Grim Hollow it is a setting for Dungeons and Dragon 5e that has definitely hit Kickstarter last year. The project, followed and created by the Australian company Ghostfire Gaming, was the debut for the young company. The manual of Grim Hollow gives access to a new background mechanic, new transformations, additional equipment and some talents. On the part of the Narrator, in addition to the setting, we see some tips for a raw / heroic campaign and a handful of monsters. Succulent, don't you think? Maybe… too succulent.

Grim Hollow is a grim dark fantasy Tabletop Role Play setting for fifth edition of "The world's Greatest Roleplaying Game". Set in the dark, godless world of Etharis, civilization has long forgotten hope and now clings desperately for survival.

I don't know why but Dark, Godless, Forgotten and Survival are the first adjectives that I find in Ravenloft

A little' suspicious - I'm always suspicious of projects involving the fifth edition - I went to comb through it, literally. I've assembled a real task force of experts (my optimizers, in the face of those who say they are not useful) and I dropped them on the manual like the plague on Constantinople in 541. What you are about to read is the fall of Grim Hollow, a real orange mocha frappuccino!

Me and the boys who go to make fleas to a fifth product
Very rare representation of Seeker Y and its optimizers as they head to sift through a new fifth product

Small note: the review will contain spoilers, strictly personal thoughts and comments. I recommend to anyone who is undecided to try the quickstart Thu and play it, so that you can think about the product firsthand.

I thank Roberto B. and his team, in addition to my players, for having lent themselves to the toughest and most crunchy playtesting for five years now. Thank you very much.

One of the illustrations you can find in the Grim Hollow manual
One of the illustrations that you can find inside the manual

Ferrari, Blue Steel and Le Tigre

Derek Zoolander he saw us really long and, leafing through Grim Hollow, I really got there bib. With below the notes of Wham I got ready to explore, with my boys, the magnificent world of Grim Hollow which, I must say, has an amazing glance. The illustrations are magnificent and there is no page that is saved from being a small masterpiece, with almost 200 illustrations scattered throughout 300 manual pages.

More technically, we have:

  • six pages that tell us how the various races of the player 's manual have adapted to the world of Etharis, in order to make us fall more wisely in the setting
  • eleven pages concerning additional options, with 9 extra weapons (and related ammunition), 11 talents, 10 spells and the rules for curses, which with this manual get a really remarkable thickness
  • a mechanical variants page (nothing really)
  • thirty pages that focus on transformations
  • thirty pages with advanced backgrounds, which we will discuss later
  • a hundred pages concerning the game world, divided into regions, factions and well-known characters
  • a last hundred pages for the narrator, including advice on storytelling, tone and rhythm, up to eight additional monsters for adventurers to meet

Ultimately, the manual seemed solid right from the start. It promised very well, it didn't throw itself headlong into what we thought and still believe to be the most complex part of designing something new (adding and modifying existing rules) and it was fairly regular.

Map of Grim Hollow
One of the illustrations that you can find inside the manual

Etharis, what they don't show you on television and in newspapers.

The world of Etharis it is divided into huge regions with a very unique charm and suitable for different types of narration, a bit like Ravenloft with Barovia, Mordent e Sithicus. It begins with the fallen Empire of Shepherd, where a constant war reigns between dukes and lords, to the empire Ostoyan, governed by Crimson Courtevil vampire lords. In the North i Valikian clans they live by looting and ancient rites, while in the provinces Castinellane intrigues and betrayals reign. For every taste there is a different region in order to satisfy every palate, from the most grim to the most refined; the fact that each of these, moreover, is able to interact well with each other has pleasantly surprised me. Especially considering that there is no impenetrable fog or almost to separate them!

The difference between Ravenloft and Grimhollow according to some of us
The difference between Ravenloft and Grim Hollow according to some of us

The divinities are pleasant but nothing too extraordinary, if one goes beyond the fact that they are classified as Arch Seraphim e Arch Daemons; it seemed fair to us to introduce religion into such a playful world as D&D and we didn't complain about the lack of gray in these. In a world where evil exists as such and entire races are guided by it, we don't ask ourselves too many humanistic questions.

