Game: The Slayer’s Guide to Bugbears
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 9th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I think the Slayer’s Guides are swiftly becoming one of the most famous, or infamous, series of independent d20 supplements. The very name seems to cry out to the legion of munchkin roleplayer, to those hack’n’slash masters of the dungeon crawl. It can’t be denied that the Slayer’s Guides do have something of that taint about them. That said; the opposite is also true. The introduction in each of the Guides I’ve read always states that the aim is to add more depths to those creatures which all to often simply get mowed down by the characters en route to higher levels. (I imagine the introduction to Slayer’s Guide to Dragons will strike a different note.) It seems to work as well. By writing up on the habits, drives and motivations of the Bugbear they become more of an intelligent addition to your game. The Slayer’s Guide to Bugbears turns these, the largest of the goblinoids, into a believable foe.
The Slayer’s Guides tend to start on the physiology of the creature under examination and this is true for the Bugbears. The physiology of the Bugbears quickly becomes one of the most important sections in the short 32-paged book as it talks about the ferocious hunger for meat that drives these goblinoids on. There are some nice ideas here; the sensitive nose of the bugbear, how they use it to their advantage and how you can use it against them. It’s not all about food though since bugbears are also greedy by nature and do pay homage to their dark gods.
Poor old bugbear god Hruggek doesn’t get a mention in the Guide, although he maps directly onto the most popular of the two suggested gods in the form of Render. Render’s the god who inspires his bugbear followers into acts of cruelty, into piling skulls of their slain foes into a pyramid around the base of his alter and who sometimes blesses morningstars left there with potent strength. The subtler of the two gods is Stalker, the sneaky one and patron of the Dark Rangers. It’s Stalker who sometimes turns the offerings left at his makeshift alters into the dreaded blood poison. There’s a nice dynamic between these two gods, where Render’s clearly the dominant and more popular of the two. In terms of a longer running campaign, though, its clear that the sneaky Stalker and his clerics might prove to be the biggest bane to the players.
There’s not such a simple but subtle clash between the two bugbear gods that comes to light in the first half of the book. As the Guide details the lairing habits, hunting strategies and battle tactics of the bugbears it becomes nice and clear that these creatures are naturally diametrically opposed to the Rangers and the Druids of the fantasy world. Given this natural opposition it makes more sense that the bugbears and their Dark Rangers would (and do) actively hunt out and attack rangers and druids. It’s by this sort of sensible build up of bugbear lore that they become more than just a random encounter and evolve into a foe that makes sense even in games with tight micro-management of the storyline.
This Slayer’s Guide has one of the biggest sample adventures I’ve seen in the series. Luurg’s Warren is six pages long and really can be used either as a template or as a short dungeon crawl. As with the other Guides there is also a collection of template bugbear stats, everything from a bugbear khan, through Dark Ranger and to bugbear baby. Along with Luurg’s Warren there are a couple of scenario ideas which run the gambit from a low level encounter up to the dreaded possibility of the bugbear’s organising themselves into something approaching an army rather than the usual cetes of two dozen bears.
The Dark Ranger is a bugbear five level prestige class that reflects those proven bugbears who have become one of an elite order of hunters, trackers and warren finders. In addition to this class the Guide beefs up the already rather scary bugbears through a small amount of exclusive feats, magic spells and magic weapons.
Throughout the book there is plenty of atmospheric text. You’ll find seven grey boxes of short story snippets that relate to encounters with bugbears or are sometimes from the bugbear perspective. I liked them and I liked them given the careful balance between flavour and game mechanics in the small space available in a thirty-two paged book. The artwork is equally high in quality and carefully balanced against the space between the covers.