D&D 4th Edition Pre-Release Review of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos by Wizards of the Coast





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    Pre-Release Review of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos by Wizards of the Coast

    This month, Wizards of the Coast is once again setting up a trifecta of D&D 4E fun for players and Dungeon Masters alike. Starting on February 22nd, the new season of D&D Encounters begins in local gaming stores, featuring a story arc entitled The Elder Elemental Eye. And along with this new season, there is the third installation of the Player’s Options books – Heroes of the Elemental Chaos!

    Due out on February 21st, along with a new set of D&D Fortune CardsSpiral of Tharizdun – this new Player’s Option book boasts not only new content for creating elemental based characters, but a wide range of other material such as new powers and new character classes as well. So far, this marketing strategy has had great feedback from fans, offering new play experiences to accompany a new product, as we’ve seen with both the Neverwinter Campaign Setting and the Heroes of the Feywild in previous months.

    But, of course, the real question remains: Just how well does this new Player’s Option book stack up against its two predecessors? Luckily, I have obtained a pre-release copy of this new sourcebook, so that elemental question is about to be answered…

    Player’s Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

    • Design: Richard Baker, Robert J. Schwalb
    • Development: Jeremy Crawford, Tanis O’ Connor, Chris Sims
    • Cover Illustrators: Wayne Reynolds (front), Steve Ellis (back)
    • Interior Illustrators: Dave Allsop, Mark Behm, Zoltan Boros, Anna Christensen, Steve Ellis, Wayne England, Tony Forti, Randy Gallegos, Andrew Hou, Tyler Jacobson, Jorge Lacera, Slowomir Maniak, Jim Nelson, William O’Connor, Adam Paquette, David Rapoza, Sam Wood
    • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: Hardbound (160 pages)
    • Retail Price: $29.95 ($19.77 from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Players-Option-Elemental-Dungeons-Rulebook/dp/0786959819/ref=as_li_wdgt_fl_ex?&linkCode=waf&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])


    Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is a new Player’s Option book for Dungeons & Dragons 4E, offering a range of player content for adding Elemental and Elemental Chaos thematic material to a campaign. The book contains background material on creating player-characters with ties to the Elemental Chaos, as well as information about elemental magic, primordials, and other story tie-ins. There are nine new characters Themes based upon the Elemental Chaos, as well as eleven new Paragon Paths, and two new Epic Destinies. In addition, there are new powers and builds for the Druid, Monk, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard, offering these classes character options with strong ties to the Elemental Chaos, and even the Abyss. The Heroes of the Elemental Chaos completes the package of options with new Feats, elemental-styled magic items, and even a new type of “familiar” available to any class called the Elemental Companion.


    Production Quality

    The production quality of the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is excellent, with a clear and concise presentation of the character options and great writing. Like the previous Player’s Option books, the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is easy to peruse, and uses sidebars to highlight and explain certain new concepts presented. There are also a number of bottom bars, offering what is called an “Elementary Viewpoint”, which presents the thoughts of an NPC which has taken advantage of the elemental powers described in the book.


    The artwork in Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is excellent as well, with many new pieces illustrating concepts and material presented in this Player’s Option book, although there were, admittedly, a few older pieces re-used to new purpose among the pages. The cover art is stunning and dramatic, depicting heroes trying to take on Cryonax, one of the Elemental Princes of Evil, who is described in some detail in the book, along with his kin. Overall, the artwork enhances and supports the new player material presented here, and definitely makes reading the book a much more enjoyable experience.



    The Heroes Options

    I guess that it is not surprising that when you’re dealing with a book which focuses on creating heroes with ties to the Elemental Chaos, that elemental magic and the power of primordial become the touchstone for creating content and thematic character options. The authors waste no time introducing those concepts, starting right from the very first pages of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos.


    Subtitled Into the Maelstrom, Chapter 1 dives into a wide range of topics to allow both players and Dungeon Masters to introduce elemental magic and Elemental Chaos based material into their character creation and their campaigns. The material presented in the first chapter of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is mainly of a “fluff” nature, but is some excellent story and background content, discussing the nature of elemental magic, the influence of the elements and elemental cults (such as the Elder Elemental Eye!), and the nature of the Elemental Chaos itself. The authors go on to discuss which races are considered “elemental-touched”, the ways that elemental power can manifest itself in characters, and tips on how to introduce elemental powers into new and already existing campaigns and characters. Of course, primordials and related creatures are given serious scrutiny here, but more in a story arc, background material sort of way than a “monster manual” entry.

    I enjoyed how the authors did some “name dropping” among the content presented here, including well-known NPCs from the Greyhawk setting such as Mordenkainen and Robilar, as well as Emirikol (depicted in the old AD&D DMG). There was also mention of the Drow House Eilservs, and the priestess Eclavdra, which featured strongly in the 1st Edition Vault of the Drow module, which seems to be a nod to older D&D fans, and once again hints at the possibility of Oerth as a candidate for the new setting in 2012. I was, however, taken aback at the suggestion that orcs and half-orcs having strong ties to the Elemental Chaos, particularly when the authors went to great lengths to build elemental story arcs to these two races. Historically, orcs and half-orcs were lawful evil, and had more ties to the Nine Hells than to the Abyss, which seems all the more confusing when juxtaposed against the authors other attempts to invoke nostalgia in material from older editions.

