One-Hour Review: Heroes of the Feywild

Heroes of the Feywild

You may have noticed from previous posts, but Patrick and I have been especially looking forward to the release of Heroes of the Feywild this month. I’m a big fan of “faerie tales gone wrong” (or right, if you’ve ever read the original Brothers Grimm) and I’ve gotten into everything from Hellboy and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to the Grimm RPG and Changeling (The Dreaming and The Lost near-equally). If you want a really twisted faerie tale classic, though, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are wild inspiration for campaign writing.

All that said, I’m a little worried before opening this book that things will seem campy and half-formed. I’ve been impressed with most of the excerpts (check out the link above for the collection), surprised by the mechanics of the pixie, inspired by the new build for the witch, and generally pushed towards an optimistic viewpoint. There’s farce, to be sure, but there’s still enough threat intimated in the excerpts to convince me I can still drive characters insane down the long road past the Catepillar’s mushroom, within sight of Hurtfew Abbey, and winding up at the Goblin Market for an ambush. Looking at pictures of pixies and feathered dragons it may all seem like Woodstock with longswords, but I’m willing to bet there’s solid substance in here… Which is why I but it early!

Those of you new to this review process. I am just now opening the book for the first time and will write as I read. Alright, down the rabbit-hole!

Chapter 1 and Chapter 5

The first chapter is called Into the Bright and seems intended to be a crash-course in the Feywild for the uninitiated. We’ve seen some of this in previews already but a summary is given in the section titles: “A Land of Enchantment… A Land Fraught with Peril… A Storybook Land… A Land of Unknowns.” They’re setting up a good contrast here; the Feywild is a place of scintillating beauty and shadowy dangers, of familiar stories and alien foes. This is how I see a lot of the faerie tales I mentioned intially as well, with familiar faces and sympathetic characters who then turn on you. This has a lot of campaign potential because it inherently keeps PCs on their toes. Do they trust the eladrin envoy? Turns out he’s a traitor! Do they suspect him on principle? Should’ve listened about that firbolg attack! It’s a classic DM move, but basically there’s room in the Feywild for twists and uncertainty as well as predictable bard’s tale fodder.

And speaking of bard’s tales, I like these sidebars around here. There’s one to start out the book, “The First Elves” which predictably tells the story of the split between the elves, eladrin, and drow. It’s a little different from the ancient wars in the Forgotten Realms setting, but there’s enough similarity that it will seem familiar even to those who have absorbed it without playing that setting. There’s also a nicely quaint map of the Feywild which I like aesthetically but I’m not sure about game-wise. Do we really want to say “this is the Feywild, deal with it!” Granted, it’s pretty vague on details and you can ignore it but I want to make sure that this otherworldly plane stays otherworldly.

After this intro, the book goes into an exploration of the land itself (attaching some fluff to the names on that map… which, by the way, actually says “Here Be Dragons” in places… Good handout material). I like the mention of these “fey crossing hamlets” as a means of reaching the plane. They’re evocative of Stardust, in a really good way, and they are an interesting counterpart to the shadow crossings from Gloomwrought and Beyond. The Shadowfell touches the world in lonely, dark places while the Feywild touches it near marketplaces and country fairs. Again, it’s not any more safe since this means a hamlet is just as close to fomorians as eladrin. There are a lot of eladrin cities and archfey demesnes to look through but first glance shows they’re similar to the information from Manual of the Planes and the underserved Court of Stars series in Dungeon. Oh well, nice to have it updated and collected. There are Borderlands and Wilderness areas as well, including Brokenstone Vale (I’m dying to try some lycanthrope action from Bark at the Moon), the ruins of Cendriane, the Isle of Dread where heroes come to be eaten, fomorian cities in the Feydark, the Maze of Fathaghn (familiar to fans of Pan’s Labyrinth), the Murkendraw swamp of gloominess, and the goblin kingdom of Nachtur (complete with it’s own bard’s tale of kidnapping villages).

I’m going to jump to Chapter 5: Build Your Story since it’s connected and I want to make sure I have time. I was as surprised as anyone when the origin story excerpt came out and I’m intrigued by it as an excellent way to tie character and setting together. My favorite part is that it’s all random: you roll a d12 to tell you where to start, then pick the best option out of what you rolled. You make a skill check and depending on your result move through the options like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. I’m itching to try this out but that will come later. The areas of story include Upbringing (are you Cinderella or Snow White?), Civilized Lands (are you a wise Astrazalian scholar or a militaristic Shinaelestra militiaelf?), Wilderness Locations (are you a werething from Brokenstone Vale or minion of some hag in the Murkendraw?), Dark Lands (have you pledged your heart to the cruel Prince of Frost or signed a terrible contract with the goblins of Nachtur?), and then Events (covering things like Lost, Made a Powerful Enemy, and Acclaimed). Determining your origin leads you through all of these different threads and offers the chance for you to have a past that you are running from or a destiny you are heading to. I like this especially because faerie tales are full of people born into one life and running away from them. Not all great warriors are born with iron in their bones and ice in their veins. Look what Samwise Gamgee did with some frickin’ pans!

