Review of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

I’m continuing my recent habit of D&D book reviews. I loved Heroes of the Feywild. I wasn’t all that crazy about Heroes of Shadow.

Heroes of the Elemental chaos comes in somewhere between those two for me. As I said on Twitter, “It’s… okay.”

Chapter 1: Into the Maelstrom

This is the all-fluff chapter, and I think it’s awesome for dungeon masters who want to involve adventures in the Elemental Chaos. We learn about the nature of elemental magic and how it relates to the power sources. We get a few brief write-ups of locations in the Chaos (City of Brass, Kaltenheim, etc.).

Then we get into elemental-touched races. For those players who were hoping to get more racial options in this book, this is where you get disappointed. We get some ideas for being elemental-origin dragonborn, drow, dwarves, genasi, half-orcs and orcs. Then a paragraph each on how other races might be elemental-touched. Good fluff if you’re going for that kind of character concept, but this is not a crunch section.

The meaty, most interesting part of this chapter (at least for me) is the second half that gets into stories of the primordials. I’m new to D&D as of Fourth Edition, and I haven’t read the Plane Below or Manual of the Planes. So, whenever I’ve seen references to “primordials” in other books I’ve never really known what they meant.

Now I do. I know who Yan-C-Bin and Imix and Ogremoch and friends are. I especially liked the massive table at the end of the chapter that documents all 74 “known primordials” including those from places like the Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun. Useful stuff, and great for inspiration for high-level baddies.

Chapter 2: Character Themes

I’ve only recently begun using themes in my game, specifically the setting-focused themes for my ZEITGESIT campaign. I love the potential for themes to tie characters to settings; I’m not as crazy about more generic themes like the ones we get here. Still, some of them are interesting.

We get ten themes. Four of them correspond to the basic elements (air, earth, fire, water) plus one for “elemental metal”. We get a monk-focused theme (Elemental Initiate), a demon theme (Demon Spawn), a general “from the chaos” theme (Moteborn), a Primordial Adept and a Janissary (servant of genies).

The pure elemental themes are fine if you just love the elements. I didn’t find them especially exciting, but they’re all right. The Ironwrought theme (elemental metal) just felt odd to me, but it’s a fine theme.

Demon Spawn can work if you want a character who struggles against a dark nature. Not my own cup of tea, but some people might enjoy it.

The coolest theme in my opinion is the Janissary. You’re a servant of genies, and the back story is well done. The mechanics mainly give you a bonus to charging, but the flavor has a lot of potential for character hooks.

Chapter 3: Classes

No brand-new classes here, but we get some new options and new builds.

The druid sees support for both the Sentinel Druid (a Living Zephyr companion for the Druid of the Wastes) and the pre-Essentials Druid (Primal Wrath aspect and new powers at all levels).

The monk gets two new monastic traditions: Desert Wind (flurry lets you shift a square and can give a target -2 to attack) and Eternal Tide (flurry has reach and pulls the target). We also get new powers at all levels – fire- and water-themed.

The sorcerer gets a whole new build – the Elementalist. This is what some might call the “Essentialized” sorcerer. It does not get daily powers, and its encounter powers are spelled out for it. You pick an element and get your choice of two at-wills tied to that element. This is a really good build for someone who just wants to blast things with magic. And it’s a pretty darn good striker, too!  If you go with fire, you have an at-will single target attack that deals 1d12+Cha+Con+1d6 fire damage at first level, and another at-will that deals 1d10+Cha+Con in an area burst 1 and creates a zone of fire.

The regular sorcerer also gets new utility power choices, but no attack powers.

Warlocks get a new pact option – the elemental pact. You randomly get a new elemental affinity after each rest, which affects the type of damage you deal with certain attacks. There’s also a new option for Hexblade Warlocks, an elemental pact, which comes with elemental allies to summon at random at level 9 and 25. The regular warlock does get new attack and utility powers, too.

The wizard gets a new build – the Sha’ir, which I believe is originally from the Al Qadim setting. It’s a lot like a regular wizard, except that it has a Gen Servant (basically a familiar) who goes and gets spells for it each day rather than pulling them from a spellbook. This gives the Sha’ir a lot of flexibility (the Gen can get any appropriate-level spell), and I like that the player is encouraged to think about their Gen Servant from a role playing perspective, too.

Sha’ir spells are available to other wizards, and the at-wills don’t deal any damage directly. Several of them are nods to spells from older editions, like Alter Self and Reverse Gravity. I especially like Crack the World at level 29.

Chapter 4 – Elemental Options

This is the “everything else” chapter. It starts with ten paragon paths; my favorite is the Prince of Genies, who has a Genie in a Bottle to help it out. This path also gives us Limited Wish as a utility power – and compared to what I understand of earlier editions, this is a very, very limited wish!

