Review of Heroes of the Feywild by Wizards of the Coast

I have always thought that one of the more interesting changes wrought to D&D when 4E came out was the massive alteration to the cosmology of the multiverse. For the most part, the core D&D multiverse remained generally unchanged for years, since its conception in AD&D. Sure, there were additions and minor alterations, certainly, due to supplemental material created for specialized settings such as Spelljammer and Planescape, but for the most part the cosmology existed with an Astral Plane, an Ethereal Plane, a selection of elemental-typed Inner Planes, and alignment-typed Outer Planes.

But with the advent of D&D 4E, the cosmology changed rather drastically to include a Dawn War with gods pitted against primordials, as well as an Astral Sea, and an Elemental Chaos maelstrom spiraling down into the Abyss. We also saw the addition of two parallel dimensions, hinted at in some modules and sourcebooks in previous editions, but now given full planar status - of course, I am speaking of the Shadowfell and the Feywild here.

Last spring, 4E gamers were offered a new sort of setting-driven Player’s Option book, Heroes of Shadow, which allowed them to create characters touched by the darkness of the Shadowfell and incorporate those themes into their gaming experiences. Now, WotC has released a similar Player’s Option book, to offer players a chance to take their character creation into a realm of where eladrin, fairies, hags, and other creatures of folklore and fable dwell in Heroes of the Feywild.

Player’s Option: Heroes of the Feywild

  • Design: Rodney Thompson (lead), Claudio Pozas, Steve Townsend
  • Cover Illustrators: Emrah Elmasli (front), Eric Belisle (back)
  • Interior Illustrators: Ryan Barger, Eric Belisle , Wayne England , Tyler Jacobson, Jim Nelson, William O’Connor, Andrew Silver, Matias Tapia, Eva Widermann, Mark Winters
  • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
  • Year: 2011
  • Media: Hardbound (160 pages)
  • Retail Price: $29.95 ($19.77 from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Players-Option-Feywild-Dungeons-Supplement/dp/0786958367/ref=as_li_wdgt_fl_ex?&linkCode=waf&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon[/ame])

Heroes of the Feywild is a new D&D 4E Player’s Option book which provides additional material for players to create characters with story and power elements drawn from the Feywild. The book contains detailed information regarding the Feywild, both in a small gazetteer and map section, as well as in the story elements present in the various character options material. The book introduces three new Races and four new Essentials Classes which been designed to have strong thematic ties to the Feywild. In addition, there are four new Character Themes, four new Paragon Paths, three new Epic Destinies, and more than thirty new Feats to assist in allowing any character class to have significant ties to the world of the fey. There are also new “mundane” items of fey origin, new Feywild magic items, new boons called Fey Magic Gifts, and even a new character generation method for adding Feywild story elements to a hero.

Production Quality

Not surprisingly, the production quality of Heroes of the Feywild is excellent, with a useful and logical layout and some incredible writing from the authors. The material presented in this Player’s Option book is in a format that is both enjoyable to read, and informative for the player as well as the Dungeon Master, with considerable information about the Feywild mixed into the various options as story elements. There are plenty of sidebars, including fairy tale style ones called “Bard’s Tales”, which have been inserted throughout the book to give additional thematic material for the Feywild, its inhabitants, and rules clarifications.


The artwork for the Heroes of the Feywild is also excellent, with the notable exception of the front cover of the actual book itself. It is a dark, dreary, and frankly, uninspiring depiction of a couple of eladrin screaming their way into battle, but is not exactly what I would have expected for a cover of a book about a realm that is sometimes known as “The Bright”. In fact, I found it ironic that the cover for the Heroes of the Feywild is actually darker in shades and tones than the cover of Heroes of Shadow which preceded it. But the interior artwork within this Player’s Option book is actually really enjoyable to look at, and definitely enhances the reading experience of the supplement. And the use of the heroic characters – Keldar, Rowena, Nistynicia, Lyrindel, Andronus, and Viltham – in many of the illustrations spaced throughout the book really helps to weave in a sense of dramatic continuity into the Heroes of the Feywild.

