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Player Essentials: Heroes of the Fallen Lands (4e)


Exciting new builds and character options for the cleric, fighter, ranger, rogue, and wizard classes.

This essential player product for the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game presents exciting new builds for the most iconic classes: the cleric, the fighter, the rogue, and the wizard. Each class comes with a set of new powers, class features, paragon paths, epic destinies, and more that beginning players can use to build the characters they want to play and experienced players can plunder for existing 4th Edition characters.

In addition to new builds, this book presents expanded information and racial traits for some of the game’s most popular races, including dwarves, eladrin, elves, halflings, and humans.

Product History

Heroes of the Fallen Lands (2010), by Mike Mearls, Bill Slavicsek, and Rodney Thompson, is the first core player's book for D&D Essentials. It was released in September 2010.

About the Title. The Fallen Lands is a reference to the points-of-light setting of D&D 4e, where civilization has fallen, and darkness is seeping across its ruins. More specifically, it probably relates to the fallen human empires of the Nentir Vale, such as the Empire of Nerath, once home to the classic classes and races of this book.

Continuing the Essentials Line. Technically Essentials started with the Roleplaying Game Dice Set (2010) in August 2010, and technically its rules kicked off with the Essentials Starter Set (2010). However, the Starter Set was light on rules, and what it had wasn't entirely compatible with the rest of the Essentials line.

As a result, it took until September 21, 2010 for players to finally see what the Essentials rule set really looked like. That day saw the release of the updated Essentials rules in the Rules Compendium (2010) and the first set of updated Essentials classes in Heroes of the Fallen Lands.

These two books also saw the first duplication in the Essentials line, with some rules such as those for skills appearing in both places. Despite that, Heroes of the Fallen Lands still required Rules Compendium to play.

A Different Sort of Player's Handbook. Heroes of the Fallen Lands is very much a player's handbook in the style of the original Players Handbook (1978): it's a book of rules for how to make characters. As such, it's a return to a classic form for the AD&D game.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Controversy. When Essentials was first announced, there was a lot of concern and confusion because people didn't understand what the line was, or what it meant for the existing 4e line. Mike Mearls did his best to assure players of the compatibility of Essentials in articles and interviews leading up to the release of the new product line, but the controversy never died down.

Then on September 14, halfway between the release of Starter Set and Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Mearls gave an interview with the Escapist where he said:

"If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there's nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled - but what I can do, what's within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you're saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in '83, the original three booklets back in '74 or '75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you."

It implied that even if Essentials was maintaining compatibility with D&D 4e, it might be reversing some of the philosophy of the game, as Mike Mearls took over from Rob Heinsoo as the head of D&D development.

And that's exactly what happened, as the new class designs of Heroes of the Fallen Lands revealed new philosophies for character design. And, the result was controversial; as with any design revamp, some of the current players felt like the game they loved was being sidelined!

What a Difference an Edition Makes: Class Mechanics. The goal of the Essentials line was to bring new players to the D&D game. In the Rules Compendium, this largely meant incorporating errata (and cutting a few systems). In Heroes of the Fallen Land this meant a much larger revamp of character complexity.

The class Renaissance began with Player's Handbook 3 (2010). There, designers introduced a psionics power source that worked considerably different from the standard power sources of D&D 4e. It received good acclaim and gave 4e designers the enthusiasm to work on other classes that broke the traditional 4e mold; they thus re-examined the basic math of the standard 4e character classes and rebuilt them into new forms for Essentials.

These new classes were built with a number of ideals that made them stand out from previous 4e design patterns:

  1. They were widely differentiated. No longer did all the classes have similar arrays of at-will, encounter, and daily powers, characterized largely by a veneer of theming. Instead, the classes worked differently from each other.
  2. They featured different levels of complexity, with the martial classes now being the most streamlined and the simplest to play (and the wizard being just as complex as ever). This meant that the classes were both easier to build and easier to play, thanks to fewer options at both points.
  3. They were more vivid, which primarily meant that the classes were more specific and evocative.

The martial classes of the knight, the slayer, and the thief were changed the most, as their daily powers disappeared and their at-will powers became at-will stances. The result was much more like an old-school fighter, while the wizards still having daily powers made them seem more like old-school mages.

