Posted by : David Guyll September 11, 2010

Heroes of the Fallen Lands is the first of two player-centric books from the Essentials line, which is designed to let new players test the waters at a lower price before jumping in. It’s soft cover, which is something that I’m not fond of when it comes to my gaming books due to the fragile nature (honestly, this is my only complaint), but for the sheer page count and content the $20 price tag can’t be beat. Unlike most books, this one is “digest-sized”, meaning that it’s not only smaller and easier to lug around, but also probably less intimidating for newbies. It's very easy going, written with a friendly tone, to the point where complete newbies could easily skip Starter Set and start out here instead.

Now, in terms of races and classes it lacks the breadth and depth of its hardcover brethren, as there are only four classes that are relegated to 1-3 largely pre-built concepts (as opposed to choosing your own class features and powers as you advance in level) and five races. While this is limiting to me I'm not the intended audience, having been around since long before 4th Edition was considered, and had the luxury of being gradually exposed to the game’s ever increasing array of options. I find this book to be a logical transition from the Starter Set entry point, as players who started out with that will already have a good understanding of the game as well as character sheets, power cards, tokens, and dice to get things rolling.


Chapter 1 goes over rules basics and assumes that you know nothing about D&D despite ideally being your second step into the full-fledged hobby (perhaps analog RPGs in general). It goes over what the vanilla points of light world is like, the roles of the DM and players, tiers of play, skill checks, encounters, actions in combat, movement, hit points, resting, etc.


Chapter 2 is about making characters, informing you about the significance of the choices you make while building your character. It starts out by asking if you've gone through the Red Box, which isn't a bad idea because you'll probably already have a character in mind. Mostly this chapter is about going through the ropes, explaining to you what each option entails such as races and classes and their concepts, roles and ability scores and their definitions, how to calculate various statistics like hit points and Defenses, alignments, and deities. I like this chapter a lot as it let's you know whats-what before throwing you in so that you can get to the task of actually building a character.

Something that was of particular interest to myself was the table showing the options that will be available in Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms; apparently the hexblade (warlock striker) will debut there, along with the hunter, which is a ranger-controller. The druid also branches out into the leader role with the sentinel class. Finally, six other races like the half-orc and tiefling will also be there with the Essentials treatment.

Chapter 3 has an in-depth analysis on power structure and function. Power types, keywords, ranges, how to trace line of effect, secondary attacks, aftereffects, the list goes on. This chapter is a lot like Chapter 2, except entirely focused on powers.

Chapter 4 finally gets around to having you pick your class, which is odd because I’m normally accustomed to picking race first and then class. Where 4th Edition normally had you pick from a list of class features and considerably larger list of powers, here you make a few choices but for the most part jot down the class features given to you at each level, and some classes are more rigid than others. Knights and slayers get to choose their stances, while mages get to choose at-will, encounter, and daily spells in addition to their school of choice (which gives them another benefit). This strongly reminds me of 2nd Edition (which is the point), where fighters didn't get to make a lot of choices, except that here the knight and slayer aren't going to be carrying the mage around for the first five levels or so until he can solo the rest of the campaign.

Each class starts out with few paragraphs explaining the basic concepts of the class before guiding you step-by-step through the choices you make completing the character. It repeats the process for each class, and that's fucking awesome. Players can flip to any class that catches their eye and be carefully guided through the optimal choices for each class, from race to ability scores. Sure, at the start of the class it tells you that the key ability scores for the knight are Strength and Constitution, but when you get to the section where it tells you to generate your scores it also goes over what having high stats outside those two might mean. While it doesn't list every race, it will give you a paragraph about human and dwarf knights. Finally under skills it reminds you to consider why your character has the trained skills that she does.

Chapter 5 has the reworked dwarf, eladrin, elf, halfling, and human. The races are mostly the same, with the major change that they now get a set +2 to something and a variable +2 to one of two other stats so as to make them more flexible when it comes to class selection. This floating bonus is something that we've seen in Player's Handbook 3, and I'm not quite sure how I should feel about it. I mean, sure, since dwarves can get a Strength bonus they'll be even more uber as fighters, but it was never something I felt was necessary. I dunno. I just felt that 4th Edition was the first D&D version that really allowed you to get creative with race and class combinations without having to worry about optimization.

Dwarves see slight modification in that their Dwarven Resilience racial feature get's reformatted as a racial encounter power. It still has the same effect, you're just limited to it once per encounter. Me thinks this was done so as to prevent abuse with whatever feat it is that lets you use second wind twice per encounter in addition to keeping it more in line with other racial powers like second chance and elven accuracy.


On the other hand, human get a more significant alteration with their new racial power, heroic effort. This is something that was mentioned awhile back that lets humans add a +4 bonus to either an attack roll or save after seeing the result. Initially I thought this was supposed to be an option but apparently replaces the human's third at-will attack. I'm hoping that once it gets uploaded to DDI there will still be just one human entry with the choice of taking this or the third at-will, in a similar vein to how warlocks can choose from eldritch strike or eldritch blast

Additionally, all races get a lot more exposition this time around, easily twice as much if not more than what was devoted to them in Player's Handbook. Information on their origins, personalities, physical qualities, role-playing tips, communities, and ideal classes will provide a much better foothold for players to build a more vivid character.