Some PNGs really impressed and attracted us while most of the factions are more anonymous than original. What struck us most was the part dedicated to the narrator, both for better and for worse. On the one hand, we noticed a focus on creating remarkable rhythm, with excellent advice and suggestions. Mechanically we have only been able to appreciate the classification of the monsters as in the fourth edition, which I never complained about. On the other hand, we have noticed that Grim Hollow is not a setting for novices: many suggestions if taken literally can lead to the end of a group of experienced players. The disease part, while well done, shares D&D issues (and I'm talking about D&D in general), although we appreciated the effort.

One of the illustrations you can find in the Grim Hollow manual
One of the illustrations that you can find inside the manual

Transformations: I make the player happy ...

However, Grim Hollow's workhorse is not his setting. Character options are always the first thing you browse, feel and look at. More specifically, the transformations, capable of giving that flavor aberrant, demoniac, not dead, marauding lune, angelico o vampire flavor to our pg!

You got it right, the archetypes are back! Not like in that bad copy of the fourth eh! Obviously they never really disappeared, but let's say that a simple page was not enough to describe the power contained in becoming a Lich. The boys of Grim Hollow have managed to enclose all the desire fuzzy powerplay in the transformations, divided into four comfortable levels / milestones, guarantors of new powers and consequences.

I state: Everything is in the hands of the narrator and is based on a deep conversation between player and referee, so it's great and allows all the interesting parties to have fun. The problem lies in the absolute imbalance of many options and the high degree of statistical strength that it adds to a character, capable of breaking even the most solid fight. With a bit of testing it wasn't difficult to reach astronomical figures already with a Tier 1 character, the game phase in which D&D 5e is more solid thanks to a "controlled power". We also dared to test Tier 4 and came out with our arms on the ground. In third he would convert the narrators to Fatal.

We looked at each other for a long time and, after numerous clashes, we came to the conclusion that something was wrong. Our characters were really huge, heroes in every way capable of tackling anything in singular battle. We immediately headed to the narrator to see if Grim Hollow's creatures could give us comfort, unaware of what we were about to meet.

One of Grim Hollow's illustrations
One of the illustrations that you can find inside the manual

… But there is no relaxation for the narrator?

Obviously we immediately understood that Grim Hollow it is made to play with Grim Hollow, and the mixtures are not very functional. Grim Hollow's monsters are scary, interesting, and all more powerful than their alter-CR from the basic monster manual. They are few, yes, but they are enough to launch the monster manual from the window, as, simply, they do not even respect the rules of the CR. The clash became a little more interesting but the problem with the system remained and there was little we could do about it.

Then launching into a wild race towards the heavier optimization, we browsed the talents and understood almost immediately how severely some of these were broken for our goals. Nothing special, in fact, given the presence already in the basic manual of some talents proportionately more profitable than others.

One of Grim Hollow's illustrations
One of the illustrations that you can find inside the manual

About the advanced backgrounds, I found them very interesting in theory and, once again, sadly lacking in practice. In summary, each background gives life to 3-4 archetypes, also scaled based on the amount of fuzzy progress / milestone of the character. All very interesting and beautiful, excellent source of inspiration, too bad that realistically makes a very simple process terribly complex and, if combined with the classic advancement, breaks the twenty levels into 3 sections: the 20 above, 4 levels of transformation (if any) and 4 of Background. In short, the amount of attention and updating becomes a lot, perhaps too much for how D & d 5e was conceived. On the other hand, we can only appreciate this kind of additional rules and recommend them to a very autonomous group, who can handle multiple progressions without overloading themselves.

Magnum! Promoted?

I admit that I have huge reservations and that I am leaning towards the no. First of all, I specify once again that this is not a manual for novice storytellers and groups. It's a tough, poorly balanced, hard to carry, and unforgiving manual, so if you're looking for one five minutes adventure forget it.

Roberto and I as we try to make everything work without breaking anything
Roberto and I as we try to make everything work without breaking anything

On the contrary, if you think 5th is too quiet, too simple, take it without thinking twice; adds that degree of complexity and "" customization "that many third edition fans complain about missing, as long as you have a really capable and multi-tasking narrator as there are so many things to manage and fix.

Personally, I feel I need to make two comments. Grim Hollow is a good graphics product, like many in its class, but a bad technical job, like too many in its class. I personally felt this is something very anachronistic, in an era in which simplification is the most popular, push on complexity. Finally, I would have liked the playtesters of this Grim Hollow to have received more accolades / attention; on the other hand when 6 pages are filled by backer and one line is used to thank the playtesters, I don't expect great things. The question that must be answered, therefore, is “is a manual valid even when it is just beautiful in an absurd way?