Chapter 2: Races of the Fey

The races have raised a lot of questions from people because they seem to push in new ways that have been unprecedented until now. I would cautiously say this is a good thing: we don’t want the same-old, we want something new! The hamadryad is something new definitely, more plant-like than even the wildens of old. They gain forest walk (ignore difficult terrain from plant growth… this mechanic always smacked of Magic to me, and not always in a good way); a bonus to saves against daze, stun, and dominate because fo their weird tree minds; and some hefty resistance to starvation, thirst, or suffocation. They don’t require sleep either, like elves, and instead meditate in the light for four hours a night. “But wait!” you say, “What about underground? Or in a building!” Well, turns out that hamadryads only need as little as a candle’s light to survive. I can already see the plot twists this could bring up: we can’t risk an open flame with those orcs following us, but Reena’s wasting away without it! Their encounter power is similar to the wilden’s in that they pick an effect when they choose it. Either a hamadryad becomes a “Spellbinding Beauty” and distracts enemies to combat advantage, or she embraces her “Wooden Form” and resists damage. If those aren’t enough, there are utility powers as well which can sub in for class powers or theme powers. Gain some temporary hit points with body of solid oak or reheal in a tree for a round with wooden sanctuary. You can also throw off effects onto the enemy with fey mind mirror and become ethereal with spirit form or feyborn majesty. Oh, and as a final note hamadryads aren’t little treants, they look more like elf women with Xena’s armor made from giant leaves.

Pixies! I’ll skip the band references and the basic features as we’ve already heard and seen them aplenty. One new sidebar of note is about Hitching a Ride to sneak a pixie into somewhere in a pocket or pouch. A little silly but definitely tactically useful. Pixie utility powers include ventriloquist prank that distracts or slides an enemy (a d6 roll determines), pixie invisibility and the close burst gift of flight (self-explanatory both), fairy dance which makes an aura that allows allies to shift and slows enemies (I’ll probably reskin that a little), and pixie teleport trick which lets you bamf to a new square when you get attacked. Interestingly, it seems like pixie teleport trick lets you teleport 5 squares and doesn’t have a limit on usage so you could conceivably avoid melee attacks for an entire encounter. It is a level 22 daily, but still!

Lastly, we’ve also seen a lot of the satyr (more even than the pixie) but not the utility powers. Satyr’s leap lets you jump like the dickens, bending the balance lets you either heal or damage 2d6 to even a fight, tune of enchantment which allows you to make an aura with a musical instrument that makes enemies roll twice for saves versus charms as long as you’re playing, and channel the Unseelie for the level 22 power that makes you a satyr of the night with shadow-hiding power and resistance to necrotic damage. The most interesting one, though, is foes into friends which has you target an enemy just dropped below one hit point. The target comes back as a minion and is dominated by you until the end of the encounter. After you’re done with it, it drops to zero hit points and you pick whether it’s dead or unconscious. Ice effing cold.

Chapter 3: Classes

I’m running short on time here so I’ll have to skim through this. The chapter starts with a bard’s tale about the three travelers about a bard, a barbarian, and a druid. Looks neat but I’m on a schedule! The berserker barbarian build (yay alliteration?) is a martial and primal defender and striker. I think it may suffer from some identity crisis in mechanics, though they are rather specific with the fluff. The customization element to this class is your Heartland: arid desert (is there another kind?), frozen land (Winter is Coming), or temperate land (we have plenty of food and game… and we’re really pissed about it!). Each of these determines your defense bonusesand some scaling bonuses as you level up. They get the defender aura which looks the same as the knight’s but another vengeful guardian power which lets you whoomp them good if they ignore your aura. The kicker here is the Berserker Fury which turns off your defender aura (and, by default, your vengeful guardian power as well), activates some extra bonuses from your martial at-wills, and adds a nice +1d8 to basic melee damage. Ah, now I get this. They had mentioned a class where you could flip on or off the striker mode and this would seem to be it. You turn on Berserker Fury when you want to stomp things, then turn it off when you want your defender aura protecting the mewling wizard. I like and dislike this a little. On the one hand, this is a great mechanic which allows you to be flexible and really encapsulates the feel of “I’m going crazy now!” more than the rage powers of the older barbarian builds did. On the other hand, the ability to flip it on and off like a light switch is much less like you’re going crazy and more like you have an “attack mode” you enter. This seems more like a swordsman who takes either a defensive or offensive posture… I guess it’s a good build in the long run but it suffers a little from heavy handedness. Ah! Running out of time, but the “extras” promised by Berserker Fury are actually just a damage bonus to the at-wills… Literally just ramping up the damage so you’re a bit more striker. Not what I was hoping.

