This weekend I picked up my pre-ordered copy of the Dungeons and Dragons players supplement, Heroes of Shadow. You can purchase Heroes of Shadow now at any “premier” Wizards of the Coast retailer. Heroes of Shadow will be available at other retailers, including Amazon, on April 19th. Now that I’ve had a chance to read through the book, here is a bit of broad-brush analysis:
I have to admit I have been a bit critical of this new class. Since I decided I would not play this class for the next season of encounters, I rolled up a level 5 vampire for a Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) game.
The LFR allowed me to choose a race that has not yet been “essentialized”. Ironically, the new races available in Heroes of Shadow do not make particularly good vampires. The vampire class naturally has some athletics, endurance, and strength bonuses (via utility power), so I chose to accentuate this by playing a Goliath. This racial choice also provided me another healing surge. With the durable feat, my vampire started with five surges instead of only two.
Despite my pessimism, I actually had a lot of fun with this character. At level three, it is feasible for a vampire to do 2d12 (Feral Assault encounter power) + 2d8 (losing a surge with the Feral Assault attack) + 1d10 (Blood Drinker encounter power… like power strike, but you gain a surge) + modifier/level damage. So for a level 5 vampire, with all things considered, it’s completely reasonable to 2d12+2d8+1d10+10 damage against a single target each encounter. At an average of around 40 damage, that is enough to knock some enemies off the board in a single blow.
Vampires get an emphatic thumbs up. Some might think the Vampire is over powered, but all a DM needs to do is say that an attack knocked off a Vampire’s hood (even on a miss) in broad daylight, and the character will take 10 radiant damage.
They are controllers, not strikers. Really. We mean it. I promise. Despite a formidable damage output, the Gloom Pact and Star Pact options both have some nifty abilities to control the battlefield. This is one of the options I’m considering for the next season of encounters, and both the Gloom and Star pacts appear to be solid builds.
Death Priest Cleric
The debuff cleric. It’s about time! This class offers the leader healing abilities every party needs, along with status effects that will help the party focus fire better than ever! Death clerics can reduce enemy defenses, and damage output. At level three they also receive a nifty burst three attack . Minions beware!
Nethermancy and Necromancy
We discussed these options a couple weeks ago when Wizards of the Coast previewed them, but now that the book is in my hands, these new Wizard builds do not disappoint. In particular, the Nethermancy school benefit is nifty, “Creatures hit by your arcane nethermancy attack powers treat enemies more than two squares away from them as having partial concealment until the end of your next turn”.
With a team of Wizards, one with beguiling strands and one with this, accompanied by a pair of ranged strikers, a tough dwarven defender, and one leader might just make the perfect party. I’ll be keeping Nethermancy in mind when WotC unveils the “super difficult encounters of death” (no, not Dark Sun) this fall.
Many people are happy that the zombies are back, and they received an upgrade! The Unnatural Vitality feature has changed. Now when you drop to zero hit points or fewer, you can choose to be dazed instead of falling unconscious. The difference is that you are only forced to fall down if you FAIL a death save! You just can’t keep a good zombie down.
Paragon Paths & Epic Destinies
Too numerous to discuss briefly, I think one of things I like most about the options available in Heroes of Shadow is that they generally have easy to meet prerequisites. Some classes will automatically qualify for many of these paths, but to create more unique combinations, you shouldn’t need to spend more than a single feat.
I actually like this class a lot. What I don’t like, however, is that all of this information was available to me months ago through my Dungeons and Dragons Insider account. Now, I’m all for sneak previews, and I don’t even mind WotC throwing “experimental” class builds out on DDI for people to try… but when the exact same content is published in two places, consumers of both Heroes of Shadow and DDI get shortchanged.
That said, the poison options alone will make this striker class very versatile. Given the poisons available, Assassins definitely lean toward controllers. With Garrote Strangle, however, they have some shady defender potential as well.
This is the class I was probably the most excited to see. Much like the Gloom Pact Hexblade, I just was not impressed. Both the Fury and Domination vice options confer benefits that allow Blackguard to due extra damage under certain circumstances. Other than that, there is not a lot of difference between Blackguard and and Slayer Fighters. Instead of Power Strike, which requires that you first hit an enemy, Blackguard have Dread Smite, which deals automatic damage regardless of a hit or miss. Although Dread Smite is an encounter power, as a DM I’m not a big fan of automatic minion killing attacks.
Gloom Pact Hexblade
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this new Hexblade option… it just doesn’t feel (at least mechanically) all that different from the Star, Fey, and Infernal hexblades already available. The only cool thing about this build is the at-will triggered ability that allows this class to gain insubstantial and phasing when an enemy drops to zero hit points.
The best way to explain this race is to call them Daywalkers. Some Vampiric strengths, but none of the nasty side effects. Mechanically, this race actually offers some interesting options. I dropped Vryloka into the because if you play a Vryloka Vampire, you are a Vampire Vampire. Or if you play a Revenant Vampire, you could even be a Vampire Vampire Zombie. Fortunately, a Vryloka Vampire is actually a terrible combination (mechanically, anyways).
This race garnered a lot of criticism at the game shop this weekend. The standing theory is that WotC did not want to bring back the Shadar-Kai, and instead produced this race. The best possible thing a player could do with this race would be to make a Shade Rogue. Unlike the Thief build, normal rogues have to work for combat advantage. The Shade race will allow rogues to become hidden from their enemies very easily.
I find this race to be interesting from a role playing perspective, but mechanically, it is bit disappointing for any option except rogue. My challenge to anyone crazy enough to try it would be to play a Shade Vampire and DO NOT take the Durable feat and DO NOT steal healing surges from allies during short rests. This means that you would only have one healing surge. Ever. If you can survive the next season of encounters this way, then you have my eternal respect (at least in the world of gaming).
The Heroes of Shadow players supplement contains 20 new shadowy feats. Well, 15 shadowy feats, as 5 of the new feats have nothing to do with “shadow”. They are useful, but fairly basic. Three of the new feats are for Revenants only. Of the feats that remain, five of them require you to first take the mediocre “Born of Shadow” feat. After all that, enjoy your six new feats.
Of the six feats in the “Born of Shadow” group, most of them are dependent on lighting. In full light, these feats confer no benefit. I don’t see many people taking these six feats seriously. I understand what they were trying to do with the “shadowborn” slant from a role playing perspective, but mechanically these options fall short. If the prerequisite were changed to “any creature with shadow origin or two shadow powers”, I think these feats might see a bit more play.
Should I Buy This?
Yes, yes you should. Although a few aspects of the Heroes of Shadow player supplement are lackluster, there is a lot of great content. The “Good” section listed above is really, really good. The “Bad” section is OK, but a little disappointing. And you will probably forget the items in the “Ugly” section ever existed.
This was a very opinionated piece, and I’m sure others have their own thoughts. Aside from the fact that this hard cover book won’t fit on a shelf with previous Essentials releases, what do you like or dislike about this publication? Are you looking forward to using one of these new builds for the next season of encounters?