Archive for April 2011

Who Wants to Play the Cleric?

Not it!

In all seriousness, my experience with clerics can be briefly summed up as, "I never played one before 4th Edition." Ironically, it was the first character I actually played as part of a two-man delve, run by a person that had never ran D&D before, and it was a shitload of fun. Being able to smash and blast things while giving my ally bonuses (but still be able to heal), was so much better than standing behind the fighter and keeping him propped up and letting him get all the glory; people in my games just never got as excited about rolling 8 hit points of healing as they did over critting for 29 damage (or instantly slaying a dragon with a single spell and botched saving throw).

On another note, apparently writing free articles talking about D&D's history--something he specifies in vain each time at the top of the column--is garnering Mearls forum hostility. That's not surprising as doing pretty much anything makes you fair game for internet rage, and while I can understand that you might not find them interesting remember that you are also not paying for it (nor is it eating up pages out of the admittedly leaner-looking Dragon or spartan Dungeon). What I find only slightly surprising is the claims that Mearls is going somewhere with this that we don't want to go, perhaps with a 5th Edition that will play more like 3rd and/or lack a cleric class--this is sadly a refreshing change of point-of-view from past columns where he allegedly attacked 4th Edition.

Personally I'm taking these columns as a D&D enthusiastic just, you know, talking about the game--even if it's about gaming history that some of us experienced first hand (most of my running time was in 3rd Edition, so I got the end of this particular lesson). Yeah he's a WotC employee, but that doesn't mean that he can't post shit on the site that doesn't have some sort of ulterior motive.
April 26, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Who Wants to Play the Cleric?

Not it!

In all seriousness, my experience with clerics can be briefly summed up as, "I never played one before 4th Edition." Ironically, it was the first character I actually played as part of a two-man delve, run by a person that had never ran D&D before, and it was a shitload of fun. Being able to smash and blast things while giving my ally bonuses (but still be able to heal), was so much better than standing behind the fighter and keeping him propped up and letting him get all the glory; people in my games just never got as excited about rolling 8 hit points of healing as they did over critting for 29 damage (or instantly slaying a dragon with a single spell and botched saving throw).

On another note, apparently writing free articles talking about D&D's history--something he specifies in vain each time at the top of the column--is garnering Mearls forum hostility. That's not surprising as doing pretty much anything makes you fair game for internet rage, and while I can understand that you might not find them interesting remember that you are also not paying for it (nor is it eating up pages out of the admittedly leaner-looking Dragon or spartan Dungeon). What I find only slightly surprising is the claims that Mearls is going somewhere with this that we don't want to go, perhaps with a 5th Edition that will play more like 3rd and/or lack a cleric class--this is sadly a refreshing change of point-of-view from past columns where he allegedly attacked 4th Edition.

Personally I'm taking these columns as a D&D enthusiastic just, you know, talking about the game--even if it's about gaming history that some of us experienced first hand (most of my running time was in 3rd Edition, so I got the end of this particular lesson). Yeah he's a WotC employee, but that doesn't mean that he can't post shit on the site that doesn't have some sort of ulterior motive.
Posted by David Guyll

Rituals Index

I like the concept behind rituals, giving players pay-per-cast spells largely intended for out of
combat uses, but I hear that there's no shortage of groups that just don't use them (or don't like them). I don't get to play, and since I do like rituals often pepper treasures with rituals that have an immediate (or soonish) use. For example, if the adventure calls for the players to find a way into an underwater grotto in order to confront and star cult, I'm likely to put a Water Breathing ritual (or scroll if they're too low level). If they bust up a necromancer's crypt, I might put in an Undead Servitor ritual for kicks.

Oh, and I also throw in residuum or ritual components to make sure they can use it (as well as padding treasure out if they like to use them, so they don't feel like they have to "choose" between ritual usage or loot).

