This is a supplement to the main Dungeon Master's guide which is specific to war-theme campaigns. It offers campaign advice, sample missions, new prestige classes, new feats, new items and new spells. The idea is provide aids for a campaign other than dungeon crawling.
The differences are quickly made apparent. Four adventurer PCs in a large army of NPCs against another army of NPCs in open area instead of an enclosed one with far more going on than a single encounter at a time; how does one manage that? The answer can apply not only to board games but to video games and adventure novels too, "Think big, play small". After reading this section, I started seeing it in a lot of plots, such as Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon.
There is this chapter in the game which revolves around a huge siege of Dragon City. There are a lot of humanoid moles defending the walls and the gates (competently, I might add) and four big and powerful dragons. In all of this, how do the programmers make Spyro and Cynder relevant here? Before you say "exploit protagonist powers and take on the entire army in the field", let me pre-empt that by saying this is not a game where the main character can kill any number of mooks; take on too many and you will die. Maybe you could do it using cheat codes to get fury breath early and unlimited mana but even then an enemy could get the drop on you from above.
Instead, the game guides the players through scenario. The dragon pair put out fires, defend a wall-mounted cannon, help the guy reload, destroy siege towers, and defend the front gate. All of these are singular, specific, important areas where PCs can make a significant difference in at least one section of combat, and through it, the overall battle.
Also, this book is not all about pitched battles or sieges. There is variety. A DM can plan covert stuff like intel gathering and rescues missions. There are escape-the-siege-and-bring-reinforcements missions. There is infiltration and La Resistance type missions. There is lots of potential fun suggested apart from dungeon crawling, and that can be included too (Ex. "The general has received word of special combat-power-enhancing herbs that only grow in this haunted forest".....).
In addition to campaign and encounters, there are also new prestige classes ranging from Combat Medics, mixing fighter and cleric, to War Weavers who are basically wizards geared around team-playing, to Legendary Leaders, who milk all the advantages that come from having many cohorts and can make the morale checks easier to manage.
Speaking of which, the morale rules are interesting. Losing too much health or seeing a bunch of their comrades die can lead an NPC to fear and panic, but seeing a hero doing something awesome or giving a rousing speech can embolden them. This is another way that PCs can influence battles. It also adds another layer of realism and strategy, which aids immersion and rewards those that can effectively utilize the system.
I tell you, I'm going to refer to this book when designing my own war-themed campaigns as much or more than a textbook like The Medieval Siege. What's good for the Dungeon Master is good for the Author.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes of Battle" an A+
Click here for my thoughts on other D&D manuals: Player's Manual 3.5 and Complete Divine
Click here for my next book review (for fun): No Game No Life volume 4
Click here for my previous book review (a request): Song Hereafter
Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).