Thread: Hero's Handbook Eladrin review
Monday, 8th February, 2010, 04:01 PM #1
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Hero's Handbook Eladrin review
This book is the latest installment in a series of Dungeons and Dragons, Fourth Edition books expanding the background and powers of specific races. Each book provides a look at the history and culture of the race in the context of Goodman Games' Áereth setting with additional chapters providing new feats, powers, paragon paths and magic items. While the setting material is for Áereth, it is general enough so that GMs can easily import it into their own games and settings, either directly or with slight alterations.
The physical appearance of the book continues the high standard all Goodman Games' products adhere to. The full color cover shows an eladrin firing his bow while being swarmed by undead dwarves. The cover art for the three books in the series form a triptych with the eladrin on the far left, the dragonborn in the center and the tiefling on the far right. The interior art is all grayscale and ranges from good to excellent. I was particularly impressed with the art pieces on pages 52, which does an excellent job of showing an eladrin as something other than a human with pointed ears, and on page 28, mainly for the sheer retro, D&D First edition feel. My biggest complaint about the art is that there were two pieces that were repeated in the book (pgs. 14 and 59; 17 and 61). The text is laid out in a double column format and has minimal white space. The tables and power descriptions are very readable and use countershading to good effect. All of the feats and powers follow the standard layout from the core D&D products, a standard presentation that makes them easy to read and search for information.
In the interest of full disclosure I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Chapter 1: Fey Realm
This chapter examines the eladrin as a culture and their history with the Fey Realm (the Feywild equivalent from the core books). The first few sections discuss the physiology and psychology of the eladrin race. The appearance of eladrin are not different from many other portrayals of them, tall, lithe, almond eyes, etc. After the inclusion of variable appearance tables in both the dragonborn and tiefling books, I was a bit disappointed that something of that sort was not included. [Perhaps high elves/eladrin are too iconic to play with much?] I did like the mention that the pupilless eyes of all fey are unnerving to mortals, as they are to me, and that a luminescent mist accompanies each eladrin. The authors discuss clothing, with eladrin wearing long, layered robes or tunics and trousers for adventuring. Simple jewelry is worn and astronomical and natural patterns predominate. Another interesting cultural note is their aversion to wearing animal products, except leather. Eladrin psychology is covered and can be summed up in three points: personal freedom, emphasis on tradition, and disinterest in non fey creatures. (Immature players could use this third point to ruin the fun of the group.)
The next sections examine eladrin society as a whole. Cities are constructed in beautiful natural locations and consist of many tall towers and narrow bridges. Many of the cities are underpopulated and the eladrin there sometimes live in the ruins as they are unwilling to leave. Fortifications are a more recent addition to cities, and the authors imply that such fortifications lack the elegance of older eladrin architecture. Society for the eladrin is a dichotmy of personal freedom and duty. All of the society is tied into a web of noble houses, seasonal courts and other alliances. The noble houses exist in a semi feudal arrangement where vassals provide military service to their lords, though that is where the feudal aspects end. With an inherently magical society much of the mundane work is handled using magic; thus, eladrin have no need of a peasant class, (nor are slaves mentioned). Over these noble houses reign the four seasonal courts; these courts settle disputes between nobles and are concerned with the goings on in the entire Fey Realm. Each of the four courts upholds certain ideals in accordance with their season: spring values poetry and art; summer, war; autumn, magic; and winter, secrets, shadows and death. Conflict can arise as the oath of service to a noble and to the seasonal court bear the same weight. Eladrin religion is a very personal matter; they do venerate gods but also maintain a great respect for the powers of nature.
Chapter 1 also contains sections on the eladrin in Áereth. The longest one details the history of the eladrin and how the elves and dark elves came to be. In the beginning the eladrin were the only race of elves and learned magic from dragons, and enjoyment of nature from fey creatures. During a war, the world was sundered spiritually resulting in the creation of the Fey Realm. This realm touched the physical world in places but the eladrin chose to remain in the Fey Realm, and spread colonies throughout. After the Kinstrife, an eladrin civil war, a group of them left for the physical world to serve the sphinxes. These became the elves. The dark elves developed from a group of elves who fled from slavery in the sphinx empire, while the elves remained loyal to their masters. This version of the story is refreshing in that there are no spiders involved at all, no divine betrayals, and no ill considered skin colors. Eventually the elves returned to the Fey Realm and lived in a tense coexistence with the eladrin. All of this ended when giants invaded the physical world and the elves left to aid the other races. Some of the eladrin came to the aid of the other races but during a last ditch attempt to save their realm, a magical disaster severed all ties to the Fey Realm. Now the gates only open intermittently, and are very difficult to find.
Chapter 2: Feats and Paragon Paths
The chapter detailing the new feats and paragon paths wastes no space and get right to the lists of feats. There are 17 new feats for the heroic tier of play. All are well balanced compared to heroic tier feats available in the core books. I like the seasonally aspects to certain feats, Born Under the Summer Sun, Child of Spring Storms, Prodigy of Autumn Decay, and Scion of Winter Ice, which have prerequisites that have no mechanical effect but add just a little more depth to a character and reinforce the ties the eladrin have to the cycle of the seasons. There are ten new paragon tier feats, some carrying on the seasonal theme from the heroic ones and others adding straight bonuses to combat rolls, e.g. rerolls, bonus to ongoing damage, etc. There are four epic tier feats, including the Blessing of the White Stag, making critical hits even more devastating, and Escape to the Ancestral Lands, further enhancing the fey step ability.
