Horrors of the Z'bri
This book as a "For Mature Readers" label for a damned good reason.
"Horrors of the Z'bri" is Tribe 8's sourcebook for the Z'bri, and it does not play nice. The Z'bri reveal themselves to be every bit the monsters that the Fatimas and Fallen believe them to be, and then the Z'bri bother to explain *why* they are what they are. The reasons are both horrific and logical, given the context of Tribe 8's setting.
Chapter One is an introduction. It sets the stage for a great shift in Vimary, one that will receive proper attention in future Tribe 8 suppliments, by allowing some characters to learn and transmit the lore of the Z'bri back to their respective societies- be they Tribal, Fallen, Squat, or Keeper. Most telling, at this point, is the first mention of the Hunters and how they played a role in the end of Ra'Ham the Slayer.
This did little for me in terms of excitement or utility. I saw this as a series of cut-scenes mixed with a few flashbacks. Despite the awkward manner chosen, the chapter did an adequate job of preparing me for what came later in the book. Put another way, it got the job done despite the manner employed.
Chapter Two is the first of four chapters dedicated to the four Houses of the Z'bri. This chapter is about House Sangis--noted for its great obsession with the flesh, and all that goes with it--and it, like the rest of the book, is not for the weaklings out there. The Sangis are all about sex, pleasure, pain, and twisting them together into some inhuman perversity. They are the tempters of myth, for they seek to corrupt men in order to regain their lost chattel, and to this end they are both cunning and alternately brutal and benign. Yep, this makes the Sangis into demonic abusive lovers who are also sociopatic to the core. All you want to know, it's there.
This chapter made me shudder, once I realized the implications of how they went about their existance. Unlike some, I have no pity for the Sangis. This is a race of monstrous beings who exist for no other reason but to corrupt innocents, control them through fear and desire, and corral them like sheep. The only Sangis serfs more wretched than these are those that give themselves over to their masters and become Chosen of the Sangis, for they become like the beast they serve in body and soul.
The Sangis are the originators of Z'bri feudalism as it is now, and they are the House that uses it most. They organize themselves into courtly factions along political lines that are very easy for humans to understand, and the issues on the table are likewise easy for us to comprehend: power, prestige, access to the Baron, wealth, land, etc. To achieve these ends, these beasts tempt and corrupt each other in intrigues that resemble a cross between "Dangerous Liasons" and "La Femme Nikita" (either the French original or the USA TV series). It's not a happy place to be.
As you see, this chapter hit me quite good. It's obvious to me that the writing here is competant, if not spectacular, and that the art nicely complemented the text. Of course, the fact that some of it was recycled detracted from the overall impression, but I'm impressed just the same. For the first time in a while, I felt something while I read some text in a RPG suppliment. That counts for a lot.
Chapter Three moves on to House Koleris. Yes, the Koleris are just as demonic as their Sangis masters--and the former truly resents the latter, for Tibor was Koleris--and they are just as despicable. But, I still feel some pity for these creatures. Tibor's death, and the Baron's ascension, forced the Koleris to restrain themselves in ways so severe that the House can barely hold itself together. This is a gurantee for insurrection, unless the war against the Tribals returns, and I doubt that the Sangis could withstand a concerted attack by all the Koleris Orders.
The Orders are the means by which the Koleris organize themselves, but they seem more like street gangs (ala Walter Hill's "The Warriors") than knightly orders. They meet, they rumble, serfs trade hands--as prizes or victims--and some sort of honor (better called "face") is maintained. Of course, the rumbles usually involve ripping foes to shreds and suffering horrific wounds in return--bloodletting is very important to the Koleris--and death is ever-present, even to Koleris lords. It's the epitome of "nasty, brutish, and short"; the serfs are no different than their masters, and Koleris Chosen are some of the meanest human warriors in Z'bri lands.
Yep, I was rapt while reading this chapter, and I easily saw how well the Koleris parallel the Joanites, Jackers, and Joshuans. To say that they are mirror-images is to understand things considerably. Of the four House chapters, this is my favorite by far. Now that I know the house better, I can make better use of Koleris as NPCs- and that will scare the hell out of my players.
Chapter Four is about House Flemis. This is the Borg/Blob house of the Z'bri, in that they seek to assimilate individuals into their hive mind and absorb their flesh into the greater mass-body of the hive. I find this house, more than any other, utterly terrifying. Yet, as I read this chapter, I find a house of Z'bri as scared of humanity as I am of them. Again, I find that I also pity the Flemis because they are victims of their fears, insecurity, and inability to exist without their hivemind for long.
