When I saw Wizards of the Coast’s recent player supplement Heroes of Shadow on the shelf at my Friendly Local Gaming Store I thought, “Yay! Something new to play with!” I’m always interested in exploring new character races and classes, and am always game to try something I haven’t tried before with regard to character creation. After I acquired my free review copy from Wizards, though, I was perplexed by the reactions of some of my other gamer friends. While some were eager to explore and try out new race and class combinations, others seemed dead-set against the possibility of even participating in an adventure where one of the player characters was drawn up from this supplement! I suspected that this dislike may stem from misconceptions, so I decided to devote some time to discussing why “heroes” created with these races and classes don’t have to be restricted to evil-aligned campaigns.
It’s an easy mistake to make: assuming that a book full of character classes who have “pledged a shard of their souls” to the shadow in exchange for power are inherently evil. This book contains rules for rolling up such irredeemable baddies as assassin executioners, blackguards (fallen paladins) and vampires. Don’t get me started on vampires! But in all of those there is the potential of light, just as in what is not explicitly evil there is the potential for dark. How many novels and television series and movies are there by now starring roguish and flawed vampire characters who seek redemption? (Speaking of vampires, I am absolutely thrilled they wrote vampires as a character class! It’s wonderfully logical that a member of any race could become a vampire, should the requisite steps be taken.)
The real fun of character creation for me is in devising a backstory, meaning the shadow races were exciting and even inspiring to embrace. The majority of characters had to make a choice to cross into the power of the shadowfell, giving the player a rich opportunity for some heart-wrenching storytelling. Did your once-lawful-good paladin fall when the Raven Queen whispered to him, promising to spare his comrades certain death in exchange for his loyalty? What half-remembered former life and righteous revenge did the Raven Queen raise your Revenant to fulfill? How will your Vryloka distance herself from her power-hungry bloodline as she strikes out into the world of adventurers? Is your necromancer an adventurer with a heart of gold, trying to do all the right things with powers gleaned from all the wrong places?
That being said, these races and classes absolutely provide the basis for some wonderfully wicked and sinister characters, if that’s what you’re after. However, don’t discount those touched by shadow for your heroic campaigns. I maintain that with enough love and attention paid to your character’s backstory, and exploration of his or her motivations, any of the race/class combinations in the Heroes of Shadow player’s option will fit into your gaming experience.