The eleven new paragon paths are well-written and cover all of the core classes from the Player's Handbook. Some classes even get two paragon paths. Each paragon path follows the same format as in the core books including three features and three new powers. Each path proposes a new concept (like Acolyte of the Withering Hand with its strong focus on necromantic powers), or puts a different spin on an existing one (like Arcane Balde, a different interpretation on the Wizard of the Spiral Tower).
Chapter 3: New Magic
This short chapter contains all of the new magic items in the book. Each item slot recieves attention here with the no single item type receiving undue attention. I particularly like the Staff of Wild Magic. While at first I cringed, as wild magic has had a deservedly bad reputation in editions, namely 2nd this item has nothing to do with the older iteration of wild magic and works with an interesting combination of keywords. A new type of wondrous item has been included: magical seeds. These enchanted seeds are single-use items that produce various effects, from straight damage (Seed of Bloodsap Vines), to various status effects, e.g. petrification (Seed of Stone).
Chapter 4: New Rituals
This very short chapter introduces one new exploration ritual, Know Threshold, which allows the ritualist to locate gates into the Fey Realm. The other new rituals are in a new category: curses. These rituals permanently affect the target until certain conditions are met. Each curse requires a check against one of the target's non armor defenses. The curses function like diseases, each one has an initial effect and nature checks are required to improve the condition, with two failures resulting in a permanent effect. Unfortunately one of those final conditions is a death effect, but at mid-paragon tier the saves should not be that difficult.
Chapter 5: New Monsters
All of the monsters in this chapter are appropriately fey themed. Most of the monsters draw from European folklore as is to be expected. The levels of the monsters range from the mid heroic challenge range, like war pixies and gremlins, to low epic, like primal land spirits and Baba Yaga and her house (yes, that Baba Yaga). Other creatures include the eriee changeling, incorporeal revenants, bridge-dwelling trolls, and the slightly silly dough golem.
Chapter 6: Of Fey, and Mortals, and Traversing the Fey Realm
This chapter looks at the Fey Realm itself, including the geography and how mortals relate to it. The first part discusses how mortals can gain access to the Fey Realm. This is accomplished with powerful rituals, like Planar Portal or True Portal, or through thresholds. These gates are erratic connections that usually open when certain liminal requirements are met; many of the examples given are taken from real world folklore. The next section discusses reasons as to why eladrin would travel into the natural world, and how they perceive that world. Eladrin perceptions of other races are next and most of the races are seen with indifference, except for half-elves, whom the eladrin hate, as they are seen as affront to all elven kind due to the mixing of their blood with that of mortal races. The traditional animosity toward dwarves is more a function of differing cultural values rather than just a vague given, which is well done. Next comes a look at mortals in the Fey Realm which resembles many fairy tale depictions, where beauty and danger intertwine and capricious eladrin nobles roam the land enslaving wanderers on apparent whims. In addition to regular mortals, fey pact warlocks are discussed, primarily looking at what types of fey creatures make the pacts and what kinds of deals are struck.
The geography of the Fey Realm is the next major section. The Fey Realm maintains a superficial similarity with the mortal realm, though distances shift making mapping impossible. The only sure way to navigate the Fey Realm is by using paths, which will guarantee that travelers will reach their destination, though not necessarily safely. Given the Fey Realm’s magical nature, most creatures and objects have some sort of animating spirit.
The last major section examines the four seasonal courts. I would like to have had this section in the first chapter as it provides much-needed detail on the functions and roles of the courts in eladrin society. The eladrin calendar is briefly touched upon before moving to the courts themselves. Each eladrin belongs to one of the four courts, and membership is typically determined by the season of birth or by noble house allegiance. In addition to the seasonal courts there is a fifth court , simply known as the courtless, reserved for all exiles and those born in an intercalary month, which occurs every couple of years. Each court is detailed with a section on appearance and personality, role in society, and hierarchy. Members of the winter court typically have white hair and blue eyes, are the scholars of eladrin society, and serve primarily as mages and other wielders of arcane power. Those of the spring court typically have golden hair and green eyes. This court has an affinity for music, dance and woodcraft. Eladrin belonging to the summer court typically have golden hair, and may have eyes of any color. They are the most martial of the courts and serve as warriors and warlords. The autumn court typically have pale hair and silver eyes, and perform tasks that other eladrin will not or cannot do. Thieves, assassins, grave robbers and preservers of the past are the main occupations of this court. The fifth court have white hair and black eyes. They are all insane in some fashion and live in the wilds as arcane hermits.
The chapter concludes with sample characters embodying the archetypes of each court, followed by several NPCs. All of the characters are left statless, I would guess for individual DMs to fill them in as befitting their campaign. The NPCs are all interesting, with my favorites being the Briar King and Milady Rose, for the allusions to other well-known fey from real-world literature.
This book does an excellent job of walking the fine line between depicting the eladrin as an otherworldly, magical race without succumbing to the temptation of portraying them as inherently superior to all non-eladrin. This superiority is mentioned in several places in the book, but as a psychological feature rather than a mechanical one. There is also more material in this book on how the race fits into the Áereth setting, and how Áereth ties into the Fey Realm. Even though there is more setting specific information in this book all of it is general enough that portions could be transferred to individual campaigns, mainly by changing names, e.g. Fey Realm for Feywild. Goodman Games, once again, shows an excellent command of the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons, Fourth edition, and I would not hesitate to include all of the mechanical elements from this book into one of my campaigns.
Last edited by grimjaws; Friday, 14th December, 2012 at 03:19 PM. Reason: Change text to black.
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