Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Murder Hobos meet the Night's Watch - A review of Jurgan Hubert's "Doomed Slayers"

Bands of roving heavily armed men and women, of dubious background and temperament given nearly free rein to commit acts of horrible violence and loot tombs and ruins are one of the more difficult aspects of many heroic fantasy roleplaying games to logically explain. Many of these “murder hobos” could wipe the floor with the local authorities and still make it to an early breakfast, but for some reason are allowed to act with near impunity and are in fact welcomed by the very nobles they could threaten to destabilize. Jurgan Hubert’s “Doomed Slayers” offers an answer to that problem.

Doomed Slayers takes on this peculiarity by presenting the caste of “Slayers” who have denied claims to social status, wealth, family and their past to become monster hunters. While a noble’s soldiers are busy protecting the borders and seeing to the interests of law and order Slayers actually do the hard work of hunting the things that the soldiers will not or cannot fight. To fans of “A Song of Fire and Ice” the Slayers represent a group similar to the Night’s Watch, but rather than maintaining The Wall and keeping forts they are bound by an honor code to roam the countryside fighting back monsters that threaten to destroy civilization as a whole.

Slayers live by a moral code by which they fight monsters for reasonable compensation, don’t stay where they are not needed and don’t fight for political gain nor against each other. In return society allows their free passage through the lands, cannot tax them, give up claims to any important artifacts found while hunting monsters and are expected to give them some kind of compensation for their work.

The book itself is a PDF of about 30 pages, including covers and OGL license and come out to about 25 pages of actual text for a price of 3.99USD. The text is well presented, though the artwork is a bit cartoony for what is otherwise a serious book. It is intended for Pathfinder players, but it contains no system-specific rules and would be useable with other systems without any changes. I noticed a handful of typos and other editorial mistakes, but they did not greatly diminish the quality of the overall work and it’s likely I’m spoiled by the editorial quality of more established publishers. It is broken into two major sections presenting the concept of Slayers and then a world for them to adventure in.

The first section is on Slayers is the meat and potatoes of the book. It explains how and why one might become a Slayer, their guiding philosophy, the lifestyle of the Slayer caste and finally how one might “retire.” The exact details are left to the gamemaster with general  ideas of how to incorporate the concepts being presented.

The second part presents a world for the Slayers to exist in. Overall it’s not much more than a thumbnail sketch of a fairly generic fantasy world. Personally, I find there are plenty of fantasy settings out there and instead presenting a chapter on how to incorporate Slayers into existing settings would have been of more use.

While overall I find “Doomed Slayers” to be worth the $3.99 price tag for presenting a novel idea whether it is a “must buy” greatly depends on the needs of the group. It might be a difficult concept to incorporate into an established game and might break some of the assumptions some players might have about a game. For players who want to play a roving band of Slayers until their (character’s) dying breath it’s certainly worth a look but “empire builder” style players might want to look elsewhere.

For the record I know Hubert from the Steve Jackson Games Forum where he is a contributor and through various social media sites and I’d seen some of the drafts of the early concepts for this title. While me knowing him is the reason for this review he’s not much beyond an acquaintance and I had to spend my own hard-earned dollars to purchase the supplement.

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