Really, my biggest complaint with rituals isn't so much having trouble finding uses for them, but having a way to easily identify what rituals do what. Thankfully there's a fix for that. Yeah, I know that you can surf the Compendium for all the rituals ever made, but this thing makes it a lot easier by giving you the category, level, cost, brief description, etc. Even better, the last six pages categorize them into groupings like Access Mounts, Bind a Soul, Change Objects, Copy Text, and more. This makes it sooo much easier to easily identify a ritual that suits a need, on either side of the screen. I suspect that this will make them more attractive options for players, so even though its not technically new content, I'm still grateful that something at WotC threw it together.
Posted by David Guyll

Vampire Myths

I wrote not so much a handbook--certainly not of the quality you'd find on the Character Optimization forum--but more of a primer to the vampire class, as I wanted to work on some character concepts but wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into. Some people have criticized that it is too frail or weak to be a viable striker, and after looking over every single class feature and power, I don't think that it is the case (even given the lack of specific feat support).

Comparing strikers with reasonable optimization at 1st-level, the vampire is basically on par with everything except for an Artful Dodger rogue with an 18 in Dexterity and Charisma, and Weapon Focus (light blade) or Backstabber. When you compare dailies, the vampire does almost double damage before you consider feats in the equation (which I still was in the case of the rogue). By 11th-level, the rogue ended up being something like 5 points ahead when you lumped on all the feats and assumed that she had combat advantage, but at 15th-level the gap closed due to the vampire's Hidden Might getting its second kicker.

So, I dunno. Looks pretty good to me. I've heard people actually playing the damned thing not having many complaints.

In regards to the durability thing, I think detractors are overlooking all the powers and class features that grant temporary hit points (including one of your 1st-level at wills), let you steal healing surges, and even regeneration when bloodied. The fact that temporary hit points don't affect your bloodied condition means that you can have a lot of them, but still benefit from the regeneration. Plus, when stealing healing surges from allies they act like two. I'd totally overlooked that if you have more than your max at the end of a short rest, that you get topped off; I thought it was after combat. This makes it even easier for a vampire to abuse healing surges by just getting a couple from her allies.

That, and necrotic resistance is a pretty common energy type.
April 24, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (4E), Part 2

Note: In case there's any confusion, this 4E conversion of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft isn't intended to allow you to forgo the book entirely (because I might get in trouble doing so). Rather, it's designed to be more like a conversion supplement.

Hmm...there's a lot more going on here than I thought...

Once the players destroy all the zombies in the town square and fix the barricades, they can take a breather and try to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. Ashlyn is looking for her companions (who disappeared in the church several days ago) and the Sunsword. Finding out the fate of her companions is going to be worth a minor quest reward, while the Sunsword itself is a major quest (what with it being an artifact and all).

There's also a couple of businesses worth mentioning: Bildrath's Mercantile and the Blood of the Vine tavern. Bildreth's Mercantile is only really useful insofar as it gives the players a place to buy gear and pawn their loot, though it's possible that either the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind or Sunsword can be found there. The Blood of the Vine Tavern, on the other hand, is mostly a place for them to get some information. Specifically that the plague began in the church (in case the players need more direction), the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, and Madam Eva.

Ideally after everything is said and done, the players should have two primary directions: go to the church, or visit Madam Eva out in the Tser Woods. This part of the conversion assumes that they head to the church first to, you know, tackle the whole zombie-plague-thing.

E6: Ghoul Foray
This encounter can happen at any intersection while the players are heading to the church. At this point the players might be tired of encounters happening at intersections, but this one has a dead horse! The encounter has some zombies milling about, with ghouls waiting in ambush. Since zombies don't really eat however, I think a better idea is to have ghouls lurking in the buildings, having just recently fed on unfortunate "survivors". They could see shattered doors, with streaks of blood running over the threshold.

  • 3 ghouls
  • 2 ravenous ghouls
E7: Church 

Here the players confront Danovich, the man responsible for all the shit currently hitting the fan in Barovia. His son was killed, and in a lapse of judgement decided to re-animate him as an undead monstrosity using a book filled with terrible rituals, which is the reason all the zombies are up and about. I mean, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Anywho, this is one of the first "boss fights", and so I want it to be tough and memorable.

