Nord Games unleashes Revenge of the Horde on your D&D game

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Diversity in Dungeons & Dragons

Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games offers an awesome resource for incorporating a variety of monstrous races into your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game. At nearly 200 pages, the book presents creature options for bugbears, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, ogres, orcs and more. The book is available through Nord Games in PDF and hardcover options, for $15-45. In addition to the D&D version, there is a Pathfinder edition, too.

Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch backed the Kickstarter campaign, and you can watch their Nord Games-sponsored flip-through video above. In addition to the hardcover book, they received the reference deck, all five encounter builder decks and 258 pawns featuring the new creatures from the D&D book.

To supplement the video, a preview copy of Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde was shared with staff writers Megan R. Miller and Doug Vehovec to peruse and playtest. Below you’ll find both writers’ impression of the Nord Games product. Last time, we used the “Good, Bad and Ugly” format for our D&D product review and it worked out really well so we’ll be doing that again this time.

[Editor’s note: the artwork included in this article is from Nord Games Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde Kickstarter page. Artwork in the book is full color.]

The good, bad and ugly of Nord Games Revenge of the Horde D&D supplement

The Good

Doug

The presentation of each monstrous humanoid variety is fantastic. Similar to Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde goes way beyond a collection of D&D creature stat blocks. Sections on culture, environment and naming conventions give DMs great material to draw inspiration from. My imagination was instantly coming up with not only adventures, but entire campaigns based around each of the creature varieties. These monstrous humanoids can present serious threats to entire regions of a game world and the flavorful information gives you all the tools you need to create those stories with players at your gaming table. 

Nord Games Revenge of the Horde
“Tell a tale enough times and the details are sure to change. Somewhere in the thousands of years of telling children not to wander past sundown, or play with fire, or suck their thumbs, folk took to threatening them with bugaboos, or boogiemen, and forgot altogether that the original terror of the night was the, sadly very real, bugbear.”
-Ansel Greer, linguist [Art and text from Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games Kickstarter]
If that wasn’t enough, there’s several other inclusions in each section that help immensely with using these hordes. The first is a block on how to roleplay the creature types. These brief sections highlight a few ways that the creatures typically act, their motivations and how they might fit into and interact with a D&D campaign setting. The cool thing here is they’re tailored specifically to the distinct variations of each creature type. For example, plains gnolls are different than gutter knolls, forest and cave goblins differ in many ways and so forth. Along with this information are standard combat tactics, so DMs can very easily drop dynamic, exciting combat encounters into their games to challenge adventurers.

The second unique thing about the book, which I haven’t seen in other D&D creature products, are sample encounter tables. These jumped out at me as tremendously useful. It’s one thing to have a spread of creature types across the challenge rating scale. It’s a step up to include sample encounters (on random tables no less!). This is a fantastic feature from Nord Games. Whether the party is embroiled in a huge campaign against these hordes or you need a quick encounter at any level, these tables are terrific.

Lastly, each creature variety includes a random table to determine the sorts of treasure that adventurers might find on defeated foes. This is a brilliant idea in Revenge of the Horde. The tables are tailored to the creature types and include everything from rations consisting of dried insects to trinkets (with their own distinct random tables) and even some magical items. This adds something special and unique to every defeated combat encounter.

The section on trolls is my favorite part. There’s new kinds of trolls, and the lore information adds new twists and dimensions to this incredibly classic D&D monster that rarely receives much in the way of in-depth exploration in monster books.

It’s worth mentioning a brand-new monstrous humanoid in Revenge of the Horde: okiti. These ratmen add a classic fantasy species to your campaign and injects them with tons of flavor, from their usual habitat around a city’s ports to new diseases and poisons. The name “okiti” doesn’t have a great ring to it, but the entry itself is really cool and would add an excellent element to any fantasy city.

The appendix on Tools of the Horde is a great addition, too. The various potions, brews and poisons are very cool toys for monstrous hordes and for PCs to play with. The hill goblin alchemist’s hallucinogenic potion will absolutely find its way into my home game. Watch out, players!

The final appendix wraps the book up with a great selection of maps to use in your horde encounters. A good map can inspire an entire adventure, and the ones in Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde certainly deliver.

Megan

This book had me at the forward. I know most manuals have those and people just skip right over them because they’re dryer than burnt toast, but seriously this one’s worth it.

I love the concept for Revenge of the Horde. I’ve always felt like the more monstrous races were flat in the worst way, just bags of meat for the player characters to shoot down. Not so here. This book really humanizes the species that we take for cannon fodder most of the time and gets into the reasons why they do the things they do.

The intent here is for D&D Dungeon Masters to be able to roleplay combat encounters better, but some of the cultural details here really bring these races out into the light and make them feel more like people and less like glorified archery targets.

Nord Games Revenge of the Horde
“If you see one gutter gnoll, there are two. If you see two, pack your bags and find a new town.”
-Urban words of wisdom [Art and text from Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games Kickstarter]
To top it off, in the back there are rules for playing a good number of these variants as PCs, and that I think is my favorite thing. Being able to see yourself playing one of these species goes a long way towards making them feel like something that could really exist in a fantasy world. No matter how many times you go in to fight against an orc horde, there’s no way at all they see themselves as “always chaotic evil monsters” and games very seldom reflect that.

The artwork in Revenge of the Horde is absolutely amazing on a visual level, it looks incredibly professional. There’s an incredible amount of detail. You can see the species variants in the art as you go through, the little differences in facial features just bring them to life and make the whole thing feel that much more real.

The hill goblin alchemist is probably my favorite thing in this book. The art for it is quirky and adorable and the idea of a goblin with bottles of hallucinogenic potions tickles me. This is the kind of thing I’d want to run as a PC at some point.

The okiti appear to be new, and I adore them as a species. I love that Nord Games made the rat people more sophisticated than your average monster, because rats as a species in real life tend to be very clean and intelligent in spite of having a reputation for being filthy vermin. They’re smart enough to engage in biological warfare, making them small but very dangerous. I won’t spoil everything, but they do have an amazing name system and a an excellent nod to one of my favorite fairy tales.

The Bad

Doug

I have to agree with the video that the section on hobgoblins in Revenge of the Horde feels like a departure from the rest of the book, at least in terms of the artwork. The same great information is included as for the rest of the creature varieties but the impact is somewhat diminished. The artwork is not bad at all, but it lacks the dynamic energy of the other monstrous humanoids. This could be a design choice from Nord Games, since hobgoblins are very disciplined and militaristic. More than other monstrous humanoids, hobgoblins straddle the line between monster and civilized species, which is their greatest strength.

D&D Revenge of the Horde
“‘Goblin ambush?’ What next? You may as well tell me to fear an ambush of rabbits!”
-Last recorded words of Alric Anaut VI [Art and text from Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games Kickstarter]
At the end of the day though, the hobgoblins don’t inspire my imagination as much. That is also due to my own perspective on these goblinoids, which has always seemed to me like smarter, disciplined orcs. That being said, a D&D campaign revolving around a hobgoblin horde could be massive and incorporate a lot of elements that play off their unique nature. A hobgoblin horde is an incredibly dangerous threat to a vast area and an adventure could do a lot worse than figuring out how to deal with something like that.

Megan

The preface and side notes written as in-character are difficult to read, the font is too pale. On PDF it does help a little bit to highlight them and I have no idea if this is actually better in print or not, but the notes are definitely entertaining and worth reading so it’s unfortunate that they’re so washed out.

Some of the pages have a lot of blank space in them. I feel like if the organization had been better or the book had been more willing to share pages between two different stat blocks that would have been relatively easy to fix and looked a lot better.

The Ugly

Doug

The section on ogres is the weakest part of the book. This isn’t a drawback for Revenge of the Horde as a whole, but in this review format something has to fill this space. Ogres are the candidate based on a relative deviation from the rest of the entries (and ogres are most certainly ugly). Essentially a nomadic creature, ogres as presented don’t fit the “horde” description quite like any of the other entries. Often found as dangerous muscle for certain types of monstrous humanoid hordes, ogres’ presence in the book makes sense, but it comes across sort of tacked on.

Revenge of the Horde
“Say what you will, I liked The Grumpy Old Stone. He gave us something to talk about, a sense of identity, you know? And he kept orcs away. As for him eating that old lady, well, that was never proved.”
– Brogdan, miller [Art and text from Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games Kickstarter]
Trolls are presented in a similar manner – brief and without a thematic “horde” element – but I’m willing to overlook it because it’s so rare to see trolls given development in game products and the varieties of trolls add a lot to the classic D&D monster.

In the appendix, there’s a leucrotta that unfortunately is an entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which could confuse DMs. On the one hand, it’s Nord Games’ take on the modern era D&D creature that’s become associated with gnolls, but on the other, with an “official” version out there I’d more than likely pass this one by. Other than that the Beasts of the Horde appendix has some great additions to bolster your horde encounters with thematic critters.

The playable races section wasn’t my cup of tea, either. My first thought was that Volo’s Guide to Monsters already has entries for these monstrous humanoids as player options. The ones in Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde are different takes though, as speciality subraces like savage orc, warren kobold and sly goblin that have unique racial traits. I didn’t like these, not because they are poorly presented but due to appearing overpowered in some cases and also straying into territory I personally don’t like – an increasing glut of character options. A large segment of D&D players eat this stuff up, and Nord Games delivers on that front. I’m a simple man.

