“Welcome Kickstarter backers, fans, friends, and internet pirates to the Hellfrost Atlas!”
The Gazetteer is one of the three core rulebooks for Hellfrost, the other two being the Player’s Guide and the Bestiary; I’m reviewing the Atlas at the same time because the two books are closely related, although they don’t overlap much.
I understand the core books were split by publication limits, much like The Lord of the Rings, which they frequently remind me of; but the way they are split has practical benefits. Players can read anything in the Player’s Guide, while the Gazetteer and the Bestiary are for the GM only; the Gazetteer is system-agnostic, and could be used with another game, while the Player’s Guide and the Bestiary rely on you having the Savage Worlds rulebook.
They’re also colour-coded; the page backgrounds are pale blue in the Player’s Guide, pale green in the Gazetteer, and pale red in the Bestiary. I just thought I’d mention that to show that I’m paying attention.
The Gazetteer is a 134 page PDF written by Paul Wade-Williams (AKA “Wiggy”) and published by Triple Ace Games. It summarises the main regions of the Hellfrost setting, and interesting locations within them, as well as providing a number of adventure seeds.
The main stomping ground for the Hellfrost campaign is called Rassilon, and it’s about the same size as present-day Europe. It’s divided into several regions:
- The Hellfrost: The northernmost area, full of snow, ice, frost giants, ice dragons, and mammoths.
- The Outer Hellfrost: Taiga. It’s just about possible to survive here, if you can deal with the orcs and the wind that drives men mad.
- The Icewall: A mile-high barrier of solid ice, surrounding the Outer Hellfrost. Expeditions are occasionally sent over it; most fail to return.
- The High Winterlands: Wild, dangerous, and permanently below freezing point.
- The Low Winterlands: Bitterly cold, but inhabitable. Just.
- The Hearthlands: A bit warmer; farming is viable.
The Gazetteer focuses on the Winterlands and the Hearthlands; neither the map nor the descriptive text goes into much detail about the Hellfrost itself.
There are almost 50 individual lands and 15 evil organisations detailed, so I won’t go through all of them. (The good organisations are in the Player’s Guide.) Wiggy’s attention to detail and knowledge of the Dark Ages shines through in this work. The GM is expected to add small settlements, ruins and whatnot to the official maps, and there are detailed descriptions of what (say) a credible Saxa steading should be like, should you wish to add one.
Each land has a couple of pages of information, including a statblock, descriptions of elements such as its government and military, an overview of geography and a few paragraphs on key locations, and finally current events – this last is basically adventure seeds. After that, we get a few paragraphs on each of the evil organisations.
The Gazetteer looks nice enough, two column black text on pale green, but it’s dense text throughout, with few illustrations (though what there is, is nicely done).
By this point I was wondering where the map was, but it turns up as a double-page spread right at the back. It reminds me of the maps in the endpapers of the Allen & Unwin editions of The Lord of the Rings.
The Atlas was created some time after the Gazetteer, also by Wiggy, and is a 386 page PDF. While it contains guidelines for the GM on how to create sacred places of wonder, the lands of the fey (not covered in the Gazetteer as they are more a parallel dimension than part of Rassilon proper), the bulk of it details the lands of Hellfrost.
Each realm has its own section, with locally-applicable setting rules, details of society, a full-colour map, and new locales of interest for players to visit. Often there are also maps of settlements, temples or dungeons, or new monsters specific to the area, as well. Especially useful is the section “Why Come Here?” which is in effect a set of adventure seeds.
Some of the individual lands, like the Borderlands, have enough meat in them for a whole campaign; you only need an area a few hundred miles on a side with a handful of interesting places to make that work. That’s probably the best way to use this book; skim-read it to pick one realm, and start your campaign in that, following the story hooks into other areas later.
After that is an appendix with three new organisations, each of which could have PC members.
You can look on the Atlas as collecting and expanding supplemental background material from the numerous Region Guides. I don’t have any of those, though, so I can’t say if there’s any duplication. I can say that there’s a huge amount of material here, and I would have to read it several more times to absorb it in any detail.
This setting is huge, and if I were to start using it, I can’t imagine ever exhausting its possibilities.
The thing I find most impressive about Hellfrost is it’s all Wiggy. There are thousands of pages of densely-packed and detailed information, and it all came out of one man’s head. It’s bigger than any fantasy body of work I know of; consider also that most of the big franchises have multiple writers, and in an RPG setting there’s no story or character development filling up the pages, it’s all background material. And it’s not the only setting he’s responsible for, either, although it is the biggest.
Wiggy; I salute you.