I think I said this awhile ago, but Wizards of the Coast’s Essentials line has revitalized my love of D&D 4th Edition. Continuing with the excellent track record set by Heroes of the Fallen Lands is the latest release, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.
Like the previous volume, HotFK is the same paperback digest sized format, and targets the same price point – $20 retail, cheaper if you make use of Amazon or are a Borders Rewards member and make good use of timing and coupons. Like the previous book, it contains five new builds of four of the core classes, and redefines what, exactly, is ‘core’ in the first place.
For those keeping score, the previous book, HotFL, contained the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard – rebuilt as the Warpriest, Knight, Slayer, Thief, and Mage. This mirrored the original class structure of the oldest editions of D&D in several interesting ways, and offered a fresh perspective on what a martial class should look like, anyway. This new approach is simultaneously simpler to grasp for a new player (eliminating the worries about Daily powers, when to use them, and all attempts to rationalize why a fighter can only swing his sword like that once a day) while appealing to old-school D&D players who thought the classes were too similar, and that fighters were “casting spells.”
HotFK continues in this new tradition, rebuilding the Druid, Ranger, Paladin, and Warlock as the Sentinel, Hunter, Scout, Cavalier
, and Hexblade
The Sentinel, a new druid build, returns to the classes 3.5 roots by presenting the class as a weapon wielding Leader with an animal companion. I know I have one friend in particular who rejoiced when I told her of this change, as the lack of an animal companion for the druid stung her badly when 4e first came out. More impressively, it works. If anything, the beastmaster Ranger will have to be revised. The Sentinel does gain daily powers, as a proper spellcaster, but replaces some of its encounter options with multiple uses of the “combined attack” feature, allowing it to attack a target in tandem with its animal companion. This is a very hard hitting move, and it looks like it will work quite well.
The Hunter, one of two Ranger builds, continues the tradition of separating class from role by offering a primarily martial controller, with some strikerish leanings. The class dips somewhat unnecessarily in places into the Primal power source, but only for its stances and a few (optional) utility powers. This does, again, mark a return to the Ranger’s 3.5 and earlier position as a martial combatant who dabbled in nature magic. More importantly, it demonstrates the possibility of a martial combatant operating as a controller through skilled use of the bow. By combining stances with its Expert Archer feature the Hunter has a number of At-Will options modifying its basic attacks, including an area effect – Rapid Shot. Outside of combat, Wilderness Knacks will give the Hunter even more usefulness as a guide for the party, letting it fill the role offered by its flavor text that much more effectively.
The second of the two Ranger builds, the Scout, is similar but for one thing; it’s a pure melee striker. Focusing on mastery of two weapon attacks with some more primal dabbling (sharing utility powers and the stance mechanic with the Hunter), it looks dangerous and fun. It also shares Wilderness Knacks with the Hunter, but as a melee striker it has slightly better armor proficiencies. It also offers some customization by granting different benefits for different off-hand weapon choices.
The Cavalier is a new Paladin build that likewise nods to the roots of the class – that of a holy warrior who rides a noble steed. While the class itself does not provide a mount, some of its class features at higher levels do grant benefits when using one – making the possibility of getting one through other methods attractive, but not strictly necessary. More important to note, however, is that these benefits are limited to outside of combat. In terms of customization, it offers a choice of Virtues to uphold, each of which has particular benefits and powers associated with it.
Many of the essentials builds have improved non-combat utility, which can only be a good thing for those of us who recognize that 4th Edition is NOT (as some have claimed!) a miniatures combat system.
Finally, the Hexblade, another old favorite back with a vengeance. A Warlock build in this incarnation, the Hexblade is a striker who alternates between melee and ranged combat by using his Pact Weapon, a mystically created blade that symbolizes his bond with the source of his powers. Wand in one hand, sword in the other, the Hexblade is the first class to have powers which require both weapons AND implements, bringing new possibilities for 4th Edition out. The Hexblade also gains some summoning ability, usually to provide himself with artillery support as he moves into melee. The class, like the Warlock it shares powers with, is full of potential as an anti-hero archetype.
|That’s right – WE’RE core again!
… And we actually don’t look all that bad …
The book brings us the updated versions of the Tiefling, Dragonborn, Drow, Half-Elf, and Half-Orc (guess who’s core again!), and includes the Human as well, in case Heroes of the Fallen Lands didn’t strike your fancy. Each has been revised to include the latest errata, which is helpful for those who pay attention to the errata. It also retreads much of the world information, data about the gods of the D&D Pantheon, and alignments, which is good, as each book is intended to stand on its own as a player resource. As before, the flavor text for the races and classes is exceptional, and the mechanics work beautifully from the flavor outward. Exactly as it should be.
Added bonus points: if there was ever a book that could convince me to try playing a half-orc, this is it.
Final verdict: 9.5. Because 10 doesn’t exist.
In all seriousness, though, if this is the new direction of 4th Edition, I could not possibly be happier. Buy these books and support good game design, good fluff, and good D&D fun. Whether you’re a new gamer or a long-time 4e player, HotFL and HotFK will have something for you.