By Thilo Graf
The latest installment from Raging Swan Press of the TRIBES-line is 27 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC (containing a nice rhyme about the TRIBE), 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page information on how to read statblocks for novice DMs and 1 page SRD, leaving 18 pages of content for the bugbear-tribe, so let’s check out whether they can hold up to the awesome predecessors, the Orcs of eternal Zenith!
On the fluff-side, the bugbear has perhaps apart from the goblin, been one of the most innovative re-imaginations of classic goblinoid foes in PFRPG. Their association with bogeymen and fear makes them feel more distinct and this particular TRIBE uses said theme of fear to its advantage and gives it a twisted direction: The arctic bugbears of the frozen tears have taken to hunting enemies not simply to kill them, but to make them experience the maximum amount of terror before they die. Fear is the name of the game and thus we get a new sorcerer bloodline, a new fear domain and 4 new feats centred on terror and mounted combat. Wait, what? Mounted combat? Yep, the bugbears of the frozen tears ride on terrible arctic toads that emit a deadly chill, hence also their variant racial traits that set them apart. The favoured weapon of the bugbears is by the way the rather interesting double-bladed throwing kukri. Another example of their artifice being the power to enchant the severed heads of their victims and crafting cloaks from the hides of their glacier toads. The magic items come with top-notch pieces of artwork, only Yem’s Kukri, the claws of Vhen Nhar has no artwork. The 4 new spells feature enchantments to frighten hit creatures, a variant of gentle repose and demonic black flames that do quite a neat amount of attribute damage.
Wait, where are the demonic flames coming from? Well, the frozen tears (which come with quite a neat assortment of terrain features and descriptions) actually are the resting place of a dread demon lord Vhen Nhar who feeds on fear to slowly thaw his icy prison. Yem, the immortal crone and brood-mother of the incestuous Bugbears of the Frozen Tears has paid for her significant sorcerous powers with the souls of her offspring, lording over her deadly hunters while plotting her own ascension to demon-lord-hood.
The stats for the bugbears are rock solid and we get quite a bunch – better yet, we get sample personalities for the statblocks and even alternate spell-lists for the adepts of the tribe. Of course, their glacier toads get full stats as well. The demonic sons and daughters of Yem are included in the selection of stats, along the decapitated undead victims of the tribe, seeking forever the warmth of hearth and hearts… Among the NPCs, we get a bully-cleric, an over-ambitious daughter, Yem (who is a neat witch and has her own sidebar explaining her hexes) and BOEG. Boeg is a plain awesome idea – favoured son of Yem, the bugbear almost killed his perpetually pregnant mother when she gave birth to him. Infused with When Nhars demonic essence, he grew to gigantic proportions and rides a huge glacier toad into battle. Solitary, he is the terror that comes with the snow-storms and perhaps the lynchpin to destroy the bugbears of the Frozen tears once and for all.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the elegant, classic 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks by Will McAusland and Matt Morrow are neat. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, a version optimized for use with e-readers and a separate pdf collecting all the statblocks so you can establish your own statblock-library. Author John Bennett has created a distinct, disturbing, cool and iconic TRIBE that ranks among the best of the series so far. While personally, I preferred the Orcs of the eternal Zenith, I do so only by the slightest margin – both tribes are very distinct, evocatively-written and twist tropes enough to make them good purchases indeed. Additionally, the Bubgears essentially have their adventure written out for and take only the barest minimum of DM-creativity to weave into a tale of ice-cold horror. I do have a minor gripe with this installment, though: I would have loved to get a map of the frozen tears, similar to the one we got in the centaur/minotaur-installments. The absence of this map constitutes my only gripe with this pdf, though, and thus my final verdict will be 5 stars.
Bugbears of the Frozen Tears is available from: