Review: TRIBES Anthology III
By Thilo Graf
The third in Raging Swan Press’ print collections of critically-acclaimed TRIBES-supplements is 114 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page author bios/foreword, 2 pages ToC by TRIBE (containing a short poem for each tribe), 1 page statblocks by CR, 1 page SRD, 1 page advice on reading statblocks for novice DMs as well as 1 page back cover, leaving us with 103 pages of raw content, so let’s take a look!
Following the maxim of usability, we start with compiled lists of feats (including the information where it can be found), compiled alternate class and race features, a table for new monsters & templates as well as a table containing the magic items and a list of the new spells, though the latter lacks information which tribe it features.
The very first TRIBE we’re introduced to is one of my all-time favourites – not only of the series, but of all monster-centric pdfs out there: The Bugbears of the Frozen Tears. Terrors of the icy regions, these guerrilla warriors are headhunters that can make the decapitated heads of their victims into shrieking warning mechanisms, adding their eternal screams to the chilling winds of the white cliffs, where their eternal matron resides: Serving Vhen Nhar, an elder evil/demon encased in ice, the crone and literal mother of the bugbear-tribes schemes and her surprisingly intelligent daughters spin a deadly web of intrigues, while her giant-sized son comes like a titan upon the settlements of the weak soft-skins and the headless victims of the raids become the vessels for the demonic will of the tribe’s patron – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again here: John Bennett has created a tribe and a locale with the white cliffs that is iconic, smart, disturbing and rife with potential to the point where I’d personally consider it one of the highlights and a definite must-buy. In fact, I’d heap more praises and superlatives on this, were it not for the next component of the pdf:
The Cultists of Havra-Zhoul, more commonly known as the order of the Dictum – working best when slowly introduced into a campaign, the order is actually a force that cold work WITH the players. Working best in a cesspool of corruption, the order actually consist mostly of just and righteous members who seek to bring order into a society – first quite probably improving the situation in the town in which it operates, even recruiting PCs and working with them. It is only slowly that the rather harsh and inflexible, brutal side of their extreme lawfulness surfaces and when watchmen armed with supernatural power and even members turned devils (via the new rituals) show up, the PCs should be aware that something is going wrong. This cult is worth a whole campaign. There, I said it. Pierre van Rooden, brilliant author and published across multiple editions, has with this cult created an organic, plausible, multi-facetted organization of stellar appeal and complexity, interwoven the narrative with intriguing and believable characters and managed to create book that poses the very real question how much of our freedom, how much of our rights, we are willing to sacrifice for security and where the line should be drawn. This supplement is, in my humble opinion, the crowning achievement of the whole TRIBES-line, is my favourite cult released for PFRPG and belongs into the arsenal of any GM. Even if you don’t get this book, get this pdf – oh, and Way of the Wicked-DMs could easily take the quotes from the Dictum to quote from a fictitious holy book of Asmodeus. A must buy in the line if there ever was one.
Now John Bennett’s second contribution can in my opinion not completely stand up to the former two, but it’s close, damn close in fact – the Duergar of the Obsidian Citadel are brilliant smiths, genius enchanters, but even more so than others of their kind, they carry grudges and will retaliate every real or imagined slight by activating curses of their otherwise stellar wares. In such a supplement, we of course not only get the regular merchandise one would expect, but also new magical items as well as a wide variety of new curses to unleash upon those who wish to cheat the dueragr or stand in the way of the one thing they truly crave: Beauty. These grey dwarves are notorious slavers and their prices may be met in flesh…
The Frost-Giant Pirates of the Icy Heart, Ben Kent’s contribution to this compilation, is also interesting and what I’d consider a high-concept contribution: Powered by white dragons under the command of Flashfreeze, their eldest and manned by a dread Frost-Giant Jarl and his men, the Iceberg-fortress is essentially a ship-destroying beast powered by the ambitions of a single human female and her not all-too-evil lover, who keep the careful equilibrium of power in check. Per se I love the idea and the artwork provided for the Icy Heart (whose caverns are btw. also home t a special remorhaz) is glorious – though I’ve already seen the idea of an iceberg-fortress before, this is the first time that “magic did it” was not the answer when it came to means of propulsion, so kudos for that. What I can’t really fathom, though, is why the one central gripe I had with the original pdf has not been addressed: The iceberg lacks nautical stats. I mean, come on – we’ve had these now for quite a while. Skull & Shackles is all about naval combat and being piratey. This, though, manages to, of all things, omit said statblock – again. What a wasted chance to give this component the last piece it needs to be considered legendary. Oh well.
The final tribe of the compilation, the Orcs of the Eternal Zenith, though, are once again up to the task – oh boy are they up for it: Imagine what happens when a missionary of Saranrae or a similar sun/flame-deity manages to convert a tribe of orcs – in all the wrong ways. There you have these orcs – fanatically devoted to the sun, these green-skins have shed their light-fearing ways and now seek to bring an age of eternal light, an age of glorious, scorching, unflinching radiance that burns all infidels and lesser creatures to a crisp. Have I mentioned their salamander ally, the artefact-device that can actually open portals to the elemental plane of fire and which is powered by imprisoned, evil fey or that the tribe’s last conventional shaman may actually be the best chance for the PCs to infiltrate what has become a chakram-wielding, weapon igniting horde of highly-trained zealots bent on destruction? Well, now I have and let me add that these orcs should be considered yet another most-buy for anyone looking for not only statblocks, but also a cool and unique tribe that is distinct, awesome and could spawn a multitude of modules worth of adventures.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches – quite a feat at this length! Layout adheres to RSP’s gorgeous 2-column b/w-standard and the original pieces of artwork provided for multiple locales and people throughout this book tend to be gorgeous. The compilation is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and comes for your convenience’s sake in two versions, one optimized for the screen and one to be printed out.
I need to get this out of my system right now: If you haven’t checked out the TRIBES-series, do so NOW, by buying this book. It contains my 3 personal highlights of ALL the tribes-supplements and each of them, if my ample praise was no indicator, is worth every single cent of their asking price ten times over. Now add to that the fact that the other two tribes herein are not bad at all and in fact, can also be considered very good, though a bit short of the genius of the bugbears, orcs and cultists and we have a compilation that is by FAR the best of the 3 TRIBES-compilations. The tribes herein are evocative and interesting enough to spark numerous adventures, if not whole campaigns each and should be considered top-of-the-class-offerings that make me bitterly regret that the TRIBES-line of supplements is thus concluded and on halt for now. Let’s hope that if/when there’ll be new ones, they will manage to once again reach these lofty heights of quality. Let’s hope we get to see more of Pierre van Rooden’s SUPERB writing. And let’s complain one last time about the LACK OF NAUTICAL STATS FOR THE ICE-BERG. Okay, perhaps I finally have it out of my system now.
If you only own one or even 2 of the component pdfs, this is still a definite buying recommendation for you – even with 3 and if you like print, this should still be considered must-buy material. My final verdict for the (so far) heights of awesomeness to which the series has ascended will be easily-given 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval and the hope that we get to see much, much more from this talented cadre of authors.
TRIBES Anthology III is available from: