Categorized | RPGs

Hellfrost Player’s Guide RPG Review

Posted on January 25, 2011 by Nick the Lemming

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    This is the first 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 Player’s Guide, the first of these three books.

    The book introduces the setting of Hellfrost and covers various interpretations of the Core Savage Worlds rules, offers new rules, and governs character creation in the world of Rassilon, as well as providing a very brief introduction to the world. The book is laid out in 11 chapters, with a good choice of art – just about every picture depicts something that is being mentioned on that page, from a woman buying a sword in the gear section, to a mage casting a Zephyr spell on the appropriate page of the magic section. The art is also of a decent standard, and in my opinion, better that that of the SW Explorer’s Edition book.

    The first chapter introduces us to the very basics of the Hellfrost setting in a few short paragraphs. The premise of the setting is that 500 years ago, the Blizzard War erupted, bringing with it a huge army of creatures from the frozen north. In the aftermath of the successful defense of the southern part of Rassilon, a huge wall of ice arose to the north, and the rest of the continent has been caught in the icy grip of perpetual winter since that time. This introductory chapter also presents the basic races of Hellfrost, the effect of religion and magic, and the destructive denizens of the world, either foul races or shadowy cabals, and the organizations created to fight against them.

    The second chapter is one of the meatiest, and concerns Characters. A large list of suggested character types are given, with brief descriptions of where they are found, and what roles they play. Both heroic and villainous character types are suggested, with an interesting sidebar that provides a good way of encouraging more heroic characters – while players can choose to be either heroic or selfish, only heroic characters will receive Glory, a new concept added to SW that provides an additional source of special advantages. The rest of the characters section includes notes on languages, covers character creation (and how it differs to that of vanilla SW), additional and altered edges and hindrances, and a whole load of Disciple Edges, which give powers to religious characters. It also introduces the player races to us, from the halfing-like Engro, to the icy forest Taiga Elves. The races found here are different to those found in the SW
    Fantasy Companion, being more suited for the Hellfrost setting – one of the pitfalls of generic rules is that often the same races, with the same stats, appear in world after world with little thought given to how well they fit into the setting. In Hellfrost, there are no half elves or orcs, humans are split into several cultural groups (including a more ‘civilised’ / Romanesque group (the Anari), ‘Viking’ types (the Saxa), and northern nomadic or tribal peoples (the Finnar and Tuomi). Other races include the Frost Dwarves, Hearth Elves (‘normal’ elves) and Frostborn – a strange group, found amongst every race and culture, who seem to be connected with (and more comfortable in) the eternal winter.

    The third chapter focuses on Gear, and gives the usual assortment of equipment available, as well as a basic guide to pricing and availability. Nothing in this chapter really stands out, either for blinding brilliance or obvious omission. The fourth chapter, on Hedge Magic, is one of the smallest, and focuses on the creation of potions and remedies. Again, the section is nothing special (or particularly bad) compared to other game systems, but would be easily portable to another SW setting.

    Chapter 5 introduces us to Magic in Hellfrost. Unlike the core SW rules, Hellfrost does not use Power Points; instead casting magic has its own risk, thanks to the in-game dangers of The Siphoning, a fairly recent reduction in the overall magic nature of Hellfrost which can lead to backlash, and which is akin to the dangers of casting magic in WFRP v2. This chapter also introduces the several types of arcane background available in Hellfrost, from the nature-based Druids, to the, erm, elemental-based Elementalists, the more academic / ritualized Heahwisardry, the ice-based (and somewhat suspect) Hrimwisardry, Dwarven Rune Magic, and Skald-inspired Song Magic. This chapter concludes with (rare in this setting) magical items, most of which are legendary relics.

    The sixth chapter, Religion, covers the various gods of the Hellfrost setting, all 24 of them, with notes on necromancy and a brief cosmological and cosmogonic section. Each of the gods in the setting are given descriptions, including their titles, aspects they cover, any symbols and holy days associated with them, the forms of their earth-bound messengers, the duties and powers of their priesthoods, and the sins associated with their cults, culminating with a description of the god, religion and cult and how they interact with the setting. There are a good selection of good, bad and indifferent deities, with no aspect glaringly omitted. This chapter also delves into the subject of the ascendant frost god, and the disappearance of the gods of fire and sun.