    Chapter 2 of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos deals with the nine new Themes, and all these themes, save one, have amazing elemental features and powers. The new themes include the Demon Spawn, which ties a character to a demonic bloodline, the Janissary, who has ties to djinn, and the Moteborn, which are for those mortal races who have been born among the Elemental Chaos, and have learned to survive there. The Earthforger, Firecrafter, Watershaper, and Windlord are themes for those characters who somehow have been touched by, or infused, with one particular element, and can wield it like a weapon, while the Ironwrought is infused with elemental metal, and grants the character enhanced attacks and defenses. There is even a Primordial Adept, representing a character who has chosen to serve the will of a primordial as a cultist. But the last theme, the Elemental Initiate, is a poor choice to add to this otherwise spectacular array of elemental-charged themes. Designed primarily for Monks, this theme offers no powers or effects which seem to be inspired from any of the elements or the Elemental Chaos, but instead offers abilities of physical balance and healing that might have been better released in a DDI article. That theme is frankly boring beyond belief, and offers none of the flash of the Firecrafter’s Lesser Produce Flame power or the Moteborn’s ability to summon elemental pets, and is the only real smudge on an otherwise sterling chapter.

    However, it is in the third chapter of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos where all the fun really begins, introducing new class builds and powers to make characters with solid ties to the Elemental Chaos. The authors offer mainly new content for Core 4E classes, but do include some cool options for those who prefer to play Essentials builds as well.

    The Druid gets a new primal aspect, Primal Wrath, gaining bonus to attacks with elemental keywords, and a wide range of new elemental based damage types for their beast form, such as transforming into a Whirlwind of Sand, gaining a Wildfire Aura, or biting foes with Jaws of Ice. Sentinel Druids gain a new build, Druid of the Wastes, which offers a new pet – a Living Zephyr. And Druids gain a new utility power at 16th level which should amuse those who remember the old editions – Chariot of Sustarre! This power summons the fiery chariot which can whisk the druid and his companions away, while burning enemies who try to attack them.

    The Monk finally gets the elemental effects they were denied in the Elemental Initiate theme by two new monastic traditions of The Sublime Way. The Desert Wind and Eternal Tide offer new flurry of blows powers, the former granting fiery damage while the latter offers forced movement effects, along additional features such as resistance to fire and forced movement, respectively. The Monk also gains two new elemental based At-Wills, and a full array of new powers from 1st to 29th level, all empowered by the Elemental Chaos with appropriate effects. This book offers a definite option boost for the Monk class!

    For Sorcerers, there is a new sub-class, the Elementalist, and a wide array of new powers drawing on the four elements. The Elementalist is destined to be a real powerhouse, offering a build with drawing on CON as its secondary attribute, producing a tough character with an array of potent attacks and defenses. The Elementalist specializes in one of the four elements, and gains an encounter power to broaden the effects and the damage of one of their elemental typed spells every combat. Further, the Elementalist gains access to a new At-Will, the Elemental Bolt, and one of two new At-Wills thematically designed for the four elements. In addition, there are new elementally infused powers to be used in addition to those already present in previous sources, which should allow this new Elementalist sub-class to become a force to be reckoned with.


    Both Core Warlocks and Hexblades have new content in the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos beginning with a new Elelemental Pact and Pact Boon. The Elemental Hexblade gains a whole new set of powers and attacks, as well as the ability to summon elemental archons as allies. Elemental Warlock (Mentalocks?) gain access to a new At-Will, the Chromatic Bolt, as well as the ability to substitute an elemental subtype in place of force, poison, necrotic, and psychic damage normally found on Warlock powers. Sadly, the Warlock only gains a small selection of new elemental powers, and most of those are dailies, although they offer some cool thematic effects and conditions.


    And finally, the Wizard class is once again doused with new powers, adding to the massive number that have been offered in sourcebook after sourcebook. However, many of these new powers offer something which is perhaps indicative of the new design aesthetic being considered as D&D Next is being playtested – links to older edition D&D spells! I was quite surprised to see these new elelemental-based wizard powers bearing the names of such classic D&D spells as Flame Arrow, Protection from Missiles, Ice Knife, Watery Double, Dig, and Melf’s Minute Meteors, just to name a few! In addition to these new spells, Wizards can now become part of the Sha’ir subclass, which draws its power from the Elemental Chaos and uses minor genii to gather their spells, instead of a spellbook. These gen servants act as familiars, and offer attacks, elemental resistances, and access to every wizard utility and daily power in the game! Sha’ir can substitute one daily attack or one wizard utility after every extended rest, the knowledge of these magics gathered from the Elemental Chaos by their helpful djinnling or efreetkin.


