One-Hour Review: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

Having psyched myself up for the new Heroes of the Elemental Chaos sourcebook, I decided to swing by and see if my Friendly Local Gaming Store had it. To my immense delight they did, and they’re in the process of re-modeling to start running D&D Encounters and Friday Night Magic. Those are topics for another day. For now, I’m excited to crack this book open and see what oozes out. How’s that for a weird image?

In this sourcebook, I’m hoping to see a few things. I want the ability to include some elemental flavor and crunch in any character I make, regardless of class or race (obviously some will be easier than others), and I want to get some inspirations on running adventures dealing with the Elemental Chaos that don’t play on tired themes: namely “let’s go to the Abyss and kill stuff!” and “in this fortress of the Lord of [element type here], there are hideous creatures composed of [element type here].” Based on Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Feywild, I think I have a good chance of getting my wishes. Here goes!

First off, the basics. The book has four chapters, making it similar to Heroes of the Feywild, and the pure-fluff stuff seems concentrated in the first one: “Into the Maelstrom.” It takes up the majority of the Table of Contents but only the first 35 pages of the text. This is not normally something I concentrate on but it’s important with the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons visible down the road. I see some sidebars later in the book, though, that will probably increase the edition-neutral percentage of the book.

Chapter 1: Into the Maelstrom

This chapter starts off with Elemental Magic, which includes some of the elemental magic preview we got back in mid-January. I’ll skip through the Scholarly Debate section since we’ve already seen it and take a look at the intriguing Elemental Expressions section. This discusses elemental magic by power source, pointing out that it is a cornerstone to both arcane and psionic powers and even has a strong presence in divine magic, “though few practitioners of divine magic openly acknowledge this connection” as it points towards cooperation with Primordial powers.

The first sidebar is here, an “Elemental Viewpoint” written in-character from the perspective of a prykineticist.

The chapter goes on to discuss mastering elemental magic itself, not just spells that access bits and sparks. In order to fully partake of elemental magic, the in-book theory goes, one needs to become an elemental creature. This is a dangerous undertaking as one can get lost in the mix and end up a slave instead of an epic-level champion. The demonic Abyss also makes an appearance here with its seductive call, all good reasons for why elementalists are rare in the world and even distrusted.

A brief discussion of the classical “base” elements (air, earth, fire, water) follows and then some more material we’ve seen: the Elemental Influences from that earlier preview. Of course, this leads us to Planar Breaches which is a rupture in the fabric of planes due to a build-up of elemental energies. I can see a pretty awesome campaign already beginning to form with a swelling elemental vortex that could lead to a planar breach someplace catastrophic. This seems especially awesome for Dark Sun. Cinderheart, an elemental fortress in the Core setting (post-Nerath) is given a brief treatment to flesh out one such location.

Next we have a description of the Elemental Chaos which gives you locations like the Feywild ones in Heroes of the Feywild. Reaching the plane, dangers of the Abyss, and elemental realms including the City of Brass, Kaltenheim (land of the frost giants), the Ninth Bastion of dwarves and men, Rheivalt at the center of an elemental river network, and the githzerai city of Zerthadlun (but not Shrak’lator).

To populate such a *ahem* chaotic realm, we have the elemental-touched races next. There are genasi to be sure but also dragonborn (emphasizing Arkhosia’s arcane might), drow (resistant drow favor elemental magic instead of Lolth’s divine magic), dwarves (the people of earth and fire, once slaves to the giants), and orcs/half-orcs (the chaotic and wrathful race) all have substantial material and other races have short paragraphs.

The most exciting part is the legacy fluff that’s attached to the main write-ups. The Crucible of ancient Arkhosia, bent on embracing elemental wrath against the tieflings; House Eilservs of the drow, the house of Erelhei-Cinlu from Against the Giants who serve the Elder Elemental Eye of Tharizdun; the elemental forgeborn dwarves (from a races article in Dragon, I think); and the legacy of the Giants and the Stoneborn among orcs and half-orcs all give ready angles for players and DMs alike to exploit.

The chapter then goes on to discuss elemental patronage with a seventeen prime examples waiting to torment players. These are broken up into Elemental Princes (like Olhydra and Cryonax), Bound Primordials, and Free Primordials. It ends with the awesome list of Primordials that should give DMs plenty of fodder for elemental enemies.

Small but noteworthy is the sidebar by Drundzhar, dwarf cultist, who gives us a look into the psyche of the Primordials’ followers. Not as crazy as you’d think and definitely a neat PC idea.

Chapter Two: Character Themes

Alright, on to the crunch chapters. Character themes may not be as new as they once were but they’re still a neat idea with a lot of room to grow. Like I said in the preview article, some of them echo paragon paths and that’s alright since they have very different mechanical niches.

The demon spawn is pretty self-explanatory, full of powers like dmonic frenzy and Abyssal doom. Earthforger is a way to make any character an earth-themed creature, centered on stone panoply which lets you damage everyone in a close burst 1 and gain resistance to all damage. I have immediate visions of Avatar, and not the blue-skin one.

