I picked up a copy of Heroes of Shadow several weeks ago but only now got around to reading the thing. The content has been pretty thoroughly reviewed by others already, so I’ll try to be brief in sharing my thoughts.
Essentials or no?
First – is this an “Essentials” book? Well, that’s a meaningless distinction to me as I’m fine with PHBs and Heroes of… books at the table. But I understand where the anti-Essentials folks are coming from in referring to Heroes of Shadow as an Essentials book, because it never really acknowledges the existence of the Player’s Handbook options. The races and classes that are referred to in this book all appear either directly in Heroes of Shadow or in Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. There’s no mention of goliaths, wildens, psions, shamans, etc.
That’s not to say there’s nothing that those races and classes can use in this book; the feats are open to them, as are the equipment options, epic destinies and many of the paragon paths. It’s clear, though, that Wizards of the Coast’s new books are designed to be friendly to players who aren’t familiar with the Player’s Handbook options and only know the Heroes of… books. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I know it irks some people.
The first chapter of Heroes of Shadow is fluff about the Shadowfell itself, the ways that characters might tap into shadow power, and the Raven Queen. Good stuff for role-playing and rounding out a character’s background. There’s also a lot of shadowy fluff spread throughout the book in all of the race and class descriptions, and even accompanying the various powers, paragon paths and equipment.
The classes introduced in Heroes of Shadow are the Executioner Assassin, the Blackguard Paladin, the Vampire (interestingly, no subclass name here) and the Binder Warlock. There are also new powers and the death domain for the cleric, new powers and the Gloom Pact for the Warlock (Gloom Pact is for the Hexblade Warlock only), new powers for the Wizard, and new schools (Necromancy and Nethermancy) for the Mage Wizard.
I won’t opine on the power level of any of these options, as I haven’t played with them yet. My main problem with them is that I just don’t dig the flavor of shadow… which means that I probably shouldn’t have purchased this book! I prefer my characters to be more straightforward heroic rather than dark, tormented anti-heroes or anything like that.
Of the classes presented, I think the Executioner Assassin seems kind of cool and the Blackguard Paladin doesn’t seem at all Paladin-like (he’s a striker rather than a defender). The Vampire is a class that offers no choices – your powers are pre-selected when you pick the class. It doesn’t appeal to me at all. The Binder Warlock seems fine, and if you’re already comfortable playing a Warlock I don’t see any reason that you wouldn’t enjoy this controller version (my wife just started playing one of these). The Cleric and Wizard options let you create a shadowy version of the basic classes, if that’s your thing. Some of the power options might be really strong, but again, that’s not really what I’m looking at.
The races presented are the Revenant, the Shade and the Vryloka (basically a vampire). The Revenant is apparently unchanged from the version that was previously released on DDI (I never used that race, so it was still new to me). The Shade is a human that has embraced the shadows. The Vryloka is, well, a vampire. Meh all around.
Interestingly, there are several pages at the end of the race section devoted to Dwarves, Eladrin, Elves, Halflings and Humans who are “shadowy.” I was a little surprised not to see Tieflings here. It’s pure fluff, of course – examples of certain members of these races who have some connection to the Shadowfell.
Paragon Paths, Epic Destinies, Feats and Equipment
This is the chapter that cemented in my mind that I’m not the target audience for this book. I read through the paragon paths and found a couple of them to be pretty interesting. I have a 10th level Paladin for Living Forgotten Realms games who will soon be entering the paragon tier (my first paragon character), and I considered whether I’d want to take any of these paths. A couple of them had some interesting mechanics and flavor that was almost appealing… but then I saw something like a power that deals cold and necrotic damage. My good-aligned Paladin is not going to want to deal necrotic damage. If this were a home game I could re-fluff it, but not for LFR. And then I realized that if I’m thinking about re-fluffing a Heroes of Shadow paragon path, I’m doing it wrong. These options are for players who want to be shadowy. That’s not me.
One little bonus I’ll mention here is that the Ravenkin paragon path provides the character with a raven familiar. The interesting part is that this page includes the rules for familiars, which were previously only available in Arcane Power (they’re not in the DDI Compendium, frustratingly). So, if you’re a DDI user who’s been annoyed at not having the familiar rules at hand, you might have another reason to get Heroes of Shadow.
There’s a certain audience who will probably really enjoy Heroes of Shadow. Players who want to run dark characters with shadowy backgrounds now have a ton of options at their disposal. Those types of characters don’t feel especially heroic to me (I have trouble with PHB1 Warlocks, frankly), but that’s not an indictment of the book – it just means that I’m not the target audience. If you want a character who’s brooding and mysterious or perhaps flirting with evil, then you’ll enjoy the options in this book.
Me – I wish I’d passed. Oh well.