Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde by Nord Games, Kickstarted in September 2016, is a supplement designed as a part of Nord Games’ Game Master’s Toolbox series. The book is designed as a ready-to-run source of content for the typical monstrous races – Kobolds, Gnolls, Goblins, Okiti(Rat people), from cultures to potential combat encounters(listed in tables for those of you who like to roll your encounters), maps, and even stats for a player character belonging to these races.
I realize that I typically say the same stuff in this section of my reviews, but I strongly believe that visuals can make or break a third-party supplement. Revenge of the Horde contains quality art and clean formatting which makes its print form a pleasure to read.
The book is littered with gorgeous full-color illustrations as well as the occasional clean lineart, and at a glance could easily be mistaken for one of Wizards of the Coast’s official works. Much like the boxes of “flavor text” enclosed in snippets throughout the core rulebooks, there are plenty of text boxes which create an epistolary tone which serves Revenge of the Horde well through firsthand in-universe correspondence, proverbs, and folklore to create rich backdrops for the races represented in the book and their roles in the world.
If you’re one of the few like me who uses an alternative PDF reader to Adobe such as SumatraPDF, be warned that certain text boxes may prove difficult to read – I suspect this is a result of the compression method used by Nord Games to make their PDF a digestible size for ease of downloading. When I spoke with Nord Games on the subject, they couldn’t reproduce the issue on their end, and in all fairness failure on an obscure PDF reader isn’t exactly the most serious of issues for a company to try and address.
Additionally, the book currently suffers from what I like to call “first book syndrome,” in a way which I hope Primordial Power will not follow suit. Revenge of the Horde is the first of Nord Games’s “Ultimate Bestiary” series, which consists of it and.. nothing else at present, other than supplementary encounter and reference decks. Nord Games has one other series of books under its belt in a similar state, “Ultimate NPCs,” which contains only Ultimate NPCs: Skulduggery. This is an extreme nitpick on my end, but it feels a little frustrating to have books which belong to a series sitting alone. Hopefully, Ultimate NPCs: Warfare (coming to Kickstarter at an unannounced date) will alleviate this by adding a third book to add to my shelf under the larger “Game Master’s Toolbox” label that dominates both the cover of Revenge of the Horde and Skulduggery.
It’s a Crowded World
Revenge of the Horde functions best in a game in which you can selectively incorporate elements of the book as they suit your purposes. After all, with 9 separate races and even more cultures, I can almost guarantee that no campaign’s players are going to encounter all of them in a meaningful way. A Storyteller may feel overwhelmed at the sheer volume of details thrown at them in this book, but should always remember that the book is meant to offer itself as a way to incorporate more rich detail during a game, not to dictate how one should run every encounter. As a general rule of thumb, I try to have only 2-3 dominant races in an area, and almost none but the most cosmopolitan locations in my games will have a significant population of anything other than members of those races.
These Potions Not Evaluated by the FDA
Unlike the more predictable potions of the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, almost all of the consumable items listed in Revenge of the Horde have effects which must be rolled on a table corresponding to a die. The effects of these potions are typically in the consumer’s favor, but some run a risk of inflicting minor damage on an imbiber for whom the potion was not intended or even potentially dangerous effects such as the Gnoll Battle Brew, which could result in accidentally attacking an ally if consumed without forethought. I consider potions like these a welcome addition in my game when they can be considered strategically, but Storytellers should exercise caution when allowing players access to such consumables.
Revenge of the Horde also offers statistics and racial traits to play as a member of one of the races described in the book(other than trolls). Obviously, as a player, you should ask for a Storyteller’s permission before building a character using these racial traits, especially considering that they are derived from a culture that your campaign setting’s bugbears, goblins, etc. may not adhere to. If your Storyteller is willing, though, you may find it valuable to build a character using the racial traits, then use the details of that race’s culture to design a more fleshed-out character.
None of these races’ attributes seem too outlandish on their own, but as with any third-party game supplement, you should exercise caution so as not to produce unexpected interactions between obscure rules elements. Fortunately, when it comes to new race entries, it can be pretty easy to spot when a trait will prove problematic to the balance of a game.
Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde will run you $15-45, depending on whether you purchase a digital copy($15), only a physical copy($40+shipping) or both($45+shipping), but overall I’d consider it a valuable addition to your bookshelf as a Storyteller between a wide range of monster statblocks, interesting unconventional equipment to dole out to players, rich racial and cultural backgrounds, and nice lair maps for quick use. If you’re a player, you’ll find the statistics for playable monstrous races to be interesting and fairly grounded balance-wise, and the background information provided in the book can serve as a rich foundation for roleplaying your character.
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