Alright, so in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is (some of it, anyway; I got a really good deal!) I picked up a copy of Heroes of the Fallen Lands from the Borders near my university. And I read it. Several times.
It’s . . . very, very good, actually. Of course, I thought the same thing the first time I saw the 4E D&D Player’s Handbook. But in all seriousness, it’s very cool. Here’s a quick list of pros, cons, and noted oddities:
- The five builds presented (Warpriest, Knight, Slayer, Thief (seriously, how long has it been since D&D had an actual thief?) and Mage) are interesting, fun looking, and new player friendly, while being different enough from what came before to be worth looking at for long time 4e players. In addition, they correspond very nicely to the Classic 1e D&D classes; Cleric, Fighter, Thief and Magic User.
- Races; Human, Dwarf, Elf, Eladrin, and Halfling, again connect with D&D’s classic roots – back when Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling were the only choices there were.
- The new philosophy for the martial builds is really, really cool, and should make it much easier for a new player to get a handle on them.
- Feats are no longer separated by tier; old feats have been updated to balance their benefits across all tiers of play. This should make things easier to understand for a new player, too.
- The mage looks like an excellent take on the Wizard; Warpriest offers Clerics a melee option that still emphasizes Wisdom.
- The Essentials builds are still completely compatible with what’s come before. It’s explicitly stated that you don’t have to stick with what’s in the book; if you’d rather have a fighter utility power from the Player’s Handbook for your Knight, go right ahead.
- You don’t NEED everything that’s come before to start playing and having a good time.
- The rules are much better explained in this book than they were previously; Skill Challenges are explained well enough that they actually sound positive again (I especially like the sentence that informs us that they aren’t meant to replace actually roleplaying the interactions, but more as a DM guideline for situations that might be complex).
- The design of the book is very clean, uncluttered, and attractive, and the size makes it very portable – far more so than the average roleplaying book.
- Someone in the group – the DM – will still need to buy at least 2 other books in order to start playing. This isn’t a huge deal for a player who wants their own copy and doesn’t need a lot of clutter in the form of DM only sections, though.
- The book is good enough that reading it will make you want to read the others in the set. How is this a con? Well . . . um, I don’t know.
- Honestly, there really isn’t much wrong with this book. It’s really, really good, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’d like to try D&D 4E.
- What happened to rituals? I’m guessing they were left out because very few people really use them, but it’s still interesting that not ONE of the builds in the book features the Ritual Caster feat, nor is there any mention whatsoever of rituals anywhere in the book. Are they being reworked for later presentation? I kind of hope so.
Final verdict: I like it. A lot. I’d be willing to run 4E using Essentials builds, and I’d probably really enjoy playing in a game that allowed them (if only there were a 4E game within reach). 9.5/10.
Why 9.5? Reviewer’s secret: there is no such thing as a 10. Unless the designer bribed you personally. Or you’re dating his sister.
Obviously, I’m joking. In all seriousness, it’s a fantastic book, and a great way for new players to experience D&D 4th Edition.