By Thilo Graf
This pdf is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 3 pages of editorial/table of contents, 2 pages of chapter headers and 1 page back cover.
That leaves us with 15 pages of content on the dread tribe of Bleached Skull Gnolls.
The pdf starts off with 2 pages on the general behaviour of the tribe, including ecology & society, lairs, customs, combat & tactics as well as a side box on lore about the tribe, including DC. The prose keeps the very high standard of Raging Swan Publishing and does not disappoint the least. Once you start reading, you immediately know that you’re not in for your run-of-the-mill-Gnoll-tribe.
This first impression is cemented further by one page containing 6 feats the tribe uses for their distinctive combat style. They are cool, atmospheric and not over-powered. Nice!
After that, we get something that is all too often sorely neglected: 6 new (grab a chair, boys and girls!) ADEPT spells with an accompanying spell-list for Bleached Skull Shamans. Yeah, Adept-spells. You know, for the NPC-class. I couldn’t believe it first, but yeah, they are adept spells. Not as strong as regular spells, but cool and almost dripping flavour. That was a page well spent.
On the next page, we get three new magic items, all located at the shamanistic bottom-tier of magic items and each with its own illustration. We get a potentially vampiric bone knife, skulls that double as freaky alarms and a rod to curse foes.
This concludes the first chapter and we move on to stat-blocks/encounters.
At the beginning of the chapter, we get 2 pages with 4 sample encounter parties as well as a huge side-box detailing all potential circumstantial modifiers for fighting in the woodland habitat of the tribe.
After that, the stat-blocks of the tribe are listed: We get one page with 4 melee-warrior types, 1 page with 2 shamans with their respective familiars and 1 page with two ranged fighters and two stat-blocks for non-combatants. All the pages include, as a nice bonus, information the garbs the respective tribe members wear.
Then, the map features a typical encampment of the tribe with a little b/w-map. (1 page)
As if that was not enough, we get a new monster created by the horrific rites of the tribe as well as its minions, lore-section, artwork and the like. While this particular beast is nothing I’d write home about, it fits the specific fluff of the tribe perfectly and thus works awesome as a nasty surprise in an encounter.
The pdf closes with a page devoted to explaining how to read the stat-blocks to novice DMs.
The b/w-art of the file is beautiful, the editing and formatting are top-notch. The writing is concise and while there might be a bit more fluff among the stat-blocks for my taste, I still enjoy the writing.
I was very sceptical about this one – I simply am not the biggest Gnoll-lover out there and a supplement like this could have easily degenerated into a messy pile of soulless stats. The contrary is the case, though: While the Bleached Skull Gnolls remain easy to implement in any given setting, they still are unique enough to stand out – and as far as I’ve understood it, that’s what this line is all about. I’ve thought long and hard and while I wouldn’t call it genius, this file is so rounded, so well-crafted, that it will get 5 stars from me. From a guy who’s not that into Gnolls. If you think about it, go check it out – it’s got a damn good bag-for-buck-ratio.