By Marc A. Vezina et al, Dream Pod 9, £12.99 / $22.95
The post apocalyptic player's guide
Tribe 8 is a great setting. It's a post apocalyptic fantasy/horror set in the ruins of Canada. Dream based shamanistic magic, horrific creatures which capture and enslave humanity, tribal societies clawing their way through the dead cities of the world before and a ragtag group of outcasts who may just change the world. Tribe 8's got it all.
One of its problems however, is that the main book had a lot of setting material shown via character monologues. This made it somewhat difficult to use as a casual reference, or a player aid. Much to their credit, Dream Pod 9 have realised this and produced a players handbook to distil the setting information for easy access for players.
The book itself is a slim volume with a nice cover and a well layed out interior. The sidebars that are scattered throughout the second chapter are a good example of the use of layout. They contain a good deal of information about the 7 Tribes, the Z'Bri, and the Fallen Outlooks, in a very compact way. The artwork is of high quality, of the decayed pseudo-manga style the game line is famous for. I did notice that quite a few pictures were lifted from the original book, but since this material is mainly a repackaging, that's hardly surprising.
Chapter 1 is a basic introduction, explaining why the book was written, and how it can be used. It also goes into some detail on how Tribe 8 can be played, and what your characters should actually do. This chapter sets up the aims and objectives of both the game and the book, and so is ideal reading for anybody who may be confused about either.
Chapter 2 is a rundown on the Tribe 8 background. This includes everything a player needs to know about the setting. The history of the tribes, and the structure of tribal life. Information on becoming one of the fallen, an how this affects a character. There are also sections on religion and spirituality, crime and punishment and the trading that goes on in the bazaar. The chapter is a nice compact rundown, and should set any player straight on how the game world works. As mentioned above, the chapter is full of useful sidebars
In chapter 3 we get a look at character development. This starts off by providing some basic archetypes for new players to develop concepts from. These are probably very familiar to anybody who has played a certain fantasy game before: barbarian, bard, fighter, druid, thief, cleric and mage. I'm not convinced this is a good idea for any experienced roleplayer, but if you're coming to the game from D20 (see later), or you're a new player in need of a starting point, then they're probably quite useful. I can't help but feel they do a disservice to the quality of the setting though.
The next section covers character backgrounds, and gives some tables of background ideas with suggested perks and flaws. Again, these are more useful to those who don't have a strong idea of the character they want to play, but reading them certainly helps inspire you.
Next we get a rundown of the various outlooks amongst the fallen: The Doomsayers, Herites, Jackers and Lightbringers. This is an excellent section, giving details of the major outlooks and more importantly how to approach playing them. Everything is succinct and to the point, covering core ideology, who joins the groups, what they do, internal and external politics and some handy tips for playing each type. The chapter rounds off with a look at the mechanics of character creation.
Chapter 4 covers equipment and the economy of the setting. The equipment section covers encumbrance and the typical weapons and armour used by the fallen, useful but ultimately dull information. The economy section is the star of the chapter, this gives a nice overview of the barter economy, including a section on who wants what, and a handy example. This is followed by a table of items and their typical barter values. Oddly, while there's a full breakdown of armour, there's no table of weapons... (This is fixed in the errata)
Chapter 5 looks at combat in more detail, covering the typical tactics of the different groups in the setting, mass combat and some maneuvers that make combat more interesting. If you like your combat abstract, then this section won't hold much for you. If however, you have an interest in the more tactical aspect of systems then this will probably be required reading.
In chapter 6 we learn more about synthesis, the magic of the Tribe 8 setting. The chapter has a rundown of the various eminences (spiritual affinities) and how they can be used with synthesis to affect the world. Again, the explanations are brief and to the point, and cover the system very much from a players point of view. There are brief notes on other magical systems like aspects (more specific powers), technosmithing (for the keepers, another group in the setting), ritual synthesis and dreaming. But these are not covered in as much detail.
The final chapter takes a look at using the Tribe 8 system with Open Gaming Licence. The chapter is quite large (30 pages out of 128) and does a good job of converting Tribe 8's setting to the OGL system. How useful this will be depends on your rules preference. Personally I don't think it's is particularly suited to Tribe 8, but then again if you like D20, and it suits your play style, then this material will be ideal.
Overall: This book has an aim, to make Tribe 8 more accessible to players. It succeeds at this admirably. The condensed material is very handy for existing Tribe 8 players in need of a reference, or for players who are new to the system and need to find their feet. The OGL material will make the book more useful to D20 players looking for a very different setting. If you play Tribe 8, or just want to dip into the background, then this is a very useful book.