Essential Reading: Heroes of the Fallen Lands pt 1

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No idea how many  parts this will be. I’m just going to start going through the book and commenting on interesting things in a somewhat disorganized manner. I should note that I’m reading/writing this from the perspective of someone familiar with 4e but who hasn’t been obsessively keeping up with the previews and spoilers for Essentials.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…Okay, appearances. I really like the new format of 6×9 books. HoFL is about an inch thick, glossy stock paper with full color illustrations. An attractive little book. The cover art isn’t Elmore like the Red Box is but the orange and brown cover art is evocative of him. The binding concerns me, but it’s supposed to be a “lay flat binding” that prevents spine breakage and pages falling out. We’ll see.

On to the inside. I’m going to cheat and skip over the first 77 or so pages. This is a section for n00bs – what is a role-playing game, what those silly dice mean, etc. I’m skimming it but not seeing much noteworthy. I’m guessing this stuff is reprinted in the Rules Compendium so I may give it some more attention there.

p. 25. They explain what [W] means, right off the top. THANK YOU!!! That was the most frustrating thing about the Player’s Handbook. Seems so silly now in retrospect.

p. 26 There’s an emphasis on Basic Melee/Ranged Attacks coming early on. This is a pretty solid change from the PHB, but then so is the organization of presenting basic rules before races/classes.

I haven’t compared word for word with the PHB but I get the definite sense things are explained here in more narrative language and less rulesy stuff. The section on alignment and then on leveling up jump out at me in this area.

The intereior art, especially the splash page stuff, is really nice.  I think I may have a crush on Falon of Nenlast.

p77 – okay, classes. This is why I picked up the book. Cleric first. Warpriest is the build. What makes this different from Battle Cleric?

A couple of pages worth of advice on races, attributes and feats that make a good cleric.

Heavy focus on Domains. I like that – it’s felt like 4e clerics were only tangentially tied to their gods before. But the structure of this is…odd. And especially the inclusion of only 2 Domains (Sun and Storm).

p. 84. Definitely crushing.

p.87 Level advancement table. These are apparently different for each class. That’s a throwback to the 1st edition of my youth, definitely.  At 1st lvl a Warpriest gets Healing Word, a handful of Domain features and powers (2 At Wills, an Encounter Utility and an Encounter attack, plus a benefit and an added effect to Healing Word), 2 Channel Divinity powers (Smite Undead and one from the Domain) and a choice of one of three Daily powers.  Encounter powers picked up at 3 and 7 are based on your Domain. All Warpriests get a new Feature at lvl 5 based on the Domain (Storm damages enemies adjacent to the target when you use Healing Word, Sun grants some extra Temp HPs.

That’s some of it, and I’m not going to reprint the whole table here. But my point is this is WAY different from the PHB cleric. I have no idea how this is going to live alongside other builds in the Character Builder.  I really like this approach but it seems…messier than the core book cleric. More moving parts to keep track of, although the number of choices at each level is greatly reduced.  These are very much cookie cutter builds with some minor choice being made at occasional levels, but I don’t say that as an insult.  The big choice is whether you use the star cookie cutter or the candy cane one. Mearls talked about that in one of the podcasts – making the decisions you have to make more important to the character. A good approach but if Essentials is targeted toward new entrants into gaming it would seem a more streamlined level advancement approach, as presented in PHB where everybody gets the same things at each level, would make more sense.

Again, I’m dying to see how this works in the builder. And I note the absence of the Healer’s Lore feature in this build.

Okay, I think calling these builds is a mistake. These are more like entirely new classes.

Hey, all Clerics get Resurrection as a lvl 8 Daily power. Neat. Old School!

p. 98 Paragon Path – you only get one for the Warpriest. Again it’s structured with powers and benefits gained based on Domain. I really hope they drop some more paths (and more Domains) on DDI or this is going to feel pretty incomplete. Why even have “Paragon Paths” if there’s only one option? I guess you could take your Warpriest and the pick up Battle Chaplain or some other Cleric PP at 11 but I don’t think it would mesh all that well.

p. 122 Fighter. We get two “builds” here: Knight and Slayer.  And Slayer is a striker. This is a big paradigm shift for 4e here.

p. 127 Knight is up first. Interestingly, there’s an Equipment section as part o the advice on choosing this class, and it lists only Longsword and Hammer. Looks like there are 2 flavors of Knight and the type of weapon is going to make a big distinction. Like Domains, I wish there were more choices outlined here but I can live with this.

p. 129 level progression. And my mind is officially blown. I’d heard Fighters were going to work mainly on auras and stances but this is really awesome. There’s an aura 1 that marks foes, and a feature power that allows you to take a basic melee swing if somebody in your aura moves/shifts or makes an attack that doesn’t include you. This is an Opportunity Action and not an Interrupt, so it’s better than Combat Challenge.