The elemental initiate seems out of place, being a half-monk theme, but I suppose the “balance of the elements” has its place, and it’s certainly something different. Fire crafter does for fire with earthforger did for stone, and the blazing corona aura power is pretty cool. The ironwrought takes earth-based elemental power in an offense direction which is nice to see. The janissary we’ve seen, but it turns you into a strike-force elemental soldier. Similar to the Feywild tuathan, the moteborn are otherwise normal races who live in the Plane Below and are able to summon elemental familiars to their side. The primordial adept is one sworn to a particular Primordial and get a measure of their power, sort of a planewalking templar, and we get “two examples” here… no doubt we’ll have more in upcoming Dragon articles, hee hee! The watershaper is the wet elemental devotee, summoning buffeting waves out of nowhere, and the windlord rounds out the set with wind fury assault which lets you fly over your enemies.

Chapter Three: Classes

The druid gets a new primal aspect, the Druid of Wastes, who draws his power from “the world’s majestic, desolate places – the icy wastes of the north, the bleak shores, the great sandy deserts, or the barren rocky mountains.” This is a really great idea as it lets them hit all the elements in one while still making it more flavorful than “Druid of the Elements.” The desolate parts of the world are definitely the most primal and elemental, where civilization has not touched, and these powers are pretty neat. They can summon up living zephyrs, which pulls together from the terrain around it, and have nasty, erosive spells. We even have some new Primal Spirits (a la Primal Power) for the Wastes and several Beast Form powers.

The eternal tide monk we’ve seen part of already, but there’s also the desert wind monk who punches with flaming fists. The new powers for the monk have strongly elemental names but not as strongly elemental mechanics, though it shouldn’t be hard for you to spin your githzerai monk as a master of the elements. Sixteen pages of monk material in all, including some “lesser” monastic traditions which DMs and players could elaborate on.

This is a good amount of material and, like I said, it goes to show that Wizards has not given up on the Player’s Handbook classes in favor of Essentials. Shut up, haters.

That said, the next entry is for the elementalist sorcerer, an Essentials-style sorcerer finally which heavily plays up the “living elements” theme that this book is all about. Elementalists get elemental bolt (like eldritch bolt but with 1d12 damage) and then an elemental specialty: air, earth, fire, water. That specialty improves your elemental bolt (damage type and a lasting effect usually) as well as giving you two more at-will attacks and some other abilities at higher level. Of note are the escalation abilities which are encounter powers that super-charge an at-will that you use. You get one escalation power at 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 13th level until you collect ’em all (like violent Pokemon). There are also other elemental sorcerer powers for sorcerers of all stripes and, while elemental sorcerers are nothing new, they look pretty neat.

The warlock gets an elemental pact, which seems like a version of the chaos sorcerer for the darker class. It comes in eldritch (Player’s Handbook) and hexblade (Essentials) versions; I’m a big fan of the hexblades and the elemental buddies you get here definitely convince me I’m on to something. New warlock powers like tentacles of Cryonax and baleful eye of Imix remind us what an awesome job warlocks have.

Last in the line-up we have the sha’ir wizard, whom we also saw in a preview, with an arcane group (the Society of the Shifting Sands… A+ for aliteration but C- for cleverness coolness), a renowned elemental mages sidebar, and more elemental powers than you can shake an azer at.

Chapter Four: Elemental Options

Only ten minutes left to flip through this chapter but it looks good. The Demon-Bound paragon path seems determined to prove my point with character themes vs. paragon paths (see the demon spawn above), while the doomlord makes the Planescape fan in my core want to crow with delight. The elemental anchorite is a monk path for the truly-devoted chaos monks, the elemental savant is the same for sorcerers, and the favored sha’ir is for a genie’s pet wizard. The elemental viewpoint sidebars in this section look truly epic and I wish I could take a look at them.

The god warder is something in the other direction: a divine servant sent to destroy Primordial spawn that threaten the planes. There’s also the herald of Vezzuvu, a Primordial-specific path, and the advanced paths for paragon elemental hexblades. The prince of genies (like I’ve said elsewhere) is not my favorite, but the reforged soul who gives into elemental tugs on their being seems interesting.

The epic destinies start off with no pulled punches: emergent Primordial. You literally become a new Primordial. Awesome. Lord of Chaos focuses on the other half of the plane and seems destined to screw with whole campaign settings.

The list of feats looks interesting, with several built off a Born of the Elements feats that can make you into a living elemental. You can also gain an Elemental Companion instead of an Arcane Familiar, and the options are pretty cool: arctine, automaton, chaos phage, crysmaline, flame serpent, hordeling, magmin, mud wretch, nereid, pech, or sylph. The weapons and implements are all as expected (though the chronicle of the Dawn War tome seems like a pretty awesome idea), but the primordial shards are just as good as I hoped. I’d list them all but I’m out of time, so let’s just say that Cryonax’s pale tooth is just the tip of the iceberg. Pun intended.

Conclusion

This book definitely meets my initial wants: there are plenty of elemental options for everyone and there are lots of ideas for dynamic elemental campaigns. The only part of this book that could be expanded more is the edition-neutral aspects, but that’s not what the designers were trying to do. If you’re playing a Pathfinder campaign or looking forward to D&D Next, most of the pages in here full of power blocks and class features won’t interest you, but the fluff for sha’ir and elementalists will be of interest and help you flesh out your setting. Eberron games can certainly benefit from extra theory on elemental magic no matter what system you’re using. All in all, a very good buy.