So I have to get something out of the way first…THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. Are you playing D&D now or in the near future? BUY THIS BOOK!!! OK, that’s done, now to the legitimate objective review.
The opening chapter of the book covers details about what the Feywild is and gives more info about the “civilized realms” of the Feywild, discussing the different courts of royalty that preside there. Unfortunately, because this is only a supplement book (as opposed to a full campaign setting) so the details are less than you might like to see, but this also leaves a very open sandbox for imaginative DMs and players to build a realm that fits their designs very well. What it does discuss is the the major courts and their relationships with each other. The Summer Court and the Court of Stars has been touched on by having Paragon paths dedicated to them (the latter actually takes the warlock Star-Pact in a completely different direction if you let it) but they haven’t been discussed in depth. Well, that isn’t exactly true, a previous release from D&D titled “Manual of the Planes” actually contained most of the information you will find in this book, but the newer “Heroes of the Feywild” adds not insignificantly to the reading, fleshing out some areas, and leaving others open to be explored through storytelling.
In the next chapter (Chapter 2 as it is known in certain circles) introduces three new Feywild races for players to use, the Satyr, the Pixie, and the Hamadryad. Each of these races presents a unique new option for players. The origin and role of each race is discussed and suite of racial utility powers that can be chosen in place of the utility powers available from the player class you choose. This is something of a departure, or perhaps evolution would be a better word, from previous offerings like the Player Handbook 3 where each race came with its own Paragon path and no extra racial utilities to choose from. I believe the designers made this change because Paragon paths are a relatively high level aspect of the game, the utility powers give you the option to make race a bigger part of your character build earlier in the game. The essence of the three races has really been captured here in these iterations, which is no surprise as these are three very classic creatures of myth. The Satyr is charismatic, nimble, robust and athletic. The racial power they come with allows them to lure their targets away to get better advantage of them. They also have to be male…which is an obvious detail because of the myths, and its nice the designers thought to include it. The Pixie race is just fun. Dexterous and quick, charming and full of playfulness. They are also tiny, so a lot of roleplay potential, and its not a problem because pixies come with the ability to shrink items down so the pixie can use it. Plus they can fly. The Hamadryads are beautiful, resilient and wise, This is another race tied to legend. The all female race is traditionally tied to a “home tree” and leaving that tree to adventure would deadly, but the adventuring dryad is made of heartier stock and able to do just that. Their racial power is either to gain the resilience of their oaken home tree or dazzle their enemies with their fey brilliance. The other fey races that have previously been available; elves, gnomes, wilden, etc. get a brief treatment partially expanding their roles in the Feywild and bringing all that information together in one book. As they have been talked about in other books this short section isn’t to bad.
The next section covers four brand new class builds inspired by the concepts of the feywild. The book introduces four new build options for four previously published classes. They are the Berserker (for Barbarians), the Protector (for Druids), the Witch (for Wizards), and the Skald (for Bards). Each of these classes is very well built and combines 4E and Essentials design very well, or to put it another way lays out the options you have in a direct and simple way but gives the player choices to make.
My big issue with Essentials, and 4E at launch, was that the player had very few choices to make. With the Essentials line, nearly every power or ability your character got was predetermined. Now I can see the logic behind this idea, in a real world scenario, people following the same vocation are trained in the same skill set and so you have uniformity in the work they produce, this is good for manufacturing and agriculture and the like…but this is a fantasy RPG. I don’t want my big beefy guy with a sword to be the same cookie cutter big beefy guy with a sword as everyone else, I want him to be “my character” unique and interesting. Luckily, we don’t have that issue here as all of these classes, while mechanically unique are fully compatible with their previously published versions.
The Berserker is perhaps the strangest of the new classes. Previously, the Barbarian class fell into the Striker role, dealing out high damage but having lower defenses and hit points. The Berserker however falls into the Defender role, High defense, mid to high damage output. This barbarian comes with a new mindset of using tactics to establish battle lines and then opening up the “Can o’ Rage” and putting down the baddies. This happens by giving powers that have the usual Defender “marking” ability but then when the player chooses to enter a “rage” that ability becomes unavailable but all of the characters other attacks start dealing out extra damage on a hit. At first glance I wasn’t sure I liked this idea, but it has actually grown on me. It gives the feel of playing a more civilized character, like Conan or Tarzan after they have spent some time in the cities.
The Protector druid build brings back an old druid feature that had been dropped from 4E, the animal companion. In previous iterations of Dungeons and Dragons the druid and ranger always had a faithful animal buddy to fight by their side. Unfortunately, this creature always got over shadowed and became more of a liability than an useful ally for most of my characters. They just didn’t have the stats to keep them on par with my actual character. This new druid build fixes that by focusing on the animal companion to the point where your druid will more than likely be standing in the back of the fight issuing orders to the companion. This brings us to the big draw back of the build, you lose the druid wildshape feature if you choose this version. You can get it back by taking a single feat, but for me this detracts from the cool factor of the druid. Being able to shape change from level one was what it was all about. This isn’t a horrible class option…just not the best in my opinion.
