Book Review: Player’s Option: Heroes Of Shadow

Player’s Option:  Heroes Of Shadow, by Mike Mearls, Claudio Pozas, and Robert J. Schwalb

A book like this, even if it aimed squarely at the table top gaming community [1], has a lot of insight to offer that may be surprising to many, and whether that insight would tend to drive a potential reader away from the book or be a lure or attraction to read the book depends a lot on the person involved.  One thing that becomes fairly obvious upon reading any of the various player guides or discussions of any territory within the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons is that all of them are evil, but that some of them are more wicked and evil than others.  This particular book is on the Shadowfell, and it is darker and more evil than even our own world, as well as the vast majority of the realms within the game itself.  Those players who use this book as a guide to their characters or adventures may as well be advertising to everyone else involved that there will be a lot of evil involved, as even the good and heroic aspects of this particular book are hopelessly entangled with evil so as to make the heroic aspects seem all the more self-deceiving than most such efforts at claiming heroic and noble character.

The contents of this book are divided into four chapters that take up about 160 pages.  The first chapter looks at the various pertinent aspects of the Shadowfell, the dark reflection of the world that mortals fear, the areas of peril, death, the places where spirits supposedly travel and where ghosts and other darkness lingers, and where there are ways to cross the boundary through engaging in dark magic that tries to deny its full evils.  The second chapter looks at shadow classes that exemplify this evil in some fashion, from the assassin with its executioner subclass, from its fallen blackguard subclass of the paladins with its characteristic vices of domination and fury, vampires, the binder subclass of the warlock, as well as the schools of necromancy and nethermancy for wizards and mages as well as the gloom pact for unwary warlocks who think that they can master the power of death for their own evil purposes.  The third chapter looks at the races of the Shadowfell, including the undead revenant called back to life to serve death, the ghostly shades, or the vampiric vryloka, as well as darker aspects of the dwarves, eladrin, elves, halflings, and humans.  The fourth and final chapter looks at various shadow options including dark paragon paths, shadowy epic destinies, and various shadow feats and dark equipment.

So, what makes this world so evil, so much more than others.  The biggest aspect is the fact that this book is obsessed with matters of death–whether that involves assassins killing others, or character types who attempt to cheat death by being undead, or others worshipping death or thinking that by destroying life they serve for the good.  It is that obsession with death and darkness that makes this a particularly evil realm, and a reminder that even in such areas there is still a delusion that to give in to vices of domination and fury, or to kill and destroy is a necessary evil that serves some ultimate good.  This book, and the discussions of those who revel in the darkness discussed herein, is a reminder of the limitless capacity among human beings, and presumably other sentient but fallen beings as well, for self-justification.  So long as our instincts are to defend ourselves, including by throwing shade on others, we will not reach true repentance and restoration, and this book is all about throwing shade in one form or another.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: Player’s Option: Heroes Of Shadow

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