Chapter 6 is for skills. It provides a new skill DC table and explains what easy, moderate, and hard means, taking 10, Aid Another, group checks, and skill challenges. Skills largely work the same but get much more in-depth descriptions and ideas on improvising the skill. The examples under Stealth are hiding an object in a room (opposed Perception), creating a hidden compartment or sheath (moderate DC), or embedding a hidden message in a letter (opposed by Insight). I think that the combination of extended descriptions and sample improv uses will go a long way in increasing creative 

Chapter 7 is feats. I'm very pleased with the changes made to feat presentation and implementation. It's been previewed and demonstrated already, but feats are lumped into categories that let you at a glance assess which feats will likely best fit your concept. Want a really tough hero? Scope out the Enduring Stamina tree. For a more skill-centric character, Learning and Lore has some shit for you.

Wizards has also done away with feat tiers, instead having feats that you take and "evolve" over time. No need to retrain at certain levels to snag the better defense-boosting feats, for example. When you take Superior Will the bonus will scale up with you in addition to giving you something extra, such as the ability to make a save at the start of your turn when dazed or stunned (even if you cannot normally save against the effect). Additionally, I expect to see many defenders grabbing Superior Fortitude not only for the scaling Fort bonus, but also for the scaling, passive resistance to all forms of ongoing damage.

Expertise feats see some fucking awesome changes as well. In addition to having better scalability (the bonus improves at levels 11 and 21) they also grant you a benefit depending on the weapon group. Heavy Blade gives you a bonus against opportunity attacks, while Bow gives you a scaling damage bonus against targets that are all by their lonesome. Axe Expertise let's you reroll a 1 once, which is good for the axes that aren't Brutal.

Chapter 8 goes over gear, mundane and magical. The selection looks the same as the shit from Player's Handbook (meaning no superior weapons/implements), except that magic items are fairly sparse and are all of common rarity. There aren't any rituals, which doesn't surprise me since none of the classes have Ritual Caster. There's another character sheet in the back that has the same format as the one in Starter Set, except that it's split up onto two separate pages since the book is so much smaller. Some people might really appreciate the new sheet, but it seems like a pain in the ass to print.

With all that out of the way, is this book a substitute for 4th Edition? Fuck no. There aren't nearly enough options available to placate me. Is it a substitute for Player's Handbook? Technically, yes, since you can make a character and it tells you how to make skill checks and kill shit. Is it better than Player's Handbook? Probably since after several years it seems to have more things streamlined, but again the lack of options makes it a tough call (I really like me my tieflings and warlords). Honestly, nothing about this book seems like an Edition transition, but saying fuck-all and ironing out the kinks of shit like non-scaling feats that you have to swap out later cause they end up sucking ass.

In the end, it doesn't replace or change D&D. It merely adds a unique, simpler starting point from which you can enter the hobby, but if you're already well into it, it still offers a nice amount of interesting, solid options.

Edit: One other thing I noticed was that the book also seems at odds on one of my D&D shelves, mostly due to my compulsion to have all player books on one shelf and DM stuff on another.


For a more in-depth review, My Girlfiend is a DM has posted part 1 by guest author Phil Corpuz.

{ 9 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I read somewhere that unlike the other races, humans will be detailed in both Heroes of the Fallen Lands and in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, but that the racial abilities would be slightly different. Perhaps this is where the option for humans to take a third at-will power will appear?

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  2. Good catch on the tweak to Dwarven Resiliance! So a Dwarf who takes the extra second wind feat will have to use a standard action to do it. That makes it more fair, I think.

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  3. @Hero: I didn't know that. I just hope that they leave it up to the player to choose what the want, as it's part of what makes humans attractive to me, as well as the half-elf power make sense.

    @OnlineDM: Yeah, when I first saw the feat I was like, "Shit, dwarves are gonna be even MORE durable than they needed to be." Then I saw that, and all was right in the world. Even so, it's an awesome feat. :-3

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  4. @Antioch
    the preview of the october update specify that human can chose between the 3rd at will and the encounter power (Heroic effort)

    you can find it here: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4news/essentials

    or download the file here: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/DNDessentials.pdf

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  5. One thing I will note here is that initially I was worried that the Essentials martial classes would not be able to keep up with other classes in terms of damage due to their lack of Daily powers...glad to see I was wrong.

    Both Knights and Slayers get Power Strike, which is an encounter ability allowing them to add an extra 1[W]to damage on a hit. This bonus die to damage scales with level, so by epic tier they are doing +3[W] damage 4 times an encounter. Might not look like much at first glance, but remember that this damage boost works on successful hits, meaning that they are never halved like most Cleric and Wizard abilities will inevitably be. Thieves Backstab ability works in a similar way.

    Also, utility powers are tied to the martial character's trained skills, sort of like phb3 skill powers. I like this idea, because it helps reinforce character concept.

    After reviewing the material in Heroes of Fallen Lands...I've come to the conclusion that this is not, in fact, 4.5...but more akin to what basic D&D was to AD&D.

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  6. Wow, that's quite a collection of 4E books. Are there any duplicates in there? That must have cost you a pretty penny to amass such a comprehensive rule set.

    While i'm not a 4E player, I can appreciate your fondness for the game, as evidenced by your extensive rulebook collection.

    Keep gaming.

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  7. Its one of three shelves, but there're duplicates of the three Player's Handbooks, yes.

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  8. Shazbot said.."I've come to the conclusion that this is not, in fact, 4.5...but more akin to what basic D&D was to AD&D."

    So 10 times as good?

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  9. regarding class vs. race in front, in so much as members of the same class tend to act more similarly then those of the same race, and the general fact that stat bonuses don't quite make sense w/o context, you kinda want to have that context before you go making a character, and ideally, each class entry has some good race and class combos.

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