The Witch, the new wizard build, takes the class down a slightly different path than the stuffy bookworm that is the traditional wizard. This version still has to train hard and use their brain, but they take the classroom outside and learn their magic from a powerful fey patron. Rather than gaining the ability to have multiple daily spells this class gets a familiar for free and can send the familiar out to trade daily spells. Additionally, the witch chooses a moon coven, so far the choices are full and dark moon that dictates what extra skills the character has. The full moon coven is one of healing and diplomacy, the dark moon is about fear and secrecy. The last feature change is easily in the running for most useless power ever. The witch has a daily power called Augury usable during an extended rest to ask a question of the DM about the future of the game. This might sound cool to a new player, potentially learning some insider information that will prove crucial in the near future, but I’ve been around a table or two where this kind of power just ruins the fun for everyone. Usually what ends up happening in these scenarios is the DM is not prepared for the question the player thinks up and either gives an answer with to many details ruining upcoming plot, or the DM gives no details and the player feels like they have wasted the power/choice. A good DM can prepare for this, and the book says the answer should be vague, so this isn’t a nuclear bomb sitting in the players lap, but it will be far less fun than it sounds on the initial read.
Finally, we get to the Skald, the new Bard option. This is, in my opinion, the best class 4e has available. It is simple to use, but has a subtle complexity allowing the most customizable character class. The trick is the Skald Aura. This is the crux of the entire class. It is an aura 5 that almost all the other skald powers work off of. Rather than making at-will attacks like most classes, the skald uses basic attacks. Their at-will powers are minor alteration to the Skald Aura that provide additional effects to benefit the character and his or her fellow party members. This could be a bonus to an attack or damage roll, or a hit point boost depending on what the bard chooses to have it be. Daily powers act in much the same way, but provide a bigger, longer lasting effect than the at-will powers. If you choose carefully the powers will overlap giving many interesting tactical scenarios. The other, and most useful aspect of the skald aura it healing properties. Before now, a wounded party member had to wait for the bards turn in order to receive healing. Now, as long as the character is within 5 squares of the aura they can spend their own minor actions to heal…or spend their own minor actions to heal someone they are adjacent to. Now the cry of “MEDIC!” can be answered by anyone in the party if they are within range of the skald. All of this however is not what makes the skald such a unique class. What makes this class unique is that it doesn’t have any ability score requirements. That’s right…none. It doesn’t matter if you are ugly as mud and as interesting as said mud…you can be a bard. None of the attack powers are based off of an ability score because they all use basic attacks. That means if you want your character to be strong and wise…put your points in Strength and Wisdom. Want to be nimble and quick witted, go with Dex and Int. Now thats not to say there isn’t a benefit for following normal ability scores for a bard character. A lot of the class skills are still charisma based, but this class build allows you to truly customize your options.
This discussion of classes that appear in the book also highlights the weakness of the book. These classes are good solid options…but these are all the options the book gives you. The feats that appear in this book require that you have these classes or one of the fey races. This is a thematic book. Its about the Feywild, says so right in the title “Heroes of the Feywild. So I guess its no that big of a deal. I would have preferred that they give more option though in the classes that could use the book. I like things to be all inclusive. But you can’t please everybody all of the time.
This book offers one thing that allows nearly every character to display some connection to the Feywild if they choose, Themes. Themes are a new option that you can choose for your character at first level that flesh out who the character is and where they have been in the wold before you sit down to play them for the first time. There are a lot of options in this book and I won’t go into them all (for both time and copyright issues), but a I will describe a few the option to wet your whistle. If you liked the idea of the druid with the animal companion but don’t want to be a druid, you can take the Fey-beast Tamer and gain an animal who will fight by your side. This works similar to a summoned creature power, but is permanent. The beasts stats are based on your level so it looks like it will stay a viable ally through higher levels. There is also an option that could make your character into fey nobility giving you a loyal vassal and the ability to throw your weight around at parties. Another option ties your character to the dark Unseelie courts, making you an agent of the darker denizens of the Feywild. Once you sign that dark contract you will find you never lack the tools needed to fulfill your shadowy patrons demands.
The last section of the book is by far my favorite. The last chapter is an actual character origin builder. Using the number of class skills as the basis for how many steps you will be taking in this section, the book walks you through choosing race, ability scores and skills for your carchter while giving you the base details of a rich and interesting pre-adventuring life. You can determine your social standing at birth, what kind of jobs you may have held, and how you came to be where you are today by following the little “roll-your-own-adventure” guide in th back. This allows players to know who their character really is with just a little further application of imagination. Many times I have been sitting around a gaming table and looking to fill a conversation gap but not knowing where my character came from or how that might fit into the world the character is in now. With this option you can be from somewhere…but that somewhere is over in the Feywild, a place that you probably aren’t at the moment. It can be a place that exists but not a place that has to have every detail known to the DM and the players.
So the final word on this book is buy it if you are participating in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. It is an amazingly useful supplement, especially if your character or campaign has anything to do with the Feywild. In my opinion this should be the model for all future materials of this sort. They dropped the ball with Heroes of the Shadowfell…but I haven’t seen Heroes of the Elemental Chaos so there is hope. Final rating 4.99 out of 5.