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Hellfrost Gazetteer RPG Review
Posted By Nick the Lemming On February 14, 2011 @ 9:45 am In RPGs | No Comments
This is the third in a series of three reviews looking at the core books for Hellfrost, a setting by Triple Ace Games for the Savage Worlds system. In this review, I will examine the Gazetteer, the third of these three books.
This is my favorite of the three core Hellfrost books, as it can easily be used for any system, not just Savage Worlds. In many ways, it’s not so much an introduction to the regions of Hellfrost, as more of a GM’s Guide to Hellfrost, since it contains some information which might spoil the setting for players. The book is split into three sections, a short Introduction, the lengthy Lands of Rassilon, and the concluding Evil Organisations. The artwork is of the same style as the other two core HF books, and like the other books, contains occasional sidebars throughout that add cultural or historical detail. There is no system information in this book; it is entirely background information for the Hellfrost setting.
The Introduction is, as usual, brief but has some good information. It mostly consists of a discussion concerning the types of settlements in Rassilon, from single buildings such as sawmills in shadowy woods to large towns and cities with thousands of inhabitants. Although fairly short (about a column in length for most of them), these descriptions are pretty good for evocation of atmosphere and for running these settlements in your games.
The largest part of the Gazetteer is The Lands of Rassilon, which eats up most of the book. Each region gets a write-up, in alphabetical order, of at least one page (Coglelund) to ten pages (The Magocracy). Most areas get 2-3 pages. Most follow the same format, though some of the shorter entries omit some material. Each starts by giving the demographic data of each area, starting with the population divided by race, so for example Angmark has a total population of 53,458, of which 84% are Saxa, 10% are Anari, 5% are Engro, and 1% Frostborn. There are some errors here and there, but not many. For example, the Crystalflow Confederacy has 62% Anari, 35% Saxa, 5% Engro and 3% Frostborn – a total of 105%! These are easily dealt with by the GM, however, and aren’t that big a deal. Other regions do not have this information, for in game reasons – the Frozen Forest just lists the types of denizens of that land without giving numbers, as they are unknown. The Giant’s Throne gives estimated numbers rather than an exact count as found in the more civilized areas. Other demographic data given are the ruler (where one exists), the religions followed, and whatever imports and exports the area is known for. Some of this information is qualified (where a religion is followed secretly by some part of the population, or where no one ruler controls the area). Some areas, like the Borderlands, omit this information, as the area is a conglomeration of several independent towns with their own specialties, and demographic information is thus given with each individual sub-entry.
Next in the write-ups comes a section on Background, usually a short history of the area and any relevant information that expands on the demographics. After this comes a section on Government, which discusses the current situation faced by whoever is in charge, their family, allies and rivals. Next comes Military, which gives some information on the make-up of the armed forces available to the rulers of each land, and which includes arms, armor, training and often tactics or organization. After this comes Geography, which gives more detail about geographical features in the area, from woods and mountains (and whatever lurks within them) to more unique features such as Angmark’s Scieldvollr, a fortified wall, or the Mad Duke’s Maze, a tomb of uncertain location within the boundaries of another kingdom which I will not reveal, or the freakish Glass Lake found in the Glittersands.
Next in the entry for each region is Major Locales, which introduces the towns and cities of each area, as well as the occasional smaller settlement if it plays some important role, such as the Glittersands’ Lighthouse. Each of these places are given a variety of information, usually including urban population, local rulers, the main religions in that city, and sometimes import / export information. This is followed by a short write-up of the place, including history, current situation, what the town is famous for, and any particular buildings, such as the House of Lore in Nara. Not all entries in the Gazetteer have information on major locales, especially those that have no cities or are inhabited only by dark beasties (such as the Frozen Forest).
The final part of each land section is for Current Events. Here the GM is offered many, many plot suggestions, from rumors about a certain group’s machinations, to recent events and the effect they are having on the area. Not all areas have this subsection, again mainly the lands occupied by the forces of the Hellfrost. The Hellfrost region itself, for example, only consists of demographics, most of which are unknown, background, and geography, with no information on government, military, major locales or current events. This is not to say that the GM will feel cheated at an apparent lack of information; the background section reveals why this land is all but unknown, gives a general overview to the area, and will instantly fill the GM’s mind with ideas in case his players decide to go there.
After the section on the lands of Rassilon comes the final chapter, concerning Evil Organizations. There are just over a dozen entries here, of several paragraphs each, concerning conspiracies, cabals and secretive groups of villainous ne’er-do-wells to use as foils for your players. Each entry provides information on the group, its goals and strategy, and a note on typical members, usually particular archetypes from the Player’s Guide or Bestiary. The inclusion of some of the entries here might raise an eyebrow, so make sure that your players do not look at this section, or even the contents page. Some things are better discovered in play. The book ends with a decent enough index and a map of Rassilon with political boundaries drawn on which match the lands found in the main chapter, along with each of the major locales and geographical features mentioned in each section.
While many of the areas covered in this book are similar in some ways (the various Saxa Marks, for example), there are enough individual strengths and weaknesses of each place, and unique circumstances that make them all compelling in some way. There are a wide range of areas to choose to set adventures in, from pirate-controlled areas to Orc-infested lands, deep dark forests filled with undead, to kingdoms complete with large cities infected by political conniving and rural areas of distant steadings or independent city states under threat of the impending Hellfrost forces. Whatever style of the play your group enjoys (or, even better, if they like to mix it up), you’ll be able to find a region or three here that will be a good base for adventure.
Style: Artwork is the usual Hellfrost standard and style, and again effectively matches the description of the area where the picture is located. There are still a few typos and grammatical errors in the book, but as with the previous two, these are not as awful as some other game lines by other companies.
Substance: Being system-free, this book is as useful for people using Savage Worlds to run their Hellfrost campaigns as it is for those using other systems, and the amount of information in each entry is excellent, from plot ideas which leap from every page to ideal locales for any kind of campaign style you can think of. The authors have attempted to make Rassilon a living, breathing world, and it shows, as the attention to detail here is outstanding. After reading through this book, I came up with ideas for several campaigns that I want to run in Hellfrost, and I’d jump at the chance to play in a game too.
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