Categorized | RPGs

Hellfrost Bestiary RPG Review

Posted on February 1, 2011 by Nick the Lemming

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    This is the second 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 Bestiary, the second of these three books.

    The book, not surprisingly, contains a plethora of monsters, archetypes and animals that not only help you populate your Hellfrost campaign with relevant beasties, but also offer some good fodder for any other campaign run using the Savage Worlds rules. For anyone using Hellfrost with a different set of rules, this book won’t be as useful as the other two core HF books, but it will give you some idea of the types of critters out there in Rassilon for you to convert to whatever game system you’re using. In general, the book is great for Hellfrost using SW rules, and ok for anyone using either a different system for HF, or a different setting with SW.

    The book opens with a short Introduction which discusses treasure, introduces a few new monstrous abilities, a paragraph on knockback caused by attacks from large creatures, notes on encounters (including how edible some of the critters are), and a brief discussion on individualizing archetypes. With the introduction out of the way, we jump straight into the meat of the book, the bestiary section itself.

    The Bestiary is alphabetically arranged, or at least sort of alphabetically arranged. We get various beasties, animals and archetypes individually located alphabetically, but where the creatures are part of a group (demons, for example), we get a listing for “demon,” which is followed by subheadings for chain demons, changelings, collectors, demonic soldiers, gluttony demons, etc. While this is a good idea (keep all the demons together), it isn’t always effective – in a lot of games, changelings aren’t classed as demons, so someone looking up a changeling in HF might not think to look in that section, and just flick to the C section, and be confused by their absence. Also strangely some groups (like demons) get their own sections within the bestiary, but others (undead) do not. An idea worth considering for any future revised bestiary might be to include a line for each individual critter within the alphabetical framework directing the reader to the relevant section (i.e. Changeling – see Demon), with or without a page reference.

    This is also somewhat mitigated by the fact that the contents page lists the categories of critter in the book, but only somewhat – if you wanted to use the contents page to find where changelings were located, you would still have trouble, since all we get is the larger heading of demon rather than the subheadings found within the demonic umbrella. There is also an index at the end of the book, but this is a very strange addition, since it does not include every creature in the bestiary; the aforementioned changeling and collector, for example, do not appear in the index at all, though the demonic soldier does. Quite what the rationale for including some but not all of the creatures contained in the bestiary in the index is beyond me. A better approach might have been to only include the subheading critters here (all the things that make up demons, for example).

    It may have been better to split the bestiary into several sections – one for mundane animals, one for individual monsters, one for demons, one for undead, one for archetypes etc, each with an individual index (or a master index at the end which did list all critters). Even this approach would have been fraught with difficulty, however, since the difference between monster and mundane animals can often be in the eye of the beholder. A comprehensive index at the back of the book would have ameliorated these problems, however.

    Looking at the types of creatures in this book, the reader notices quite a range in ability of the beasties involved. Creatures designated as wild cards are identified as such with a small icon next to their names. Some of the denizens of Rassilon would be pushovers even for novice characters, while others would be difficult for legendary characters to defeat. This fits the ethos delineated by Wiggy in the Player’s Guide and mentioned again here in the introduction, that Hellfrost should be a natural and realistic setting; sometimes your characters are going to run into something that the only response to is to run, and run fast, while sometimes your great heroes are going to treat encounters like speedbumps, barely raising a sweat in the process of defeating them. When describing archetypes in the bestiary, two or more versions are given, a ‘normal’ run of the mill example, and an experienced version. For example, under lorekeeper, we find the stats for a “typical lorekeeper” and for a “learned lorekeeper”. Some archetypes, such as mercenary, get several versions, for common and veteran mercenaries as well as mercenary captains. Others, such as Orcs, get around a dozen variations on the main theme. While almost all archetypes are baseline humans, a note in the introduction shows how easily the GM can convert them to another race (often as simple as just adding the relevant edges and hindrances).

    The bestiary, like the other core books and the region guides, contains several sidebars throughout the book. These often contain setting-related or cultural information, and are a welcome addition. In the section on Orcs, for example, is a sidebar describing the traits of different tribal groups. I’d have liked to have seen more of these, and more art too – the book contains some art, but not a lot compared with many bestiaries for other games. Several possibilities for sidebars immediately suggest themselves as you read through; the section on golems could have had a sidebar on the Golem Revolt, for example. Another quibble I have is that hazards and traps are also included in the bestiary – this in itself is not a bad thing (far from it), but they are located under H and T respectively, rather than as chapters of their own at the end of the book (if you’re going to have a separate chapter for relics, then why not for hazards and traps too?)

    The book ends with a chapter on Relics, including random tables for creating them on the fly (though with advice to consider that anyone with a relic is going to be using it rather than just keeping it locked away to be looted after the battle). This section is somewhat brief, however, and I would thoroughly recommend instead using the excellent suggestions in the free Legendary Relics essay available on the TAG website.

    This book would make an excellent addition to the collection of any SW GM, not just a Hellfrost GM, with some new looks at old favorites, and some new beasties to worry your characters with. As templates for conversion to other games systems, the bestiary works well enough, and would certainly be recommended for anyone running a Hellfrost campaign using some other rule system, as much information is given here concerning each entry in the bestiary that can be used to create alternative system information. For those running Hellfrost using Savage Worlds, this core book is indispensable for GMs.

    Style: All in all, this is very much a mixed bag for me. I’d have liked to have seen more art, though what is found here is of the same standard, uniformity and style as that found in the other core books, which is a good thing. The format, which I go on at length about in the main body of this review, puzzles me somewhat, as does the deficiencies in the index. Better editing would have helped, or a different format.

    Substance: The bestiary does cover a wide range of critters, from mundane animals, to archetypical professionals, to legendary monsters and perilous weather. I’d have preferred to have seen more on some aspects (hazards and traps could have been given their own, expanded, chapters), and I’d have liked to have seen more sidebars containing setting / cultural information throughout the book. Having said that, the critters contained within this book are well-thought out, fairly comprehensive, and give a good example of the dangers faced by the peoples of Hellfrost.

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