2. Nathaniel: Thanks for the comment! Unfortunately I think you are going a bit extreme in the other direction in an effort to NOT “manufacture edition wars”.

    Though I may have worded it poorly, the deviation from At-will/Encounter/Daily/Utility that I mention in the post is that of a class having one encounter power, introduced at first level, of which they get multiple uses as they level up. This is pretty much THE mechanic introduced for Essentials Martial characters (and some of the Divine/Primal Essential classes as well), and it is the same structure we see for the Assassin, Black Guard, and Vampire. The Binder Warlock follows the exact same build as the Arcane Essentials classes. None of them follow the Psionic mechanic seen in PHB3, and they do not deviate from the A/E/D/U formula except in the exact same ways as the Essentials classes.

    I was not saying that any deviation from the 4E class structure means it’s Essentials, what I meant is that these classes are clearly using the exact Essentials mechanics. Sorry for the confusion! Also I think this pretty well proves that, if what Claudio Pozas said is true, what they received was not just about formatting and presentation but included mechanics design as well (which does not surprise me, as mechanics were changed in Essentials).

  3. Consider me a non-participant in edition wars. Play whatever you like. I have no interest in the desire that people have in dividing into two camps over whether or not they like a given game product except to point out that the distinctions are not as clear cut as they would like once they take into consideration design time tables and development processes.

    After freelances submit work as designers, it goes through the regular development process. We simply have no way to know if the one-type multiple use encounter attack power format existed prior to the Essentials products in any meaningful way or if the developers changed the classes to match the other two Heroes of X books during their portion of working on the project.

    I’d like to read more product reviews based on how something works in actual play and the merits of the mechanics therein. Instead we get the largest section of your review talking about whether or not the book should be considered part on one product line or another. Imagine if those paragraphs were spent reviewing the content of the book as a game product.

  4. I think we’re going to see that with “Essentials style” builds, in the long run we will end up geting more quality content – due to the fact that an Essentials character can be more easily created to avoid breakages.

  5. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this lucid, in-depth, well-written review completely lacking in nerdrage. I stand behind my statement that Critical Hits is the best blog in gaming– no matter your edition. Outstanding.

  6. EnsignExpendable says:

    What I find disappointing is that @Bartoneous had to devote so much of the review to investigating what was more for Essentials characters and what was useful for 4E characters. Okay that wasn’t the most disappointing, it was more disappointing that I found that one of the most useful parts of the review (great review by the way, the whole thing was useful).

    It seems like we might be destined to future books being hybrids like this, trying to support all players and not really supporting many at all fully (I’m not trying to speak for people that are happy with the kitchen sink approach to their 4E games. That’s cool and I think you’ll be happy). I’m far less likely to commit to spending money on a book that I’m only going to be interested in some of the content. Where as the PHB[1-3], DMG[12] and MM[1-3] contain complete books of information that I’m interested in this doesn’t really sound like it does. There have been plenty of interesting supplements that have also provided a good read from cover to cover: Open Grave…, Demonomicon, Draconomicon[12], Campaign Settings. But it looks like WoTC have painted themselves into a corner with the Essentials brand (I use the term brand instead of product line because it’s here that much of the confusion over what is Essentials and what is not is stemming from, not the actual content on its own) and now are trying to support both Traditional 4E players and ones who prefer Essentials.

    Now I’m not suggesting that WoTC drop support for Essentials players after promising them so much with the first few products, that would be terribly unfair, but they do seem to have left themselves in a bit a of a mess. Probably the best thing to do when they have limited resources is to actually push it forward and make Essentials 4.5E and drop support for 4E, but they are probably scared of that after what has happened before. Also they’ve promised not to do that publicly and they’re not really in the general scheme of things riding high on a sea of trust at the moment. Not to mention that would really annoy me, but I can still happily play with my existing 4E books.

    And while they have left themselves in a mess they have left me, and judging from talk on twitter and forums others too, in a state of confusion regarding what was a fairly clean, if complicated compared to some, RPG. It might be easier to navigate all the options if you are using the character building but I don’t have a DDI account as I don’t rent my RPGs (I don’t have a problem with people that do) so I can’t really comment on that.

    All in all, for me, the whole process of adding Essentials into the mix has had the effect that I haven’t been interested in buying many D&D products recently. I didn’t think much while flipping through the Heros of the Something Lands books, I don’t need printed tokens, fortune cards don’t excite me, the Red Box I suggested to my Brother in law he should get and when I saw the contents realised he would have been happier with a PHB. I might still get the Monster Vault, that looks good.

