Monday, January 25, 2010

Hellfrost Review, Part I: Introduction

If you're a long time fan of Savage Worlds or just starting to learn the system, and your looking for an epic fantasy setting, you might want to take a look at Triple Ace Games' Hellfrost campaign setting for Savage Worlds.

This article is the first part of a series of articles reviewing the Hellfrost campaign setting as a whole. The subsequent articles will be reviews of the Player's Guide (PDF/print), the Bestiary (PDF/print), the Gazetteer (PDF/print), one or two of the PDF adventures available for purchase, and a few select free downloads from the bottom of the Hellfrost web page.

For a quick rundown of what the setting is about, I highly recommend  reading the Hellfrost description from Triple Ace Games' Hellfrost page and the PDF preview. In general, Hellfrost is a rich, viking-inspired, fantasy setting with dark and grim tones. The land of Rassilon is plagued by an endless winter that continues to descend from the north, and all manner of evil forces threaten the peoples of Rassilon. The encroaching cold weather has been worsening over time, with the usually warmer climates turning into temperate climates, and formerly temperate climates are becoming frozen tundras. The creatures inhabiting the northern, frozen regions have descended southward.

Early Impressions

I first heard about Hellfrost via the Hellfrost Announcement podcast episode of The Game's the Thing. In it, the Triple Aces themselves offer insight into the design and development of Hellfrost and what makes the setting unique. After listening to that podcast, I became intrigued. Months later, a friend of TDoL was running a Hellfrost campaign via MapTool. I took the plunge and purchased a copy of the Hellfrost Player's Guide. I read more and more of the setting and immediately began to feel the same sentiment for it as I did for Greyhawk. Hellfrost presents a gritty setting and unique cultures, including various human cultures.

When I first read the preview and subsequently the Player's Guide, I immediately felt the same sense of wonder as I did when I first began exploring the World of Greyhawk as a setting. The Rassilon felt like a vast region of culture, magic, and adventure just waiting to be harvested. much like Greyhawk is. As a setting, it carried the same feel as Greyhawk, too, meaning one of conventional fantasy flavor rather than a fantasy setting with a weird twist such as Dark Sun, Eberron, or even Sundered Skies. If you're looking for a setting with that old school fantasy flavor, then Hellfrost is it.

Presentation and Product Support

The approach Triple Ace Games takes with presenting Hellfrost as a product is a bit different than the convention usually taken with Savage Worlds settings. Rather than publish a full version of the setting with GM info and a separate player's guide as the only two books for a setting, Triple Ace Games decided to publish three books instead: The Player's Guide, Bestiary, and Gazetter. Originally these three books were to be published one after another during spring and summer of last year, but publishing delays pushed the Bestiary and Gazetteer to this past December. To some early enthusiasts, this was somewhat frustrating as the Player's Guide references the Bestiary. Additionally, some GMs were hesitant to fully dive into the setting without the Bestiary and Gazetteer to give them stats for Hellfrost's exotic fauna and locations specifically.

The three core books, however, were designed to be mostly independent of the others, and Triple Ace Games' support via PDF adventures and free downloads has filled the gaps for GMs who wanted something to give them a taste of adventures in Hellfrost. The Player's Guide is essentially what you need to play the game. While it makes a lot of references to the Bestiary, these references didn't hinder the enjoyment and utility of the Player's Guide itself. All of the setting's unique game mechanics are included in this book as well as a complete pantheon, a world history timeline, and descriptions of daily life in Rassilon, the continent on which the setting takes place. The Bestiary is designed to primarily supports the setting but can also be used by GMs who are looking for monsters to steal for use in other settings. The Gazetteer has an approach similar to the 3e D&D Gazeteer and Living Greyhawk Gazetteer with stats and descriptions of nations and locales across Rassilon and almost no game mechanics presented within it. Wiggy has also stated on the Hellfrost forums that the Hellfrost Gazetteer can be used with any role-playing game. A GM could simply take Rassilon and drop the continent into his own setting.

Pros and Cons

Hellfrost as a product line is a pretty solid and safe investment. Initially, the entry cost can seem a bit steep with the Player's Guide costing $29.99 and the Bestiary and Gazetteer costing $34.99 each. A player will need to buy a copy of the Player's Guide, which is pretty expensive as player's guides go, but the $19.99 PDF could be a more affordable option. A GM might be compelled to purchase all three books, but it's definitely not necessary as illustrated above. At the very least, a time-crunched GM gains the benefit of having a plethora of adversaries and locations to create his custom adventures. If the GM sticks to just the Player's Guide, there are plenty of affordable PDF adventures for Hellfrost to torture... uh, entertain his players.

Next: Hellfrost: Player's Guide