Simple Review: Heroes of Shadow

I love wizards of the coast, I think 4th edition is a solid game brimming with potential, and that’s why it’s hard for me to write this review of Heroes of Shadows. I own the book and I will use its contents in my games but a ball was dropped in a big way with this book. I admit that expectations were high, perhaps too high, but the distance by which the mark was missed is great.

With more effort Heroes of Shadows could have been another players hand book, it could have been the best players hand book yet. It could have made the Players Hand Book 3 look like just another issue of dragon magazine. There was expectation of a new power source, classes and races to add a darker edge to the game. Instead we get rehashed classes, a vampire that feels more like a burden to a party than an asset, and two races that could have been one had they not put a break in the page description.

I have to pause again to state that I had expectations for this book, very large expectations. I really enjoy the Shadowfell, it is my favorite part of the core 4e setting. So when Heroes of Shadow was announced it quickly became my most anticipated 4e release to date. I loved the DDi assassin and I was really really excited to see what other awesome things WotC was going to do with the shadow power source. When Heroes of Shadow was pulled from the paper back format I thought that perhaps it would be less essentials and more original/core 4e, and my excitement grew.  So when I discuss the shortcomings of this product I am describing how short I feel it came to meeting my expectations and not saying what a bad product I think it is.

Heroes of Shadow does get some things very right. It broadens the options essentials players have for character creation. Many of the new essentials style classes take a few steps away from the very simple design of the thief and slayer and give players a bit more fiddly options. But again it falls short for me being a non essentials player/DM and feeling a bit left out of the shadowy goodness.


Race vs. Class: Lots of people have opinions as to whether the vampire should have been a class or a race. The answer is that it should have been a race. Making a vampire a class removes much of the story potential for me as a player and as a DM. As a race being a vampire could have been something the player tried to hide, or tried to embrace while dealing with the rest of the party at the same time. As a class all of the vampires powers come solely from the fact that the character is, well, a vampire. That’s something that is hard for me to reconcile. I could go on for another page or so but I’ll try to keep this simple review simple.


  • 2 New classes: Vampire & Assassin
  • 2 New builds: Paladin & Warlock
  • 3 New class options: Cleric, Warlock & Wizard
  • 2 New races: Vryloka & Shade
  • 1 DDi race: Revenant
  • Options for: Dwarves, Eladrin, Eleves, Halflings & Humans
  • 10 Additional paragon paths
  • 4 Additional epic destinies
  • 20 New feats
  • Background on the Shadowfell and soul sacrifice

Who would enjoy this product:

  • Players who are looking for darker classes/races to play
  • Essentials players who want broader options
  • Anyone running a Shadowfell campaign
  • Players wanting to play a sparkly vampire

Who might not enjoy this product:

  • Players who don’t get the design philosophy of essentials
  • Those who were hoping for a new power source with cool mechanics
  • Anyone who wanted vampire to be a race and not a class
  • People who are tired of seeing paladin wizard and warlock in everything
  • Me for the most part

It’s a good product, but it’s not for me. I own it, and I don’t think I would have passed it up even if I had known what I know now, but I might have waited a while longer to pick it up. Essentials players should revel in all the awesome goodness that they have been given with this product while the rest of us will have to just keep re skinning our core classes into something darker.



Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.

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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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10 Responses

  1. I rolled up a shardmind Vampire and chuckled at it…though mechanically it actually gelled fairly well. I don’t care for the class myself (especially since it seems to be trying to do so many things); but I also don’t care for playing archers and so I’m no stranger to the rules having options I just don’t find appealing.

    I liked what they did with splitting necromancy into two different schools, though I’m not sure how unbalancing some of the nethermancy powers end up being. I suppose it’s not much worse than a Warlock’s Shadow Walk, and is well-suited to a controller type.

    I did like the new Cleric powers, and the idea that I could build one who is almost the inverse of the standard approach. Binders were fun too, and more at-will area attacks is always exciting for my playstyle.

    Still, I admit that I didn’t have any expectations for the book, so I’m sorry it was a let-down compared to what you hoped to see. Without any active Essentials characters in my stable, the book is mostly a chance for me to cherry-pick a few at-wills and feats for some folks I’ve got floating around.

    And chuckle at shardmind Vampires.

    • For someone who didn’t expect the things I did, which is more my fault than anything, this product is great. I do recommended that people who want to play darker classes/races buy it. There is much fun to be had with it.

      Shardmind vampires sound about as funny as minotaur vampires, nothing like a blood sucking cow.

  2. Calling this a ‘review’ is a bit of a stretch… I’m also sorry that you were so disappointed. But man, every time I read a blog where the writer has to differentiate content by it’s “Essentialsness” it always feels like such a waste of energy. The essentials tag is just a tag, created by some staff marketer – and totally irrelevant to 4E.

    PHB2 introduced new approaches than PHB1, PHB3 had some pretty radical changes to classes from 1&2(how about no encounter powers, yo?). All the “Heroes Of…” books did was continue that development… and in the process provide a much wider variety of play options – classes breaking from roles, multi-use encounter powers, etc.

    I think you, and many other people getting hung up on the word “Essentials” should consider evaluating the content on how it lets people smash monster and tell stories.

    Heh, and as for Vampire as a Race… well, that doesn’t really work for me unless you’re ok with a dwarven vampire losing the traits that make him a dwarf. To be honest, I think a hybrid or multi-class vampire makes the most sense…

    • It’s a review as all reviews I do are: I explain what I like and what I think others will like. I don’t give things scores and I don’t pretend that they are not based off anything but my personal enjoyment of the product. I never claim to be unbiased.

      As to the Essentialsness of a product if I didn’t think it was valid I wouldn’t have put it in my article. I do feel that it is a clearly marked change in design philosophy and I’m not alone in this line of thinking. There are other opinions on this subject though and they are neither more or less correct. Please don’t attempt to negate my feelings or views by telling me they are irrelevant. They are relevant to me, and that is why I write them.

      And for vampires losing what makes them “human” that has been part of the vampire narrative for a very long time so yes I am O.K. with that. But I do agree that vampires as a theme would have worked much better.

  3. I agree with the essential-ness. Ablefish: after they changed things up with power points in PH3, they didn’t force them into every new product. however, with essentials, we keep seeing new ideas that could have been much better being ‘essentialised’ instead. The “no options” vampire is one example; the new themes another.

    I would have thought the vampire would have made an excellent theme. Initially, give some penalties and benefits (throw in sun-weakness, regen, loss of some surges, and darkvision here), and give an option of one of the three at-will attacks. Then, for the rest of the character, use the powers in the class write-up as theme power-swaps. You could have your halfling vampire rogue, or elven vampire wizard easily then!

  4. @hvg3akaek: See, I guess I don’t see it as them ‘forcing’ anything into a product… they’ve been developing 4E for a few years now, and are constantly trying to maintain balance and improve the play around the table. So it doesn’t surprise me that they’re perpetuating design that they feel plays best. And offering backwards errata to support it. Nothing new that they add detracts from the content that has come before…

    I haven’t really looked hard at the new Themes… but yeah, I could totally see a Vampire being done as a Template/Theme sort of mechanic too. I seem to remember the Vampire Design article on wotc mentioned they looked at that. I should mention that in our game, the DM just converted a NPC party member into a HOS vampire and we’re all having a lot of fun with it.

  5. I’m not going to entirely disagree, because, well, I don’t. But “Heroes of Shadow” wasn’t meant to be PHB4, it was meant to be “Shadow Power”.
    It really is an Essentials book. Until they changed their mind, it was even going to be a softcover. I think WotC realized too late that not enough 4e fans jumped on the Essentials bandwagon to proceed fully with the sub-line, they had enough time to make the book a hardcover but not enough to really change the content.

    I lament the loss of a unique mechanic for the shadow power source, but with every class being so different in Essentials, it might seem forced. And even Primal never really got a unique mechanic. I’m not sad to see necromancers as wizards, forcing them into a whole new class would be a little like making a new class just to make a new class. There’s already enough classes that exist just to fill the grid. The warden, battlemind, and the like don’t bring much new to the game. Classes like the avenger could just have been a striker build of paladin, battlerager fighter could have been a defender barbarian, etc.

    That said, a unifying hook to shadow (a shroud?) would have been nice. Vampire would have also made a better theme than a class (or a race). But that’s just me…

    • I knew that it started out as an essentials product but I became excited when they pulled it and replaced it as a hard cover, it gave me hope that they had made it more in line with their original design philosophy.
      I too lament the neglect of the unifying link to the shadow power. I want my character to have something that is common other than just needing to be really angry (see Black Guard) to be a shadow class.

  6. the thing that sucks about the binder is you HAVE to take the higher level encounter powers. i confirmed this with wizards. they basically told me the higher level ones are more powerful and i should be happy. well thats stupid. if youre going to railroad the builds at least give the option of keeping early powers

    “The Binder’s encounter powers are designed that those 17th level powers replace the 3rd level ones, where others would gain a static increase at a certain level (like at level 11 or 21 with other powers) The Binder changes these to the newer more powerful version. Some of the abilities change their secondary effect, arguably for the better. I hope this clarifies this new subclass for you effectively!

    We would appreciate your feedback on the service we are providing you. Please click here to fill out a short questionnaire.

    To login to your account, or update your question please click here.”

    kind of sad 🙁

  7. I have to say,. I really like Vampire as a class. For those who want the race, Vyrkola is included. The vampire as a class allows for Vampires to be of different races, something i see as intruging.

    What’s written above was my old opinion. Now, I’m with the “Vampire as theme” group.

    Otherwise, nice review! It hit the important stuff, but left lots to discover.

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