First, the church is filled with bodies of former citizens, sitting on the pews. I like to think that they came here hoping for divine protection, and died from a combination of necrotic taint and zombie intervention. Danovich was formerly a cleric, so I guess in this scenario he'd be an artillery (leader) that can animate some of the corpses as zombie minions, boost his undead allies, and do some other evil-cleric stuff like weaken, deal necrotic damage, drain healing surges, and perhaps redirecting healing magic (or dampening it). The zombies, on the other hand, will just be run of the mill level 5 zombies.

In the original adventure when Danovich is pressed in melee, he tries to flee using the hole in the floor. I figure that when he's bloodied, he dives/teleports into the hole, where he gains additional support from his former son and other zombies. Also, the area underground is mostly dark, making it difficult to see for characters without darkvision or low-light vision. On the plus side, there's plenty of cover from the corruption corpse's ranged attacks.

  • Danovich, fallen priest
  • 4 infected zombies
  • 1+ zombie shamblers
Features of the Area
Alter: Creatures adjacent to the aura gain vulnerable 5 necrotic.
Pews: These act as difficult terrain. Characters can hide behind them to gain cover from ranged attacks.
Treasure: Danovich has a pretty good stash of loot; there's some pages from the Liber Blaspheme (which details an Undead Servitor ritual), a gold chalice worth 150 gp, a pair of silver bells worth 50 gp each, three potions of healing, and 300 gp worth of residuum.

E7A: Church Understory 
This is where Danovich's son is being kept, along with some zombies that managed to get in the church. Since blasphemes are typically paragon-tier monsters, I have to scale him down to make him a more suitable challenge. Also to mix things up a bit, I figured I'd add some ranged zombies to the mix.

  • Doru, blaspheme
  • 2 chillborn zombies
  • 2 corruption corpse
Features of the Area
Difficult Terrain: The planks underneath the hole in the floor are difficult terrain.
Pillars: These provide cover from ranged attacks. They can also be knocked over (or burnt up) with a Medium DC Strength check, which could cause more parts of the floor to collapse.
Table of Alchemical Components: This is the stuff in the upper-left hand corner of the map. It acts as a table of combustibles (DMG2, page 63).

That's it for part two. Hopefully next time I can wrap up Barovia...
April 22, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Class Compendium: Feats and Fighters

Okay, so the (mostly) new feats aren't all that bad. I can see martial subclasses with power strike swapping it out for something more substantial, like come and get it (yes, even post-errata) or rain of blows. On the other hand, I really can't see fighters swapping out their stuff for power strike, especially for the cost of a feat (though maybe Power Strike Specialization is worth it?). The most confusing feat goes to School of Magic Apprentice (and all the rest): you swap out your implement training for a mage's magic school class feature. A mage and wizard are both basically the same damned thing, separated only by emphasizing implements over school mastery.

My question is, why the hell not just play the one with the thing you want the most? There really isn't any other pair of classes I can compare this to, but the best example that comes to mind is a fighter taking a feat that makes him a ranger. This just sounds like they are trying to complete the entire list, you know? Make sure everyone gets a feat. It's great that WotC is trying to provide options that make classes and subclasses bleed together (even more so than they already do ::cough:: interchangeable powers ::cough::), but these don't seem to contribute anything to anyone.

In other news, the fighter is now called the weaponmaster. Functionally it works exactly the same, daily exploits and all. This article just runs through the entire 1-30 process "Essentials-style", complete with a step-by-step walkthrough and giving each exploit extra verbiage. The main thing of interest are the updates: some things get clarified, others (like come and get it) got "nerfed".
Posted by David Guyll

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (4E), Part 1

So with SakuraCon coming up I've got only one overnight gaming panel, which means that I've got to pick something truly awesome to eat up 7+ hours of game time. Seeing as how Heroes of Shadow is the new book on the shelf, I've decided to go with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, which unfortunately hasn't been made (yet?) for 4th Edition. Though I bought the 3rd Edition rendition when it was released a long-ass time ago, I've never had a chance to even start it. I figure better (insanely) late then never, so have began the arduous process of converting it to 4th Edition.

Or more specifically, the stat blocks and treasure.