The Player’s Options

The Heroes of the Feywild is divided into five broad chapters, providing the player with a variety of Feywild based material to use in their character creation process. The three middle chapters contain the most “crunch” in the book, while the first and last chapters detail more “fluff” based background and story information for fleshing out a character.


The first chapter, entitled “Into the Bright” offers expanded information about the Feywild geography, presented in sort of a gazetteer format, and includes more detailed information of locales discussed in brief summaries in the Manual of the Planes supplement. There are entries here for major eladrin cities, the demesnes of several archfey, and the strange wilderness locations like the Murkendraw, the Isle of Dread, and the Goblin Kingdom of Nachtur. There is also a map provided for the Feywild, but it appears to be closely tied to the 4E Core World of the Nentir Veil map. But as the Feywild exists for all worlds, DMs using other settings might need to make some geographic adjustments. The authors provide a sidebar with recommendations on this facet of the Feywild.

I think that one of the more fascinating elements to the way the authors handled the Feywild was in their use of imagery that was evocative of popular movies and novels. The Feywild has really become a sort of collage of settings, with the authors drawing upon imagery from Celtic mythology, and from movies such as “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, “Harry Potter… et al”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “Alice in Wonderland” (which, coincidentally, also draw their various imagery from Celtic mythology). There seems to be a mix here of both the whimsical and the deadly here that feels much more accessible to me than the ever-dreary ever-deathly realm of the Shadowfell, and I think many DMs will find it more appealing as a parallel reality to their campaign settings.

Chapter 2 is entitled “Races of the Fey”, and offers players the options of creating hamadryad, pixie, or satyr characters, all of which have strong ties to the Feywild. Like the shade and the vryloka from the Heroes of Shadow, these new races in Heroes of the Feywild are equipped with not only decent racial powers, but a complete set of racial specific utility powers which can be substituted in to replace class utility powers at the appropriate levels. In addition, each of the new races is fully detailed, with racial background information, naming schemes, racial attitudes and beliefs, and recommended classes which might be a good fit for them.

The hamadryad is another plant-based entity, but has much more mythic powers than the wilden did. With capabilities to move through forest-based difficult terrain, assume a defensive wooden body, or to reveal a beauty capable of spellbinding opponents, the hamadryad offers some interesting options for a character.

The pixie, of course, is somewhat is a show-stealer here, and was discussed in great and humorous detail in Jared Von Hindmann’s D&D Outsider spoof, Heroes of the Fey: Gone Wild! I can easily imagine this becoming a very popular racial selection for gamers that want to enjoy something with a bit of whimsy, but also still be effective as a member of an adventuring party. The authors balanced the pixie’s flight ability fairly well by keeping them generally earthbound at an altitude of 1, although there might still be some exploits available to a character that can always fly as part of their movement. There is a sidebar for handling the rules which allow pixies to occupy the same space as larger allies and opponents, and for dealing with weapon sizes. And yes, pixies can use pixie dust to make other characters fly, once per encounter. I’m assuming there will be all sorts of “Tinkerbell Maneuvers” created to annoy DMs worldwide once they let a player start up their pixie character.

The satyr also has some decent options for racial powers, although none quite as impressive as the hamadryad or pixie. Admittedly, the ability to stack an additional d8 of healing onto each healing surge used during a short rest will make them capable of really pushing on during long adventures. There optional racial utility powers, dealing with music and charming, just beg them to consider becoming Bards of some type, although these powers are all dailies which some players might consider to be a drawback.

The third chapter of Heroes of the Feywild details four new class options, based upon the Essentials design paradigm, for the Barbarian (Berserker), Bard (Skald), Druid (Protector), and Wizard (Witch) classes. These new classes generally conform to their origin class roles, with the exception of the Berserker, which is a defender rather than a striker (well, sort of – read on!). While I state that these classes are basically Essentials versions, in that they conform to limited options and some preset abilities, with all but one exception (again, see below), these classes show some decent refinements and push the paradigm a bit further than the previous classes.