    Following these latter two chapters on magic and religion comes chapter seven, Spells, which (unsurprisingly) covers the various spells that magicians and priests of all stripes can cast. Like the earlier chapter on characters, this section contains a mixture of new and altered spells found in the core SW rules. Some of these spells have been altered because of the disappearance of power points, others have been altered to better fit the setting. Again, there is nothing truly amazing about this section compared with other games, but there is plenty here which can be ported out to another SW setting, and the removal of power points makes for a much richer setting.

    Chapter eight introduces a new concept to SW, that of Glory. Glory encourages the players to think about having heroic characters (not necessarily super-powered characters; a high-powered knight with maxed out skills in combat who only fights for his own benefit won’t gain much glory, whereas a peasant farmer who risks his life to aid others in need will do so). Gaining glory allows the character to reap benefits similar to edges, allowing him or her to assemble a group of followers, for example, or to build connections with powerful groups or individuals, or to increase his or her favourability amongst people who recognize the hero.

    The ninth chapter describes the daily Life in Rassilon, with sections on the calendar, day to day life, and cultural concerns such as funerary customs, diet and the like. This chapter reminds me somewhat of similar sections found in Harn, and is a great chapter for bringing Hellfrost to life as a complex and breathing society. It also briefly describes the geography of Rassilon and concludes with a brief timeline of events which have befallen the land. Chapter ten continues in a similar vein, describing various Organizations found in Hellfrost, from the Engro Bludgeoners, an ersatz police force, to the Wood Wardens, sworn to defend the decreasing forests of the south from the ever-creeping ice and foul darkness that besieges them.

    The eleventh and final chapter, on Generic Setting Rules, contains new rules fitting to the Hellfrost setting. These include the effects of temperature, including frostbite and immersion in freezing water, and snow-blindness, to systems for cultural concepts such as wergild. The book concludes with a Hellfrost-specific character sheet and a functional index.

    The Hellfrost Player’s Guide is a great introduction to the Hellfrost setting, and indispensable to anyone wishing to use the setting with Savage Worlds. Even if you aren’t going to use the setting with the SW rules, it may be worth buying this book to get an idea of what cultures and character types are found in the setting. On the other hand, if you have no intention of playing in the Hellfrost setting, but you use SW for your own fantasy games, this book will also be useful to you, for the many edges and hindrances which you could easily port to your own setting. I’m still leery of the SW rules myself, partly because the SW version of Deadlands lost so much of the feel of the original, but the Hellfrost Player’s Guide really brings the complexity and nuance that are present in a well-thought out world to the fore, despite the rather bland flavor of the SW core rules. It is reminiscent at times of Harn, with the accent on a living early medieval-based game (though this based on the eddas and sagas rather than Harn’s more feudal setting), especially when used in conjunction with the numerous freebies found on TAG’s website, such as essays on cattle-raiding and family and kinship. The format of these and the regional guides is also reminiscent of Columbia Games’ separately available essays on particular cultural practices or groups. Another possible influence is Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing, though that game is set in a much greater technological period; the various groups and suggested character types do resemble the WFRP careers to some extent.

    Style: The art is of a uniformly good standard, and as mentioned above, is usually descriptive of some aspect being mentioned on that page. The format of the book itself is functional; no weird typefaces that mean you can’t read half the words, or background colors that conceal the writing. Each page is split into two columns, with capitalized and bolded subheadings. There are a few typos and grammatical / spelling errors, but these are not as egregious as in some other games.

    Substance: It’s good to find a Savage Worlds setting that isn’t overly simplified (such as Evernight), which has rich detail but retains the simplicity of the system. Like pretty much all SW settings, it’s a bit quirky rather than generic (you’re superheroes…but evil! It’s a fantasy setting…but the sun has disappeared! It’s like the original Deadlands…but devoid of flavor! It’s like Star Trek…but you’re all Tellytubbies!), in that it’s a fantasy setting where snow and ice have enveloped the land in a perpetual winter. Having said that, there is much in this book which would lend itself to a non-quirky setting, and the thought given to how this everlasting winter would affect society pushes it above the usual SW settings, none of which have really made any impression on me so far. Hellfrost makes me want to play it immediately.

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