So far the flavor bits of the adventure can be used as-is. Granted, there are plenty of instances where characters will be able to interact with NPCs, but any skill DCs can be determined on the fly fairly quickly and easily thanks to page 42. Really, the trick was to find a good starting level so that they could be challenged, while being able to handle Strahd without suspending too much disbelief. The adventure is pegged for level 5 or higher characters, and with the prevalence of werewolves and ghouls, this ended up working out pretty well as far as 4E's concerned. The goal is that if the players go through all the motions, that they should just hit 11th-level by the time they have to face off against Strahd for the last time.

The first part of the game has the players arriving at Barovia just in time for the local zombie migration. The encounter process is pretty straightfoward here, literally; the players run into zombies, then run into more zombies, and finally run into zombies being fought by a NPC. Now, since this is the first string of encounters, I'm actually alright with it being a simple variation of a theme. However, I'd like to make things a bit more interesting by having zombies in the second encounter breaking into a building with some villagers, giving the heroes the chance to, well, act heroic (as well as garner some bonus XP and potentially cash in the process).

E1: Zombie Street Ambush
This encounter takes place on one of the major streets that run through Barovia, so it will be fairly wide with some narrower alleys. Typically for the first encounter I like to take things slow and go a little easy on the gang, so it'll consist of some basic level 5 zombies that have a disease for characters that they hit. The disease is similar to filth fever, except characters that die turn into infected zombies.

While the original encounter featured carcass eaters and an infected deathlock, I'm just going to introduce a dire maggot swarm (level 6 brute) in one of the alleys that won't do much to harass the players if they simply ignore it and let it keep eating. If anyone gets to close (living creature or zombie), then they're fair game. Hopefully, this will add another level of tactical complexity to the battle.

Encounter Level 6 (1,200 XP)

  • 5 infected zombies (level 5 brute)
  • 1 dire maggot swarm

Features of the Area
Doors: The doors are made of wood, and barricaded from the other side. A Hard DC Strength check is required to force them.
Cart: There's an overturned cart in the middle of the street. It can be used as cover, and be climbed with an Easy DC Athletics check. It's broken, but can be repaired after the fight.
Treasure: There's no treasure listed for this encounter, and logically I don't see a reason to place any, so I'll leave it at that for now. If I need to, I can always come back and place some cash or jewelry to help round things out a bit.

E2: Zombie Street Encounter
More zombies and, for some reason...vargouilles? I had to actually reference D&D Compendium to see if they're even in 4th Edition. Thankfully they aren't, and since they seem wildly out of place I'm just going to ignore them. Instead, I'll mix things up a bit by adding a few corruption corpses to the mix. Otherwise, the layout is pretty similar to the first fight, except that the overturned wagon could help defend the heroes from the corruption corpses (which is another reason I bumped their level).

Encounter Level 6 (1,400 XP)

  • 4 infected zombies
  • 2 corruption corpses (leveled up to 5)
  • 1 dire maggot swarm
Features of the Area
Same as before with doors and wagons and what-not, except that there's a few dead bodies scattered about.
Corpses: The dire maggot swarm is busy chowing down on one of these. Corpses are just difficult terrain, though one of them has some papers revealing him to be a carpenter named Viktor Litmunova (probably contracts). The players can hunt down his family after things have quieted down for minor quest XP, and perhaps a small reward as well (though in my experience my group typically shoots down both money offered by NPCs, and/or gives them some cash).

E3: Zombies in Town Square
This is where the heroes meet up with Ashlyn, a member of the Lightbringers, who is busy hacking apart a bunch of undead. I'm going to write up a companion card to give one of the players, so that I can focus just on the monsters and not playing against myself. She's level 5 in the original adventure, and I see no reason to change that here. In the interesting of kicking things up a notch, this encounter will give the zombies four ways to approach, with barricades that can slow them down.

Encounter Level 8 (3,484 XP)

  • 24 infected zombie rotters (level 6 minion brute)
  • 6 infected zombies
  • 3 corruption corpses (level 5 artillery)
  • 1 skeletal necromancer (level 6 controller-leader)
Every other round, a horde of two infected zombies, one corruption corpse, and eight rotters randomly arrives at one of the barricades (roll a d4) and starts tearing it apart (the necromancer arrives on round 8). It takes one round for them to demolish it, creating difficult terrain where it was standing, after which they surge through on the following round. Characters can spend a standard action to repair a square of the barricade.

