Dungeons & Dragons – Players Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Cost: $29.95 ($19.77 on Amazon.com)
Release Date: 02/21/2012
Get it Here: Amazon.com
Although the vast majority of us here at Diehard GameFAN tend to prefer the earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons (and some of us are even working on D&D Next/5th Edition), there’s no denying that 4e has been putting out some quality products in the last year. I really enjoyed the Neverwinter Campaign Setting. We’ve also given positive reviews to things like Modenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium and Heroes of the Feywild. Now it’s time to see how the latest Fourth Edition book, Heroes of the Elemental Chaos holds up. I’ll admit I’ve been interested in this book as one of my favorite characters from 4e, Jhesrhi Coldcreek (from the Brotherhood of the Griffon series of novels) channels the raw power of the elements and also has the ability to speak with elemental spirits. So did I find the book worth thirty dollars, or is this Player’s Option best ignored?
Chapter One: Into the Maelstrom
The first chapter of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos has seven unique sections.
Elemental Magic. This section gives a quick overview of what elemental magic is and what the four elements are (Earth, Fire, Air & Water).
Elemental Influence. This section talk about the Primordials, ancient beings that existed before the gods made of pure elements. These are the forces that shaped the universe and what kinds of people would worship elementals. You get a description of a few elemental cults here as well.
The Elemental Chaos. This section talks about the elemental plane itself, how PCs can reach it, and what they should expect to find there. It also talks about some elemental realms like The City of Brass controlled by the efreet or Zerthadlum, the stronghold of the githzerai.
Elemental Touched Races. This section shows racial and cultural connections that demihuman have to the elemental plane. You have things like the Dragonborn of the Crucible, which allowed themselves to channel pure unadulterated elemental power to destroy a group of evil tieflings, but who then in turn were consumed by the power they used. This section also details a cult of drow that worshipped The Elder Elemental Eye, a story about how Stonechildren were originally elemental touched half orcs and other interesting things that can be used for either plot hooks or PC origin stories.
Gaining Elemental Power. Here we are given a list of ways to become elementalists.These range from prolonged exposure to the Elemental Chaos, finding primordial shards or getting an elemental to act as a character’s patron.
The Primordials. This section is the longest in Chapter One and gives you the bios of nine Elemental Princes, six Bound Primordials, and three Free Primoridals. All Primordials are as powerful as the Gods, but Elemental Princes are the equivalent of rules in the Chaos. Bound Primoridals are Primordials that were sealed away because of their destructive natures and Free Primoridals still walk the Prime Material Plane, untouched by the deities of the worlds they inhabit for unknown reasons. The section then ends with a two page long list of dozens of Primordials, their current status, notes about them and what world they would be on.
Elemental Power in your Game. This last section of Chapter One just gives some brief ideas on how to use the book in your personal campaign and along with how to introduce characters and adventures with this book.
Chapter Two: Character Themes
Chapter Two provides gamers with ten new character themes to use with their characters. Each theme gives you a bonus feature at Level One and then generally two more, usually at levels 5 and 10. Themes also gives you optional powers that you can take when you reach the appropriate level instead of a class based power. These are similar in nature to the Neverwinter character themes that we looked at in great detail back in August of 2011. Here’s a quick rundown of the ten you get in Elemental Chaos.
Demon Spawn. These characters can be of any race, but as they grow in power and age, their demonic nature starts to reveal itself. Why this needed when we have Tieflings as a race is beyond me. Anyway, Demon Spawn begins with elemental as part of their character origin, meaning that anything that affects elementals also effects them. They also gain a Demonic Frenzy power…which is a pretty unimpressive attack. At Level 5 Demon Spawn gain +2 to Intimidate checks and the ability to read, write and speak Abyssal. At Level 10, they gain Resist 5 to a specific element, which is boosted to Resist 10 at Level 11 and Resist 15 at Level 21. Optional powers include temporary darkvision, the ability to reroll a single missed attack in an encounter and an extremely poorly worded level 10 power that never should have made it to print in this fashion. It’s that messed up. Overall quality: 1/10. Pretty useless.
Earthforger. This is pretty much for dwarves and it’s a pretty neat theme. At level 1 the Earthforger gains Stone Panoply which gives you a ranged burst attack and resistance to all damage equal to 1 + Ã‚Â½ your level. So a Level 1 Earthforger gets Resist All 2, and a Level 10 Earthforger would have Resist All 7. The downside is that your movement is halved until the end of your next turn due to the earthy weight gain. At Level 5, the Earthforger gains +2 to Endurance checks and their Stone Panoply power creates difficult terrain for enemies. At Level 10 all forced movements are reduced by one square. Not too shabby all in all. Optional Powers include bonuses to Strength and Damage rolls, phasing through earth and an aura that heals the character or an ally while causing difficult terrain for enemies. Pretty neat class, especially if paired with a Dwarven priest or Paladin. 7/10.
