Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tommy's Take on Hellfrost Bestiary

REMINDER: Hellfrost author Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams will be in the Beautiful Brains chatroom Thursday, 8pm Central time.

I'm one of "those" guys: Monster books are a pretty easy sell for me. I still have my AD&D2e monster books and several d20 era books for the express purpose of inspiration and re-statting...even picked up a couple of Pathfinder books for this reason. So...Hellfrost Bestiary? Let's do it.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Hellfrost Bestiary assumes that you'll at least be using the Hellfrost Player's Guide and the Savage Worlds rulebook. The PDF (which is what I will be reviewing) is normally priced at $19.99, and the print version is $34.99. Again, a little more than I prefer to pay for PDFs, but still well within reason for print.

The PDF is 132 pages and layered for easy printing. Much like the Player's Guide, it is a gorgeous book. The Bestiary introduces four new Monstrous Abilities (Demon, Plant, Susceptibility and Resistance) and also includes rules for generating Relics, which are the Hellfrost equivalent of magic items...and when I mean magic items, I mean "+1 daggers" not "Hand of Vecna"...so, low magic setting, definitely.

The bestiary covers pretty much the gamut of what you should need for most of your Hellfrost games, from basic animals (bears, wolves, etc...including how to hunt for them and the "food" value of them) and a slew of archetypes (like the Road Wardens, or several varieties of elves).

The entries are arranged alphabetically, with larger headings featuring sub-headings (like the Assassin heading featuring a regular assassin and a master assassin and so on).

Obviously, given the setting, there is a lot of focus on ice/snow/frost-based monsters, like the cryosphinx, but the bestiary is far from a one-trick pony: There are creepy, psionic Puppeteers and their spider-like Dominators, the Red Mist that drives people to violence, six different types of dragons (Forest, Hellfrost, Marsh, Storm, Sun and Undead), each with their own age chart reminiscent of D&D's take on dragons.

Black Knights remind me a little bit of Death Knights, and the mysterious Grey Riders (which appeared around the time the Siphoning began) are reminiscent of Ring Wraiths. Orcs alone have 13 templates to draw from, from Chieftains to Berserks to Engineers and so on...PLUS there are nine sample tribes, each with slight mechanical differences, to further modify them.

It's not all just monsters, animals and templates...traps and hazards are included as well (like the mechanical effects of cold snaps, quicksand, freezing rain and even creepier stuff like leech snow, which sucks the heat out of travelers that cross over it, and brings them back as Hellfrost Vampires if they die).

WHAT WORKS: As good of a setting bestiary as I have ever seen. The art is a mix of great color pieces and well-done pencil sketches, a combination that probably works better than it should. Some of the entries, like Assassins, have unique abilities that serve as a helpful reminder that not all adversaries need to come off a shopping list of powers and abilities. If you don't mind the over abundance cold-related enemies, many of these entries can be used in any Savage Worlds fantasy game with a little re-skinning.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Really just an odd bit or two...for instance, there's an agile, undead creature that can only be killed by being grappled...but there's never a reason given as to WHY a grapple does automatic damage to it. There's still that whole "three book buy-in", but looking at the sheer amount of information crammed into the first two thus far, I'm starting to see why it had to happen that way.

CONCLUSION: You might be happy with the Orc entry from the Savage Worlds rulebook. I love "Orc" being divided into 13 specialized archetypes, then further modified by the nine different tribes. It's just how I'm wired. The Hellfrost Bestiary takes the awesome of Savage Worlds and gives me that extra bit of mechanical goodness I love, rather than giving me a dozen entries and advice on just re-skinning orcs every time I want something mean and humanoid. Great product that makes me really want to run Hellfrost (I have a love-HATE relationship with wintery stuff...as in, I think winter is pretty much hell, but I love it from a setting/storytelling standpoint). Highly recommended even if you're just a Savage GM with the extra money to spare and stumped on monsters.