Review: Players’ Option: Heroes of Shadow, Part Two
In part one of our look at Players’ Option: Heroes of Shadow, we discussed the new classes and class builds. In this installment, we’re going to take a look at the options meant to supplement previous material such as the new feats, races and paragon paths. Some players will consider it a bummer that the new classes in Heroes of Shadow are ‘constrained’ by Essentials-style designs. For example, over the entire heroic tier, a Vampire player only has to decide what his level 2 utility power is. That means anybody hoping for an entirely new ‘old-school’ class is out of luck.
Still, there’s still much in the book for people like me who still prefer Player’s Handbook builds. As Antioch at Points of Light has already noted, pre-Essentials classes can avail of new races, powers, paragon paths, epic destinies and feats that can be used even in campaigns you’ve started pre-Heroes of Shadow. There are also write-ups for a few of the core races which tell you how to give them a darker place in a campaign set primarily amidst Points of Darkness.
Of the new races the most interesting are the Vryloka. They possess the vitality of vampires but without the taint of undeath. They’re like the new Tieflings, except instead of being the descendants of damned Turathi nobles, the Vryloka are from a kingdom even more ancient than Bael Turath. They acquired their power from the Red Witch, a mysterious figure likely to be touched on in future supplements. The Revenants, who were introduced as a DDI exclusive way back in Dragon 376, are deceased individuals revived by the Raven Queen. Shades are individuals who trade a part of their soul for the negative energy of the Shadowfell.
I find it interesting that all the new races have the option of a DEX/CHA stat bonus configuration, which means that just about all of them have the potential to make excellent rogues and assassins. Save for the addition of a floating modifier and the rewording of certain features, Revenants remain mechanically identical to their original appearance. Shades and Vryloka introduce racial utility powers, which players can choose in place of class powers to bring the dark ancestry of their characters to the fore.
As noted, there are many powers you can take or retrain into for characters you already have. Wizards could choose among the various nethermantic and necromantic powers intended for Mages, which inflict a lot of direct suffering like Rotting Doom, a level 1 at-will that negates healing for an entire round. Clerics might want to poach Raven’s Talon, a level 7 encounter power for Death Domain Warpriests which can fell near-dead enemies to grant a nearby ally a healing surge. Paladins should consider the Blackguard’s Frenzying Smite, a level 5 daily that dishes 4-weapon damage and isolates the target from the front line.
As far as feats go, Heroes of Shadow feats follow the trend established by the Essentials feats. That means power creep, plain and simple. That’s because the designers are now phasing out the need for multiple feats to develop your focus on a particular weapon or implement. By providing kickers like preventing enemies from granting combat advantage or gaining attack bonuses against bloodied opponents, the new Expertise feats just seem to be obvious choices. On the other hand, interesting feat trees like the Born of Shadow allows you to build a character that thrives in dim light or darkness.
I don’t really have the epic tier experience to speak of the nuances of the new Epic Destinies. However, the ten new Paragon Paths which provide shadowy options of shadowness for shadowy players of any class or power source are cool. I’m interested in exploring the Nocturnal, which allows primal classes like my Dragonborn Thaneborn Barbarian Multiclass Warlord to become life-draining predators of the night. As for my Tiefling Psion Multiclass Wizard, I doubt he’d go gritty, but if he did I’d take Shadow Shaper if only because he’s already optimized in such a way to synergize with the psychic damage, which this path specializes in.
The book doesn’t give much in the way of new swag. Only four new items are listed,’ though I’m a little puzzled by whether these qualify as truly mundane items despite being labeled as ‘adventuring gear’. For example, the use of blessed soil to keep the dead from rising as undead would be useful for any ‘Schattenjäger’-type hero, while a raven’s feather allows you to know whether the person it is attuned to is dead. They are certainly more ‘fluff-potent’ than a rope made of giant hair or a sunrod. If anything, these seem like they would have been rituals if rituals hadn’t already fallen by the wayside since Essentials.
If there are any shortcomings in Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow, it’s that while it provides a wealth of options for players who want to flirt with powers and origins from the dark side it just doesn’t care about how such characters influence party dynamics or campaign building. These are things that players can work on with their DMs to be sure, but considering the amount of help that the Power books, Player’s Strategy Guide and Player’s Handbook Races give in this regard, it’s something I consider an oversight.
That said, it’s still a pretty neat book, it just isn’t enough of a must-have to justify a price tag of 30 American dollars. Otherwise, it’s a good supplement for groups that are really committed to a campaign filled with shadowy protagonists with shadowy motivations in a campaign that supports their shadowy deeds.
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