This was Steve Jackson Games’ effort to produce a role-playing game (RPG) based on the Hellboy setting and characters. The book is handsomely bound the same size as all the Hellboy trade paperback collected editions and produced in full color using lots of great Mignola art. Keep in mind that this book was published in 2002 and only includes information on the characters and setting of Hellboy through the fifth Hellboy trade paperback collection. At the time of its publication, it was probably the single best source of setting information on the Hellboy universe. None of that information has since become invalidated, of course, but it’s woefully incomplete now.
It includes a fun introductory short story by Christopher Golden; a five-page comic of a very minor Hellboy adventure in India; the aforementioned setting information; a slightly retooled and stripped-down version of GURPS role-playing game mechanics for gaming in the Hellboy universe; game write-ups for Hellboy, his BPRD pals, all the major villains from the first five Hellboy collections, and some generic write-ups of various other supernatural critters; and an adventure that I didn’t find to be all that interesting (spoiler: old Nazi occultist hiding out in Timbuktu with an enslaved djinn servant).
Value for gamers: Well, if you want to do some gaming in the Hellboy universe using a “lite” version of GURPS Third Edition, then you’re all set. This book really does include all you need to get started, though you’ll want to pick up several additional GURPS books if you plan to continue gaming in the setting, since these books will significantly increase the amount of magic and weirdness you can introduce. If you’re a Hellboy fan and want to do some Hellboy universe gaming using another set of game mechanics (something a little lighter or more free-form than GURPS, for example), you should be able to do so using the write-ups provided here. There is a fair amount of GURPS jargon (necessarily and understandably) in the character, creature, and magic write-ups, but it’s all pretty self-explanatory. But for that, obviously, you’re going to have to do all the heavy lifting yourself. Mechanically, I think that GURPS works adequately for Hellboy, but it’s a bit clunky and showing its age. Character creation requires a good bit of familiarity with the game system because GURPS is one of those older games that attempts to provide minutely-detailed rules for simulating every skill and action that a character might try. Personally, I used to really like that, but now I’m much more favorably inclined to “rules-lite” games.
Value for non-gamers: Sadly, if you’re a Hellboy fan but either have an allergy to role-playing games or aren’t interested in them at all, there are few good reasons to pick up this book unless you’re a true completist. You would be better off picking up The Hellboy Companion, which is much more up-to-date than this “sourcebook” and doesn’t waste any space on game mechanics.
I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5 for an entertaining presentation and valiant effort at producing a Hellboy role-playing game. No one else has picked up the license after Steve Jackson Games’ license expired, so this is all we’ve got for now.
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers