My first thought on hearing that Heroes of the Feywild was going to include a female-only race was “uh-oh.” We’ve come a long way from the bad, old days of fairly rampant misogyny and sexism, but this hobby still has a well-earned reputation for not welcoming female players and handling female characters and plots badly.
When I sat down with Heroes of the Feywild, I was struck by how much story potential it has. I’ve never been pro-faerie as a concept because I’m more of a dark, gritty fantasy kind of guy, but this book reaches me better than most. That said, I find the Hamadryad more than a little disappointing. It’s not bad, but it’s clunky and confusing in a way that leaves me wishing for just a little more thought and development.
Traditional lore has a Hamadryad spiritually bound to a tree, dying when it dies. This version allows a “select few” (the PCs, basically) to survive the destruction of their tress and become free-roaming nymphs. Some Hamadryads just wander away from their trees, but this seems thin as a background (or the start of a story about a psychotic Hamadryad). The book also mentions that some Hamadryads leave the feywild to try and understand some aspect of mortal behavior that fascinates them or to explore mortal love. I’m not so fond of the female-only race being presented as lacking some fundamental quality that makes them go out and find something to “complete them,” especially when that thing is likely to be a man.
Speaking of which, the book does not explain where new Hamadryads come from. They’re explicitly female, which implies a reproductive system that carries a child and a certain amount of nurturing instinct (Bioanthropology teaches that “success” for females is to bear and raise a child to sexual maturity. “Success” for males is impregnating as many females as possible. This split accounts for a great many primordial behaviors). They’re not just female trees, either, much as I wanted to make a joke about not being able to tell the difference between male and female marijuana plants. They’re female and sexual in a way that conforms to mammalian norms. I know that there’s a profound limit to how much “adult” information they can put in a book like this, but I think glossing over the Hamadryads’ ideas of love, sex, and reproduction is just as bad as being too explicit. A little specificity could help prevent some of the locker room mentality that sometimes creeps up at the table.
EDIT: Turns out I was wrong about that. Hamadryads apparently hump like everyone else.
I’m pretty sure that I’m supposed to say something about the symbology behind the trees, because it feels as though it should have a strong influence on how the Hamadryads think and behave. On the one hand, the tree could reference the soul. This would suggest that Hamadryads are more cold and violent than other races, having lost their soul or center. The tree could also symbolize home and community, which lends itself to stories about redemption and revenge.
I think that having all the stats be mental and social is a huge mistake, but it’s an easy mistake to make. There are a number of races with a masculine aspect, whether that’s intentional or not. I don’t think many people go looking for the feminine aspects of Half-Orcs, Goliaths or Dwarves and in all of those races the females tend to behave in the same way as the males. Given that male archetypes so often center around aggression and dominance, it’s understandable for someone to think that a female race should highlight something else, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The difference between men and women isn’t their propensity for violence, but the form that violence takes and the racial stats could have reflected that.
This dovetails nicely with the racial themes. They’re frakking trees! Let’s look at all the “tankyness” that’s built into them:
- Their racial ability can grant them resist all.
- They gain a bonus to saving throws against dominate, daze and stun.
- Their level 2 utility grants AC, Fort and temporary hit points (the vulnerability to fire is a nice touch).
- Their level 10 utility grants them insubstantial.
- Their level 16 utility, which requires them to become bloodied, causes enemies to take a -5 to hit.
- Their level 22 utility is even more defense against dominate, daze and stun.
That leaves only their level 6 utility, which is a “get out of Dodge” card. I think that “tough as nails” is an awesome theme for them… except that their attribute choices don’t mesh. If you want to play a Hamadryad defender, you can build a charisma-based Paladin or a Swordmage, neither of which feel like they jibe with the Hamadryad themes (the Swordmage especially, as it is a special class built for a specific campaign setting). It doesn’t help that three of the five defender classes run off strength.
How about the other races that start with Wisdom (I continue to ignore monster races):
- Deva: Int/Cha (sound familiar?)
- Githzerai: Int/Dex
- Longtooth Shifter: Str
- Razorclaw Shifter: Dex
- Wilden: Con/Dex
I know that Wizards has said that they don’t try to “fill out the grid”, but they didn’t have to make the Hamadryad identical to the Deva. Honestly, I wish Wizards had been bold enough to give them Wis+Str/Int. Not only does that turn expectations of femininity upside down, it opens up some truly amazing class options. If it were available to me, I would build the Hamadryad Fighter in a heartbeat, followed closely by the Barbarian. Failing that, I would have liked to have seen Wis+Con/Int. Hamadryads are supposed to come from the boonies, so I have a hard time envisioning them as natural leaders for anyone but the fey. I also think that being tough should be built in from the start.
Obviously, when you think fey, you think primal. Sadly, about half of the choices are excluded by attributes (If you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind paying full price for an 18 in your attack stat, you go right ahead). Wizards also tries to push the arcane angle (they’re from the source of magic) and I can see how it fits. We’ll look closer at some of these in the role sections.
When it comes to divine classes, I have to ask myself how many gods besides Sehanine and Avandra are a good fit… And the answer is not many. Erathis is almost certainly a no, as are Bahamut and Moradin (they’re both too demanding for a race that is described as “capricious”). Pelor might work, as might Corellon, but neither seems like an obvious choice. I feel the same way about Ioun and the Raven Queen. Eh, I should just stop with the list because the short version is that Hamadryads don’t feel especially devout and it would take a very strong character concept to overcome that impression.
I’m more neutral on martial, but it still doesn’t excite me. I suppose you could go for a Karate Kid “I lost something, so I’m going to learn how to fight” schtick, but the only martial class that even remotely matches their stats is the Warlord and we’ll get to that train wreck later.
When I think psionic, I think discipline and that’s just not the Hamadryad. I suppose there’s something to be said for charming, bewitching and dominating, but, again, I think that would require a strong concept.
The idea of shadow as a power source for the Hamadryad intrigues me. It would intrigue me more if the classes weren’t such a terrible fit.
I think I’ve already covered most of my mechanical concerns with regard to defenders in the racial attributes section. If you can get past the core thematic breaks and concentrate on feel, Swordmage is actually a fairly solid choice. It’s a lot of shifting and sliding, which meshes with the racial ability to ignore undergrowth, and many of the powers use lightning or cold, both of which are good fits for an autumn fey.
I can also see a Charisma-based Paladin that worships Sehanine, but there’s something about that build that feels off. I can’t quite place my finger on why, but the concept works both mechanically and thematically.
Without some sort of house rule, Battlemind, Fighter, Warden and Strength-based Paladin are all out. I think Warden irritates me the most and I would almost certainly grant an exception for someone that had a Warden concept.
My chief concern here is systemic. Races that lack access to Strength or Dexterity are left with very few options as strikers. There’s exactly one Wisdom-based striker and that’s a melee class. I have mixed feelings about the Hamadryad Avenger. On the one hand, the feel of the class meshes with the angry, vengeful themes of the Hamadryad . On the other, it’s a divine class. My fear is that it will play well once, then the possibilities will have been exhausted.
The Sorcerer has some interesting story potential, with the untamed elemental forces battering the Hamadryads’ enemies. I have a minor quibble that, because neither Strength or Dexterity is a racial trait for them, they will always lag behind (admittedly, the gap is very small). I guess this is more disappointing because there are so few viable striker options for the Hamadryad.
I may be a little too focused on the Infernal Pact Warlock, because I was definitely unprepared for how sexy the Warlock options are for Hamadryads. Fey Pact is an obvious choice, followed closely by Star. I don’t like Sorcerer King Pact the way it is, but its mechanics fit with the race and you could always reskin the power supply. The same cannot be said of Vestige Pact, which makes for good story, but is slightly incompatible.
Hamadryads make excellent leaders and have the most options for this role. I don’t like the idea that they’re effectively “saddling the chick with the healing”, but I honestly believe that they didn’t really consider this when they were picking racial stats. What’s truly bothersome, however, is that they advocate playing a Warlord… Huh? There are so many good options for this role that it’s confusing why they wanted to jam this in.
I think that Shaman is the cleanest and most thematic of the leaders. I kind of want to play a Shaman whose spirit companion is tied to the Hamadryad by something other than loyalty. With the exception of the Battle Cleric/Templar and the Runepriest, all the other leader classes are mechanically sound. I have a little trouble imagining a Hamadryad Artificer or Ardent, but the class backstory could easily be adapted. I’m somewhat intrigued by the possibilities of an Ardent, as that is a class that hasn’t seen play at my table.
Both Bard builds are workable, but I think the Skald makes for better story, as I can see the Hamadryads as keepers of tales and lore, if not the history of other races. Hamadryads make very strong “laser” Clerics, though the considerations of playing a divine class still apply.
Here again we have many good options, as the only controller that is definitively out is the Hunter build of the Ranger. The Seeker and Druid are both excellent theme matches for the Hamadryad, but the race lacks the boost stats for either class. It’s a little rougher going as the Druid because two out of the three aspects work off Constitution. The Psion is kind of a clumsy fit thematically, but is mechanically sound. I suppose you could describe the effects as mastery over earth, stone and wood.
The Witch build of Wizard seems tailored for the Hamadryad, replacing the theme of study with natural talent with the arcane. You could just as easily build a non-Essentials Wizard and take powers that fit an elemental theme. I like cold, myself, seeing as how they’re autumn fey.
All in all, I like the Hamadryad. I think the racial stats could use some tweaking, but the race has a decent identity and solid story potential.