Guest Author - Margaret Dorraine Baines-Turberfield
Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow is a new supplement for the 4th Edition of the game. As with most supplements, a player would still need to read some core books (such as the Rules Compendium or the Player’s Handbooks) to get a handle on how to play the game, but this book contains practically everything you need (except a photocopy-friendly character sheet and dice) to roll up a “Hero of Shadow.” Wizards of the Coast sent me a free copy to review, so I took my first opportunity to create a new character entirely out of this book this past weekend.
The contents include an introduction to the source of Shadow magic, the Shadowfell, and how one’s character may come to use such power. It then proceeds to lay out the descriptions, rules, and powers (levels 1-20) for creating Shadow classes, such as the Assassin Executioner, The Blackguard (fallen Paladin), Vampire, and Binder (Warlock.) The class chapter also includes new options for classic classes, describing shadow-inspired powers for the Cleric, Warpriest, Warlock, Wizard, and Mage. The third chapter was probably my favorite. It laid out the physical qualities, attitudes, beliefs, descriptions of communities, adventurer archetypes, and role-playing hints for three new character races: Revenant, Shade, and Vryloka. It then expanded several other fourth edition races with ways and reasons why Dwarves, Eladrin, Elves, Halflings, and Humans may become Shadow-touched. The book rounds itself out with descriptions of potential Shadow Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, some Shadow-specific feats, and pertinent equipment.
I found chapter three (Races of Shadow) to be the richest portion of this book, but that may be because my role-playing heart lies in creating in-depth backstories. Shadow races and classes were frequently described as having come through a harrowing experience in trading part of their souls willfully to Shadow in exchange for power, and my imagination ran rampant with possibilities and stories as to why anyone might do such a thing. I loved that this book differentiated between a living, very Draculian vampire-like race (Vryloka) and the undead, initiates-only class of vampires. Each section describing the races goes into greater detail than the original 4th Edition Player’s Handbook series, with several pages of information to help the player build the foundation of her character, and additional racial traits and utility powers. The storytelling explaining the small numbers the more mainstream races who turn to Shadow is fantastic, and can hardly fail to motivate a player to rethink their pre-conceptions of those who may wield the questionable magics of necromancy and death, and maybe even tempt them!
My first character created from this supplement is a Revenant Assassin Executioner, raised by the Raven Queen to accomplish some darkly righteous yet-to-be-revealed task, suffering the half-remembered flashes of her previous life as a member of the once-beloved yet ultimately murdered royal family of the kingdom neighboring her current adventuring grounds. Since she is only the soul of a royal reincarnated in an undead body freakishly shaped to the Raven Queen’s needs, she couldn’t hope to return to her former kingdom to reclaim the throne. She is fond of poisons for their subtlety, and currently favors Id Moss Powder. Grateful for this extension of life and return to the material plane, she relishes exotic foods and fine textiles, but is careful not to give way to gluttony. She remembers always that this time is granted by the Raven Queen, can be revoked by her will, and will be snatched away when her mission is fulfilled.
I found this supplement to be brimming with potential role-playing goodness, and strongly recommend it to players and parties who want to stretch their imaginations and try walking in that grey area where “right” doesn’t necessarily equal “good,” and “dark” doesn’t have to equal “evil.”