This encounter requires some attention from the DM: if things go too easily, add more zombies. If the players are having a difficult time, pull things back a bit and give them some time to recuperate. If things get really bad, have Ashlyn roll out lay on hands and/or offer up some potions of healing. Remember to divide the XP with her as well, cause she'll probably be really useful.

That's it for part 1. I'm busy putting this all into a word document that I'll covert to pdf later for download. For part 2 I'll deal with the rest of the village encounters.


Heroes of Shadow Reactions

Due to a combination of some Heroes of Shadow reviews providing misinformation on just how much--if not all--material was Essentials only, and people who believe that stuff in an Essentials book is somehow incompatible (or even more laughably, a separate edition by any degree), I am not surprised to find 20-30 page forum threads of people bitching back and forth. Is it odd that I find it refreshing that at least some are complaining about how crappy the shade is/isn't?

First things first (again); Essentials isn't a new edition (or even a half edition, errata, or what the fuck ever). It's a limited book line that just so happens to have some classes that follow a different starting and advancement structure. That's not a bad thing, "allowing" designers to think more than a step outside the box. Yeah, past classes did minor changes, like giving you flexibility on making at-wills into encounters (most psionic classes), or giving you up to three at-wills (in the case of the druid). Using an entirely different class structure doesn't mean that we've somehow stepped into a new edition.

Were things really this bad when WotC released Magic of Incarnum, Tome of Magic, or Book of Nine Swords? Do people even remember how much shit changed between 3rd Edition and Revised? To make things as clear as I possibly can about the content in Heroes of Shadow, virtually all of it can be used by clerics, paladins, warlocks, and wizards of any structure. There are some powers that are tied to class features, but they are way in the minority (unless your DM is sane and doesn't mind your warlock grabbing a "binder-only" summoning power).

Second, some people are upset that the shade and vryloka have racial penalties, and/or some are also pissed at Mearls for his justifications on why shades lose all of one healing surge. I really see no problem with a small penalty here or there, especially when it's nowhere severe enough to render the race unplayable as a specific class. I remember back in the day when a real racial penalty was having a net -2 to your stats, and no racial features of merit, or being Small with a Strength penalty and trying to play an inherently dead-end class like the fighter. One less healing surge? One? Wizards get six, though I've never encountered--nor heard of--an instance where one healing surge spelled the difference between life and death.

Again, this mentality just serves to irrationally straight-jacket designers. If they make a race that gets a penalty only when using spells or using melee attacks, then we'll talk.

Others are pissed off that the shade racial is a standard action, and that it allegedly does for the most part that "anyone can do in the right situation". I'd like to point that using Stealth requires total concealment, superior cover, or the DM's mercy/leniency/rules ignorance. I know that at night, these requirements might not be as steep, but the fact that they can hide behind allies and create areas of dim light as a minor action at will by 6th level should not be discounted so readily (that, and all those dim-light feats). Others complain that some of the classes that the shade is good at (ie, rogues and assassins) will now have a wasted skill. While I can understand the sentiment behind this, the same thing could also be said for races with weapon proficiencies, racial features whose usefulness depends on the class you play (like goring charge), or skill bonuses for skills that you need a feat to take, or won't ever use.

In short, I think a the vocal minority needs to take a step back and look at the larger picture. Just because WotC put some sub-classes and races with (minor) penalties in a book does not mean that other classes won't get laundry-list power articles, or that 5th Edition is coming out, or that Mearls doesn't listen to you (because he hates you).

Wizards Versus Fighters

Fighter and wizard relations have improved a lot over the past few years, what with fighters actually being viable options throughout the course of play (and wizards being relegated to "merely" a compelling play style, as opposed to a god-in-training). Before, fighters were easier to play because they only really had one thing to do: make attack rolls, followed by damage rolls if things worked out alright. I'm told they also had awesome saving throws, but I only really remember 3rd Edition, where an 8th-level warblade failed a Will save against a charm monster spell, even though he rolled like, 13 before modifiers.

