Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tommy's Take on Hellfrost Gazetteer

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

With two down, let's dive into the third of the Hellfrost "core": The Hellfrost Gazetteer.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF (which I am using) of the Hellfrost Gazetteer normally sells for $19.99, and the print version for $34.99. Again, it has the same gorgeous production values and is layed for printer friendly printing.

While it assumes you have at least the Player's Guide and the Savage Worlds rules, the Gazetteer takes a virtually system-neutral approach, providing only background information for the lands of Rassilon. There are no NPC stats here, or monsters, or Edges and Hindrances...nothing but "flavor".

The various lands of Rassilon are broken down in alphabetical order, with a census like breakdown starting off each section and then getting into proper text of each location, such as explaining how every settlement in the Crystalflow Confederacy maintains its own army, but the settlements are sworn to defend one another in the event of an attack.

Every land that has any kind of organization has a current events section which is dotted with plot seeds that a GM can expand into full adventures, and there are places which are purely "hunt-survive-kill", like the Frozen Forest (plagued by ice mummies and frost wights) and the Hellfrost (in which orcs and frost giants are the least of your concerns).

The Gazetteer takes the approach of giving you enough information to take a location and run with it, without painstakingly detailing every nook, cranny and aspect. Several locations only take up a single page, while some take up three or four. They were careful to ensure that each entry started on a new page for better organization.

In addition to the spotlights on the regions, several villainous organizations are detailed, like the Ashen Veil, who worship liches hoping to escape death and the Puppeteers, psionic manipulators who are playing a game that only they are aware of. The Guardians of the Wild are essentially eco-terrorists and the Sisters of Mercy are a seemingly benevolent organization being manipulated towards very dark ends. Each entry has a "Typical Members" section that usually refers back to the appropriate statblock in the Hellfrost Bestiary.

A two-page map of Rassilon is included as well.

WHAT WORKS: The writing takes care not linger too long on any one place and painstakingly drive it into the ground. There are some great plot seeds if Hellfrost isn't hampered with a metaplot (I haven't read any of the adventures yet, and there is no plot point campaign). This book runs fairly light on the art, which means there's a lot of setting material inside the pages.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I like extra crunchy bits, so I'm not quite as "Wowed" with the Gazetteer as I am the Player's Guide and the Bestiary, but that's just me. I caught an odd typo or two, like "Grey" and "Gray" being used for the same location within a sentence of each other.

CONCLUSION: While Hellfrost has a very central premise, the Gazetteer does a really nice job of establishing that the evil in the realm is not monolithic, meaning that there is more to do than just fight one bad guy and his minions. The Gazetteer gives you enough information to run with most places that might interest you, and they have a ton of microsupplements to "zoom in" on a given location if that interests you. In fact, if the setting only had the three books I just reviewed, it would still be a strong, fleshed out setting...but Triple Ace Games has released an amazing amount of support for it since its release. For me, I would place it near Midnight and Ravenloft among RPG fantasy settings (and I mean that as an extreme compliment). If, like me, you're a Savage who passed over Hellfrost in the past, you should probably rectify that.