Megan

Along with the stat blocks for the variants on monsters there are also tables to roll on that dictate what loot drops from each variant. I love this conceptually, but it does get a little bit same-y after a while. That said, there is pretty much one for every single variant in Revenge of the Horde and for as much as Nord Games had to do, this is understandable.

One more beef I had was the gender ratio of the monsters shown. It’s a little more understandable for the okiti and absolutely understandable for the kobolds and gnolls (which the book does say have larger and more aggressive females than males) because as more bestial-looking species it’s not impossible (and in the gnolls case is actually probable) to believe that their bodies don’t display sex the same way a human’s would. In the kobold’s case they’re reptiles, so that one gets a full pass.

That said, in 192 pages with a picture on almost every one, there are five hobgoblins (there’s an amazing one on page 174 that is very clearly female, dressed properly, and you can almost tell there’s more to her than the image is showing by a glance), and two ogres that are visibly female. That’s a total of seven in Revenge of the Horde.

There’s a matriarchal orc tribe that is mentioned in the book but they don’t get any art or specific variants. They get three paragraphs and most of them are about how fragile orc females are in childbirth.

That said, I will take a moment to say I love how the female ogres were handled. The artist pulls no punches – they are large, powerful and terrifying just like ogres should be.

On the whole, female monsters do have a presence in the book. It would have been good to see more of it, and it would have been good to have more instances of their presence being acknowledged without immediately afterward referencing their sex organs. I mentioned in my “good things” section that Revenge of the Horde does a good job making these races something you might want to play, and could see yourself as in a D&D game. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not the context I want for me.

Overall

Doug

As you might have guessed, the good far outweighs the bad and the ugly combined in Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde. Like all the best fifth edition D&D products both from Wizards of the Coast and third-party creators, the Nord Games book is useful in so many different ways. Any one of the sections could be the basis for several adventures or in most cases an entire campaign spanning a huge level range. Within those sections, random tables, snippets of lore, individual creatures or simply their unique Actions could add a new dimension to your existing D&D campaign.

The artwork in the book is terrific, with lots of energy to the monsters that look ready to spring right off the page, especially a terrific image of an okiti flinging a dagger with foreshortening. The larger pieces of art showing creatures’ environments are also very evocative and helpful for DMs to describe surroundings to adventurers who find themselves in these creatures’ domains.

Nord Games D&D
“Human say okiti stupid, because okiti speak nonsense in circles. Okiti say it is the human who stops to listen, no? So who is the fool?”
-‘Fights-with-tongue’, okiti ringleader [Art and text from Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde from Nord Games Kickstarter]
Including things like habits, combat tactics, roleplaying tips and most especially the random encounter tables is a huge win by Nord Games, something I haven’t seen in any other products I can think of.

Layout for Revenge of the Horde is very impressive. A lot of stuff is packed into the book, but it never feels crammed or crowded. There’s ample room for mechanical and flavor information, graphics like excerpts of adventurers’ logs and artwork while still using white space effectively.

Lastly, it’s very cool to see Nord Games offer the book in both fifth edition D&D and Pathfinder versions. I’m a D&D person, but there’s lots of Pathfinder devotees out there and it’s impressive that Nord Games went the extra mile and put in the work to share these options with those players, too.

Megan

Overall I honestly liked more about Nord Games’ Revenge of the Horde than I disliked. I’m a huge fan of humanizing the more monstrous races, it makes the world feel more real to me and I’ve always had a hard time believing in anything that’s supposed to be “always chaotic evil.” All in all I think this is a really excellent source for anyone who wants fleshed out D&D goblinoids but doesn’t want to have to take all that time themselves.

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  1. Ralph Stickley
    | Reply

    Thanks for the great review guys. Really pleased you enjoyed the book; we’re all extremely proud of it and had a blast putting it together so it’s really nice to see people enjoying it. A few useful pieces of criticism too which we can incorporate moving forward.
    Megan, to speak to your last ‘Ugly’ point specifically; I think the reason there is that I was modelling my writing on the nature books I grew up with where differences between sexes are really only brought up as relates to child-rearing in animals; perhaps this works for the more bestial creatures, but for more human ones, yeah, I can see now that that’s problematic. That’s my explanation, but not an excuse. We want to do better, and we can only do that when people call us out when we do something that isn’t cool, so thank you.
    Also, when did you download the PDF and what program are you using to view it? We updated the file on the website a few days after launch and thought we had fixed the pale text on the notes (it displays fine in the print version). Perhaps we need to tinker some more…
    Thanks again!

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