The Flemis organize themselves into hives, of which only two are known to exist in Vimary. While individual entities do exist within a hive, they often have problems distinguishing between themselves and their hive. Put simply, the line between "I" and "we" is weak and blurred for Flemis- save for a very few entities, which are often sent to act as ambassadors and emissaries to the other houses. All else is kept in the hive, and their serfs are as wretched as they.
The chapter is neat, and the story about the two serfs who run from a hive only to face an exiled Flemis is compelling, so I can't say that it's not entertaining nor informative. What it wasn't was compelling, like the Koleris chapter was. I think this is more about my biases than the writing, but I reserve the right to be wrong- and therefore to change my opinion.
Chapter Five has the Melanis, which are the sneaky gits of the Z'bri. They're the folks who act as the scholars, spies, counterspies, and scientists of the Z'bri. What they do their captives, their serfs, and certain enemy Z'bri is very disgusting, revealing, and revoting. (Live vivisection, anyone?) Why they do it isn't. They want to get the hell out of our world and Go Home, and they don't care about what they have to do or who they have to kill- or what minds they need to rape.
The Melanis organize themselves into monastic orders. Specialist orders perform specific functions, from the quest to pierce the Fold, to internal security, to external defense, and much more that is not specified (but easy to extrapolate). Of all the Z'bri, none are more like the Keepers than this House. They are crafters, engineers, and scientists as well as mystics, ascetics, and wisdom-hoarders. Their serfs are as often subjects as not, and their Chosen can become great aids in the Melanis' labors.
Did I like this? Yep, and I like how one of the Melanis orders is one of warrior-monks, and make up the martial commitment to the army of the Vimary Z'bri from House Melanis. While the other reinforced what I already thought of them, this one changed my mind about the Melanis- a fact I found ironic. Well done, gang.
Chapter Six covers serfs, the Chained, and something new called "The Hunters". As I mentioned, above, each House has Chosen Serfs. Each house has different names for their Chosen, and uses them in manners befitting their house. This chapter also explains why serfs are as loyal as they are, and the truth will astound you- yet, it will be wholly consistant with what already exists in Tribe 8 cosmology. I won't give it away here; I want to preserve this secret for as long as possible, because it's just that good of a twist.
As for the Chained, I really wish it was more than a few brief pages. What exists, while not as mind-blowing as the serf section, still has some impact. First, we meet Tibor's mate, who is also the original Gek'roh. We get to see what can become of those Gek'roh who survive their imprisonment, and what so many of those survivors are up to now.
The big one, however, is the introduction of the Hunters. These are Z'bri who've realized the evils of their existance, seen how they've falling from their proper place, and seek to correct the grave error. Most of them forsook Sundering for Synthesis, and many hunt their own kind--hence the name--while others seek the Nomads. Few, however, are open allies of humanity. Instead, they cooperate with the Guides in order to achieve their ends- and this is how the Guides get almost all of the Heartstones that they're known to use. (In many ways, Hunters are the Z'bri counterparts to the Guides.)
The specfics of each Hunter known to exist vary widely, right down to why they do what they do. What matters is that, for the most part, they are allies to the Fallen cause and therefore play a part in the Prophecy of Joshua. (Exactly how is unclear, but a few ideas come to mind- such as training with one of them before embarking on an epic quest.) Of all the parts of this book, this is the one that intrigues me the most. I can't wait to see how the Hunters play out their part in the prophecy.
Chapter Seven gets into the rules. It's brief, and concerns itself with possessions, the many Z'bri Atmosphers, rituals, and Hunter use of Synthesis for purposes of disguise. Nothing amazing here, but it is far from useless. Like the chapter that follows, Weavers will be wise to bookmark this chapter for ease of reference.
Chapter Eight gets into the gaming aspect. Here is where you'll find all of the advice you'll need to make use of the information found in the earlier chapters, including the themes and moods best suited for particular Z'bri and their serfs. Again, the Hunter information is the most important part of the text at hand.
Chapter Nine gets into the stats. The monsters, gear, diseases, and other things mentioned earlier get numbers assigned to them here. The weapons of the Hunters are included, as are the weapons of the Sangis, the cannons of the Koleris, and the armors of the Flemis. This will be more than enough to keep Weavers and players busy for some time to come, and may become reference material for later suppliments like "Trial By Fire".
There is a reference table in back that covers all Z'bri mentioned, living and dead, in all Tribe 8 products up to this one. The page where the reference came from is included, for ease of searching.
In conclusion, I say that this is one of the best and most-needed of the suppliments to date. (With "Into the Outlands" coming soon, we'll see how long this status lasts.) Go out and get it, but don't read it all in one sitting. You'll find that money well spent.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)