Tuesday, November 6, 2012

D&D 4: Heroes of the Feywild Review

I'm not going to cover this one in exhausting detail as I assume most of the people interested in this sort of book probably already have it. There is nothing in this book that is absolutely essential to a D&D campaign, but it is full of good and useful stuff that can definitely enhance a campaign. The reason I'm doing this now is that a lot of this material wasn't used in my previous campaign and is only showing up in the one I'm running currently.

We open with a 20 page chapter about the Feywild. This is good for players who may not own the Manual of the Planes and other more DM-focused books that discuss this stuff. Assuming your campaign uses the concept, of course.

New Races:

  • Hamadryad or just "Dryad" in my opinion. If the Wilden in PHB3 were too plant-y for you, here's an actual Dryad racial choice. The mechanics are good and the background is interesting so it seems solid to me.
  • Pixie - hey, a tiny-sized PC race! With Flight! And the racial ability to throw pixie dust on a friend to let them fly for a round! I'm not kidding about that last one either! There is a certain type of player that will instantly gravitate towards this kind of character, probably as a bard or a rogue. It's a great addition.
  • Satyr - whoa, hey, wasn't someone looking for a Satyr as a racial choice a while back? Again, the mechanics are fine and the background is interesting
One thing these options do is make a 4E Mythic Greece campaign even more playable, as there is more mechanical support that is properly flavored. 

New Class Options:

  • Berserker (Barbarian) - Between the PHB2 barbarian and the Battlerager Fighter from Martial Power I thought we had this covered but apparently not. He's more Martial and less Primal, with a mix of both in his powers. He's a mix of Defender and Striker as well as he has an Essentials-Knight style Defender Aura but he loses that when he flips out and rages and I have to admit I kind of like that mechanically to reflect a certain kind of character. Basically he rages whenever he uses a Primal power and though he loses the aura he gets a damage bonus to his melee basic attacks and some Martial powers. In a nod to old school barbarians he also has to pick a type of homeland which grants certain benefits. So mechanically he can play Defender - I probably would not want him as the primary defender but he would be fine as a second - then he can flip into boosted damage mode and start really hurting people. I don't know that he does as much peak damage as a Ranger or Rogue but considering that his At-Wills will be doing Weapon + Str + d8 I think his overall damage output looks pretty good. The total package is a lot like an old school barbarian, though without the aversion to magic: light armor, high hit points, high mobility, and a high damage output. I am tempted to play one of these myself.
  • Skald (Bard) - This looks like another nod to the old school, and the AD&D Bard that was a sort of prestige class at the back of the original PHB. "Arcane and Martial Leader" - yep. Solid weapon choices and armor up to chainmail - yep. An aura 5 for his healing abilty and a lot of his powers represent his singing - yeah, I like this. I think someone might have played the old Bard's Tale computer game from Interplay too, as his At-Will powers are minor actions that give a boost to an ally within the aura. Many of his encounter and daily attack powers have a debuff effect while his utility powers tend to be ally buffs. I don't think I have seen any other class where so many of their powers are no actions, minor actions, reactions, and interrupts - SOP for this class appears to be making a basic melee (with Charisma instead of Strength) as a standard and then using powers as needed to orchestrate the battle. It's certainly a different style of character when it comes to mechanics and I am intrigued by how it would work in play.
  • Protector (Druid) - This is a summoning-centric druid. He is not going to be a strong melee combatant based on the class mechanics, but he gets to bring a friend who is all about the hand to hand fight. This summoning power takes the place of the normal daily attack powers and by 9th level the druid can do it 3 times per day. The summoned beastie gets nastier at level 15 and again at level 29 (which I think is awfully late to upgrade - why not 25?) Most of his At-Will powers are ranged  One other component of his powers is an encounter ability to pop the 4E version of entangle which as a minor could be used to lock an enemy down while the summoned beastie chews on them. I see a typical routine of Summon Ally - Nature Growth on round 1 followed next round by Spirit Briar (an At-Will that inflicts poison damage on an enemy that ends its next turn adjacent to a chosen ally - like maybe a summoned animal). He's supposed to be a Controller but I don't see all that many control type powers and quite a few of them are single-target. Several powers are Close Burst which seem like a bad idea for a lightly armored low hit point non-melee character. He does get more Wall powers than most other classes and again, that could be useful for penning in enemies to be eaten by your beastie. I don't know what it is with Druids in this edition but to me they seem to be the most difficult class to design, as quite a few of the options for Druid types just seem lacking in my opinion. This one doesn't look terrible but I would need to see it in play to really be convinced that it's great - at the very least it's stronger than the PHB2 Druid in most ways.
  • Witch (Wizard) - you lose the spellbook, gain a familiar (which grants some abilities and does some of the same things as a spellbook but better), and you get to pick lightside or darkside witch for some minor effects. Also, at level 5 you can turn someone into a frog! There are some fun looking powers in this list. Interestingly, a lot of the powers are melee/close blast/close burst, and I don't think this class is as tough as a Dragon Sorcerer, so that could spell trouble. There are some ranged abilities in there, but they are the minority. There is a lot of damage here for a Controller and a fair number of make-the-enemy-hit-a-buddy type powers as well and those are usually fun. I like it - I don't think it's as versatile as a typical Wizard or Mage but it does a lot of damage and has interesting extra effects - moreso than a typical Sorcerer, which is what it really feels like, the non-book magic tosser.