I get the idea (and perhaps the intent) behind it: fighters are harder to kill, but can't do much at first, while wizards were hard as hell to keep alive, but could do lots of shit if you managed to pull it off. However, this is something that we learned in my first game design class not to do, and I cannot fathom how anyone would have fun basically carrying another player around just so they could dominate the game for you later. No, I much prefer things as they are now: you pick a class with the comfort that you won't be rendered obsolete after ironically accruing enough XP.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a game with options designed to cater to new players, or to keep things simple for the casual player. I just don't think that a game should reward players that have the time and inclination to devote to system mastery. That leads to a handful of accepted classes and accompanying builds, and likewise serves to potentially alienate new and inexperienced players. To me, Essentials did this just fine with some of the classes. Players that don't want a lot of choices or a relatively simple character have plenty to choose from, and they don't suck after 5th-level.
April 13, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Heroes of Shadow Review

I was able to snag Heroes of Shadows yesterday from a premier store, but unfortunately had to work most of the day so couldn't get around to it until 3am on Saturday. My first Mountain Dew-addled impression is that it seems a bit starved for page count, weighing in at 160 pages. But hey at least it's hardback, something we haven't seen since Dark Sun Creature Catalog. As the name implies, this book is all about the Shadowfell and shadow power source, providing flavor and mechanical content for players that want to manipulate shadows, drain the life out of their enemies, play around with undead, or just play a fucking vampire that can actually do vampiric things.

First things first, I want to get something out of the way that I read last week (and has subsequently spawned expansive forum threads): this is not an Essentials book. Yes, there are some builds and features that are limited to the mage class (school specialization) and warpriest class (death domain features), as well as a few new subclasses derived from the paladin and warlock. However, the majority of the mechanics--feats, powers, paragon paths, epic destinies, and races--can be used by anyone, as can all of the flavor content. This book does an excellent job of providing plenty of material both sides of the fence, such as it is.

I'll get more into this after the review. For now, let's take a closer look at the book.

Chapter 1: Into the Dark
The first chapter is six pages of flavor concerning shadow magic, specifically it details how shadow magic interacts with arcane and divine magic, and various ways one can discover or learn to use it. Several pages of this were previewed here, which basically accounts for half the chapter. The other half briefly touches on the Shadowfell, as well as ways that shadow magic can lure desperate people into its dark embrace.

Chapter 2: Shadow Classes
Unsurprisingly, this eats up over half the book. It not only contains four new classes, but additional options for clerics, warlocks, and wizards, beyond what you could already crib from the aforementioned subclasses. This is probably the source of the Essentials sentiment, as the "classes" aren't really new classes in so much as subclasses.

The executioner seems to be entirely unchanged from it's digital counterpart, and I've already blogged at length about it in the past. Suffice to say I like it a lot more than its predecessor, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. 

Blackguards are basically the darker reflection of a stereotypical paladin, specifically the cavalier build. Instead of championing a virtue, they embrace a vice, with domination and fury currently your only two options. Their striker mechanic lets them add their Charisma modifier to damage, but only against targets they have combat advantage against, and one of their damage kicking powers requires you to declare it before attacking (though I've already seen mention of frost-cheesing them on the forums). On the flipside, they have hit points out the ass and can wear heavy armor, making them the most durable striker I've ever seen. 

The vampire has also had plenty of preview coverage. In a nutshell, it is a shadow striker that starts out being able to deal necrotic damage with a touch, deal bonus damage by draining the life force of an enemy, and transform into a swarm of bat-like shadows. At higher levels you can change into a bat or a gaseous form, or dominate creatures with your gaze. At higher levels, these core abilities basically improve. It’s formatted Essentials-style, so the only real customization you get is which bloodline you choose when you hit paragon-tier.

The binder is an Essentials-warlocks subclass with the controller role. They can only pick from the gloom or star pacts, which determine your encounter attacks and summoned allies. I really like the new star pact stuff: the at-will prevents a target from seeing any allies more than 3 squares away, conjure up a zone of tentacles at level, banish creature to the Far Realm, gain psychic resistance, conjure up aberrant constructs that consume souls and give you powers, and more. Shit, yes.

