Review: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Part 1: Races Revised

For this post, we have guest writer Phil Corpuz taking an extensive multi-part look at Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Phil is an editor at Nosfecatu Publishing, a local publisher of Philippine mythology themed supplements for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Content from their products is represented on a regular basis at POLYHEDRAL.

Illustration by Brian Hagan.

Despite the fact that the Essentials line has been marketed as a user-friendly and affordable entry point into the D&D game, it has managed to put the fear of God among the trollish neo-grognardians who insist that it is the beginning of a new edition. A 4.5, if you will. However, a cursory glance at one of the first products, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, is enough to put those fears to rest.

Fundamentals have not changed and the book does exactly what it the external copy advertises:  It provides an easy introduction into the game withcharacter creation rules that are accessible to new players, but without being dumbed down or underpowered. At its heart, Heroes of the Fallen Lands provides the character creation basics needed to build your familiar Tolkienesque archetypes.

Here there be humans and dwarves, woodsy elves and fey eladrin all called to adventure as fighters, rogues, wizards and clerics. The oddball selections 4E veterans may expect such as tieflings and dragonborn, druids and warlocks, etc. are in the upcoming sister book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. In this part of the review, we’ll take a look at the format of the book and the redesigned races.

FORMAT: The most obvious change in Heroes of the Fallen Lands is its highly portable format. 9 x6 inches of pure softbound paperback goodness, it certainly has more carrying functionality than a hardbound Player’s Handbook. I’ve found this format easier to flip through, though long term durability could be an issue. At a price of twenty American dollars, it’s also surprisingly affordable.

The interior retains the minimalist look of previous books, with a mix of clean white space and pleasant artwork that provides for a low eyestrain reading experience. The writing, like the graphic design, is kept tight and comprehensible. As an example, the “Running Combat” section covers a mere 9 pages (as opposed to PHB1’s 30-odd pages of combat text), yet manages to be a concise summary of the combat turn sequence and relevant actions that can be taken.

It’s not entirely comprehensive, but what it does is introduce important concepts focusing on how players are going to be using them and how they are expected to manage their character resources. More complex situations require a trip to the glossary and at worse, referring to the Rules Compendium for more detail.

Simply put, if you’re playing the game, you’ll need the Rules Compendium, and that is a downside to me, being used to having all the player reference rules in one spot, but for table reference and as an introduction, it’s tight, simple, and does the job. (“This wouldn’t be the first time D&D required use of more than one product to cover table basics.” – Ed.)

RACES: Represented in Heroes of the Fallen Lands are the races typically iconic to fantasy, but in write-ups that are expanded from their treatment in the original Player’s Handbook. In addition to usual bits about race history, attitudes and beliefs, there are also notes on community and tips on roleplaying. The material isn’t groundbreaking to those already familiar with these races from their incarnations inside and outside of D&D, but the fluff and story hook potential is greater than what we got the first time around.

The most significant addition is the updated attribute bonuses, which follows the ‘choice of second bonus’ format introduced in Eberron Player’s Guide’s Changeling and repeated in all the races of Player’s Handbook 3. Each race now has a floating modifier that can be assigned to one of two different stats in addition to a fixed attribute modifier.  Power creep?

Illustration by Eric Belisle.

Perhaps, but it could also be seen as readjusting old material to new standards, while allowing a bit of flavor diversity to the races. What these new attribute options do is open up new build possibilities and reinforce others. With the option of upgrading either their Wisdom or Strength, dwarves can become even nastier than they already are as fighters. (Still, did we really need another Strength/Constitution race?) For eladrin, getting to choose Charisma over Dexterity means being a Fey Pact warlock is as mechanically viable as it is thematically consistent.

Elves get to take Intelligence now, which makes them amusingly more accurate at wand-based wizardry than their otherworldly cousins, and even better at something I’ve always wanted for pure fluff: elven swordmages.  Finally, Halfings can now forsake Charisma for Constitution making the buggers even harder to kill. I see creepy four foot tall cannibal Battleminds.

Outside of a slight nerf to Dwarven Resilience and a new racial power option for humans, racial powers remain the same. In the case of the former, it’s been reworded into an encounter power in order to put some balance into feats keyed into it like Epic Recovery from Martial Power. In the case of the latter, Humans can give up a third at-will power in favor of the Heroic Effort racial power, which allows one to add +4 to an attack of saving throw after it has been rolled. New Essentials builds don’t use the traditional power structure of at-will/encounter/daily, so that was kind of necessary. There’s more utility to be had in the old ‘third at-will” option, but Heroic Effort is still a decent choice.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands is a pretty solid buy, based on price and format alone. It’s cheap and portable. As far as the races go, they’re flexible and easy to take in for new players, but also make it easier for experienced players to build unusual characters. In succeeding installments of this multi-part review, we’ll tackle HotFL’s character creation rules, the heart of the book, including new character options, compatibility, and more.

3 Responses to “Review: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Part 1: Races Revised”
  1. Antioch says:

    Finally. Now I can link this on my review.

  2. Ken says:

    So, should I buy this for Christmas instead of a players’ handbook?

    • Phil says:

      @ken: It’s a good starting point, but you’ll also need Rules Compendium. HotFL + RC will still probably end up cheaper. It’s going to be a better buy than Player’s Handbook, in my opinion.

      There are a good number of things in the Player’s Handbook 1 that have been updated in Rules Compendium, and the character classes from PHB1 will be reprinted in next year’s Class Compendium iirc.

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