And Fighter At Will attack powers are gone, replaced by at-will stances. You choose two from a list of six – each stance has  a different effect allowing Cleave, some shifting, slowing a foe etc. That’s a neat way to do it.

Combat Superiority is gone, so Wis isn’t that important for Knights it would seem

p. 132 You get an Encounter power at lvl 1 called Power Strike. Lets you add 1W to an attack that hits.  Looking ahead, at lvl 3 and again in the Paragon tier you get some more usages/encounter of this (but still only 1/turn, kind of like Healing Word. Again, turn, not round.)

Other features as you level give init bonuses and damage bonuses. That feels a little 3e. Utility powers are all tied to what skills you have trained, which is a great way to handle it. There’s some emphasis on doing damage here but also a LOT on protecting and self-heal.

Again, only 1 Paragon Path. And aside from a rider on Power Strike that you get at 7 and 12 there’s not as much reliance on longsword/hammer paths as I’d thought.

p. 146 Slayer. The striker build.  Set up similar to the Knight but with more focus on damage. Instead of getting a shield-based Feat at lvl 1 the Slayer gets a damage bonus based on his/her Dex mod. Str/Dex are the stats du jour here.  There’s no marking/OA aura powers but still stances for melee basic attacks at lvl 1.  All of these stances look like they give bonuses to attack or damage, not much in the way of movement or controllery stuff. Power Strike seems to work the same way as under the Knight. Weapon Specialization seems to be 2h axe or greatsword.

Overall the structure of the Slayer is very similar to the Knight but just with different focus. By lvl 10 the Knight get a +1 to attack and damage (leaving out any stances), +4 init, no penalty for using a shield, and the marking aura/OA power combo. The Slayer gets a Dex mod+2  bonus to damage, a +1 attack bonus, the ability to swap out weapons as a free action, and a +1 bonus to saves. That doesn’t actually seem like a very good trade.  I’m guessing under more scrutiny the stances are more potent overall. Have to see how  that all works in play to see if the Slayer has enough oomph to stand up to other striker classes.

The other classes, races, and feat chapters will have to wait for next time. So far I like what I see here, but it’s definitely a different animal from how classes  were structured in the PHBs. Not enough to call this 4.5. It will be very interesting to see if they continue on this trend of different design styles (and especially varying them from class to class) as things go forward. I hope they do.

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16 Responses to “Essential Reading: Heroes of the Fallen Lands pt 1”

  1. Bryant Says:

    The useful thing about calling ’em builds rather than classes is that you can still mix and match powers. Less so for fighters, but clerics and wizards both have encounters and dailies as per usual. There’s a bit on page 57 about this.

    I think the Knight would absolutely be easier for most newcomers to play.

  2. Jack Kessler Says:

    I’m looking forward to your readings. I sort of gave up on DDI early in the year, a couple of months after our 4E game went on hiatus. But I started looking things up again last month in prep of starting it up again. And whoah! Things are changing. They say it’s not a new edition, but it’s definitely a 4.5 at least, according to the change doc I saw.

    What things should I be on the look out for? And will we still be able to use the old material in the CB?

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      I added a description of the Slayer build above.

      I really don’t think it’s a 4.5. The core rules haven’t changed really at all. I’ll see more of that when I get to the Rules Compendium I’m sure I’ll see more of that. I don’t think these builds are any more different than PHB3 adding power points for Psionic classes or Primal Power really shaking up how Summoning was done.

      All the old stuff will still be in the CB. This tuff is just optional. I suspect there will be options to include/exclude the Essentials content when the builder update comes along.

      • Jack Kessler Says:

        Really? Seems like some of the changes are more extensive than with 3.5. Removing Daily Magic Item uses, which changes a significant number of items mechanically in a way not yet revealed. Significantly changing the magic item economy in ways that are probably unforeseen as of yet. And will probably affect the amount of gold given out per level. Reclassifying all powers as either Attack or Utility, which removes a bunch of options from non-human druids in beastform, which is the way they’ve been focusing druids so far. Making level progression non-uniform among classes? What else would we need to make this 4.5?