The Berserker is a surprisingly solid class, and one that offers interesting role-playing options to the player. While the main focus of the class is a defender, and uses a defender aura much like the knight uses, a berserker has the option of dropping the aura in favor of entering a berserker fury to deal more damage as a striker would. In addition, there is a Heartland Option to select the prevailing terrain your barbarian hailed from, and the Arid Desert option actually grants substantial AC and Reflex bonuses if wearing no armor or cloth armor, and using no shield. A very good alternative for Dark Sun Campaigns. (For those players longing to portray the shirtless barbarian berserker rushing headlong into combat, here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for!)

Next up in this chapter is the Skald (Bard), and sadly it was a disappointing follow up to the coolness that the Berserker brought into the game. In many respects, the Skald is like the old 3.5 bard, with songs that could affect combat by inspiring allies within range of hearing the bardic tunes. The Skald has a similar mechanic, a Skald aura (aura 5) that is augmented by the character’s choice of songs (at will powers). While the song effects are fairly decent, they are completely dependent on the Skald’s ability to hit their foe. No hit means no cool song effect. And the attacks are all basic attacks, to boot, without any real bonuses to speak off, making the class not terribly effective at doing much besides healing - as a leader, it does get to grant two healing surges with a 1d6 bonus. Honestly, I can’t imagine this version of the bard getting a lot of play, as it is simply a snooze right out of the gates and never gets any better.

Following the Skald, we have the Protector is a new form of Druid which is still a controller as the parent class, but it shares a main feature with the Summoner Wizard – it can summon allies to fight for it. In this case, those allies are nature allies, ranging from giant cobras and grizzly bears, on up to blue dragon wyrmling and raptor behemoths. The Protector forgoes their daily power option, and simply gains uses of summon nature ally instead. The Protector also loses the wild shape option, but it is replaced by a selection of at-will utility powers which are fairly useful in a variety of situations. Overall, I rather liked this class variant on the Druid, as it offers a decent alternative to assuming an animal form and wading into combat.


The final new class option is the Witch, and yes, we are once again presented with yet another pile of Wizard powers for this class. If ever there was a class that was approaching critical mass and nearing implosion into a black hole, it has to be the Wizard. That said, the thematic power options of the Witch are pretty darned neat, and the class gains the Arcane Familiar Feat as a free bonus. The Witch chooses a coven (Full or Dark Moon) which determines their first level encounter powers and offers skill bonuses, and gains a bonus daily power called Augury which can be used during an extended rest to sort of ask for a clue. Aside from my complaint about Wizard class-bloat, the Witch seems like a fairly fun option, but I think the authors really missed a trick making it a Wizard. Personally, I would have gone the “Mists of Avalon” direction, and made the Witch as an Invoker style controller, pulling in powers from a Mother Nature/Goddess entity.


“Character Options” is the title of Chapter 4, and this chapter covers everything from new themes, to new Paragon Paths, Epic Destinies, feats, and Feywild items and magic items. As such, it’s a pretty hefty chapter, taking up more than one-quarter of the book with all the topics it covers.
The new themes include the Fey Beast Tamer, the Sidhe Lord, the Tuathan, and the Unseelie Agent. As mentioned previously, the authors clearly drew from Celtic lore to create the content for this book, and the Sidhe Lord, Tuathan, and Unseelie Agent certainly show heavy influences from that mythology.

The Fey Beast Tamer theme offers any class the chance to utilize a beast companion like Beastmaster Ranger, except that the options include such creatures as blink dogs, displacer beasts, fey panthers, and young owlbears.
The Sidhe Lord is similar to the Noble theme, but has more substantial ties to the Feywild and to the powerful entities that dwell there, such as archfey. These characters belong to powerful fey houses, and provide some decent role-playing options in this theme.

The Tuathan theme is based, presumably, on the Celtic mythic cycle contained in the Tuatha De Danann. Characters adopting this theme become mythic heroes, able to draw upon strange fey powers and magicks to overcome obstacles in their quests, and even death, in order to see that their story goes on.