    This has had the effect that I’ve had more spare money to spend on more Indie games and board games and I’ve just ordered the new Battletech boxed set, yay! So overall the introduction of Essentials has enhanced my general gaming experience while not disturbing my enjoyment of my 4E games (my PHB and DMG didn’t rot and fall apart when the new models came out, and they are still up to the minimum spec needed to play new adventures I write). That actually sounds like a win and makes me feel much better about things.

    Thanks for listening internet councilors.

  7. Nathaniel: To each his own in the end, I’m sorry that my review included more content that you didn’t like rather than some more substantial discussion of what could be useful in play. Though I will stand by parts of that in the sense that discussing how the rules in this book interact with base 4E and Essentials (both) is discussing how something works in actual play and also discussing some of the merits of the mechanics. No matter what the design and production processes are, this style of class mechanics was introduced in the Essentials books and I imagine the large majority of people now associate a class that gains one encounter power, but multiple uses of it, with the Essentials rules. At no point have I considered this anything close to an “edition war”, because to me discussing base 4E and Essentials is talking about the same edition of the game.

    Jim: You may be right, I’m interested to see how they design classes going on from this book.

    Jason Dawson: You’re welcome, and thank you!

    EnsignExpendable: Glad you found it useful, and thanks for sharing! Glad to have some support behind my decision to split the review in the way that I did.

  8. Nathaniel: No one in manufacturing anything. Many people are opposed to the direction that Essentials represents. Other, smarter, people have listed these objections, so I will not recount them here. Suffice it to say Essentials is not the game we want and not what was advertised.
    The problem, though, is not the author, or even the Essentials line of products. It is WotC. There has been nothing said, written, suggested, hinted or implied that anyone there sees any problem at all. Every official post from WotC is a head-in-the-sand response that, “all is well”. Maybe Essentials is the future of the game and maybe it’s not, but that is not the point now. We, you and me, are at odds because we don’t know what is going on.
    Let me restate, I am glad you like the game as is. I do not, but that is not the point anymore. The producers of this game we both love aren’t telling us anything so we are sniping at each other out of an ignorance imposed upon us all.

  9. Player’s Options? They didn’t think it was a good idea to leave that title dead after 2E? Our April Fool’s joke is coming true!

    I’m actually pretty blissfully ignorant of the “edition wars,” as I haven’t played much 4E since the Essentials line launched. I do find your review quite helpful in understanding what some of the differences are between the “core” products and essentials–this is appreciated since these sorts of reviews often devolve into rants.

    Amusingly enough, I’ve never played a “dark” character class until the D&D 0E clone my group started playing recently. I guess I’ve just always over-bought into the “Points of Light” concept.

  10. are any of the cleric powers strength based? plz reply

  11. Lou Wainwright says:

    Just ordered it. Thanks for the review for getting me off the fence. I’m appreciate getting a clearer picture of what is there besides the new classes. I admit to being saddened about not getting some a few uncommon and rare shadow magic items, but it sounds good otherwise.

    And just to throw my two cents in, I distinctly prefer ‘4E Essentials’ to ‘4E Regular’. First because my main players are 7, 8 and a wife, and Essentials makes for a much easier introduction to the game. And I really like the ‘re-use the 1st level encounter power’, frankly because it is less table space, and less analysis paralysis. That said, while I am only a causal observer of the issues, I really don’t understand the ‘4.5’ comments. I’ve run Regular and Essentials characters at the same table, and as far as I can tell it was seamless. The DM mechanics that have been updated for essentials are, again IMO, just good continual improvement (like getting rid of the daily power magic item glut) and have made running games easier for me, but, unlike 3.5, have never made me feel like I’m having to keep double checking new rules. It’s all been good.

  12. can the reviewer confirm whether there are any strength based cleric powers? thanks

  13. CrowOfPyke says:

    I do not like Essentials. It is not my cup of tea when it comes to DND play – I find it too simple for my taste… at least when it comes to playing DND. I also don’t like 3.5 DND – too many inconsistent rules to argue over. I find that 4e is my happy spot.

    I agree with EnsignExpendable. I have found my money has gone to other games since WOTC started putting out Essentials. I haven’t bought much in the way of DND in a long time as a result. Thank you for the review, it is enough to let me know that I will *not* be buying or including Heroes Of Shadow in any DND game I run or DM, or play in. I was really hoping for a solid 4e product with HOS, but alas WOTC decided otherwise. Oh well. I don’t waste my money, and it doesn’t bother my 4e play in the least, so yes, thank you for the review.