Elemental Initiate. These characters are generally monks who have grown up or trained in a monastery dedicated to elemental harmony. At Level 1, an Elemental Initiate gains +2 to using unarmed attacks and the damage goes up from 1d4 to 1d6. If that isn’t enough they ALSO get proficiency with Ki focuses and the Disciplined Counter power. This power lets you do damage to an enemy when they miss with a melee attack and push them away up to two squares. All this at Level One? Insane! At Level 5, the EI gets training in either Arcana, History, Nature or Religion and at Level 10, they gain a +1 Power Bonus to Will. So the Elemental Initiate starts out awesome but the later features aren’t as impressive. Optional powers are merely okay. They include the ability o ignore difficult terrain, extra healing with a surge and gaining +2 to all defenses. Overall nice for a Monk, but useless for anyone else. 5/10.
Firecrafter. The Firecrafter is the most intense of the themes. They have a TON of optional powers at Level 3, 6, 7, 13, 17, 23 and 27. All but one are pure damage dealing attacks and the other just gives your enemies vulnerability to fire 5 along with an additional -2 to all fire based saving throws. This is insane. The actual features are pretty overpowered as well. At Level 1, you emit light up to five squares, can communicate in the Primordial tongue AND an aura of fire that causes damage to any creature (including allies) within range. At Level 5, the Firecrafter gains +2 to Acrobatics and +1 to all fire related attack rolls. At Level 10 their Level One fire aura gets enhanced even farther. The Firecrafter is insanely powerful, up there with the werewolves and wererat themes of Neverwinter. Pretty much anyone should take this. 10/10.
Ironwrought. This is an odd theme as the flavor text behind it is mostly jargon. Basically it’s a warrior that channels elemental power to enhance their combat prowess. At Level 1 the Ironwrought can deal extra damage with a melee attack. At Level 5, it gains Resist All 2 when bloodied and at Level 10 it gains +1 to melee attacks when it uses its Level 1 Feature. All in all, kind of dull and uninteresting. The Optional powers are equally unimpressive. They include gaining a +2 bonus to AC and Fortitude when a surge is used, a little bit more Resist All and critical hits when you roll a 19 or 20. Just not very interested or useful compared to a lot of other Themes in the book. 3/10.
Janissary. This is an interesting concept to go with. A Jannisary is a character that works directly for a genie. It makes for an interesting balance when a PC is one, as they have to juggle their teammates with the whims and needs of their master. Also makes for some nice potential adventure hooks as well. Features include gains +5 to Endurance checks and temporary hit points coupled with a charge attack at Level 1, +2 to Bluff, Diplomacy and Insight checks against Elementals and +2 saves against Fear and Charm at Level 10. Optional powers include an aura that gives resistance to elemental attacks, a mist form (!) and gaining +2 to attacks when you use a surge. All in all, it’s a pretty nice set of abilities with Mist Form at Level 6 being the most impressive. 7/10.
Moteborn. This theme is for mortal characters that were either born on the plane of Elemental Chaos or have lived there for some time. Perhaps they still do. Living amongst the Elemental Chaos gives a mortal some special new tricks to use as an adventurer, all of which add up to make this on par with the Firecrafter as the theme to take. At Level 1 the Moteborn gains +2 to Arcana checks, the Primordial language and the ability to summon a small Flame Zephyr (elemental creature). The flame zephyr gains hit points and power as the Moteborn levels up, making it a pretty insane bonus for a Level 1 character. At Level 5, the Moteborn gains+5 to checks involving location and activation of magical portals. At Level 10, you can now summon the Flame Zephyr twice a day. Optional Powers include resistance to elemental based attacks, the ability to summon a minor elemental and make it perform a task for you and finally, create magical land mines made of pure elemental power. Insane. 9/10.
Primordial Adept. This theme is for characters that worship Primordials. They can be of any class – it doesn’t have to be a cleric. They are adventurers mainly in an attempt to find lost places of power that once belonged to their elemental patron (or any other Primordial). At Level 1 you gain proficiceny with Rods and one of two powers. You either get Solkara’s Wave, which causes cold and slow damage, or Vezzuvu’s Eruption, which causes thunder damage and prone status. At Level 5 you get +2 to Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight and Intimidate checks against Elementals. At Level 10, the character’s Level 1 power gets +2 to damage rolls. Optional powers continue with the Cold or Electric theme. At Level 2 you get an aura that causes your enemies various penalties (what exactly is based on which route you took at Level 1), At Level 6, you get either the ability to create large icicles or a flame/rock based armour and at Level 10, you can summon three elemental guardians to help you out in combat. All in all, not bad and I like the two different path options. Plus anytime you get a free ability to summon allies in combat is an automatic win in my book. 7/10.
Watershaper. This should be pretty obvious. A character with this theme channels the power of water elementals. Oddly enough, it’s primarily for Halflings. Druids would also really make good use of this theme. At Level 1, Watershapers can read Primordial, get +2 to underwater combat and can breathe underwater. If that wasn’t enough, they can swim at half their speed and gain the Buffering Wave power which is a nice little attack. All this at first level in addition to your class bonuses. Crazy awesome. At Level 5 the Watershaper gains +2 to Insight and Heal checks, along with the ability to give an ally temporary hit points when the Watershaper uses its second wind. At Level 10 Buffeting Wave also causes a blast zone of difficult terrain. Optional Powers include bonuses to healing surges, limited shapeshifting ability and the ability to link all members of your party’s auras so that all members are almost impossible to flank. Pretty nifty. 7/10.
