By Thilo Graf
This compilation of Raging Swan Press’ TRIBES Anthology is 100 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 3 pages editorial/ToC, 1 page author bio and SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, 1 page back cover and one page advice for novice DMs on how to read the statblocks, leaving 91 pages of content.
If you’re yawning now and think this is going to be just some kind of half-heartedly put together compilation-book, you’ll realize soon that in contrast to many other compilations, no rushed job was done here: Immediately, you get lists of statblocks by tribe with corresponding page numbers and CR as well as class-levels (where applicable) and a list of foes by CR. Nice! Even better, we get the rhyming couplets that preface most Raging Swan products on their very own page – as the first TRIBES didn’t feature them, some are actually new. Neat!
The first chapter delves into the crunchy bits, offering 32 feats the TRIBEs use for their specific battle tactics and comes with a convenient list of feats by tribe – once again, very user-friendly.
22 new spells, many for the oft-underutilized adept-class, are up next, and while we do get spell-lists with the respective tribes in brackets, we unfortunately don’t get a handy list of spells by tribe. This sub-chapter is also a bit of a wasted chance, as e.g. updating some spell-information for APG and UM-classes would have been a relatively easy to implement improvement.
We also get 11 new magic items, all of which come with their own beautiful piece of b/w-artwork, information on how to construct them and a brief lore section. One new exotic weapon is also introduced and once again, user-friendliness is king – we get lists of the magic items by price as well as by tribe. On the same page, a short bit of fluff leads us to the Bleached Skull Gnolls, the very first tribe.
It feels like a lifetime since I bought the very first TRIBES supplement on a whim and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and the dread rites of said gnoll-tribe. I promptly awarded the pdf 5 stars and a healthy recommendation. The gnolls, as presented herein, come with two pages of fluff describing them, a one page sample map of their encampment and a whole page listing the tribe’s specific spell-list for adepts, their feats and magic items. While the short table summing up the benefits of the feats s nice,, it would be even better with page numbers to reference the full feat text. The magic item-list does have page numbers, though. As this format is used for all the tribes, I won’t mention it as exhaustive in the following paragraphs.
4 sample encounters, a sidebar on terrain and 10 statblocks featuring information on garb and even stats for non-combatants are provided. This being from the first of the TRIBES-supplements, the gnolls do not sport the usual sample NPCs or colourful names to customize personalities for the generic statblocks, which is testament to the nice innovations the line has offered throughout the year, but also evidence of a wasted chance – a neat sample NPC would have definitely improved the write-up.
The next tribe, the Hobgoblins of the Mailed Fist once elicited some excitement – while war-like hobgoblins are so staple it hurts, their tactics, bat mounts and trench-spells felt more than cool. The addition of a page that organizes the content in the same way as the one for the gnolls is included along racial traits to build your own hobgoblin characters. 9 sample NPC names along short write-ups enable you to customize the soldiers and 3 encounters and 11 statblocks round up the offering. Once again, though, no sample NPCs have been added to the content.
Next are the Kobolds of the Fallen Halls, two tribes of competing Kobolds with their respective draconic leaders that lead a guerrilla war in the tunnels of an abandoned dwarven hold. On a crunch side, we do get information on the racial traits, a d20-table to determine kobold-pouch contents etc. and the options are as concisely presented as with the predecessor tribes. In contrast to the first two instalments, though, Kobolds of the Fallen Halls has gotten a kind of revamp – terrain features and 5 sample traps are included in the presentation of the tribe. While the latter are nothing to write home about, they do serve their purpose and come with neat ideas to augment them. It should also be noted, that while no sample fluff-personalities are given for the rank-and-file kobolds, we do get 13 statblocks for kobolds, 3 of which are pets/familiars/spider-mounts and we actually get 3 NPCs as well as the stats for the two draconic overlords. the latter also feature extensive information on their hoards.
Pazuzu’s Fury, the demon-lord-worshipping nuns turned harpies are perhaps the most creative of the tribes herein and come with a nice fiendish harpy basic statblock to design more of them. Their crunch is organized just as well as we’ve come to expect from this book, but once again features no page numbers for spells and feats. In contrast to other tribes, this one kicks off with adventure seeds (which were at the back of the solitary pdf and feature the ugly duckling, a half-celestial harpy paladin) before going on to present us with 4 sample encounters, a nice sidebox on aerial combat and 8 statblocks. Once again, though, no sample NPCs or fluff-information is given to add further depth to the very cool take on the origin of this particular harpy group.
The final TRIBE is the troglodyte one, degenerate, decaying and unfortunately, the one TRIBE to this date that utterly underwhelmed me. Information is again given on the background of the tribe, the associated crunch, a basic statblock to add and we get a nice sidebox about body art. The troglodytes serving their (rather bland, but gigantic) Aboleth master make for one-dimensional foes, tactics-wise – they try to run over their enemies. Apart from the Aboleth, another sample NPC is provided, but we get no sample fluff-write-ups to give the individual troglodytes more personality.
Finally, we have an appendix detailing the Beached Skull Gnolls’ Bloodspawn Treants, Blood Zombies, the 2 war bat-types employed by the Hobgoblins, stats for Pazuzu’s corrupting Aspect and the degenerate creature template employed by the troglodytes.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the clear and concise printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard by Raging Swan and the b/w-pieces of artwork (some of which felt new to me – neat!) are quite nice. The pdf-version is extensively bookmarked and the pdf also comes with a printer-friendly screen-version optimized for e-readers. With regards to formal criteria, there is simply almost nothing to complain about – while I would have loved to see reference numbers for spells and feats as well in the individual tribe-write-ups, this minor lack is nothing too grave: Apart from this perfectionist’s nit-pick, I can only commend the user-friendly approach to maximize the enjoyment of the compilation while minimizing any page-flipping. On the content-side, though, I will have to separate my recommendations: If you already own the individual pdfs, there is not much (read: next to no) additional content herein – it’s an anthology in the classic sense. If you own one or two of the particular TRIBE-pdfs, this might still be worth the moderate price tag. However, the TRIBES series has improved since its beginning – additional content and cool innovations have somewhat pampered me when it comes to addressing what I expect from the line. If I had to rate Gnolls today, I’d give it 4 stars, Hobgoblins still hold up at 5, Kobolds get upgraded to 5, Pazuzu’s Fury gets downgraded to 4 and Troglodytes, while not plagued by any editing mistakes anymore, is still a 3-star file. If you own none of the pdfs, this is an almost perfect must-buy and garners 4.5 stars – if you own some of the component pdfs, you’ll have to see for yourself whether this compilation is what you’re looking for. If you’re in for the print copy, this is a no brainer – after all, Raging Swan offers you the value of the dead tree version in free pdfs of your choice.
Tribes Anthology I is available from: