Children of the Night: Ghosts
Authors: 'The Kargat': Anne Brown, Steven Brown, Dale Donovan, Miranda Horner, L.L. Hundal, Steve Miller, John D. Rateliff, Sean K Reynolds, Cindi Rice, Ed Stark, Doug Stewart, Dan Wenger, Robert Wiese, David Wise
Summary of Content:
Very well made and unique. Most are quite cool and it follows the COTN:V tradition. I'm under the impression the ghost backgrounds are better then COTN:V and I prefer by a notch or two this COTN to the COTN:V. Also, the cover is great.
In short, they are all excellent: the Ghost Cat (cool 'non familiar'; very good), Jimmy Upton (interesting situation to solve), Wilhelm Pellman (the ghost boy), Susannah Joson (quite creepy! Two manifestations will confuse the PCs - one of the best entry), Sir Marcus Malvoy (interesting adventure), Nikolai Melentha (very good 'misery' background - one of the best entry), Ghosts of Hospitality (wow @ the concept!), Vlana Waldershen (interesting revenge ghost), Ezekiel Preston (well suited for Mordent).
Those I like less are Theona Helsvar (weird body possessing ghost, less easily inserted in a campaign then the other entries. But a good DM might take the time to make it work), Lord Alexander von Lupinoff (too weird IMHO), Hurreh and Acchalus (giant ?), Rhianna (didn't catch my attention),
Good read and worth hunting for it! I wish this serie could see 3rd edition development!
4 on 5.
David "Jester" Gibson
This is the second book in the short lived Children of the Night series of books for the Ravenloft line. This one, like its predecessor, focuses on thirteen individual 'monsters' describing them in detail and offering a short introductory adventure. While the last CotN book focused on weird and variant vampires this one focuses on incorporeal undead.
The book starts with a micro-sized two-page introduction to ghosts and the Ravenloft style that seems badly cribbed from an early Van Richten Guide and the notes accompanying every Campaign Setting. The rules, which are really just a quick rehash, are too short to the extent of being wasted space and seem to be included there for those without the actual Campaign Setting. Possibly to make the product of use to strangers to Ravenloft who possibly just want to spice up their homemade world.
Unlike the last CotN book, the Thirteen Ghosts of Ravenloft are arranged in an acceding order of difficulty starting with those suitable for any levels and going upward to the more lethal and dangerous adventures. This makes perfect sense and draws attention to the fact that three of the ghosts are not restricted to levels and are thus low combat and story based tales. A nice change.
The book starts with Jimmy Upton, which is an interesting beginning as he is not a ghost! Unusual but it nicely sets the tone for the book: The theme is ghosts but be prepared to be surprised. Jimmy is sad and tragic but not overly so and remarkably not evil. In fact, there are no evil folk or villains or even misdirected and confused ones. Another point that makes this and interesting to place first. Upton's adventure is a sad, almost over-the-top, tale with bad fortune and poor luck falling on all involved, almost farcical. But it is simple, aside for the small plot-twists, and would excellently serve as a filler adventure between major plots. It may be a tad difficult to pull it off for a group with a heavy predisposition to violent solutions or aggression but otherwise it works.
Following this is the interesting Ghost Cat, and unusual entry as, once again, it is not a ghost. A difficult to use addition to the book as it works best either as a lengthy sub-plot or a one-on-one adventure. The Cat is a nice addition to the Land of the Mists and has many uses other than the one presented in this adventure. It really is nice to have a subtle version of the furies. In most cases a good DM will see a way to introduce and incorporate the Ghost Cat into a campaign without even needing to run the adventure, which is really more of an example of the possibilities or a guide to how its reactions.
The next ghost is a much more standard and traditional ghost. Wilhelm Pellman is a tragic figure of little threat whom needs the player's help more than their sword blades. Like the previous two figures once the adventure is over the ghost has been freed and there is little reoccurrence. While wrapping up the story is a good thing this does seem to defeat the purpose of introducing multiple unique ghosts as foes. Ghosts have a tendency, especially Ravenloftian and Gothic ones, of vanishing once their mystery and story has been completed. Wilhelm is a good example of this. This is not to say Wilhelm is a bad character and his adventure a poor story, which it is not, it is just there is little remarkable about it. There are nice elements, such as his brother Kole being described as not evil and just an angry and violent youth.