The final theme, the Unseelie Agent, offers players a chance to be a bit of a dark fey assassin, and has a potent selection of powers as well as an interesting role-playing theme.
The Paragon Paths in the Heroes of the Feywild are mainly designed to complement the new character class builds provided earlier. There is the Deadly Berserker, the Master Skald, the Legendary Witch, and the Inner Circle Initiate covering the four new classes, and of those three look like very strong options to advance characters along through the Paragon Tier. Sadly, the Master Skald has some fair abilities, but simply cannot overcome the overall blandness of the base class.

The Epic Destinies offered are again deeply tied to the Feywild, and offer some interesting end-game options for characters. The Shiradi Champion elevates a character to become the personal hero of the Court of Stars, while the Wild Hunter allows a character to become a force of nature and a master of the famed Wild Hunt itself. The Witch Queen (or King) catapults a Wizard character to become a terrifying legend, the stuff of nightmares.

The Feats section has a number of new feats devoted to bringing the new classes and races up to par with older more established ones, as well as offering a few interesting new options that any class could take, including a multiclass option for the new classes introduced in Heroes of the Feywild.

The Feywild based mundane gear is really fun, and much of it useful for adding features to a story or quest line. These items are technically non-magical, but being a creation of the fey realm, many of them seem to have some rather spectacular effects. There are also some magic items that follow the Feywild theme, but the really interesting new rewards are the boons that have been added. These boons are usually granted by powerful fey creatures, and can allow a character to perform some very “fairy tale” like actions, such as carry a flame in one’s bare hand from one place to another, speak to animals or plants, or to be able to smell precious metals like gold. Again, the thematic nature of these boons allow DMs to create interesting adventures where the heroes might be given a boon gift that seems useless at the time, but will assist in driving the story later on and make it a more memorable experience.

The final chapter of the Heroes of the Feywild is entitled “Build Your Story”, and the authors have created an alternative way to gain background benefits while creating a tale of how your character became an adventurer. It is sort of a pick-a-path story framework, but with certain tangible benefits depending on your decisions and skill checks. I rather like it as a way to create a more folklore style background for a character, and definitely fits well with a book of this type.

Overall Score: 3.9 out of 5.0

Conclusions

I would have to say that I would be surprised if many don’t consider Heroes of the Feywild the crown in the Essentials line of books, because it really offers classes and class options that show more refinement and crafting than some of the previous Essentials classes. That said, the Skald is simply a mess, and I have to wonder if we needed yet another Wizard sub-class to satisfy the 4E gamer population. But the rest of the options are pretty solid, and there are some good things in this book for even the traditional 4E classes to take advantage of, particularly with regard to the themes and some of the new powers and boons.


Overall, I think it’s a good buy, and contains content that is more accessible to a mainstream D&D player than was the Heroes of Shadow book. Fairy tales, Celtic myths, and all the legends of the fey are the building blocks of many a good D&D game, and this book definitely adds a lot more fun blocks to play with for players and DMs alike.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)


  • Presentation: 4.0
  • - Design: 4.5 (Great layout, sharp writing, very user friendly)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Decent inner illustrations, but terrible cover)
  • Content: 3.75
  • - Crunch: 3.5 (Great new material, except for the Skald, and the wizard-bloat)
  • - Fluff: 4.0 (Lots of thematic material, flavor, and material for role-playing)
  • Value: 4.0 (Decent price, and a lot of material for the cost)
 

Comments

OnlineDM

Villager
I'm surprised your view of the Skald is so negative. I think it does a great job of "essentializing" the original Bard. It gets to use Charisma for its basic attacks, which means those at-will powers will be as effective at hitting and dealing damage as regular bard powers. The skald's aura is a cool twist on healing in my opinion, since the bard doesn't have to use actions in order to let allies get the healing. And remember that the skald can still take regular bard powers, too.

My only complaint is the lack of infinite multiclassing, but that's only because my own bard character has taken nothing but multiclassing feats. If I could do that with a skald, I'd immediately switch over to the new build. I like the basic attack focused powers for a bard.
 

