Review: Book of Heroic Races 1 & 2 5E
Hello everyone! Today I have a review twofer for you all. This time we go with a simple 5th Edition supplement in PDF form. There are so many of these out these days, especially on the DMs Guild, it can be difficult to find the good ones from the bad ones. Luckily for me I had the opportunity check out two from John Brazer Enterprises. To be fair, of course, this name might actually be familiar to you. They have created a number of products for Pathfinder (including similarly named products) and even a few for Traveller. Today though I have two of their 5th Edition supplements made to expand the options your player’s have when creating their characters. This review won’t be super long as the products them selves aren’t huge. I will be focusing mostly on the concepts behind the races and the mechanics given to them. Each race does have a full write up but, for me, those two aspects are most important in a supplement for options.
Let’s start with the first book which is nearing it’s third birthday at this point. You may be worried at the age of this book, especially if you are anything like me and regularly forget how long 5E has been out. Never fear, though, as this product was last updated in December which means they are still fixing and tweaking it. That being said, the product is really well done. A simple, but colorful design with a stand-out cover that represents exactly what this product is about: race options. In this book there are four: the catfolk, everborn, hagborn, and tengus.
I want to start with the two that are most recognizable. The catfolk and tengus are races which have frequently shown up, not just in table top games but in various fantasy products and worlds. The catfolk are a strong race that takes some great influence from the cats around us. While the design is, overall, simple and not terrifically special, it perfectly encapsulates cats as people. What I like most about this race is that you can choose to be a charismatic cat or a stealthy cat, but regardless of what you pick you get one racial trait that I find incredibly clever and well done. If you have a cat anything like mine they spend a LOT of time sleeping. Sometimes they want to play and sometimes they don’t…and sometimes they spend 2 minutes sprinting around for no reason. Catfolk have an ability that allows them to run faster when dashing or disengaging in combat. It isn’t a ton but the extra 5 feet can be a world of difference. It also really adds up for rogues. Tengus take a different tact asking whether your crow-person is from the city or the wilderness. While all tengus gain some simple add-ons like weapons proficiency, darkvision, and a bonus language, it is your sub-race that defines you greatly. I love that they gave them an extra language, by the way. This is a great choice for a bird race. The city tengus are awesome because they are the old scholar / sage type and gain another language as well as some bonus to trying to decipher languages unknown. The nomads, on the other hand, are perfect con artists and wanderers with a bonus to Wisdom (interestnig choice!) and proficiency with stealth and thieves tools.
Beside these two races are the hagborn and the everborn. The hagborn are a fun race of people descended from hags. As way of explination, they are the daughters of hags gifted to fathers who…survived…the encounter that made them. To my mind they are simply what happens when a baby is born of a hag but not raised to become one. It is an interesting concept and the racial features extol the benefits of having hag heritage from darkvision and claws to a variety of abilities depended upon which type of hag your mother was. All in all, a good representation of the concept able to be used by a player. Finally, we have the everborn which are an awesome take on a concept I always love: a race of people who are reincarnated over and over. In some ways they recognize it and in some they are more grounded in the present. Because they have lived many lives there is a significant number and variety of skill and tool proficiencies you can get before even picking your class. It is great, but a little over powered. Personally I think resistance to necrotic damage AND advantage on necrotic damage saves is a bit much. I mean you don’t need to have the damage AND increase the likelihood that it ends up being halved again. Oh and for some reason one sub-race has a +2 skill bonus instead of +1, but that may be an oversight that has been fixed since the version I have.
Book 1 Subraces
Something from Book 1 that somehow didn’t make it into book two is the quick inclusion of additional sub-races for the standard PHB races. It is simply one page with 7 options. Each has a name and a couple sentences to evoke a story about them. Then there are the stats. I think this is a great little add on. It isn’t a lot of stuff but its good. While options like the Ghost Elf are more aesthetically interesting, there is also the cloud dwarf. This name alone catches your interest, but it also describes dwarfs that live in clouds mining the silver from them. I can picture venturing out into the dangerous skies and avoiding cloud giants now. Frankly it’s a great little add to a supplement that I would have liked to see repeated.
Book 2 is just like the first one in both design and content (minus sub-races). Again we see an interesting mix of potential options for players. Where we had catfolk and tengu in the last book, we now have gillfolk and lizardfolk. While the later might be obvious, gillfolk are basically humans with gills in their necks that have popped up now and again in games like D&D. I like the lizardfolk take from JBE, as they divide the race into a subrace that feels like the one from the Monster Manual and then another that is unique and related to dragons. It is another simple build, but one that exemplifies lizardfolk and provides some interesting concepts if journeying down the dragonsired path. The gillfolk are equally simple in crafting but are done well. Players are given a race that is unique and has mechanics without asking them to come up with those mechanics on their own. Additionally the two types are awesome, especially the deep sea race which feels much like an underdark version of a surface race. I’d love to play that version as a bit monstrous looking.
The other two races in this book are the androids and the geppetoians. The first is a great throw back to Barrier Peaks and a wonderful example of how to include some science in your fantasy. All the hallmarks of what make androids androids are there. Training and senses, as well as specialties are included. What I love even more is that the subraces are used to not only define two different takes on android but are to develop two different sources from which the race came. You might be a fast android made from alchemy or you might be a electricity-born android of technology. Either way, it is a fun race that at least steps away from the usual “insert animal”folk. Going even further on this trend and sticking with the construct idea, the geppetoians are a race that are essentially what happens if lots of mages make Pinocchio and then the race sticks it out until they can be alone only they know how to make themselves. It is a wonderful concept and a amazing take on the robot problems of sci-fi. They are, however, a bit underwhelming. There are no sub-race options and the racial features to little to elicit much more than a standard construct race. The only special thing about them is an auto-proficiency with wooden weapons and let’s be honest weapon profieciencies are little more than rules-legal ways to include backstory flavor with classes that don’t include weapons you would be trained in by your people. This race was at once the most interesting to me at the surface and most disappointing in execution.
I have to say, despite the geppetoians (who need one less vowel in there), I really like what I have seen from John Brazer Enterprises. If you were to ask me I would say go buy Book 1. It is more bang for your buck with the sub-race page and has more well thought out content. Each race has their simplicity, but that is something you need in race. It is making them unique enough without breaking the game that goes a long way and JBE has done that for the most part. The execution is clever and fitting, especially so in book 1. Book 2 is something I would have called good but needing work, but after going through book one it is a little disappointing. There is room for a lot more and I hope they add on to the geppetoians (please remove a vowel?). That being said I am defniitely going to be checking out their Pathfinder products!