A neuronphaser.com review.
The Elemental Evil Player’s Companion (A.K.A. EEPC) is a short book with only two chapters: one covering 4 new races for players to choose from for their characters, and the second covering 43 new spells that get spread among the Bard, Druid, Ranger, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard spell lists.
The following races appear in the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion: Aarakocra, Deep Gnome (A.K.A. Svirneblin), Genasi, and Goliath.
The aarakocra are an interesting race, as they have the ability to fly right off the bat, something most PCs don’t get until they pick up a 3rd level spell like fly (which would be at 5th level for a wizard) or luck upon multiple magic items that grant flying to the entire party, such as a carpet of flying (a very rare item), a few spell scrolls of fly (an uncommon item for 3rd level spells), or several potions of flying (also very rare). Because of this ability, they’ve already been declared illegal for Adventurer’s League play. What’s worse is that the descriptive text makes it hard to frame aarakocra as typical adventurers: they hate dungeons, are not motivated by treasure (though they like “shiny things” regardless of value), and they don’t understand the concept of ownership (which may not help with deciding on what’s party loot and what’s not).
Aside from those issues, the aarokocra are a pretty cool race, and it’s nice to see something so outside-the-box included early in 5th Edition’s life. These guys are slow walkers (25 feet), but fast flyers (50 feet)…if they don’t wear medium or heavy armor. Their talons form a natural attack that deals 1d4 slashing damage, which when combined with the armor restriction suggest they might be awesome Monks, Rogues, or highly mobile Rangers.
There’s a sidebar covering the geographic origins of the aarakocra in the Forgotten Realms setting, which is a great tool for helping players come up with their backstory. A quick search on the Forgotten Realms Wiki and you’ve got a dozen hooks to build an aarakocra character, which is a nice touch, especially for such an abnormal player race. Additionally, there’s a quick blurb on what Backgrounds from the Player’s Handbook are particularly well-suited to these birdmen.
Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin)
Although the deep gnomes also appear in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, it’s clearly not a direct copy-paste job, though the end result is (mechanically) the same; reprinted here among the deep gnome traits are the standard gnome traits, as well. The Elemental Evil Player’s Companion version does feature more text, fleshing out some deep gnomish psychology and attitudes, but not much, and certainly not in a specifically Realmsian way. No sidebars address their favored backgrounds or any Faerun-specific origins for the svirfneblin.
The Svirfneblin Magic feat is the first feat printed outside of the PHB (not counting some Unearthed Arcana articles, maybe) and is race-specific, granting the ability to cast nondetection at will, plus each of blindness/deafness, blur, and disguise self once before regenerating the castings after a long rest.
Genasi are the only race that comes with a full listing of racial traits plus subraces, in this case mirroring the major elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Fire and water genasi get 1-2 more traits to play with than air and earth, but power levels don’t really seem affected by this, given what those traits are: fire genasi get fire resistance and darkvision, water genasi get the amphibious trait and a swim speed of 30 feet. Each race also gets an innate magical ability as well:
- Air genasi can cast levitate once per long rest (a 2nd-level spell).
- Earth genasi can pass without trace once per long rest (a 2nd-level spell).
- Fire genasi gain produce flame (with no frequency listed), and then at 3rd level also gain burning hands as a 1st level caster, once per long rest.
- Water genasi can shape water (no frequency listed), and then at 3rd level can cast create/destroy water as a 2nd level caster, once per long rest.
Genasi also get a sidebar explaining their place in the world of Dark Sun’s Athas, which essentially amounts to them being seen as beings whose birth and presence brings with it great omens and fortunes. Another sidebar on Backgrounds rounds out the genasi as it did the aarakocra, but there’s nothing suggesting Forgotten Realms-specific lore here.