WIndlord. Our final Character Theme is one where a PC embraces the power of the wind element. At Level 1 they gain +2 to Perception and Athletics checks, along with the ability to communicate in Primordial. They also gain the ability to fly and attack in the same turn. Yes, at Level 1. Insane. At Level 5, all flight abilities gain extra distance at Level 10 you can slide targets away with a blast of wind. Optional powers include an aura of wind that makes ranged attacks harder and causes difficult terrain for your opponents, the ability to turn invisible and enhanced flying/hovering abilities. Pretty nice all things considered. Flight at Level 1 is nothing to sneeze at. 8/10.
Chapter 3: Classes
Chapter Three is the longest in the book, taking up half the length of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos. This chapter gives dozens of new powers to Druids, Monks, Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards including new subclasses for each. Monks and Wizards gets the most new powers. The former is a nice surprise while the latter seems like a fairly obvious choice to bulk up with new spells here. The new Sorcerer subclass, The Elementalist is a fairly intense new class to play as. You have four different elements to choose from and each one puts your character on a noticeably different power track. Warlocks can now make Eldritch Pacts with Elementals and at higher levels summon some truly terrifying allies.
The new Wizard subclass, The Sha’ir are an interesting mix of Wizard, Warlock and Sorcerer. The Sha’ir bargain with elemental powers for magical knowledge through spirits known as gen servants. Gen servants as basically middlemen between mortals and elementals and negotiate power for the Sha’ir. It’s a weird little class and I’m not sure why they put it in as a wizard subclass as it has almost nothing in common with the Wizard. They get their spells through a quasi-pact and they don’t use a spellbook, instead calling forth their powers in the same manner as a Sorcerer. I suppose this was because WotC didn’t have anything else for a Wizard in this book so they shoehorned this in. The Sha’ir aren’t very well done and a terribly done class that didn’t need to exist.
Overall, Chapter 3 might be the longest, but it’s also the most disappointing. Only a few of the powers are of any interest and the new subclasses are either poorly designed or downright dull. If you’re really looking for some new Feats and Powers, it’s worth flipping through, but this whole section really needs a bit of work.
Chapter 4: Elemental Options
Elemental Options is the most interesting chapter in Elemental Chaos to me as it provides players with eleven new Paragon Paths, two Epic Destinies, twenty-five new Feats, information on Elemental Companions (and how to obtain one)and finally, a lot of new magical weapons, items and armour based off of elemental properties. It’s pretty neat. The Paragon Paths are as follows
1) Demon-Bound. This character is corrupted by demonic energy and slows begins to become one.
2) Doomlord. Characters that attack with the powers of death and entropy.
3) Elemental Anchorite. A character who has decided to seek higher understanding and inner refelection by staying on the elemental plane.
4) Elemental Savant. A Sorcerer specializing in elemental magic.
5) Favored Sha’ir. A Sha’ir who has become popular with primordials and as such can channel even more of their power.
6) God Warder. A character tasked by the Gods themselves to keep primordials and elementals from this plane of existence.
7) Herald of Vezzuvu. The Queen of the Burning Mountain chooses the character to wield a portion of her powers.
8) Legendary Hexblade. Just a high level warlock.
9) Prince of Genies. Your character is aided by a powerful genie.
10) Reforged Soul. The Character becomes more and more a pure elemental creature.
11) Speaker of Xaos. A Wizard or Priest who primarily studies the Elemental Chaos.
All in all, I love that Chapter 4 provides a ton of new character options and items for use in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Heroes of the Elemental Chaos really does live up to the Player’s Option motif and there are a ton of ways to use this book, whether it be at the start of a new campaign with first level character or to freshen things up for a troupe of long-running high powered players.
With a price tag of $29.99, Heroes of the Elemental Chaos does add a lot of new options for players of Fourth Edition. It’s a nice but flawed collection of new Themes, Subclasses and Paths. I definitely enjoyed reading it but some of these new offerings could have used a bit more fine tuning as balance is out the window for a lot of these. Some new Themes are way overpowered while others are all but useless. The same is true for the new Powers, Feats and Paths. Of course this is a problem with any book of this type, regardless of what system it is released for, but I can’t deny that Heroes of the Elemental Chaos has an obvious need for balancing that might annoy some GMs…or delight some powergamers. It’s one of the more interesting Fourth Edition books and honestly one that I’m surprised has taken this long to come out. If you feel like your 4e game is in need of something new to spice it up, Elemental Chaos is definitely a book that will do just that. It’s not for everyone and your specific mileage from the book may vary, but at the end of the day Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is almost all pure content rather that fluff or flavor, and that’s always a nice thing to see.
Tags: Dungeons & Dragons