Heroes of Battle

Mephit James's picture

chugworth.Type: Accessory BookCompany: Wizards of the Coast URL: http://wizards.com/default.asp?x=products/dndacc/860900000

Designer: David Noonan, Will McDermott, Stephen SchubertRelease: May 2005Outline: This product seeks to reveal "the pivotal roles characters can play in the midst of great battles," and sticks firmly to that goal. With information on army structure, battlefield terrain and tactics, leader abilities, and military feats the product certainly approaches this goal with definite gusto. Having been produced by Wizards, this book is fully in-line with 3.5 edition D&D and will most likely be referenced in similar campaigns, especially as the company's newest campaign setting Eberron expands and its Last War is explored.

Flipping through the book, I thought it showed a lot of potential and brought it home to look through. This review is mostly concentrated on Planescape use, though I try to cover the books overall aspects for those who want to use it in other settings.Contents: The uses of Heroes of Battle are summed up very nicely in the first chapter. This section is entitled “The War Campaign” and serves as a guide to shifting the game’s paradigm from dungeon-mentality to battlefield-mentality, a shift that is useful even in non-military campaigns. This is nothing new to Planescape where characters fight as often on the plains of the Outlands and the slopes of Mt. Celestia as they do in the traditional tunnels of Pandemonium and the Plane of Earth.

The crux of the philosophy behind Heroes of Battle is that wars are huge affairs with thousands of participants, but adventures within wars are still small, personalized situations. Game mechanics presented in this book are far removed from the complex interactions of Warhammer games: the heroes play out specific roles within the larger scope of military clashes.

This is very important because, with the exception of the Blood War, there are very few massive conflicts on the planes. More common are skirmishes between powers, fiendish raids on planar burgs, and violent clashes between factions. For campaigns centered around such small battles, there is plenty of information to be gained from Heroes of Battle, most notably the military prestige classes, feats, spells, and teamwork benefits that turn rag-tag adventuring parties into highly-trained cohesive groups.

The teamwork benefits are especially intriguing, providing game-mechanic benefits for groups that receive formal combat training such as Harmonium task forces, githyanki squads, rrakma warbands, archon regiments, Sons of Mercy patrols, baatezu commandos, and other military groups. What better way to break the fighter/paladin clichè of strong-arm factions such as the Sinkers, Sodkillers, and Harmonium than combat medic clerics and wizards with spells like animate seige weapon and battlefield fortification?

Commander auras also provide useful material. While the alignment requirements for various auras are a bit cumbersome (and almost certainly lifted straight from the Miniatures Handbook), the auras themselves are helpful and can spell the difference between 50% and 60% casualties. This is true only up to a point, however, since an extra 1d6 damage may benefit a squad of githzerai warriors but it’s a drop in the bucket for mezzoloth commandos.

If you are really after large-scale wars, of course, this is definitely the right place. Campaigns centered on the Blood War come readily to mind, but in specific campaigns, wars are easily invented. Suppose the chaotic tanar’ri decide to completely switch gears and attack the celestials in a bloody anti-crusade, or the githyanki launch a genocidal war against the githzerai, illithids, or both? Tension between the Sodkillers and Sons of Mercy is certainly on the rise and their headquarter planes are close enough to start a concentrated campaign whenever they want. For that matter, the Doomguard scarcely need a reason to unleash destruction on their enemies… or allies for that matter.

The fact is, the planes are little more than a powder keg waiting for a match. Not everything in Heroes of Battle is useable in Planescape though. While the book includes ready made tanar’ri and baatezu armies, there are few other planar forces. It’s simple to put together an eladrin or githyanki force as needed, but with such magical and powerful units these armies require a little more planning than a straightforward “elf army.”

The commander auras are also distinctly prime with choices such as Elf Commander and Orc Commander, but not a single Demon or even Outsider Commander. This problem is easily fixed by using the existing auras as examples, but takes extra time for the DM. Also, many of the mechanics in the book are organized into a linear system of ranks and promotions, something that doesn’t fit exactly with chaotic forces like the tanar’ri and slaadi. These are only mechanics, though, and could easily represent the general prestige a soldier has, rather than the specific rank of “captain” or “sergeant.” Merits: This book is a great resource for battlefields and army life. It includes a number of mechanics for military characters such as would be found in a Blood War army, faction task force, or a power's army. The mechanics are fairly separate as well so one can pick and choose which to use.Flaws: Heroes of Battle is definitely a prime-based source book with very little consideration given to planar creatures or locales. While a clever DM can invent everything he needs to, using existing material as guides, it is harder to implement this book into Planescape than it is to implement it in, say, Forgotten Realms or Eberron.

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