The goliath first showed up (to my knowledge) back in the latter days of 3.5 Edition D&D (2004’s Races of Stone), in a time when it felt like every book had to have oodles of New Mechanical Stuff for Players™! I’m not against that sort of thing, but the sheer volume of all that new crunch caused me to miss what was so special about goliaths, and when they showed up early in 4th Edition’s life in Player’s Handbook 2, I was surprised to see such a “second-rate” race show up so quickly. Now we have them in 5th Edition, and quite honestly, I was wrong about them: goliaths are pretty cool.
Framed as hardy, strong mountain men with a connection to elemental earth, goliaths could end up being slightly reckless PCs, but that’s pretty much par for the course in my D&D campaigns, so I’d say these guys are a welcome addition to the roster. Their truly special stats include a once per rest — short or long — damage reduction roll, which is a nice way of beefing them up without necessarily breaking the game’s internal logic around temporary or maximum hit points or healing surge-style mechanics that you might see with the fighter (Second Wind, for instance).
Unfortunately, unlike the aarakocra and the genasi, there’s literally no setting lore on the goliaths: no indication of Backgrounds that work best for them, or where they might have settlements of any kind (even nomadic) within the boundaries of the Forgotten Realms. This unfortunately reinforces their “second-rate” race status, making them look like a random add-on in this product just because they have a (very loose) connection to the element of earth. That’s not exactly award-winning writing and editing right there. Still, they are a fun race, but it’d be even more interesting if they got tied to Uthgardt tribes or other wilderness folk that crop up in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
The 43 new spells covered in this book are (and their level):
Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting (8), Absorb Elements (1), Aganazzar’s Scorcher (2), Beast Bond (1), Bones of the Earth (6), Catapult (1), Create Bonfire (cantrip), Control Flames (cantrip), Control Winds (5), Dust Devil (2), Earthbind (2), Earth Tremor (1), Elemental Bane (4), Erupting Earth (3), Flame Arrows (3), Frost Bite (cantrip), Gust (cantrip), Ice Knife (1), Immolation (5), Investiture of Flame (6), Investiture of Ice (6), Investiture of Stone (6), Investiture of Wind (6), Malestrom (5), Magic Stone (cantrip), Maximilian’s Earthen Grasp (2), Melf’s Minute Meteors (3), Mold Earth (cantrip), Primordial Ward (6), Pyrotechnics (2), Shape Water (cantrip), Skywrite (2), Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm (2), Storm Sphere (4), Thunderclap (cantrip), Tidal Wave (3), Transmute Rock (5), Vitriolic Sphere (4), Wall of Sand (3), Wall of Water (3), Warding Wind (2), Watery Sphere (4), Whirlwind (7)
And now, for my random thoughts on them! I won’t cover every spell, just the ones that had weird balance issues, seemed especially awesome, or otherwise seemed to require some sort of commentary.
Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting: Creates an instantaneous 10d8 necrotic damage to a 30-foot cube. Roughly similar to incendiary cloud (which is a persistent area of 10d8 fire, which happens to be the most common damage resistance/immunity) but it is clearly weaker than sunburst (12d8 radiant plus blinded to a 60-foot area). As a sidenote, Abi-Dalzim doesn’t crop up anywhere I could find as a character, but there's a post by dongul at Canonfire! about his background and there are some 3.5 edition stats you can find with a quick web search.
Aganazzar’s Scorcher: Basically burning hands, but a die size better and it affects a line instead of a cone.
Beast Bond: Kinda combines speak with animals and animal friendship, but better. It does require animals to be friendly or charmed before you cast it, however.
Earth Tremor: 1d6 bludgeoning plus knock prone everyone within 10 feet (Dex save negates). This is a great battlefield control spell at level 1!
Elemental Bane: Negates resistance, but not immunity, which is an interesting conundrum for internal logic, but also begs for a thorough accounting of resistance vs. immunity for elemental damage types (acid, cold, fire, lightning, and thunder).
Flame Arrows: Compares well to lightning arrow (a 3rd level Ranger spell), and is a hair better than cordon of arrows.
Frostbite: When comparing with ray of frost, this spell shows us that “disadvantage on next attack” is much weightier than “speed is minus 10 feet.” Which is probably not surprising.