There are only two epic destinies – Emergent Primordial, in which a primordial is basically taking you over from within, and Lord of Chaos, which has so much potential but a REALLY disappointing level 26 and level 30 power. Jeremy Morgan of Stormin’ Da Castle and @TriskalJM on Twitter was similarly disappointed when we talked about this on the Tome Show (episode forthcoming), so he took a crack at rebuilding the Lord of Chaos epic destiny. I chimed in with some edits of my own, leading to this:

-Level 21: As written, for now, though I’d personally like something cooler than the enhanced magic weapon / armor / neck slot.

-Level 24: As written

-Level 26: Upgrade the created zones to hazardous terrain as an improved Whim of Creation:

-Level 30: An improved Master of Chaos feature:

Whenever you bloody an enemy or score a critical hit against an enemy, roll a d6.
– 1: You teleport to any location within 10 squares; if the destination square is occupied by another creature, that creature teleports to your former location.
– 2: You gain 20 temporary hit points.
– 3: The enemy immediately takes an at-will action of your choice.
– 4: You become invisible until the end of your next turn and may immediately make a Stealth check to become hidden.
– 5: One ally within 10 squares immediately takes an at-will action of your choice.
– 6: The enemy makes a saving throw. If the saving throw fails, the enemy dies. If it succeeds, the enemy is dazed until the end of your next turn.”

After the epic destinies, we get feats. Strangely, we get Tome Expertise even though the Sha’ir doesn’t use tomes. Also strangely, there are a couple of illustrations of tome-reading Sha’ir earlier in the book. Anyway, we get a Born of the Elements feat that mainly serves to open the door to a bunch of other elemental feats. The most interesting of these is the Elemental Companion, which is similar to a beast companion. As with the Gen Servant, elemental companions are encouraged to be played for role playing potential. Personally, I’d let someone take the Elemental Companion feat without first taking Born of the Elements if they wanted it.

Finally, we get some magic items. Demonskin Armor has a good marriage of flavor and mechanics (wearing the skin of a demon makes you more intimidating). We get one weapon per element. We get a few tomes, including the Demonomicon (yes, as a tome implement). There are primordial shards, which I’ll admit I still don’t really understand flavor-wise. And lastly, we get Elemental Gifts, which are similar to Divine Boons. My favorite is the Gift of Chaos, which has an interesting random effect once per day when you roll a 1 or 20 on an attack roll or saving throw; I’d personally have it happen EVERY time you roll a 1 or 20 on an attack roll or saving throw. Yay for chaos!

Closing thoughts

As I said, I fell that Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is… okay. It’s great for DMs and players who want some flavor for elemental campaigns and primordials. The class crunch is available in DDI, and the class fluff isn’t worth the price of admission by itself. I definitely enjoyed Heroes of the Feywild more; the Bard’s Tales from that book were more entertaining and flavorful to me than the Elemental Viewpoint sidebars that pepper this book, providing commentary from various elemental denizens.

It’s not a must-buy, but it’s not bad.

– Michael the OnlineDM

5 thoughts on “Review of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

  1. My gaming group would tell you that when the initial list of Power Sources came back several years ago, I was most excited about the Elemental power source. I also enjoyed working Genasi into several story lines. None would probably guess that I would’ve passed on this book, I think you highlighted why I had concerns. Perhaps had this happened earlier in the 4E cycle it would’ve been treated with more unique mechanics (monks, power point psionics, even the level of changes Essentials classes received).

    After reading through the Marvel RPG, I’m convinced a good Element based game (think Avatar) would include something akin to Scene Resources / Assets / Distinctions and the creation and management of such. Catching the room on fire to add d8 Fire available to use by anyone in the room or something. Wish they’d gone that route!

    Thanks for the review.

  2. On further reading, I’ve found that a number of the feats and paragon paths are very redundant. For example, to be a Reforged Soul, you need elemental origin or Born of the Elements. The only elemental PC race is genasi who start with Primordial as a language and Born of the Elements grants you the ability to read and write in Primordial. At 16th level one of the benefits you get from your paragon path is the ability to… read and write in Primordial. Really? Basically the only use for Born of Elements or these paragon paths is for people who used themes to become elemental creatures… but a large number of the themes ALSO includes the ability to read and write in Primordial.

    Good book, but the editors and writers dropped the ball when it came to the crunch. Which is too bad, since I like R.J. Schwalb and R. Baker’s writing in general.

    • Pheras – I see where you’re coming from, but I think this is a pretty minor quibble. As you pointed out, there is at least one theme (Demon Spawn) that gives a character an elemental origin without also giving them Primordial as a language, so the “you get Primordial as a language” 16th-level feature isn’t totally useless. But keep in mind that even if that part of the level 16 feature of the paragon path isn’t useful, the other part is (You roll twice and use both results when you use your Chaos-Touched feature. When you get a duplicate result, choose any other damage type instead.).

      I wouldn’t call this evidence of the editors and writers having dropped the ball on the crunch. You really have to look hard to even realize that this is a problem – and it’s a very, very small problem at that, in my opinion.

      -Michael the OnlineDM

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