Clerics get a bunch of new daily prayers, warpriests get the death domain, hexblades also get the gloom pact, warlocks and wizards get lots of spells, and mages get both the necromancy and nethermancy schools. Again, a lot of stuff we already knew.

Chapter 3: Races of Shadow 
Like the executioner above, the revenant is DDI-content transitioned to paper (which I'm sure people will bitch about). It is almost entirely unchanged, except for the floating ability modifier that we already knew about. Since they've been around for awhile I won't really bother going into detail, since by now you should already know if you like or hate 'em. 

Shades are humans that traded part of their soul for a sliver of the Shadowfell’s dark essence, which makes them insanely stealthy: not only do they get a floating bonus to Dexterity, they also have a racial bonus to Stealth and have an at-will racial utility that lets them make a Stealth check as a standard action, so long as they have any cover or concealment. Aside from their healing surge penalty, they can also swap out utility powers as they level up in exchange for racial utilities. This adds a degree of flexibility that I wouldn’t mind seeing in other races (even ones that have already been published).

Vryloka are humans that made a deal with an enigmatic entity known as the Red Witch, giving them some vampiric benefits without the drawbacks. Actually, they do heal less hit points when burning healing surges while bloodied, but that’s not anything major. This makes them the second race to have some sort of penalty, after the shade, and like shades can also power swap class utilities for racial utilities.

Other races—like dwarves and halflings—get about a page of flavor support each  (touched on here), as well as explaining how they came to live in the Shadowfell and how they cope with it.

Chapter 4: Character Options 
The last chapter is pretty small, and features ten paragon paths, four epic destinies, two pages of feats, and a smattering of new gear.

Most of the paragon paths are pretty flexible, requiring only training in a couple skills or a class from a specific power source (like arcane or primal). Of particular interest in the shadow dancer, which requires you to have any sort of teleportation power and be trained in Stealth. Its abilities focus on teleportation and concealment, allowing you to do stuff like teleport when burning an action point, and gain combat advantage after teleporting. Also, none of its powers or class feature are linked to ability scores, making it usable for plenty of melee-based characters.

The epic destines have abilities that gain benefits when other characters with the same epic destiny are nearby. For example, the Keeper of the Everflow’s level 24 class feature lets you regain hit points equal to your healing surge value once per day when you’ve been dropped to 0 hit points. If there are other Keeper’s in the encounter, you gain 5 temporary hit points for each allied Keeper.

Yet again, a lot of the feats have been previewed already. Some are alright, but many are highly situational, especially the ones that only operate in dim light or complete darkness (like Shadow Blood, which lets you heal 5 more hit points when you use second wind). Even so, Holy Symbol/Ki Focus Expertise are pretty rad.

The new gear basically does minor magical stuff: blessed soil stops undead from rising from graves that you sprinkle it on, while a ghoul candle doesn’t provide illumination for the undead (nifty way of being able to see in a dungeon without alerting everything else to your presence). The poisoner’s kit just lets you make poison.

My gripes against this chapter would be that things seem to be jumbled together. Some epic destinies bleed onto other pages, as opposed to starting on their own page (and making it easier to read). Otherwise, there’s a lot of fun stuff here, except for some stuff in the feats section.

This is a really well done book, and one of my favorites. Whether you love or hate the Essentials line, there’s a lot of great content for fans of clerics, warlocks, and wizards that have been waiting for necromantic options. The way I look at it is that even if you don’t like the warpriest or binder, you can still use those powers for a cleric or warlock respectively.

What WotC did with this book is actually convenient: if I want to make a cleric that can fiddle with undead, I have two options. I can play a warpriest and go with the Death domain, thereby having a nicely packaged character concept, or I can play a cleric and just pick the prayers that I want. The same goes with the blackguard, binder, and both of the new mage schools.

Essentials and non-Essentials content is only different to those who make it different. All the rules of the game are exactly the same, it's just that some classes advance different. It's kind of like how the druid got three at-will evocations, while other classes just got two, or how most of the psionic classes don't get encounter attacks (but the monk did). The martial classes out of Essentials are in the same boat, just by a wider margin.