The fourth ghost is Susannah Joson. Her tale is sad and tragic but sadly features an overly sadistic serial killer who slaughters and entire family just for their money. The adventure is set-up much the same as a traditional ghost adventure but it only serves as an introduction only hinting at how the players might uncover the tragic background or retire the ghostly figure. Her tragedy, while sad and designed to mimic classic Gothic themes, is really uninspired and unremarkable. There is really nothing new or original in Joson. Despite this it is a nice low level adventure and possibly a good introduction to the Gothic style and sets-up some nice role-playing.
This is followed by something slightly different in Theona Helsvar. Theona is the first example of a possible reoccurring ghost and the first real villain of the book. The adventure uses the setting nicely placing the story in Tepest and uses that land's superstitious attitudes and inquisitions to good effect. Plus the possibility of hags and similar dark magic users makes an excellent red herring. The emphasis is also placed more on saving an innocent life rather than simply defeating the bad guy. The adventure also makes good use of the AD&D possession rules that have the soul of the victim removed or slain. I have never been fond of that variation on possession but it used to good effect here. There are also some scenes that could be genuinely creepy if done correctly.
The next ghost is Lupinoff whose adventure seems like it was written strictly to try to trick players into assuming they are facing a werebeast. The adventure itself is not too bad, despite the obvious flaw. The name of the main character though is an epicly bad choice, the obviousness of it screams out that the wolf element is most likely a distraction. Who the villain is should be obvious to even the most un-paranoid players and Hornburg's partially deformity into an undead just seems to obvious a suspicion raiser. It is nice to see Power Checks and Paths of Darkness in play for NPCs as too often it is simply used against players though. Hornburg himself is a fairly unremarkable villain whom the players do not really have to confront but still is a notable force through the tale. His earlier schemes through were needlessly complex and just add too many elements to a back-story that could have been easily streamlined.
One Sir Marcus Malvoy is the next spirit and a different sort of ghost in that he was a former hero, albeit a poor excuse for one. The method of setting the figure to rest is an interesting one, although one that would be awkward to perform satisfactorily. There is less of a personal involvement other than shouting out support. The adventure itself has possibilities with multiple NPCs having dangerous secrets and two sides to their personality. It would play well in Nova Vassa but was instead placed in a generic town in an unspecified Domain. Far too few of the 13 Ghosts take advantage of the world. The largest problem with Malvoy is much of his back-story needlessly takes place on another world. While it could be argued that the band of famous adventurers lead by a coward is easier to believe in the more heroic other worlds and is more troublesome in the Land of the Mists where cowards seldom take up adventuring. It does mean his background is almost impossible to research and much of it will remain mystery or unsupported vague suspicions. Thus the defining events of Malvoy that could be used to rest his roaming spirit, enough to fill over an entire page, never really enter into the story.
Moving on to an even more troublesome pair of ghosts we find the double entry of Hurrek and Acchalus. This is easily, by far, the worst entry in the book. Not just because it features a non-human stone giant, troublesome to add to Ravenloft if done well, and not because said giant was a reformed creature and a kind soul but also a ghost. The adventure and background is poor partially because most of the story takes place in another world, like Malvoy, only this time a new unfamiliar one that is not the basis of Boxed Sets of its own. A needless addition and wrinkle. The two characters are also needlessly linked with intertwining histories which are all but essential to put the two ghosts to rest. Not that this is really essential as the ghosts are motiveless and haunt around a single out of the way area. The adventure presented does not even really involved the ghosts save as a brief cameo and encounter that seems more like an old-school random encounter produced by some wayward dice and thrown in for no reason. Like the sudden dragon turtle being tossed in the 10x20 room. I was unimpressed.
After the disappointing duo comes Nikolai Melentha, a much more interesting ghost. Nikolai is an excellent character for his decent into darkness and his misguided values. Wisely he only partially figures into the main adventure that nicely references other places and people in the Land, a nice use of the setting. Nikolai is simply introduced and subsequent investigation and possible ways of putting the ghost to rest are left up to the DM. This is all in addition to the other possible spin-off adventures from the story's real villains. One of the highlights of the book and readily insert-able into a campaign.