Designer Heinsoo once said, "The point of bringing in powers for every character class was to make the game fun for everyone most of the time." Though all the classes still had "powers", some fans felt that the differentiation was going against Heinsoo's core ideas of 4e. Add that to Mearls' comments that Essentials might please old fans who hadn't liked the new game and you have the core of the Essentials controversy.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: Other Mechanics. The other major mechanical change revealed in Heroes of the Fallen Lands is the update to feats. They're rearranged into categories and removed from tiers. Not only was it easier for players to find feats of interest, but they no longer need to constantly retrain them.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: The Compatibility. When Mearls began working on Essentials, one of his main priorities was keeping it totally compatible with previous 4e books. With the release of Heroes of the Fallen Lands, players could now see that changes were indeed pretty minimal, involving: errata; updated Feat and Magic Item systems; and updated philosophies for building characters. Of these, the difference between the character builds was the largest, and had the most possibility to be incompatible.

But the designers felt they weren't

Mearls paraphrased designer Rich Baker when he said, "the choice between a traditional build and an Essentials build would basically reflect different play styles". Baker expanded on this, saying "It’s perfectly ok if, at the same table, Joe is playing a Fighter straight out of the Players Handbook, with all of the power selections that he would ordinarily have had, and Dave, sitting next to him, is playing a Slayer, out of Essentials. Those Characters, essentially, are built the same, and are transparent to each other".

But that's not at all how the D&D roleplaying community treated the new rules. Between late 2010 and early 2011, 4e players seemed to fracture into "traditional" gamers and "Essentials" gamers. At first there were edition wars over whether Essentials had replaced the core rules, then for the next year each new D&D book was scrutinized for whether it was Essentials or traditional.

So, there's no mechanical reason not to use core and Essentials products together, but you could similarly have said that 3e books could be used with D&D 3.5e (2003) with almost no problem. In both cases, the roleplaying community disagreed.

The Forgotten Heroes. Heroes of the Fallen Lands resurrected the AD&D idea of "sub-classes" by offering "different takes on existing classes". These new builds were each evocative variants of standard classes, built with the new philosophies of the Essentials line:

  • The Warpriest (Cleric) is the first 4e priest to incorporate the idea of "domains" — spheres of clerical power that had been important in AD&D 2e (1989) and D&D 3e (2000).
  • The Knight (Fighter) harks back to a little-used warrior trope that first appeared prominently in the Dragonlance adventures (1984-1986). Like all of the martial classes, daily powers and at-will powers were replaced with at-will stances.
  • The Slayer (Fighter) doesn't have many antecedents in the D&D game, but that was the case with many of alternate builds of D&D core classes, which were often created primarily to match roles and classes.
  • The Thief (Rogue) is built like a classic thief from AD&D days. The most notable new feature of the Essentials thief is its backstab attack, the first of its kind in D&D 4e.
  • The Mage (Wizard) is a close parallel to the warpriest because it reintroduces the idea of schools of magic — mechanics from AD&D 2e (1989) and D&D 3e (2000) that could create more vivid wizards. Heroes of the Fallen Lands also introduces a major mechanical revamp for wizards: missed encounter powers now had lesser effects!

The Resurrected Races. Heroes of the Fallen Lands also includes five races: dwarf, eladrin, elf, halfling, and human. With the exception of the eladrin, who rose to prominence with D&D 4e (2008), these were the most classic D&D races.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands also introduces one major revamp to the racial rules: one of a race's +2 stat bonuses could now go to one of two different stats. This reflected the rules of the changeling from Eberron Player’s Guide (2009) and all the races in the Player's Handbook 3 (2010) and was generally meant to increase player agency in matching up races and classes.

Future History. Heroes of the Fallen Lands contained the more standard D&D classes and races. The more outré classes and races would appear in the second Essentials player's book: Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010).

About the Creators. Slavicsek and Mearls were leading the design of D&D by 2010, so it's appropriate they were two of the authors of this book. Thompson was a newer designer, who'd joined the team in 2007. After some work on the Star Wars Saga edition, Essentials was Thompson's first major D&D work. All three designers would also work on Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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February 27th, 2022
One of the two core player books for D&D Essentials, Heroes of the Fallen Lands covers the more traditional, basic options for the game. Much of the material here is a streamlined version of the Rules Compendium, so this review will only cover mate [...]
September 22nd, 2015
I love this book. I really liked the original 4e books and this book integrated with them seamlessly, and it provided a simpler entry point into 4e. [...]
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