Monday, August 15, 2011

Tommy's Take on the Hellfrost Player's Guide

Welcome to the first in a three-part series of reviews covering the Hellfrost setting for Savage Worlds...and then, this Thursday at 8pm Central time, pop over to Beautiful Brains Books and Games and chat with Hellfrost writer Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Hellfrost Player's Guide is a dark fantasy setting by Triple Ace Games that requires the Savage Worlds rules (written for Explorer's Edition, but Deluxe will certainly still work), and also relies heavily on the Hellfrost Bestiary and Gazetteer for maximum effect. The PDF is $19.99 (admittedly a bit more than I like to pay for PDFs), although the print version is a very reasonable $29.99.

The PDF is a gorgeous full color affair that is layered, allowing for printer-friendly printing, as well as being fully searchable and bookmarked.

The setting is Rassilon, a fantasy realm in which the good peoples have just won a 500 year war against the frozen forces of the North, only to discover that their world is still suffering the very harsh, wintery effects...and that, as of 30 years ago, magic has begun to fail as well.

Hellfrost does follow the standard Savage Worlds template of beginning with a character creation chapter that lays out examples of common character types in the world, before launching into detailed changes to character creation. Races include Engros (which mechanically make one think of Halflings/Hobbits, though the flavor text describes them as nomads), Frost Dwarves, Frostborn (which are frosty off-shoots of any race, and no one knows why they have suddenly began forming), Hearth Elves (kinda like wood elves), Humans (divided into four cultures) and Taiga Elves.

A slew of new Edges and Hindrances are provided, such as Cold Blooded (meaning you can't handle the cold well...obvious problem for this setting) and Magic Forbiddance, which means you have been cut off from magic altogether.

Some of the nicer Edges include Blood and Guts (which can reduce penalties in Mass Combat scenarios as the hero is used to facing overwhelming odds) and Favored Foe, which provides bonuses against a chosen enemy type. Additionally, characters can become Disciples of each of the Gods, taking an Edge that provides a bonus specifically geared to that God's profile. Perhaps my favorite is Tactician...the character makes a Knowledge (Battle) roll to attempt to score extra initiative cards...that he can then hand out to allies in place of the card they get normally. Frankly, that's awesome, and I would have given it to my Fearless Leader I wrote up a while back if I owned this book then.

Characters also have a Glory rating, which is a reflection of their deeds. This can have neat effects, like gaining the Followers Edge well before Legendary rank, or becoming immortalized in song, which carries its own in-game effects. You can also have negative Glory, which can spawn enemies for the character or even make them wanted outlaws.

Hellfrost ditches Power Points and casters can cast spells as often as they choose to risk it...the risk (with Arcane magic, anyway) including The Siphoning (which can cause Backlash and drain your magical powers) as well as the Hellfrost effect, which diminishes the effectiveness of fire magic.

24 deities are provided, complete with Holy Days, signature powers, you name it...as well as room for you to add minor deities as you see fit to fill out the Pantheon...and there is a VERY Norse bent to the mythology (including Hela appearing outright, while Thor and Loki are a little more subtle).

An extensive spell list is also provided, replacing the one from the rulebook (as any relevant ones from the rulebook appear in this book) and a slew of new ones (like Enhance Undead and Gravespeak). A two page summary table wraps up the section for easy reference.

The Life in Rassilon chapter provides an overview of the basics of the world, including trade customs, funeral rituals, and general description of the land, presumably expanded upon in the Gazetteer. There are a number of factions the characters can join, like the Grey Legion mercenary company, the Lorekeepers, the Roadwardens and the Hearth Knights.

At the back of the book, one can find the setting rules, including rules for temperature (since freezing cold can be a very big problem), and other winter-related effects (like snow blindness).

WHAT WORKS: Um, most everything. Gorgeous book, very affordable print price, a ton of great examples as to how to tweak Savage Worlds to fit a setting without mangling the core of the system, the well-done Glory rules and a couple of Edges that I'm already planning on swiping for other games (how you doin', Tactician?).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: While we get a basic overview of the land, we don't get even a few monsters, so you either buy the Bestiary, play with the selection in the corebook or use entirely humanoid antagonists (nothing wrong with that last one, mind you). While it's not unheard of for Savage Settings to extend past one book, fact is that most of them are usually playable either alone or with the rulebook, and Hellfrost really feels like it does need at LEAST the Bestiary to get the most from it.

CONCLUSION: Wiggy knows his Savage Worlds, there is absolutely no doubt. I am ashamed that it took me this long to pick up the Hellfrost Player's Guide. Even if I never run the setting, there's a ton of mineable material and system tweaks to apply to other SW games, easily. The product reminded me a lot of cracking into new AD&D settings back in the day, and I mean that as a compliment. There's a reason Hellfrost is so well regarded, clearly. One of the best third party products...no, check that...one of the best Savage Worlds products I've read, despite the  near-mandatory three-book buy-in. Up next: The Hellfrost Bestiary.