Psikus

Villager
>four new class options, based upon the Essentials design paradigm

>While I state that these classes are basically Essentials versions, in that they conform to limited options and some preset abilities

I think you are overstating the influence of the Essentials paradigm in the book. While there are certainly some touches here and there, in my opinion the book takes as much, if not more, from the original design style. Let's look at it, class by class:
- General: All 4 builds have at-wills, encounters and dailies, which can be freely exchanged with other builds of the class. There are multiclass feats for all new builds, and feats to trade features between these new builds and their older counterparts.
- Berserker: The only Essential-ish element in the class, apart from a marginal class feature gained at level 4, is the use of a defender aura instead of a mark.
- Skald: New attack powers are based on basic attacks - though a fully MBA-independent Skald can be build by taking old powers. Aside from BA references in powers, there is not a trace of Essentials in the class - no scaling features or fixed stuff.
- Protector: This is the one new build that has a semi-fixed power slot, with summons instead of dailies. Then again, Summon Natural Ally provides pretty decent flexibility and, more importantly, can be freely replaced by regular druid dailies by taking a feat (Beastwalker Circle, which happens to be quite a strong option on its own) .
- Witch: They have a fixed encounter power at level 1. On top of that, you gain minor features at levels 5 and 24.

Overall, Essentials stuff is present, but hardly dominant. They could have published this book before Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and it wouldn't have felt that out of place. There are other subtle things that contribute to the post-Essentials feeling (the format, the fact that the builds are self-contained), but in general things follow the old-fashioned structure.


>While the song effects are fairly decent, they are completely dependent on the Skald’s ability to hit their foe

I also think your critic of the Skald is a bit unfair. Granted, its attacks lack bonuses triggering as an effect, like the new clerics, but so does every other non-cleric leader in the game. Old bard powers were similarly reliant on hitting. I do miss some passive class feature like Bardic Virtues to boost your allies, but having strong BAs mostly compensates for that (though by pushing the character in a different direction), by giving you good opportunity attacks and an interesting synergy with other leaders.

You do get passive effects that don't rely on your hitting in the daily attacks, though.

>And the attacks are all basic attacks, to boot, without any real bonuses to speak off, making the class not terribly effective at doing much besides healing

The at-will attacks are basic attacks with an additional bonus, which is how you would define most at-wills in the game, anyway. And they provide a variety of leading effects including - but not limited to- healing: THP, extra damage, extra accuracy, better defenses. They have an unusual action economy by requiring additional minor actions to switch, but other than that, the difference is mostly aesthetic - apart from the advantage of working with Opp. Attacks and other off-turn attacks, that is.

And it gets more interesting with the encounter attacks, since they provide extra damage and additional effects (of an admittedly controlling nature, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing) on top of your basic attack AND your at-will bonus to the BA. So, for example, a level 1 skald using his encounter attack can make a BA that on a hit grants an ally a bonus to attack and dazes the target - quite a good deal, if you ask me. Also, the fact that these encounters are not wasted on a miss cannot be overstated.

You are of course free to dislike the Skald, it's just that the arguments you provided don't sound all that solid, to me.

> but I think the authors really missed a trick making it a Wizard.

While other options might have been cool, I believe having Wizard witches was the lesser evil. The game currently suffers from class clutter far more than from wizard clutter, and a new class (unless it was extremely railroaded, like the vampire) would be doomed to suffer from lack of support, like the poor runepriest. Using a non-wizard class (i.e. warlock) would run into the same problems as the Binder - namely, that merging controller and non-controller builds in the same class is an extremely difficult thing to implement. By making it the nth wizard build, they make it a bit redundant, but ensure that it will have proper support and not introduce any balance concerns.
 

Neuroglyph

Villager
My concerns with the Skald arise from the diminished effect of only have one defense to bang away at, whereas the standard Bard gets to take powers which can target NADs, and have a better chance of gaining the beneficial secondary effect of the attack by targeting a weaker defense (such as Will) instead of the higher AC.