After classes we get Themes. These are a nice addition to 4E as another layer of character information besides race & class. They usually have something to do with ancestry or culture and have a stronger mechanical effect than a background in most cases. I do have experience with these as one of my players is running a Warlord with the Fey Beast Tamer theme, which means he runs around with a baby owlbear. It's been a source of much humor and it does give the party another body on the table when things get nasty and it could develop in some interesting ways down the road. There are 4 Feywild-related Themes in this book and I would allow any of them in my gae if they appealed to someone.
  • Beyond this we have 4 Paragon Paths and 3 Epic Destinies, all largely related to the classes in this book. 
  • The Feats include more options for familiars among other things. 
  • There is a Feywild gear section that has a lot of interesting non-magical equipment. An example would be cold iron shackles - a fey creature bound by them can't teleport. Not a magic item, just an interesting thing to have around.
  • There are some actual magical items and they are cool too like "Bottled Twilight" - open it and you have Dim Light within 10 squares of the bottle for the rest of the encounter. Flavorful and useful - just like it should be. There is also a selection of non-item magical gifts for the alternative rewards crowd.

Then we get to the last section of the book and it's the one I was the most surprised to see. It's called "Build Your Story" and it's a random background generator like the old Central Casting books. It's also Feywild-specific. It starts with "Upbringing" and you can roll or choose from the entries on the table and each option directs you to pick one of several other options, winding thru about 15 pages of material including civilized lands, wilderness areas, dark lands, and various events that may happen during the characters earlier life. Some of them involve skill or stat checks and making or failing those rolls affects the next section you go to in the book. This is all meant to be done prior to choosing your class and skills and such and it's a cool little tool to include in a book like this. Sure, a lot of players will come to the table with a concept ready to go, but if you want to get into details like place names and a sequence of events it's a handy little thing to help fill in some background.

As you might be able to tell by now I liked this book a lot. There is good background material, interesting mechanical variations, and just a whole lot of "good" and not anything that I see as useless or overpowered. I'd call that a win. It's a shame that we didn't have a nice long run of books like this one.

Perspective: Looking at some of the reviews that came out at the time the book was released - oh, more Essentials-vs.-non-Essentials 4.5E talk spilling over into reviews. What a waste of energy that turned out to be. In general most reviewers seemed to like this book better than the shadow book. Lots of fears about the Pixie being overpowered - I'm not so sure. Much love for the Berserker and mixed feelings about the rest. It's nice to be validated in some ways by reviews from a year ago. I think most people were encouraged by the quality of this book and had high hopes for the future of 4E material. Well, they did for a month or two longer anyway. Such a shame that the designers really got going just as the game was set to come to an end.

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