System: Dungeon & Dragons Essentials series. This is one of two handbooks used for character generation.
Appearance: Digest-size thick softcover. Contents over 368 pages. Most is single-column with occasional use of color and appropriate illustrations.
Content: Eight chapters along with Introduction, Glossary, Index, and Character Sheet.
- Chapter 1: Game Overview – In effect a rules summary very much like the Rules Compendium
- Chapter 2: Making Characters – 26 pages of introduction and background on chargen
- Chapter 3: Understanding Powers – Rules on using powers
- Chapter 4: Character Classes – The core of the book; chargen tables (few) and comments (lots of comments) on how to make characters of one of four classes with (very) few subtypes
- Chapter 5: Character Races – Lots of background and few rules for five different races
- Chapter 6: Skills – Rules for skills (was this not in the Rules Compendium?)
- Chapter 7: Feats – Feats related to the classes presented
- Chapter 8: Gear and Weapons – Ironmongery and Magic along with a few more rules
Comment: First off, let me explain my bias here. I am a long-time RPG player and GM (playing Traveller since 1979). I have played Star Wars: Saga Edition so I am somewhat familiar with near-4e game engines. I have not previously played D&D as I was myself never into the fantasy realm but with spawn running amok who like that genre am trying to find a way to get them involved in the RPG world. Along with Heroes of the Fallen Lands I also have the Rules Compendium and the Starter Set.
Verdict: BLUF – I do not like this book.
First, there is too much repetition between the Rules Compendium and Fallen Heroes. Event the sample example of play is a duplicate. Secondly, for a book that is supposed to support character generation there is an awful lot of new rules here. They are also spread out and sometimes located in nonsensical areas. For instance, what is a feat? The Rules Compendium devotes a whole two paragraphs to what a feat is, while Fallen Heroes has an entire chapter. So you gain the Armor Proficiency Feat – what does it do for you? Don’t look in the Rule Compendium, or even in the Feats chapter of Heroes. Instead you have to look at Fallen Heroes Chapter 8, Gear & Weapons, Armor and Shields, Armor Types, paragraph 2 to find the penalty. But in a few places I think they didn’t duplicate enough! For instance, I do not understand how generating ability scores (a core component of character generation) uses only one method in Fallen Heroes but has three methods in the Rules Compendium. Seems like it should be the other way around to me.
For one of two books devoted to player characters and generating them, this book seems to have very few character paths. The way I see it, you have:
- Cleric-Warpriest-Storm Domain
- Cleric-Warpriest- Sun Domain
- Wizard-Mage-Enchantment School
- Wizard-Mage-Evocation School
- Wizard-Mage-Illusion School
Next, the layout of the book is dense text with just an occasional table and illustration; makes the content and process difficult to follow. Even the order of contents is confusing, such as placing races AFTER classes and then discussing why different races are better for certain classes. More critically, the classes chapter
Lastly, I am not happy with the marketing scheme (scam?) I see in the D&D Essentials line. I have two books for a total of 688 pages of content yet I can only barely play this game (Granted, Star Wars Saga has nearly 2500 pages of rules, but I can play the game with the 288-page Core Rulebook). According to the D&D marketing propaganda, I still need the Dungeon Master’s Kit, the Monster Vault, and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms (I am ignoring the Dice Set and tiles).
As I wrote previously when I reviewed the Rules Compendium, I keep trying the Essentials line, and keep failing. Thank goodness that I used my Borders Going Out of Business 40% off to get this book and didn’t spend more!