        • Christopher Tatro Says:

          I never played 3 or 3.5 so I don’t know the extent of the changes there. The distinction here I think is that there have been incremental changes all along, many of them pretty significant. It’s more a living document than something set that upgrades to a new version all at once.

          As for the specific examples you cite, the change to magic items I don’t think are too big. Daily item powers never made sense/worked right from the start and needed fixing. The treasure parcel tables in the DMG were ridiculous and in dire need of revamping. They give out way too much treasure and too many items – I never use them and the published modules I’ve read don’t come anywhere close to following them. How will this effect the in game economy? That’s up to the individual DMs how they want their worlds to be.

          I didn’t notice the reclassification to Attack or Utility, but I don’t think that’s too big a thing. Druids won’t be out until the next book (in November I think) so I don’t know how they’ll handle those but if the Thief is any indication the classification won’t make things too different.

          Progression is uniform in that the XPs are the same but they’ve just deviated from the “everybody gets the same stuff at each level” pattern.

          To make this a different version? They’d have to say the previous stuff isn’t valid and can’t be integrated with this stuff. Which isn’t what they’re saying now. How *well* will it integrate? Not sure.

          • Jack Kessler Says:

            We pretty much stayed with 3.0, until the very end of 3.X when the GM had bought the copies of 3.5 finally. I never did. As far as I can recall, there was no real problem using one or the other. The changes were really quite minor. Mostly nerfing some wizard spells, and changing the rules to be more miniature friendly (for their new line of miniatures, dontcha know). But nothing that couldn’t be ignored. And we did, for the most part.

            The new setup makes ignoring the changes difficult IF you want to continue using the shiny tools. And they are so shiny, who wouldn’t? I wish the CB was more flexible to tweaking, so I could return some changes to the old ways (OR ADD MY OWN ITEMS!!!!)

            I agree, they are treating 4E as a ‘living document’ which major changes coming down 3-4 times a year. The RC and essentials are just putting that stuff on paper. Which is good.

            In that respect the whole of DDI is 4.5+.

            • Bryant Says:

              Wellll. 3.5 removed skills, rewrote a couple of classes (ranger and barbarian), and they published new class splatbooks that overrode the old ones.

              • Jack Kessler Says:

                Ah, I forgot about the classes as we never used those two.

                As for the splatbooks, you mean like the thin softcovers to the ‘Complete’ lines? I don’t think we ever had trouble mixing and matching those – but then our game was so house-ruled, it hardly mattered. 🙂

        • Christopher Tatro Says:

          Having read the magic item section now (I cheated and will blog it tonight) they didn’t do away with daily item powers but removed what I saw as a pointless restriction on them. In the PHB rules a Heroic tier character can only use 1 Daily item power per day/before an extended rest. Here it seems if you have 5 items all with Daily Powers you can use them all in that same day. They do seem to have moved the Daily power items to the Rare level (there are none in this book but they are referenced) so that you likely won’t have 5 of them though.

  3. Len Says:

    CHris, a Slayer at level 10 looks to me to be having a flat damage bonus of +5 to +8, on every hit, with (apparently) no situational conditions and not counting any feat bonuses or item bonuses. I think that will match up with other Strikers just fine.

    As I read your comments, some of this feels weirdly like regressing to 3.5. I wonder if WotC sees some stats somewhere indicating a holdout 3.5 playing demographic they are still trying to get buying 4E product.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      Some of it seems to nod back to 3.5 but I think more it’s nodding back to 1st edition. My sense is Mearls et al grew up playing the original Red Box and 1st ed and want more of that flavor. For the most part it works for me and I thin it will hit a lot of nostalgia buttons but I think it’s not as easily accessible as a new entry point as they may be hoping.

    • Bryant Says:

      I’m gonna have to do the builds to see. Half-orc slayers can easily hit +10 damage before feat and item bonuses, but given that a rogue is hitting on average +7 from Sneak Attack and +5 (at least) from Dex…

      • Len Says:

        Right, but Sneak Attack is not necessarily going to be applying to every attack. The lack of prerequisites is nice. The Slayer bonus may not make it DPR king by any means, but I don’t think it’s going to be down with Assassin either.

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