I came late to the game where Raging Swan Press was concerned, though I couldn’t tell you why. It wasn’t until I saw this particular product that I went and took a look at Raging Swan’s products. Upon doing so, I realized that I’ve been missing out; well, no further – let’s take a look at Minotaurs of the Black Hills.
After the cover (an austere black with the title in relatively small print) and credits page, the book comes to the table of contents. It’s here that Raging Swan begins to distinguish themselves from other publishers out there, as even this is different from the usual fare. Not only do they have the usual table of contents, but they also organize tables for the various crunch offerings of the book, even though they could have gotten away with it. For example, there’s a table summarizing the four new feats in the book, a CR table to chart the Challenge Ratings of the book’s seven NPCs and creatures, etc.
It was this sort of thing that immediately drew my respect; these little things that aren’t strictly necessary but make things easier and more convenient for the people using their book. Things like this separate the adequate game companies from the really good ones.
There was a section after it that charts out how to read the stat blocks. Ironically, I do think this went a little bit too far, as most people who’d be buying this sort of product don’t need to be told how to read a stat block – as this book uses the standard Pathfinder format for monsters and NPCs, this part seemed superfluous, but even so I didn’t hold that against the book, particularly since after this it turned its attention to the eponymous minotaurs.
The book discusses the tribe itself and the race that they serve – known as the yith – in adequate detail, covering their culture, where they lair, giving Knowledge DCs, etc. It then turns its attention to the layout of the Black Hills region itself. My understanding is that this connects to at least one other Raging Swan supplement, though I was left uncertain if this fit into the larger backdrop of the Lonely Coast or not (though I suspect that it does).
Several areas of the Black Hills are given several paragraphs of description, emphasizing the fallen empire of the yith. No maps or detailed information is given, though there are terrain features and a random encounter table listed, which I was glad for – too often those elements are ignored, though I think they’re an important aspect of adventuring.
Following this, the second half of the book turns its attention to new crunch. A new ranger archetype and a new sorcerer bloodline, four new feats, four new sorcerer-only spells, and two new magic items help to round out the nature of the Minotaurs of the Black Hills, leading in to two minotaur NPCs and a stat block for the yith themselves.
This last part, the yith, was where I was quite disappointed by the book. For those with a background in Lovecraft, the yith are more correctly the Great Race of Yith, aliens known for being able to swap their minds with other creatures across time. If this had been the yith in this book that dominated the minotaurs, that would have been too cool for words.
Instead of that, however, the yith are simply bat-people who had an empire which has since declined to the point that most of them barely remember it. In other words, much less interesting. I can’t fault Raging Swan too much here; my guess is that they just didn’t know about the Lovecraftian Great Race and the nomenclature is simply a coincidence, but even so, it’s a poor one. The name suggests a coolness that simply isn’t present here, and that’s the main reason why I gave this book four out of five stars.
Having said that, however, this book does a good job of presenting an atmospheric location and populating it with material ripe for adventure. Raging Swan has a distinct style to their books, and it’s in full force here. The Black Hills evoke a feeling of harsh isolation, with the terrain and its inhabitants being cruel to those who wander here, and at the same time hiding secrets that can only be unearthed with great difficulty. It’s very gothic…I just can’t help but wonder how much more gothic it would have been if they hadn’t inadvertently hinted at something much more cosmic than they delivered.