    The final chapter of the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos details Elemental Options, which include new Paragon Paths and Epic Destines, new Feats, new Magic Items, and the new feature of Elemental Companions. The Paragon Paths offer a full range of options for almost any character class to add elemental content, although most of the content is designed with the themes and class builds in this sourcebook. However, any character can take the new Born of the Elements feat, and the sub-feats which tie them to a specific elemental form, such as Child of Stone or Child of Fire. These elemental characters then will have access to the Elemental Companion feat, which is sort of a familiar for classes that don’t have access to the Arcane Familiar feat.

    These elemental companions offer passive benefits and active attacks, and come in a wide variety of forms such as automatons, flame serpents, hordelings, pechs, and sylphs. The new armor, weapons, and miscellaneous magic items are really cool but a bit sparse, however the new Elemental Gifts (boons) and Primordial Shards should add quite a bit of fun to characters who gain access to them.


    Overall Score: 4.4 out of 5.0


    Conclusions

    I have to say I was very impressed with the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, and it’s frankly the best I’ve read of the new Player’s Options books out so far. Not only was there a ton of fluff material for players and DMs to use in bringing elemental aspects to their campaigns and into their characters, but the new crunch material was exciting and well-designed (except the dull Elemental Initiate theme), perfectly matched for the concept of the book. The nods to the older content spells and powers was awesome to see in the Druid and Wizard class material, although I am a bit chagrined it took this long to see this sort of “nostalgia content” make a comeback. I wish we would have seen more of that at the dawn of 4E, than in what is clearly now the twilight months before D&D Next comes out. But still, this is definitely the best of the Player’s Options books so far, in this reviewer’s opinion, and well worth a place on the shelf of players and Dungeon Masters alike!


    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 4.5
    • - Design: 4.5 (Fantastic layout, great writing, easy to peruse)
    • - Illustrations: 4.5 (Great cover and inner illustrations)
    • Content: 4.75
    • - Crunch: 4.0 (Awesome new player content, very good adherence to elemental aspects)
    • - Fluff: 4.5 (Tons of flavor, great nods to nostalgic content, great role-playing stuff)
    • Value: 4.0 (Decent price for the page length, lots of new content for the cash outlay)


    Author’s Note: This author received a complimentary advanced copy of this product for use in writing the review above.
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    Great review but I would offer one nitpick.

    Orcs were originally chaotic evil. They only became LE with the AD&D Monster Manual but they were chaotic evil before that. Emphasising the CHAOTIC side of their alignment is actually a nod to us old timers....
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    ø Ignore Aberzanzorax
    Now I'm confused. Orcs in 3e are "often chaotic evil".

    When were they lawful? The only lawful org/goblin race I can think of is hobgoblins.
    Let the rules serve the adventure rather than the adventure serving the rules.

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    ø Ignore TerraDave
    Thanks for the review...now back to orcs.

    I also remembered wrong. In OD&D they were "C" (or N!). In 1E AD&D they were LE.

    Not sure when the chaos came back.
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    ø Ignore Alzrius
    My understanding is that orcs were Chaotic in OD&D. They were Lawful Evil in 1E and 2E, and were Chaotic Evil in 3.X. I'm not sure about BD&D and 4E.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alzrius View Post
    My understanding is that orcs were Chaotic in OD&D. They were Lawful Evil in 1E and 2E, and were Chaotic Evil in 3.X. I'm not sure about BD&D and 4E.
    My experience with LE orcs came from AD&D (1978). Don't think orcs or any other monsters had alignment in OD&D (at least not in the entry I checked), although they are listed as simply "Chaotic" in the Basic Set (1983). Regardless, I've always viewed orcs as lawful evil, probably compounded by the fact that Grummsh hung out in Avernus, which was a LN/LE outer plane.

    Just goes to show you that us "old timers" took away different impressions from the old editions of D&D, and linking orcs to the Elemental Chaos just seemed odd to me.
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    Changing orcs to Chaotic Evil in 3E was a deliberate change from AD&D 1E/2E to match "how most gamers actually used them."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Neuroglyph View Post
    My experience with LE orcs came from AD&D (1978). Don't think orcs or any other monsters had alignment in OD&D (at least not in the entry I checked), although they are listed as simply "Chaotic" in the Basic Set (1983).
    That sounds more correct. It's been forever and a day since I've looked at my old books.

    Regardless, I've always viewed orcs as lawful evil, probably compounded by the fact that Grummsh hung out in Avernus, which was a LN/LE outer plane.
    I think you mean Acheron, here. Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells.
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    ø Ignore 13garth13
    Actually, in 1E Deities and Demigods, Gruumsh was found in the Nine Hells, was he not? And then Ed Greenwood moved the Orcish and Goblinoid pantheons to Acheron in a Dragon article, which E.G.G. liked and made into a retcon from that point onward.

    Or I'm totally off my nut, one of the two.... ;-)

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    Orcs were chaotic evil in Holmes Basic which predates the AD&D1E Monster Manual.
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