Immolation: Seems a bit weak for a level 5 spell as it deals less damage than fireball, only hits one target, and features a save ends on the continuous burning effect. Although, it does shed light out to 60 feet, so I guess that’s alright…?
Investiture spells (Flame, Ice, Stone Wind): These are all great, multipurpose spells providing damage immunities and resistances, special movement, and special attacks that makes it seem like your taking on a purely elemental form. Very cool.
Skywrite: This is the best version of the Warning Beacons of Gondor I’ve yet seen in spell form. A bit weak in the sense that it’s like a large-scale but one-off magic mouth or message spell, but still a great utility spell that could change how settlements communicate with one another, perhaps along the lines of magical semaphore. It’d be interesting to add this to some of the NPC spellcasters that represent village shamans and whatnot among regions like Ten Towns or in even tighter-knit communities.
Storm Sphere: This is an interesting take on a wizard/sorcerer version of call lightning, mixing constant bludgeoning, buffeting winds with a laser-like lightning bolt every round.
Thunderclap: Doesn’t seem like much, but thunderclap is actually a perfect alarm system for a party that is surprise attacked during a rest, as it damages anyone ganging up on the mage and blasts a call for help over 100 feet.
Watery Sphere: The manner in which a watery sphere moves with restrained creatures inside of it reminds me of the movie Bubble Boy (2001) with Jake Gyllenhaal.
Overall, that’s a pretty cool selection of spells, and the balance issues don’t swing way out of whack, so I’d say it’s a pretty successful bundle of new spells and/or updates to the 5th edition rules. There’s a goodly number that are combat oriented, which is to be expected, but the utility spells that show up are exciting and useful. While I’ve got some complaints with how spells are presented, I won’t repeat them here nor take off any points for that; if you don’t like 5th edition’s spells or the layout of spell stat blocks, this book isn’t going to change your mind, and it’s not really meant to.
What I will complain about is that the Spell Lists do their job…weirdly. The Player’s Handbook organizes the Spell Lists by class and then level within that. Makes sense, simple, and the only problem there is that there’s no page reference, though the spells are in alphabetical order, so I can shrug that off. The EEPC‘s Spell Lists do the same (again with no page reference), but randomly added the spell’s school as a parenthetical notation, like this: “Thunderclap (evocation).” Did we need this? Was there a big movement to add that in lieu of page references, or perhaps a more comprehensive table?
Dunno. Not a big deal, but it’s inexplicable to me.
I picked up the Softcover Color Book (Standard) version of the EEPC along with the PDF, and I’m quite pleased with it. It’s pretty pedestrian in terms of binding -- it won't lay flat without some stuff weight it down -- but the cover’s thick, the pages are thick, and the artwork and text didn’t bleed or darken in the process of printing it, so it gets my thumbs up.
The artwork and layout continues the tradition of Wizards of the Coast’s 5th Edition releases, which I’m very happy with. I’ll admit it’s maybe not for everyone — some people nitpick the images, some people don’t like that the text is left-aligned but not justified, leading to wavy right-hand margins — but none of that bothers me. It’s obvious that they put time and care into the packaging of these products, and for a free PDF and $8 book (I think it was like $12 total with shipping?), I feel like I’m getting both great content and a high-quality visual appeal for my buck. Can’t argue with that!
The critic in me really wants to complain about what this product could have been, or could have added. Frankly, I’d pay a good deal more money for an Elementalist arcane tradition for Wizards and a bit more in terms of Backgrounds or setting info to get players into the Elemental Evil storyline (see the Resources section, below). But the fact is that they pushed this thing out for free (in PDF form) with content that can be used across D&D’s campaign settings, it’s well-balanced, and doesn’t tie itself so strictly to the Elemental Evil story that it ends up being useless content for anyone avoiding published adventure modules. It’s strength is that it’s a much more universal release, and yet it’s focused solely on giving players solid options that aren’t broken or poorly designed, and all of it in a package that’s nice to look at.