So I talked about Heroes of the Fallen Lands (HFL) last time, and I this time I want to cover Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (HFK) and the Monster Vault. I hope I get to the Monster Vault this time. There’s always so much to say… Anyway, I’ll do this pretty much the same way as last time — some general comments and then the Good Stuff and the Makes Me Crazy Stuff.
To get started, let me say that I’m surprised and not sure how to feel about two things. The first is that with the exception of the class and race sections of the two player books (HFL and HFK) everything is re-printed in both. I paid for a lot of duplicated pages. Of course, there are two sides to this. On the one hand, I’m a little annoyed that I paid for everything twice, especially considering that the bulk of the ‘rules’ are actually printed in a third book, the Rules Compendium. I question why there needed to be two books when so much of the book was duplicated. On the other hand, the upside is that a player only interested in one of the books gets a nice, inexpensive, attractive, digest-sized book with everything they need to get started and they don’t have to have both. So, really, it’s a toss-up, and at only $20 a book, not a bad deal either way.
The second is that they didn’t include the Warlord as an Essentials character. I realize that they were doing a little “hearkening back to the old days” here, and that the Warlord isn’t exactly an easy-mode character, but this leaves the Essentials series with only the Cleric as a ‘leader.’ Even stranger to me, the idea that the Warlord is not only a great, strong character concept, but also, the Warlord is a very 4E specific kinda class. It just seems that it would have made sense to me to include the Warlord instead of say… the Druid.
I won’t have as much to touch on here since last post I mentioned some general things about Essentials I really like, but I’m a huge fan of the new Ranger builds. The Scout and the Hunter are both wonderful. I love the Aspects, enjoy the new method of handling two-weapon for the Scout and I’m happy the Hunter gets the ability to shoot while in close combat without provoking OAs before the end of the heroic tier. This is good stuff. The paladin (cavalier) I could take or leave. I don’t hate it but I have nothing special to say about it either. I played Paladins in standard 4E and I was already a fan, so, this doesn’t add much for me, but it’s not bad either. I do like the idea of tying the paladin builds to virtues. The flavor of that is really cool and creates much more interesting imagery than previous versions (in my opinion). This trend of adding a different kind of flavor to the classes in Essentials is one of its greatest strengths (again, my opinion). I’m a pretty big fan of the changes to Dragonborn with the option to have CON. I like the update to the Half-orc and Half-elf. And I didn’t mention this before, but the new encounter power for humans is a really nice touch. I think it really points out their niche as the race known for it’s sheer perseverance. Humans were always good in 4E, now, they are even better, but in a way that fits their game-niche well and doesn’t make them too good.
Making Me Crazy…
Well, unfortunately, HFK is not, for me, nearly as good a book as HFL. As excited as I was about the first Essentials player book, this second one drained a good portion of that enthusiasm right out.
First — The Drow. You know, I was so proud of WotC when they expressly spelled out in the Forgotten Realms PG that Drow were EVIL. That people didn’t like them and that DMs should feel very happy to say NO to Drow. Drow were put back in their proper place (in my opinion) as villains. I don’t care about your two-scimitar-wielding-fan-service-second-cousin. Drow are the bad guys. So when I saw the return of the fan-service in HFK I was disappointed. I know it takes all kinds and I try not to be judgmental, but for me, Drow have no place as a PC race. Dragonborn, love ’em. Tieflings, yes please. Drow. No.
Second — The Druid. The druid shows off all the bad points of 4E without having any redeeming qualities. The very poorly designed animal companions, yep. Got those. The we’re not exactly sure what we want this character to be, we were just filling a slot, yep, got that. But let’s focus on the animal companions. The mechanics of this were created with the Beastmaster Ranger and despite all the work and good ideas that have trickled in to 4E since then, animal companions still don’t work. Why does my bear just stand there and take it when a goblin is chopping him up? Oh, right, I don’t have any more standard actions to spare… Animal companions were a pain in 3.5, it’s true. But the over-reactionary, we’ve-gone-too-far 4E method for handling them makes them something you might as well not have at all. Yes, I know they have auras. Big. Deal. They still just don’t do anything. The absurdness of the animal companion rules snaps my disbelief. Yes, I know this is a game with dragons and magic swords and Owlbears living on the 3rd level of dungeons where they’d never survive… but a bear that just stands around and does nothing if I don’t surrender my standard action… that reminds me that I’m just “playing a game” and makes me think about the rules instead of the story. In my book, that will always be bad.
Third — Tieflings. Don’t get me wrong. I love tieflings. I’ve played them several times and they might be my second favorite D&D race (behind Dwarves) but I keep asking myself the same question I asked about the Eladrin… why the stats the way they chose them? If 4E Essentials were mine to design, Eladrin would have been Charisma with a choice of Dex or Int. Tieflings would have been Int with a choice of Con or Cha. Not only does this seem to make more sense from a “Fluff” standpoint, it ties more closely to 3E with tieflings (who lost Charisma in that edition) and makes each better mechanically than they are now. It’s a small, small gripe. I know. And I’ll keep playing Tieflings, no question about it. I just wish it had been different.
Fourth — the Hexblade Warlock. I’m gonna indulge in a purely personal gripe here. I just find the new Hexblade silly. This is a point I don’t expect anyone to agree on, and I don’t even have good, solid, mechanical reasons for feeling this way. I just don’t like it. I laughed at it while reading it. Heck, I’m laughing as I write this… silly, silly, hexblade.
Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms Conclusion
For all that is good about Essentials (and I think that’s a lot. Essentials is a very good step forward for the the 4E line), I didn’t really like the majority of the new content in this book. I’d have made several different design choices given the option (and seriously Wizards, you guys should hire me!) (As if that’ll happen). The Warlord should have been included in the Essentials line — especially considering the Warlock made the cut, and the Druid. While I completely understand the business thinking behind including the Drow, for me that’s just a non-starter. Even seeing the Drow as a PC race makes me less likely to enjoy the product and I’ll just end up telling more players that they can’t play them now than ever before…
That said, my overall impression of the Essentials line is still very favorable and I think it was long-overdue. I’m considering running a few experimental Essentials only games to see how it feels… But still no Drow.
Well, this went pretty long again, so I think maybe I’ll save the Monster Vault for next time. Again, a small spoiler — this is a product I LOVE. So I’ll have lots of good things to say about it.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to discussing this as much as the last one.