    Serenity rpg, Star Wars rpg, Stargate rpg, Shadowrun, and even Apocalypse World and Dread have seen my “DND money” go to these games instead. I have the DND game I want even if WOTC has decided to basically not print any more 4e products, and I have other games to play and spend money on now as a result. Win-win for me.

    Appreciate the review, it was a good help.

  14. Wow, thank you for your very well-detailed review of each section of Heroes of Shadow, including answering the big question on pretty much every D&D gamer’s mind: How much is Essentials, and how much is simply plain old D&D 4e. Outstanding review.

  15. ok found out from a dude theres no strength cleric powers, they are all basically warpriest

  16. Don’t get me wrong. Your review was rock solid. The Essentials issue is what’s on lots of people’s mind and it is the type of thing most people want to read about.

    I’m just disappointed that the issue has been so prevalent for the last few months that it pretty much frames every discussion, product review, etc., regarding new products.

    I didn’t intend to be rude when I said I’d rather have seen more time spent in the review on the content’s potential for play rather than an analysis of how “essentials” it is. I guess I just have Essentials discussion fatigue. My apologies if it came across as rude.

  17. Kirk: I’m curious if you think there are already enough options for the base 4E content, or if you’d like to see future books like Divine/Arcane/Primal/Psionic Power 2? To me the Essentials material is similar to the PHB3 material, it’s a different presentation of mechanics with a different feel but it’s all still very 4E to me.

    Charlie White: I thought they announced 5E several years ago? 😛 I’m also not clear on how the Points of Light setting implies non-dark character concepts, but that might just be difference in campaign views more than anything else.

    Lou: You’re welcome and thanks for the comment! I was also sad to not see some Shadow magic items, especially things like Frostmourne to go along with the Arthas-clone on the cover!

    CrowofPyke: While I strongly encourage playing other RPGs, especially indie-RPGs, I do have to raise contention with saying anything like “WotC has decided not to print any more 4E products”. The Essentials books and any book that supports them is very clearly 4E, and let’s also not forget any future Monster and DM books that should be pretty clearly 4E like the upcoming Shadowfell book. The distinction should be “they’ve decided to support primarily Essentials 4E when it comes to player mechanics”. I’m a firm believer that simplifying things like that to just “no 4E products” is a big factor in causing flame wars and other crap like that.

    Kilsek: Thanks!

    Nathaniel: Thanks for clarifying and no harm done! I actually agree that I should have done some more in-depth analysis of the mechanics in the book, but I ended up balancing that out with getting the review up super early whereas normally I take another day or two just to read through all of the book’s rules in detail (which I’ve since done). We’re planning on playing with some of the classes to see how they work then posting about it in the next week or two.

  18. I just want Nathaniel to know that they are not alone.
    My home game has both a Rogue and a Knight. Release 4e and Essentials 4e all in one game. All feats are used. No problems or fights amongst the players.
    I don’t see a division, I see a progression.
    Power Points were a progression. No one talks about Pre-PH3 characters. It’s a different look., a different format in the book. But it plays the same, and it gave my players options, and everyone has something they can enjoy.
    But it’s the same game, honest.

  19. I’ve been running a mixed game since the red box came out. We’ve had over 90 encounters with a mixture of characters from all books. When it comes to actually playing the game, there’s no problem whatsoever mixing HoFL/HoFK characters and PHBx characters.

    Every now and again I hear DMs talk about running an “Essentials only” or a “PHBx only” game. One thing I think they need to think about is that 4E really nails the balance issue. The amount of broken builds or builds that exploit a given loophole are probably the lowest they’ve ever been in D&D. The DM can let the players do what they want when it comes to their characters and it all works. There is simply no need to disallow a class because you don’t like it’s mechanics. Let the player who’s actually playing the thing decide if it’s any fun.

  20. Bartoneus: I do think there is enough to hold me for a while. I was looking through the Martial Power 2 just yesterday and found a number of nifties that I’d love to play with. And while I cannot disagree that Essentials material is compatible with 4E in many ways, I would prefer more allong the line of the “Powers” line.
    However, I find the reduction of options, the content arrangement that has been referred to as “dumbing down” (I’ll try to avoid being quite so infamatory), the D&D colletable trading cards, the lack of minis and their replacement with pogs, among other personal frustrations (I like a bit of fluff) all make this feel like D&D lite.
    What really bugs me, however, is the total lack of acknowledgement from WotC that anyone is complaining. I would like to hear SOMETHING. I would be happy with any of the following:

    1) We hope you like Essentiials, we now bring you all that we were giving you before, already in progress
    2) Essentials is an outstanding part of our product catalogue and we expect to continue offering it as one element of our product line.
    3) Essentials is the direction we are taking. It is not D&D 4.5, but it is the kind of content you can expect from now on.

