Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tommy's Take on the Totems of the Dead GM's Guide


Apologies for the lack of reviews...working on some deadline intensive products, including the
two Horror of Trevala releases coming out later this month.

The Totems of the Dead GM's Guide came out four days ago, so let's take a look at it.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The PDF is $13 and 140 pages, and pretty entirely for the GM, as you may have guessed. The production values are the same, top notch values we have come to expect from
Gun Metal Games, including a fantastic cover by Jason Walton.

The GM chapter is a good guideline for making your own adventures, as well as providing a few campaign frameworks for Totems of the Dead. Not quite as robust as some setting books, but useful. One nice touch is the NPC Personality chart, which links each of the 20 personalities with animals, very appropriate for the setting.

A BIG chunk of the book is made up of the bestiary, so if you like monsters, here ya go. The first chunk are animals, with giant snakes and scorpions, wolverines and sabretooth tigers...as well as creepy things like pterodastros, which are weird bat/bird/lizard hybrids. The next section, Spirits and Monsters, is where things start getting really interesting. Corrupted Ones are dark magicians who can evaporate water with their lips, and the Void Dweller Demons are 9 foot tall winged demons who avoid sunlight. There are multiple varieties of mummies (including arctic ones), and snake-like vampires. And the wendigo...yeesh. It is a very evocative bestiary with some unique twists on old favorites, as well as some plain old unique surprises. With several of the beasts, the real trick is to learning what the weakness of the beasts are.

As is always great in a setting, especially one not set on modern earth, a series of NPCs archetypes are presented, like different types of Feral Ones, hunters, assassins, neanderthals and so on.

Also included: An adventure generator, and we're gonna play around with that right here.

Adversary: Angered Spirit - That's not good.
Adversary's Agenda: Recognition - Huh...that's kinda interesting.
Adversary's Ally: Beast - Hm...you usually see beasts having issues with spirits, not joining them.
Major Supporting NPCs: Wanderer - A drifter of some sort.
The Call To Adventure: Wrong Place, Wrong Time - Seems to fit the drifter more than the PCs, but could work either way.
The Setting: Large settlement/City - Easy enough, especially with the Wrong Place, Wrong Time stuff.
The Plot: Crimes of Love/Lust - Huh.
Plot Complications: Ally's Capture/Betrayal - Well, at this point, I like to make the ally the bad guy and the adversary misunderstood.
Reward: Wealth - Always a good thing.

Anyway, that gives you an idea as to the elements of the adventure generator. As with any random table, you're gonna get some...interesting...elements.

Also included is a nameless horror generator, for those times when you need something just completely off the wall, rather than the "standard" monsters in the bestiary.

A dozen Savage Tales are included, spread out over the various regions of the game world, with each region also including a random encounters table for that region. Each Savage Tale even includes a "Further Adventures" section for building off of the events just played through.

The Savage Tales are followed by a series of plot hooks that aren't fully fleshed out adventures, but give you plenty of information (at least a paragraph...in some cases two or more), further developing each region.

A slew of diseases, poisons and traps fill out the book, followed by a character sheet and map.

WHAT WORKS: I love a good bestiary, and this is a very good one, as well as random tables, and this has both an adventure generator and a nameless horror generator. Worth the price of admission right there.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: In a perfect world, it would be nicer if the Player's and GM's guides had been folded in together, but my understanding is that would have proven prohibitive to printing costs, if for no other reason than the information in each book feels SO complimentary to the other that each book feels a bit anemic on their own.

CONCLUSION: Totems of the Dead is a nice twist on the Swords and Sorcery genre, and with the release of the GM's Guide, players and GMs have a ton of material available for tribal butt-kicking action. The monsters in the bestiary may be a tad too specific to the setting to be of use for non-Totems of the Dead games, although a little re-skinning can go a long ways, and that Nameless Horror generator can be busted out in a variety of games...(say you need something for the Whateleys to summon in a pinch in your Deadlands game, for instance). Another great product from Gun Metal Games.