Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hellfrost Review, Part IV: Gazetteer

Previously, I presented an overview of the Hellfrost product line and support as well as reviews of the Player's Guide and the Bestiary. In this review, I'll cover the third of the core Hellfrost books, Hellfrost: Gazetteer. Before I continue with this review, however, I want to put out several disclaimers:
  1. As with the Hellfrost: Bestiary book, this book was provided by Triple Ace Games for review purposes.
  2. For perspective, I will be drawing comparisons between Hellfrost: Gazetteer and Living Greyhawk Gazetteer and/or the D&D Gazetteer.
  3. I am writing this review as someone who was diagnosed with Adult ADHD. (I'll explain this in a little bit.)
Now, on with the review.

To start with, this book is very dense, and I mean dense! In order to reduce page count and keep the cover prices down, Triple Ace Games decided to use a smaller font size in the Hellfrost books than what is typically used in their other products or in most Savage Worlds setting supplements. With that in mind, imagine how a book that is mostly descriptions of regions, settlements, and organizations might read for someone with ADD. By no means does that make the product a bad one, but it does change my approach to how I read such a product.

To be fair, I had the same difficulty with the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, which is by far an even denser book. To overcome that mental block, I don't attempt to read such books cover-to-cover; instead, I read the introduction sections, pull out the map, look at interesting places, and look them up in the book. From their I follow references as I come across them. This method works perfectly with the Hellfrost Gazetteer thanks to its clear table of contents and easy-to-read index. I'll say it again, INDEX!

Introduction

The Introduction is a short 4 pages that covers two major things: Types of Settlements and Reading the Stat Block. Both of these sections are important because it helps to give an understanding of how to create your own settlements as well as interpret those presented in the book.

One thing this book makes clear in its introduction is that the information presented is not exhaustive, meaning this is not a complete list of every settlement, structure, or locale in Rassilon. Instead, the book acts as a starting point and a toolkit for you to expand upon. The openness of the map and the geography conveyed really let you make the world your own, and that's not just lip service.

One sidebar, titled 'How Big is Rassilon', is included in this section, and it conveys just how large Rassilon is by comparing it to real world distances. According to this sidebar, Rassilon is about as large as the United States of America. That's a great mental impression to have when you're trying to figure out distances on the map.

Map

Speaking of the map, I was a bit disappointed to not see a pullout map in this book. That's something that both the 32-page D&D Gazetteer and the 192-page Living Greyhawk Gazetteer had. Instead we get a two-page spread bound across the final page of the book and the back interior cover. Not the best solution, but it's a bit of a moot point considering Triple Ace Games has a PDF map available as a free download.

Lands of Rassilon

This section of the book is the largest spanning from page 7 to page 119 and includes geographic regions and nations. There is a lot of rich detail in this section that can fuel your imagination for many campaigns and adventures. Each main entry includes subsections, specifically a background, descriptions of its government and military (if applicable), the geography of the area including notable locales, major locales within the region, and current events.

This information is presented much more clearly and elegantly than in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. The subsections are broken up more discretely with headers and are fairly concise. My only complaint was that while the beginning of the main entry has a percentage breakdown of racial demographics, the settlement entries within it do not. I prefer to know just what percentage of a particular race might reside in a village or town. Still, that's a minor quibble and is in no way any sort of considerable flaw.

Evil Organizations

I thought it was a great idea to include such a section, but I didn't quite understand why it was only 'evil organizations' rather than organizations in general. Still, it's a great collection of adversarial groups upon which the GM can build a campaign or adventure.

I won't detail every organization, but I will say that one of my favorites is the Cult of the Bear God. Anyone who has seen The 13th Warrior will immediately recognize the reference even down to the phrase the description of claws that can tear a plank to kindling.

Conclusion

This book is fantastic in every sense of the word. The world of Rassilon really comes alive with this book well beyond stats, spells, Edges, etc. presented in the Player's Guide and the Bestiary. For GM's, the book is an endless source of inspiration and ideas to make Hellfrost your own. For players, it's a doorway to the world in which your character was born and raised.

Just like the D&D and Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, Hellfrost: Gazetteer also stands on its own as a setting book that could be used with any version of any game system, but it can also be used as a jump point for a homebrew Savage setting or incorporated into an existing setting.