Here's a bit of reference on strobes, http://www.paulcbuff.com/sfe.php

There are very nice continuous light setups now that use flouresants and don't have the heat or color temperature issues.

The big difference between the two is that strobes will generally freeze the action and that the continuous light sets allow you to see what you get before you shoot.

With regard to a Polaroid or other testing tool, these can be beneficial for learning or designing a setup and in checking for errors. This is not required though if you have a flash meter, something like a Sekonik L-358.

Using a flash meter you can can ask the question what should the light be doing here in relation to my subject? Darker, lighter... Takes a bit more thought but it's not to tough.

Many modern strobes are set up with a sensor that "sees" the flash from other lights and that can trigger the pop. It is reliable as long as it can "see" the other lights pop but that fully depends on the orientation of the lights and isn't always workable. A trigger on or wire to each light is the most reliable.