    My only real gripe is the lack of any answer to the fuindamental question of “Where are you going?”. If Essentials is it, great, I don’t like it but, at least I know.

  21. Kirk: I agree with everything you said. WotC needs to be much more transparent. We are rabid fans that will gobble up D&D products.
    However, I take exception to the use of the words “dumbing down”.
    I feel that it is that kind of language that causes the rifts and the edition wars. Though I will note you were quoting others who have said that and maybe it isn’t how you feel.
    I’m an experienced DM with experienced players, and we don’t feel our games are dumbed down in any way.
    If Essentials was the only option, I might get that feeling. But the original classes and races are still available as an option.
    It’s an option. It’s an option. I just want to stress that Essentials is an option.

  22. When you have a class that doesn’t get to pick encounter powers or dailies or whatever, you are simply changing the tactical puzzle. There’s no dumbing down at all in the change between the tactical puzzles of a) choosing which power to use in a given circumstance and b) figuring out how to make your limited choice work in a given circumstance.

    Today I ran a game with a new gloom pact binder at the table. It worked fine. I didn’t notice any difference between it and any other controller in terms of it’s ability to defeat my monsters. It was neat and new and all that. The DM simply doesn’t have to worry about what the player’s choose. It’s just so easy to let each individual participant choose the options they like rather than banning new books because of individual preference issues.

  23. Bunnyloaf says:

    I haven’t had any problems mixing essentials and 4E together so far. The times I’ve had problems is explaining which books go with which books for new players. It’s been pretty common for people at the store I visit to be confused about whether to buy a player’s handbook or the essentials equivalent and which books go with that.

    The review helps a lot, at least for my group. If a player asked me about it, I could say it’s fully compatible with HotFL and HotFK, with some material that can be used with PHB1.

  24. I’m very sad to see such a heavy emphasis on Essentials-style classes in Heroes of Shadow. I’ve tried playing Essentials and can’t stand the changes in the way classes work – there are less choices of powers but also more choices of how to use the powers (no longer having to make tradeoffs to decide if you want to be able to force movement or do knockdown or something else – it’s all just one power). To me, Essentials is *not* 4e and HoS (which I pre-ordered mostly due to complete lack of any reference to Essentials on the product page) will likely be my last D&D book.

  25. Despite having no particular preference between PHBX classes and HoX classes, I think I’m going to give Heroes of Shadow a pass. I’m rediscovering my preference for human and demi-human good guy races and classes.

  26. If I wanted Essentials style play, well, there’s always the editions that Essentials style products were designed to emulate. Full game editions, replete with a wealth of material to utilize. I think it’s a tragic undermining of 4e’s potential to return to design choices that were integral to the playstel of the editions Essentials wished to emulate so as to try to draw those who left because 4e was “too MMO-y” and “all classes played the same.” I can’t help but feel betrayed by WotC trying to cater to those people by changing the game just for them, when I was happy and buying the product that came out with PHB1.

  27. Finally looked over a copy of HoS last night, and was quite excited about the fluff – the flavor was excellent for the classes, and even moreso with the races! Love the revenant’s extended detail in particular.

    However, I’m not sure about this Essentials presentation either. On one hand it’s nicely organized by level. On another, there’s sometimes no or very few “great” choices at each level.

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s the complexity of character creation and class advancement that’s the problem with 4e. One-time character creation? Lots of choices are awesome! Advancement? Same thing.

    IMO, it’s the overlong 60 minute combat duration average where they need to focus better design, not class presentation. This class presentation thing has been beaten to death, and it’s just not the true answer for whatever simplicity they were looking for.

    There’s hacking at branches, and then there’s hacking at roots!


  1. […] Review: Heroes of Shadow Check out Critical Hits' review of Heroes of Shadow. "My first impression of this book is that it is a perfect combination of the production level of the original 4th Edition books with the quality of content that we have come to expect as 4th Edition and Essentials have progressed." […]

  2. […] Review: Heroes of Shadow from Critical Hits ” RPG ( […]

  3. […] else. Any other review of 4e I did at this point would just really annoy 4e fans. Other sites do better reviews of 4e stuff than I do […]