In addition, the Skald has to use 2 actions to be responsive to a situation, rather than just one. Let's say that the Skald starts off the combat with a Song of Savagery, but the defender is taking heavy hits, so our Skald decides to switch to the Bolstering Speech to grant temp HP, and then makes a basic attack. The Skald has now used both a Standard and Minor action simply to try and grant temp HP, with no guarantee of success.

The standard Bard, under Virtue of Valor, can grant temp HP twice during the fight per each opponent (at bloodied, at 0hp), using no actions whatsoever.

I think the Skald mechanic is interesting, because it hails back to the original 3rd ed. Bard class (which I happened to have liked and played one rather extensively). Perhaps if the Skald aura granted a constant small effect for a sustain minor, which was boosted temporarily upon a hit, would have made the class seem worthwhile. But in its current form, its a pale shadow to a standard Bard, and gained little for being Essentialized.
 
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Psikus

Villager
I agree that the loss of Virtues hurts a lot - that was a pretty cool feature. In fact, that alone might make the best 'Skald' build to just use one of the old bards with the Skald Training feat, and take whatever skald aura powers you want - though getting a decent basic attack for that character might take some effort.

The action economy thing can be annoying, particularly when dazed, but on the other hand you have a leader whose healing keeps working, even when stunned or dominated. Being able to use your special attacks in a charge also helps a lot there, since charging was pretty much a wasted action for old melee bards.

Overall, I see the Skald as a serviceable leader that is just one feature short of becoming appealing to me. The powers intrigue me, but I think I'd still take other bard builds over it.

On the other hand, the Berserker is nothing but pure awesomeness...
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
I can understand your view of the skald... I also believe, it could have been done a little bit better:

- master of song and stories: he really needs to get 2 5th and 9th level dailies... otherwise you can only switch out the 1st level daily until level 15... which seems like sloppy design.
- no ritual casting
- no multiclass mastery
- only beeing able to use charisma as attack stat...

However:
The feat to swap out majestic word for the aura gives you basically everything a skald has (the feat cost is compensated if you want ritual casting anyway, which got a big boost last month)

You can then take melee training or even use any weapon or stat as your chosen attack stat, multiclass freely and use any weapon you like, boosted by any feat you like:
- raapier and attacking reflex on every attack,
- warhammer and con as attack stat, and doing con damage on every miss (especially good for a valourous bard),
- using a bow as a prescient bard (nowhere is it stated that you have to make a MELEE base attack)
- having int as high as you can as a cunning bard and becoming a swordmage with int for base attacks)

You just lack some little bonuses to some unimportant powers and limit your power choice, but get a lot of freedom to compensate for it.

And the last thing:
While you can only attack a single defense at te beginning, you have power attack like powers, which means that your encounter powers never miss. And the fact, that they each have lower and higher tier versions makes them really really great.

So the conclusion:
While I believe, the skald could have been a little bit better himself (at least fix master of story and song and give him a bardic virtue), the options the old bard gets are worth a good rating...
 

Psikus

Villager
- only beeing able to use charisma as attack stat...
I don't get this point. As far as I can tell, nothing prevents you from ignoring Cha with a Skald and building a Str Skald, a Dex bow Skald or a whatever Skald with melee training, just like you can with a regular bard...
 

Jhaelen

Villager
And the last thing:
While you can only attack a single defense at te beginning, you have power attack like powers, which means that your encounter powers never miss. And the fact, that they each have lower and higher tier versions makes them really really great.
Exactly!
I also think it's extremely cool that the Skald's allies can trigger the Skald's healing power themselves.

Imho, the Skald is neither better nor worse than the other Bard builds. It just has different advantages and disadvantages.

Since I don't particularly care about the Essential classes from HotFL and HotFK, I also have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the new builds: All of them have reminded me a lot more of the original 4e class builds than of Essentials builds. It's not at all like Heroes of Shadow.

Having recently read and greatly enjoyed "The Burning Wheel" RPG and its use of 'lifepaths' to burn (create) your character, I was also quite excited about the final chapter which describes a similar approach.
 

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