Rhianna is next and another example of a ghost who is not evil and is laid to rest at the end of the story. Rhianna is set up as the McGuffin in this story, but one who does lead to the real villain. A sad figure, like so many else in this book, but her back-story is a tad confusing at times and could have been edited better, too much information is explained elsewhere. The adventure itself is unremarkable and is driven forward by massive coincidences and flukes. The background of the villain through is different; too few products use the Nightmare Lands let alone the Darklord(s) of that hellish land. Mikael and his twisted motives are excellent although he is of far too high a level. He is four levels higher than the highest recommended PC level and twice as many hit points as his enslaved creature! How he was struggling to control is an unanswered question.
I have mixed feelings on the Ghosts of Hospitality, the next entry into the menagerie. They are different and have a unique style and atmosphere being unlike anything else I have seen in Ravenloft or even thought of using in a ghost story. But the adventure's plot and their use is just so very limited. They are motiveless killing machines devoid of personality or individuality. The adventure and their existence seem more geared to the introduction of Duncan, so the question becomes why was more of the focus not placed on him. Almost a Catch 22 situation where Duncan is more interesting as a villain but much more traditional of a ghost while the Ghosts of Hospitality are far more unique but are shallow characters. Also the method of the stone's destruction is far too easily obtained and implemented.
Vlana Waldershen started off interesting and had much potential but the adventure itself was a disappointment. Her personality is interesting and her back-story is both lengthy and yet readable although her paranoia is groundless. My problem with the adventure is that too many of the plot points and secrets of what is going on are just handed to the players. On a silver platter. The reason for the odd behaviour, the nature of their foe, much of the back-story and more. Even then, after it is crammed down their throats, the actual means of ending the ghost's haunting might easily be beyond the means of many parties. The ending is the best part of this adventure offering numerous possibilities and options for consequences or continuation if the players miss everything despite being beaten over the head by it. With some quick tweaking and a heavy fist of editing this would be a far better tale and involve more investigation.
The final ghost is Ezekiel Preston who all but gets second billing in this adventure. He does appear and unlike similar adventures his is less of a random senseless encounter but makes some sense. The adventure likewise ties nicely in with Preston's past and serves as a good introduction, but this only works if Preston becomes a recurring thorn in the player's side. Thankfully the writers took this into account and provided an excellent means for Preston to follow the players. Despite this Preston is not much of a character lacking a lot of personality limiting future adventures. Not a bad adventure or character but not particularly memorable. There are some nice elements in the adventure though that really make this chapter and requires some good investigation. Plus the advice and options to shift the difficulty of the adventure are a nice addition.
Ghosts present a problem to the Children of the Night series, in that good ones, gothic ones, are laid to rest at the end of the stories. Unlike many other creatures, such as vampires or golems, success is far more likely to be resolved without conflict. The ghosts themselves were well done in this book and unlike CotN: Vampires they were not just a series of unique and specialised undead. But that aside few were truly unique, they were standard ghosts no different from most others, the few that are not really stand out and just draw more attention to the rest. At least the adventures stood out as more than modified dungeon crawls. There is also an overall lack of special and interesting powers with most ghosts being limited to a handful of identical cookie-cutter salient powers. That said the book is consistently solid and features many good and interesting ghosts. There are few remarkable figures that relentlessly grip the imagination, there are few that scream out to be included in the campaign. And unlike CotN: Vampires it has no iconic characters. It is a good book but not a great one.
Three and a half severed digits out of five. Even after the change to 3rd Edition the book loses little.
I have had this supplement for quite some time now and I have really just recently really started to enjoy it. One thing to note is that the first four scenarios in the book are meant for low level adventurers. That really makes this book a great resource for the beginning DM. Sir Marcus Malvoy and The Ghosts of Hospitality were my personal favourites in the book their backgrounds and adventures were really well put together. The one character that I really didn't care for was Hurrek/Acchalus, they didn't seem very scary or Ravenlofty enough. Ghosts are my favourite beasties and this did a good job of showing how to use them.
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