Review: Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Part 3: Slayer, Thief & Knight

This post is a continuation of an extensive multi-part look at Heroes of the Fallen Lands, written by guest writer Phil Corpuz. 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 Tyler Jacobson.

In the last installment of our review of Heroes of the Fallen Lands, I explained how the Warpriest and Mage builds retain many of the structural conceits of Player’s Handbook while changing up the manner in which player customization is achieved. The Warpriest straightjackets choice through Domain-based restrictions but provides some customization through utility powers and daily miracles. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mage makes use of an expanded spellbook mechanic that broadens power selection, providing much utility for a wizard of her kind.

The remaining builds in Heroes of the Fallen Lands are the ones that deviate the most from the build formula established and retained since the first Player’s Handbook. In a manner that evokes previous editions, these builds – the Thief (Rogue), the Knight and the Slayer (Fighter) – eschew the ‘special moves’ that have been derided as anime-like by some (“White Raven Charge!” “Reaping Strike!”) in favor of generic attacks that be augmented by class features to get the job done in any situation.

As far as these new builds are concerned, they all gain various at-wills that provide a static boost to their basic attacks. Fighters like the Knight and Slayer make use of stances while the Thief makes use of various rogue tricks.

While various build-specific utility powers, class features, tricks and stances are unlocked as they grow, they do away with the resource management of your usual encounters and dailies, instead requiring players to maintain situational awareness to employ these powers.

KNIGHT: A warrior clad in the iconic sword and shield fashion, the Knight is built with the intention of protecting her party mates. His stances and class features such as Defender Aura and Battle Guardian are designed to impede enemy progress, increase her durability and penalize foes for targeting her softer allies.

The mechanics of Defender Aura are pretty analogous to the Combat Challenge feature that the Player’s Handbook Fighter uses, right down to the Battle Guardian power standing in for the  ‘mark.’ However, the Knight’s abilities are more passive, and therefore less of a tracking burden. It’s not stronger or weaker, but different and simpler.

As he grows in level, more stances are added to the Knight’s repertoire, most of which are generally geared towards strengthening her ability to hold the line. In exchange for giving up the standard power structures of previous class builds, the Knight gains utilities that allow him to impose her presence on the field and endure in the face of adversity.

By reducing the number of powers down to these stances and utility powers, a player controlling a Knight can direct her energies towards fulfilling her role in shielding allies rather than trying manage the resource and action economy of the ‘old-school’ power structure.

THIEF: True to Rogue form, the Thief build is a stealthy, hyper-mobile striker that uses positioning to deal a hideous amount of damage and retains the Sneak Attack class feature of his cunning brethren. However, he also foregoes the use of encounter, daily and at-will attacks.

The Thief depends instead on Backstab to make an intensely precise, seriously wounding attack once per encounter (on top of his Sneak Attack damage) while employing various Rogue’s Tricks to gain unique move options such as an expanded shift or increased speed while enhancing his next attack, all at the cost of a move action. These make the Thief a much more complex character to play than either the Knight or the Slayer.

Sure, he can take a normal move action, but his Tricks allow for more versatile movement modes, and the subsequent kickers to his attack require thoughtful positioning. But for some players, there’s a risk of being swamped with options. Still, on a purely technical level, the Thief is a potentially exciting build to play.

SLAYER: An offensive powerhouse designed to dish out pain, the Slayer breaks tradition by bucking the pattern of having party roles locked into a class. By making use of a two-handed weapon to take damage out into the front line, the Slayer is the first ‘striker’ Fighter.

Whereas the Knight makes use of Defender Aura and Battle Guardian to shield his allies, the Slayer gains a passive bonus to her weapon damage through the Heroic Slayer class feature. This bonus scales with her Dexterity and makes her a Fighter whose damage output competes with other strikers.

As the Slayer grows in levels, not only does her damage output grow, but she, like the Knight, can add more stances like Berserker’s Charge and Duelist’s Assault to her tactical ensemble, allowing to her customize her mobility and damage at any given turn, allowing her to become a damage dealing juggernaut.

Illustration by Ben Wootten.

COMPATIBILITY: Because the Knight, the Thief and the Slayer make use of very different class features and power structures, they won’t be able to use most of the pre-existing material currently available to Fighters and Rogues. The only exception is that since they still use the same utility power slots, they can take utility powers from previous books and issues of Dragon.

Conversely, old-school Fighters and Rogues can’t poach these stances and tricks. This could be a problem further down the road, as designers will have to cater to very different systems for Fighters and Rogues in future published material. Still, that doesn’t mean that these class builds are excluded from playing along with their PHB cohorts.

Because these class builds don’t introduce any wild changes to the fundamental aspects of 4th Edition’s rules engine, it is perfectly possible for Knights, Slayers and Thieves to pal around with a Tempest Fighter, a Rageblood Barbarian and a Brutal Scoundrel. Heck, a classic Fighter might appreciate the company of a Slayer since he won’t have to compete for marks.

Sure, these are very different ways of building the classes, but they’re still recognizably Fighters and Rogues, and shouldn’t unbalance the system at all. Tune in next time for our final installment, where I will take a peek at the miscellaneous remainders such as skills, the new feats and the changes made to magic items.

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