I don't care for most of the martial classes out of Essentials, but the warpriest, hexblade, and executioner are all damned fine. What I'm really saying is why not have both? The cleric nowadays has a shitload of prayers to choose from. I have a lot of diversity when it comes to thinking up a concept and choosing class features and prayers to help emphasize that. If WotC wants to design a suite of storm-based prayers, that's cool. I can get my Sehanine (or Melora, or Thor, or whatever) on. If they wrap them up in a class, though? Even better, as now I have two ways of going about the process.

Reviews by Other Bloggers:

April 10, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Heroes of Shadow Compilation

It's not much, but I sorted through the (currently) seven-page thread on

Revenant is a reprint sans all the feats. Other races have zero feat support. Boo.

Assassin (Executioner)
As was confirmed awhile ago, it is the Essentials version. Good.

Paladin (Blackguard)
Apparently, these guys are pretty durable strikers, with paladin armor proficiencies and healing surges. On the downside, their striker damage only kicks in when they have combat advantage, and is also ability score-based. However, their vices give you ways to deal some extra damage, so it may not be as bad as it seems.

Apparently, you only really get to pick feats, ability scores, and utility powers. The two paragon paths let you choose to be more "Lestat (beguiler)" or "Nosferatu (stalker)"; everything else is static. All the powers have the Implement keyword, and vampires get both ki focus and holy symbols. Their Dex-based melee basic attack has a push 1 effect, and there's an at-will attack for each Non-AC Defense. Highly mobile, can shapeshift, climb walls, etc. Lot of stuff we already knew.

Warlock (Binder, Star Pact, and Gloom Pact)
Controller subclass of the warlock. Lots of powers flavored as summons, and it gets a 9th-level summon (same as the hexblade). Appears to have single target, high damage control.
The gloom pact involves making a bargain with a Shadowfell creature, and grants "lots of cold and necrotic damgae", as well as allowing you to summon dark creepers and sorrowsworn.
The star pact gains more tentacle-themed powers, including a 1st-level encounter zone.

Warpriest (Death Domain)
People who were looking for a necromancer with a leader role will purportedly be pretty happy with this. One of the abilities allows you to use healing word as an Immediate Reaction after killing a target. At 10th-level, you automatically kill minions adjacent to you.

  • Servitude of Death (level 5): A single target, ranged attack that brings the target back as an undead minion that is dominated by you after it dies. It's a little worse for wear (-2 to all defenses), but otherwise this is a pretty rad power.
  • Blackened Soul (level 2 daily): You allow a dying ally to burn two healing surges, and they gain a power bonus to attack and damage rolls (but also grant combat advantage) until they are healed to full.

Holy Symbol Expertise: Scaling bonus to attack rolls, and enemies you hit cannot gain combat advantage against you, unless you use a power that causes you to grant combat advantage.
Ki Focus Expertise: Scaling bonus to hit, with a scaling bonus to damage against bloodied enemies.
April 07, 2011
Posted by David Guyll

Design & Development: Vampire

A behind the scenes look at the design direction for making vampires as a class. I know some people complained about it being a class, but it makes perfect sense to me given that we've already got vampires as a feat-tree: giving us a race (vryloka) and class just allows them to provide a vampiric option for everyone's mechanical needs. I was a fan of Savage Species in 3rd Edition and was wondering (like, before the vampire class was first previewed) when/if they would get around to doing monsters-as-classes, and this looks to be a lot more viable than what Savage Species offered.

I like that there are ways to "obtain" healing surges, and that you can expend them to boost your attacks. Gives it a Vampire: The Masquerade feel, but in a good way. Only having 2 per day makes you really have to think how to use them, though regeneration and the option to grab a bite from an ally makes you more survivable. I know that they're built like Essentials classes in that you have limited options, but I don't mind that so long as the options provided give you a clear concept. Slayers and knights? Not so much. Hexblades? Hell yes. So far, I've liked what I've seen (and we haven't seen much).

Hopefully this means that Wizards will add more monstrous classes in future products. I'd tinkered around with a red dragon class when 4th Edition was released, but didn't initially like that it had limited options. I'm going to go back and give it another look, now.
April 06, 2011
Posted by David Guyll


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