Alright, the skald bard starts off with optional Signs of Influence. You get to Attract Attendants which mean that when you’re in town you gain up to three henchmen who run errands for you. Neat idea but this seems like it could be abused incredibly. And what if it’s a hostile town? Or a town where everyone’s sick? You can also Demand Audience with the local ruler and you’ll get it within 24 hours, useable only once a month. I’d like a PC to try this in my campaign. Another feature gives you the ability to request rituals cast for free, as long as they’re under 150gp, “provided that the ritual caster is not hostile towards you.” I should hope not! To finish, you can commandeer vehicles to Travel in Style and obtain room and board for up to seven people with Welcome Guest. All in all, I’m not sure if I’d give these to my players as they seem like they can be abused and it doesn’t offer anything over straight-up roleplaying. The actual class features are using Charisma instead of Strength for melee basic attacks, a healing aura similar to an artificer’s, two dailies at each level (but you can only use one of each pair per day), +1 to untrained skills, Song of Rest (like before) and words of friendship. It might be starting with the Signs of Influence but I’m not in love with this class. It seems like a step backwards.

The new protector druid looks pretty neat as well: a primal controller like the original druid but with spells and little shapeshifting. In particular, I like the class feature that has you choose between Primal Guardian and Primal Predator for your druid circle. If those seem familiar, that’s because it’s the same as the original druid’s in the Player’s Handbook 2, which means that protectors inherit a plethora of druid feats to make use of. They also get primal attunements which are like primal cantrips and they have some neat effects. If you want a fey character that can snap his fingers to light a candle, summon up an air spirit on a whim to carry things for you, and pull a vine rope out of nowhere then this is the build for you. Long time fans will appreciate the return of scaling summon nature’s ally, starting with hawks and ending up with blue dragon wyrmlings. At least we’re out of celestial tree sloths.

The witch we’ve already seen so I’ll just say this: I really, really like it. Flavorful, different, and intriguing. Nice.

Chapter 4: Character Options

Alright, we’re down to ten minutes and we’ve come to the last, juicy chapter of the book. First the chapter starts with character themes, the latest craze for D&D 4e mechanics. These themes have the interesting twist of including a sidebar to take them as a background. If you don’t want to go all out with one background, take it as a background to get some other theme instead. If you have a nice DM (maybe me) you might be able to still qualify for feats based on your background-theme. We’ve seen the fey beast tamer before, although I really appreciate the subtle but significant differences between it and the regular beastmaster, and there’s no new material here. The next theme, the Sidhe lord, is an interesting one and starts with a daily utility to summon a Sidhe house guard to your side as a henchman. This is a neat mechanic but the other powers are even better in my book: Sidhe bargain lets you grant your ally an action in exchange for their action point, and temporary fey pact which allows you to forge a bond with an ally and trade one of your powers for recharging one of theirs. These have interesting tactical implications but what they’re really saying is that you can play an amateur archfey! At heroic tier! Believe me, it’s not going to break the bank which just leaves the totally cool part. Oh and don’t worry, you need to be a half-elf or a fey race to take it so no tiefling Sidhe lords any time soon.

The next character theme, the tuathan, obviously draws its inspiration from the Irish Tuatha Dé Danaan (which gets me going as my family’s Irish and I study the culture pretty avidly) and they have a little fey blood to them. Mostly they get features with a strong element of destiny (a bonus to death saves because “the tale of a tuathan does not end arbitrarily” and free reroll on Athletics checks because you are part animal). The power I expect everyone with this theme will take is Tuathan animal form which lets you shift into a noncombative Tiny (nonflying) creature as an at-will. These are some cool abilities, but all the mechanics aside I think think this is a fantastic theme for two reasons. One, if you want to play in a mostly-Feywild campaign as a non-fey race you just have to put up with not having a strong connection to where you visit… unless you take this option and tie your tiefling, githzerai, or warforged to the Feywild in this mystical way. Second, and I’m surprised they don’t make a bigger deal out of this, this is a cool counterpart to the Vistani in the Shadowfell which nonetheless has a fascinating story and intriguing mechanics all their own. I’d be interested to see a party with a Tuathan and a Vistani in it; they could explode together or be natural allies depending and I’m sure the rest of the party would always be on their toes.

The last theme, the Unseelie agent is every bit as shadowy as the Sidhe lord is bright and noble, but also undeniably fey. It’s a good, eerie, creepy option for fey characters and an interesting tie back to groups making use of the Shadowfell supplements with a player who really wants to use this book. I’m sure there are other reasons for this, but I think it’s excellent product tie-in.

There’s more in this chapter as well, including paragon paths, epic destinies, feats (including one that let’s a protector druid get full-fledged wild shape a la PHB2!), mundane gear (like cold iron shavings), and magic gear (already previewed). All this, though, will have to wait for later because I’m out of time.

Conclusions

I think I rarely have all of my worries put to rest, but I think any concerns I had about this book were very exaggerated. It does a great job of creating a feel for Feywild characters, not silly or flowery but interesting and compelling. It fills my head at least as much as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for a campaign and it’s almost as evocative as a Changeling supplement. The one remaining question I have is whether this supplement could lead to characters really out of place with other party members if only one player is using it. I think that’s a legitimate possibility but it’s also a possibility with only one character using Heroes of Shadow or the Essentials line, or even only one player making use of advanced options in the Power books. It’s always up to a gaming group to massage its interests to meet everyone’s needs and all this book does is add some new spice that needs to be taken into account. If you want a super-fey character, this book can really help you out. If you want to run a totally fey campaign, its indispensible and should give you more than enough to fill a heroic-to-epic adventure through the Feywild. Also, give me a call because I am so there.