52 pages, 47 pages content, 2 cover pages, 2 credits pages, 1 license page
There is a lot of info crammed into the Welcome to HAEL PDF. This is a new campaign world where the war between the Orcs and man is over. On this world the Orcs won. The Orcs and their allies are the dominant races on this world, the Humans and their allies are relegated to outlawed tribes scratching out an existence far from civilization. The world is strongly linked to the related product Psihammer (review coming soon).
A brief history of the world is given, including the war that lead to the dominance of the Orcs. The civilization of the world has shifted. Orcs (called Daeorcs in the setting) have taken the northern part of the world, pushing the Humans and their allies into the barren desert at the equator. Gnolls (called Yaena) have similarly pushed the Humans form the south. The Orcs and Gnolls have both developed into civilized races while the Humans and Halflings society has crumbled. I like how half breed Humans are not accepted by Orcish society. I found that this is a well thought out cultural shift, with the Humans and Halflings of this world filling in a niche that is traditionally filled by the goblins and their ilk in a traditional setting. Recent history beings an alien visitors angle that I am not entirely happy with. There are two alien races that are recent arrivals on the world. These aliens seem to be setting up for another world shaking war. If I were to run a game in this world I am not sure if I would include the aliens.
The next section of the book details the major settlements in the world. This is done with a short stat block and a description of the local areas. There are six major areas detailed. Three in the north and three in the south. Here is also the biggest editing problem. Crossplains is a major location but other than the section heading the name of the area seems to have been changed to Cross Way in the rest of the book. It took me a few moments to make the mental cross reference. A few more maps in this section would have been a great addition to the product.
The races come next detailed in two sections. First come the pure blood races. Orcs (Daeorc), Gnolls(Yaena), Humans, Halflings, and the Kirene. the Orcs become the Daeorcs the primary dominant race. The Gnolls became the Yaena. A society to rival the Daeorcs. Humans and Halflings are the shattered remnants of the once great societies they were. Halflings have a peculiar relationship with the Yaena, serving them as animal trainers. The Kirene are unique to the world of Hael, they fill the void of the elven races that are not part of the world of Hael. The second group of races includes the half-orc, half-human with the new aliens visitors. I liked the treatment of the half-men. The societal impacts of being a half-man in an Orcish dominated world is well thought out. As I stated previously I am not sure how I feel about the aliens. However, even if I do not like them, the alien races are well done and add a new dimension for the world.
Character classes follow the races. Barbarians, Clerics, Fighters, and Paladins are unchanged from the stock rules. Bards have become the Yaena Storytellers and are a large part of the Yaena culture. Druids are also substantially modified and are identified strongly with the Kirene race. Halfling are tied to the Ranger class, a class that reminds me of the rangers found in the Dark Sun setting. Two new monk classes are introduced one specifically for the Daeorc race another for the Yaena. Rogues are also modified, they are presented as a thief that has not been caught yet. Rogues are expected to maintain a very strong illusion that they follow another path. Finally Sorcerers are a class dominated by the Daeorc race, the class is only slightly modified. The biggest modification is a skill that allows sorcerers to share energy and to duel with each other. Wizards are unheard of on the world of Hael. Psionics are also strongly liked to the world, but the psionic rules are not class based rules.
A pantheon of gods is included. There are Orc Gods and Gnoll Gods, I would have liked to see a few Human and Halfling gods included. If there are no Human and Halfling gods left then there should be a story about what happened to them.
A short bestiary of new creatures is included. The creatures included are well designed and in the case of the Varibeast seems to be the defining monster of the setting. Also included is a list of creatures from the SRD that would also be found on the world of Hael.
The last thing included is a single page map of the world. I really dislike the map. It is a simple outline of the continent with picture a picture mask in the background to indicate the type on terrain in an area. So you have an image of a pine forest for the "Many Forests" area and a picture of a mountain for the background of the "Cold Peaks". I found the map to be quite unsatisfying. It did however list all the areas discussed in the book, which is a plus. The only thing not marked on the map is the location of the two alien craft.
Intermixed with the text are comments attributed to "Professor Grumin Tarsh" an Orcish scholar. I found the comments to be well placed and added an excellent bit of "color" to the rules.
This rocks becasue...
It is a well thought out setting that changes the expected society norms you see in 'classic' fantasy world. The races and classes are well thought out to fit a world where Orcs are the dominant race.
This sucks because...
The aliens. I really did not like that aliens added to the setting. I also did not like the quality or quantity of the maps. Another run through for editing would also have made this a much better product (although it is still pretty good).
Edit: I have since gone through the PDF again and this is an unfair criticism. The editing is really quite good, I found a total of three spelling or typos in a 50 page document.
You should buy this because...
You are looking for a new setting that is not the standard elves and Humans dominated world. Or you are looking for a world where magic and psionics are intermixed.
I am looking forward to playing a game in this world where the players are all Humans. They would suddenly find themselves the underdogs in a way I don't think they would expect at all.