Hellfrost Review, Part III: Bestiary

Triple Ace Games was generous enough to provide a review copy of the Hellfrost Bestiary, and as mentioned in both Part I and Part II, the Bestiary is a great standalone product as well as an integral part of the Hellfrost setting. Have no doubts, this product is chock full of new, interesting creatures and handy stat blocks for more familiar ones as well as some additional content you might not expect from a Bestiary.

In my review of the Player's Guide, I had stated that the Bestiary isn't needed, but after really looking at what the Bestiary contains, I'm reconsidering that notion. There are several reference to the Bestiary for the purpose of relics and creatures, and having the Bestiary adds much to the setting with its unique monsters and sample stat blocks for the archetypes presented in the Player's Guide.

Art

For many including myself, the artwork of a bestiary or monster manual can make or break such a book. The cover can set the tone of the reader's experience, and the illustrations for each entry can capture a GM's imagination and inspire him. The Hellfrost Bestiary succeeds with its cover, but in truth, the illustrations within the book are lacking not in quality, but in quantity. This is really the only negative aspect of this book (ignoring minor typos, which don't usually bother me anyway). 

The cover has the same attractive matt and glossy finish as the Player's Guide. The interior illustrations are a mix of full-color and [seemingly] penciled illustrations. The illustrations certainly invoke one's imagination, but not every creature has an illustration associated with it. This is a problem for me. I'm a visually oriented person. I'm probably spoiled to D&D products in which every monster entry and sample NPC has an illustration. This is a key feature for me. When I flip through a bestiary or monster manual, I look for things that catch my attention, things that look interesting and inspire me to include them in my game. For the entries that have illustrations, my attention is definitely drawn. I get a quick impression of what that creature is about. Otherwise, I find myself overlooking entries. (For the purpose of this review, I made sure I was thorough and at least glanced through each entry if not read it in detail.)

On one hand, a lot of the monsters are pretty common to most settings, especially fantasy settings, but the Bestiary still provides a number of monsters and races that are unique to Hellfrost, some even having unique names. For example, the Hrossval -- a breed of beastmen -- are described as "gray-skinned humanoids with immense layers of fat, beady black eyes, and short, dull tusks." This description creates more questions than it answers. Exactly how fat are they? What is their average weight? Are females just as obese? Do their tusks protrude from the bottom of their mouths like an orc's tusks or from the top like a walrus'? An illustration would help greatly.

Another disappointment is a lack of illustrations of the races that were presented in the Player's Guide. Despite being republished in the Bestiary, we still have no illustrations of how hearth elves dress or what a frostborn engro looks like for example.

Encounters

This brief section gives instructions on how to use an action deck (i.e. - a standard poker deck) to determine if an encounter occurs while the party is out exploring. It's pretty straight forward and even includes results for a drawn joker (two monsters instead of one). While random encounters with monsters is not entirely new given that it was presented in the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit and Fantasy Companion as a sidebar, the inclusion of hazards as a possible random encounter is (see below).

Monsters

The variety of entries throughout the Bestiary vary greatly. The book presents some familiar monsters such as griffins, dragons, centaurs, ogres, and orcs as well as a collection of some new creatures beyond the standard fantasy tropes. In some instances, we get multiple versions of such monsters. Below are two examples using some of the more traditional monsters found in fantasy settings.

Dragons come in six varieties: forest, Hellfrost, marsh, storm, sun, and undead. Each breed of dragon also has tables for creating a dragon of that type at different ages, specifically hatchling, juvenile, adult, old, and ancient. (Those of you coming from a 3e background might find the presentation of dragons very familiar and comfortable.)

Orcs, including snow orcs, too, have a variety of samples listed in its entry to help GMs who would like a variety of different roles for members of an orc war band without doing all the work to write them up. We get three Wild Card orcs -- a chieftain, a priest, and a drummer (my favorite) -- and ten extras including warrior, elite warrior, apothecary, berserk, engineer, ogre-herd, rider (uses dire wolves as mounts), runner (messengers), runt, and scout. The section on orcs also includes a sidebar that discusses orc tribal traits that can be applied to an orc and includes nine sample tribes (GMs are encouraged to create their own tribes and traits).

I mentioned the deities' heralds in the review of the Player's Guide, which refers to the Bestiary for the stats, and the Bestiary did not disappoint. We have twenty-four heralds presented in this book under an entry titled "Herald of the Gods" that takes up ten pages with stat blocks for these heralds.

NPCs

These entries are excellent time savers. Want to include a skald in your next encounter? The Bestiary includes a typical skald and an experienced skald. Need a heahwisard? There's an experienced heahwisard (Wild Card), a novice heahwisard, a duelist, and a master duelist (Wild Card).

Hazards

Even More Hazards: If you're interested in even more environmental and situational hazards for your Hellfrost encounters, I highly recommend Triple Ace Games' Perilous Places & Serious Situations.

This is actually a really cool entry with eighteen environmental and weather hazards. This list includes rules for avalanches, blizzards, cold snaps, crevasses, fogs, freezing rain, heavy snowfall, Hellfrost windws, icebergs, ice flows, icicle rain, leech snow, magestorm, quicksand, razor ice (or razorice), sea blizzards, sluch ice, and warm spells (whew!). So, if you want to add some variety to your encounters, you've got a few options available.

Treasure

Heading back toward the beginning of the book, we're presented with a basic table for calculating the value of the treasure found after defeating a monster or NPC. Each monster stat block includes a line entry for Treasure. The values range from meager to treasure trove. The gs (gold scields) value associated with each treasure category is merely a number the represent the total value of the items in the creature's possession, not actual coins.

Those familiar with the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit or the Fantasy Companion might recognize this table. What this table doesn't include is Relics or a percentage chance of a magic item being included in the treasure. The reason for this is because relics in Hellfrost are extremely rare and highly coveted.

Relics

Speaking of Relics, the back of the book includes a section on how to create custom relics. The advice is pretty sound and keeps to the "Fast! Furious! Fun!!!" principles of Savage Worlds. You won't find overly complicated pricing tables and creation rules. Instead, you'll find three short tables and explanations of how to apply the results.

Conclusion

Despite the lack of illustrations for each creature and the presence of some ambiguous descriptions, the Hellfrost Bestiary is a mine waiting to be picked for its gems. There's a lot of unforgettable encounters and monsters in this book to keep your players on their toes.

Next: Hellfrost Gazetteer!

2 comments:

  1. Excellent reviews! I look forward to the next one.

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  2. Thanks! The Gazetteer review will be a bit delayed as work and personal life have gotten in the way of reading through the book. It's fairly dense material, too, which adds to the delay. It'll probably be relatively short considering the nature of the book itself. Expect to see it sometime next Monday or Wednesday at the latest.

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