Hi all, @DnDPrincessAria here with your Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms review (buy the Paperback book at Amazon.com or get the whole kit). First off, the explanation of fourth edition given in this book should have been in the original Player’s Handbook. I especially like how they put in power card-ish entries for all basic attack maneuvers; I don’t know about you, but I tend to forget how the heck a bull rush or grab actually works in the heat of a battle. Enough about that though, you all know the basics of fourth edition by now, so I won’t dwell.
There are six races presented in this book: dragonborn, drow, half-elf, half-orc, tiefling, and human (of course).I prefer this one over Heroes of the Fallen Lands because of the more interesting races and classes, and I’m a sucker for strange combinations. Class-wise, you can select from the Sentinel Druid, the Cavalier Paladin, the Hunter Ranger, the Scout Ranger, and my personal favorite, the Hexblade Warlock.
The thing I enjoy about the Essentials line is the customized characters. Builds have done a good job so far in 4e, but these versions of old classics build on character background, and give a much stronger role-playing basis for players to run with.Each class provides a basic summary, background, suggested races/feats/powers/skills, and what equipment would be useful. First time players will find this book amazingly helpful, along with the character builder. I use the CB on its own now, but as a first time player of a new class, I’d sure find this book useful to help me figure out where to start.
The Sentinel Druid is a sort of leader/striker, with an animal companion “in tune” with the season you specialize in.You choose to be an acolyte of spring, summer, winter, or fall, with each giving you an extra benefit. For example, a Druid of Summer gets a bear companion, +2 Athletics, a d12 for staff or 2-handed mace damage, and a d10 for 1-handed mace damage. This is the “basher”, meant to represent the strength of an enduring summer. The downside of this is that only two of the seasons are given in this book, summer and spring, which kind of ruins the theme since you have two very similar seasons to pick from. My favorite power for the Sentinel Druid is Winter’s Withering, a level 9 daily power. It’s a close burst 1, wisdom vs. AC, and does 2W+Wis cold damage (frosty J). A miss does only half damage, but once you take on the winter spirit to cause this damage, you get an aura for the rest of the fight which allows your allies to ignore difficult terrain and get a saving throw bonus.
Next up, the Cavalier Paladin, an individual who practically drips virtue and receives divine magic for being such a beacon for humanity, which sounds to me like a high-ego Prince Charming from Shrek sort of character.You choose which type of paladin to be by choosing which virtue you represent. Just like the Sentinel, there’s only two options given, and they aren’t all that different. Each option gives you powers throughout the tiers, but I’ll just let you in on their basic benefits. Sacrifice Cavaliers get an extra healing surge, and can heal allies nearby with their second wind. Valor Cavaliers gain a bonus to initiative, and have higher healing surge values. I absolutely love the first level at-will Strike of Hope. It does radiant damage, just a simple melee attack, but it allows a nearby ally to gain temporary hit points. If your ally is bloodied, the value of these hit points goes up by 5! Temporary hit points as an at will is a great way to keep some of the squishies alive, and a way to help defenders out when they decide everyone should attack them…at once.
The Hunter Ranger is a controller/striker who relies on high-power ranged attacks. During character creation, you decide to specialize in either bows or crossbows.There aren’t that many “powers” for the ranger, instead they tend to get more accurate and powerful with their basic powers over the levels. For example, at level 20, you gain combat advantage against all enemies within 5 squares of you when you used ranged attacks (Master Hunter). There are aspect-style and bonus giving powers, but much more spread out than your average class. My favorite of these is the level 22 daily power Wrath of Root and Soil. It is an area burst 2 within 10, and creates a zone of difficult terrain where no shifting, teleporting, or charging is allowed. It also restrains any enemy which ends its movement there. What’s easier for a hunter than an enemy caught in quicksand?I think that this style ranger would be a great first time player choice.
It does sort of annoy me that out of the handful of classes presented, two of them are rangers. The Scout Ranger is a primal magic user who relies on their talents of two-weapon fighting to take out their enemies.It’s the same basic concept as the Hunter, with aspects and utilities giving the major “powers”, and lots of accumulating bonuses across the tiers.A nifty little bonus is Watchful Rest, a wilderness knack which lets you and your entire party not take the nasty perception penalty while sleeping. For utility powers, I like Stepping Through The Veil.It’s a level 22 daily, and until the end of an encounter, as long as you don’t end your turn next to an enemy, you’re invisible until the start of your next turn. I think it’d be a very beneficial power to have against a particularly nasty ranged enemy or large enemy set, since you pretty much shoot and disappear.
The Hexblade is my absolute favorite of this book, mostly because rolling a d12 for damage is an extremely gratifying ability. This type of warlock is similar to the one you know, with an eldritch bolt as an at-will, and the benefits of a pact. Yet again, only two options for pacts are given (fey and infernal). The main difference is the pact weapon. As long as you have an implement, you can manifest your pact weapon. Fey pact Hexblades get the Blade of Winter’s Mourning, a d10, +3 proficiency, light blade. Infernal pacts get my choice, the Blade of Annihilation, a one-handed heavy blade with a +2 proficiency bonus and a d12 for weapon damage.Your weapon powers depend on your pact, each making use of the individual weapons.Spells for the Hexbladetend to be dailies, such as the level 15 Vortex of Fire. This is a burst 1 within 10, dealing out 3d8+Cha Mod of fire damage. It creates a zone of fire and slows creatures in it. You can also move the zone around and sustain it, so slowed creatures could be taking damage for quite some time.
Paragon paths and epic destinies aren’t a large part of the book, with one or so provided for each class. It reads more like “this is what you get at paragon tier, this is what you get at epic”, rather than “here’s some options”.I think this simplifies things, but also cuts out a major part of character customization. Choosing a paragon path or epic destiny is a big deal for my players, they love how they can tweak and develop their characters, and they love the adventures we do to allow them to realize their path of choice. The rest of the book is everything else you need to play. Basic feats, gear, magic items, and weapons/armor complete your character creation.
Overall, it’s a cute little book with everything a new player needs to learn how to play and make their first character. As an “experienced” (haha) player, I still find it useful for new powers and simplified rules, so it’s definitely worth the $20. The racial write-ups and class sections give a great background and lots of role-playing material, and there’s a lot more guidance available than in your average 4e book. The only thing I hate is that is seems like only half the material meant for this book actually made it! Saying that a new type of druid is based off of the seasons, but only providing two seasons, seems rather ridiculous, especially with the amount of product cancellations this year. Magic items and rituals are lacking a bit, but that seems to be the theme so far in Essentials, and there are lots of other magic item resources to pull from. So go out, flip through a few pages, see if this book is for you. Hopefully this review helped you out J.