With all the news about D&D Next, it’s easy to forget that there are still exciting 4e products in the works over at Wizards of the Coast. The next one I’m really excited about is Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, the flavorful successor to the Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Feywild books, due out at the end of the month. More than just a splat book of powers and character themes, these Heroes of… books are more like mini-campaign-guides and a great way to resurrect old settings like Planescape and Ravenloft. We’re told to expect more from these sorts of atmosphere-heavy settings but they’re still seen as not economical enough for them to re-release in earnest (a point I’m not touching with a standard 10-foot pole).
Anyways, onto the book itself! From the previews released recently, this is not a niche book and it looks chock-full of stuff for gaming groups wanting to run campaigns centered on the Elemental Chaos. Some interesting options have been shown both for some planewalking fun and for those who want a paragon-to-epic-level jaunt through the savage halls of djinns and tanar’ri.
- Fortune Cards: Spiral of Tharizdun. Unsurprisingly, the upcoming season of D&D Encounters has an elemental theme to it. Neither of the cards in the January Preview have much elemental flavor to them, but if the Fury of the Feywild set is any indication, we can expect some soon.
- Elemental Magic. This chock-full-of-atmosphere sections are some of the most underrated parts of the Heroes of… and Power… sourcebook series. I think they’re an excellent way of sharing the world-building load between DMs and players and gets players (especially new ones) to stop thinking of their characters as lists of stats. That said, the best part of this preview by far is the list of “Known Primordials.” Looking through here and seeing names like Atropus, Cryonax, Kossuth, Miska, and Olhydra is like flipping through a high school year book. “Oh my god, I remember when Ogrémoch… You’ll love this… We were in the Plane of Earth and… Oh man…” I really hope there is a lot of material supporting these guys beyond this list, but just having it reminds me of all the books on dusty shelves that can bring material from past editions into my current game. Nice move.
- Janissary Character Theme. My first thought when seeing this was, “didn’t they already do this in Manual of the Planes?” Checking back, I realized that the Malec-Keth Janissary paragon path from that book wasn’t quite the same but pretty damn close. After reflecting, though, I think there’s room for this and maybe the opportunity for more of this sort of thing in homebrews. Paragon paths and character themes have different functions in-character so why not have more parallel options for PCs? Maybe the favored soul and alchemist savant paragon paths would make good character themes as well. This is best left to homebrew rules, though, so hopefully this is the only close-call in the book.
- Monk Preview. The haters who railed against Essentials are probably railing against D&D Next by now, but this is a good proof that Essentials wasn’t designed as a replacement for 4e since monks are only a core class. Monks have been tied to elemental energies explicitly since the first edition of the 3e Player’s Handbook so they make a natural but non-intuitive addition to this book. I’m excited to see the other ones.
- Sha’ir Preview. I think this is a good-news/bad-news preview, but not in equal measure. Like the witch from Heroes of the Feywild, this seemed like it was destined for the warlock (Patrick’s prediction and mine) but it ends up in the wizards hands. This is definitely consistent within the Essentials classes but it further confuses the line between sorcerer and wizard. This class build also seems to draw heavily from the witch’s design (heavy on the elemental, mysterious and outcast) but it takes on a new image that is really great. Overall, I really like what’s here (especially the idea of a tiny genie perched on my shoulder) and just have to hope the designers overcome these few misgivings.
- Prince of Genies Paragon Path. This is the only disappointing preview I’ve seen so far. Basically, you discover a magic lamp and get wishes which also make you half-genie. Kind of. Wizards has gotten into a lot more fluff-heavy items and class choices in their latest books and this is an example of when that goes wrong. If I wanted to play Aladdin, I’d work that out with the DM and one of the biggest parts of the story is that I only get three wishes. If this was meant for genasi characters to be like the genies of folklore (like the Sidhe lord options in Heroes of the Feywild) they should have stuck with it.
- Elemental Rewards Preview. In this preview we see an examples of a set of armor, a weapon, an elemental gift, and a primordial shard. The brassburn armor and the tidal weapon are both neat and flavorful (the fire-elemental-esque aura of the armor is particularly sweet) but the real meat here is in the last too. Elemental gifts and primordial shards, leftover pieces of Dawn War armament, are good ways to transform a character into something elemental and the pale tooth of Cryonax does literally that: a pact with an elemental prince that comes as part of a treasure parcel. If the other shards are like this one, they are an excellent bridge between typical magic items and atypical alternate rewards. You can bet a character that finds a pale tooth in my campaign is going to discover some strings attached…