Children of the Night: Vampires
Authors: Paul Culotta & Steve Miller with Johnathan Ariadne Caspian & Carol L. Johnson
posted by Charney: (…)But it's useful to have his (Jander) stats for those who want to use him. I'm very tempted to do so myself since he was a good character.
I thought he should be featured in an adventure that took place between chapters of "Vampire of the Mists" as there is plenty of room in that book for side stories. Harold disagreed with that idea, basically reasoning that no one would want to play a flashback adventure, so Jander had to be brought forward. If memory serves, the Mists moved Jander to Forlorn not so he could hunt vampires, but because it was the only piece of real estate available in the Core.
Oh, and another bit of CotN: Vampires trivia... the "Alexi" adventure was supposed to be BEFORE the Jander adventure. Some of the references within the Jander adventure (like those referring to Nira having stood along the PCs in an adventure involving the Vistani) make more sense if you read "Alexi" first, THEN the Jander tale. I have no idea why the order was switched.
The CotN Vampire was a great source book, and opened creativity wide. A good NPC sourcebook. Most of these blood suckers are well designed and can provide interesting adventure hooks. The adventure themselves are often short and most can be inserted quickly in a campaign.
The best: Jander Sunstar (great to see him back. Nice adventure featuring other blood suckers), Audun Beck (a vampire in a sea adventure, that's new), Lyssa Von Zarovich (OK, ghost aging for a vampire is not recommended but she is a stylish little brat, very elegant; the adventure is however average), Moosha (wow, that's original! If my campaign ever goes to a desert domain, he's in!), Lady Adeline (the ugly lady, servant of Von Kharkov; weird adventure IMHO), Don Pablo (interesting NPC pianist turned vorlog background),
The average: Ezra (the odd name and the lack of info on him; the adventure is fun), Marla (a little ordinary and adventure is predictable), Mulger d'Ajust (I never was comfortable with demi human vampires, I think they look silly, but it's just me perhaps).
The worst: Lady Heather Shadowbrooke (did a druid vampire NPC like her once, before the VRGttV, and I felt afterward it was over the top - not to mention vampiric shambling mound …), Myxitizajal (the vampiric ixitxachitl. I mean, it's Ravenloft, not any fantasy setting), Alexi (odd background. I always thought that vistani hated undead … And I hate the picture of him), Jack Bequick (I think his 'three frights' is silly; and a house of horror ? *lol*).
A good start to the COTN serie.
3.5 on 5
David "Jester" Gibson
The Children of the Night series of accessories is much like the Ravenloft Monster Compendium Appendix II in that they feature a group of detailed and often unique NPC villains. Unlike that tome, the book
The book starts with the reintroduction of one of the single most popular and famous characters in Ravenloft, Jander Sunstar. Last seen in the first and most popular Ravenloft novel, Vampire of the Mists
His debatable continued existence aside it is worth the price of the book alone to see Jander in print again, especially as this was the first book to publish his stats (soon to be followed by a book of villains in the Forgotten Realms as well as the 3E stats in Champions of Darkness for the Ravenloft line). The background gives a nice quick description of the book and thankfully keeps the spoilers to a minimum while still offering a necessary glance into Jander's mindset. The adventure, like most in the book, is short and quick offering the minimum amount of details required to play through it. Most are kept as flexible as possible, avoiding too much linearity and come off as short, quick adventures. Each does offer ideas for future tales that can be used to tie the events into a short campaign, which are nice, especially since many of the adventures do not end with the creature's
The second vampire is Audun Beck, a sea vampire that can turn into a giant squid and captains a Viking ghost ship manned by zombies. Really. In actuality he is far more interesting than that blurb suggests. A frightening foe to unleash on any coastal city or ocean traveling party he is a nice mix of originality and placing a vampire
The third vampire is another controversial figure, Lyssa von Zarovich. While her place in this collection is not debated the fact she used the ageing powers of a ghost to increase her vampiric might is. Personally I have no problems with the plan and while I think it is silly and far too easy there is no real reason why it should not work. We find Lyssa not much changed since her last appearance in Thoughts of Darkness, only this time she is the one being schemed against. Her short adventure ushers in some big changes for the character but sadly the players play little role in it, save as witnesses, but for the trivia buffs it does reference Emil Bollenbach. So while it is good that Lyssa has been resurrected from obscurity her adventure is unremarkable as she deserved better.
A new character is introduced next adding more to the seldom-used domain of Sebua. I have mixed feelings over this vampire, Moosha, as he is an interesting departure from almost all traditional vampire myths and a very different threat to pit against players. On the other hand it almost looks like the author simply went about reversing the common weaknesses without replacing them with other methods of killing him. Sunlight does not work and immersion in water actually heals him while holy symbols and garlic do nothing. What does work against him? Apparently nothing save removing his curse, which is a very hard task given that not nearly enough information is supplied in the adventure. Furthermore the adventure suggests the worst use of an NPC, introducing one as a character's friend for the sole reason of killing them. Regular use of tactics like that just stops players from even trying to bond with supporting characters.
Myxitizajal follows and is another essentially useless addition to the book. Just because vampiric Ixitxachitls exist is no reason for them to be in Ravenloft. There is a vampire bunny in pop literature but I would not suggest it having a place by Strahd's side. The adventure does contain some interesting elements and it is always nice to see seldom used domains such as Souragne get some attention. The major plot element, a pear that causes days to repeat, is designed to be horrific but the effect will most often instead be comedic or frustrating and does not serve any real purpose in the adventure.
The next vampire is yet another non-standard undead and another racial variant. Lady Adeline does take good advantage of her elven vampire nature guarding other vampires, although why an immortal would willingly spend all eternity as a lackey and guard is not very clear. It is interesting to see a vampiress that is not seductive and prenaturally beautiful. Likewise, it is again nice that the authors took a seldom-used domain to base their new character in. However, it is sad the authors chose not to actually set the adventure there instead having Adeline take a 'vacation'. The adventure itself is unremarkable being essentially a mini-dungeon crawl featuring the world's simplest and smallest hedge maze.
The next vampire is not a traditional bloodsucker either being instead a half-vampire whom was not completely brought over into unlife. Don Pablo makes a sad and tragic figure and is easily one of the better characters and adventures in the book. It is a simple and gothic tale of lost love and misplaced affection with some revenge thrown in on the side. Even the players are encouraged to role-play and stretch with one possibly being included in the action and the others having to gather information. Certainly this is one of the highlights of the book.
Following is the small character of Alexi, a wholly unremarkable Vistani vampire. This is actually the lead into the Jander adventure so the fact it was placed in the middle is a fairly large mistake. Oddly the players are expected to jump up four levels between this and the 'following' adventure. While Alexi is a sad individual and his story emotional the adventure itself is less so. Since when have Vistani tribes needed the aid of adventurers to rescue themselves from monsters? The characters are good but the adventure is disappointing.
The next vampire is Jack Bequick. An invisible vampire that needs to scare people to become visible and feed. Why he need to be visible to feed is not exactly explained. A sadistic clown his adventure consists of another small dungeon crawl through a demented funhouse. It is really more silly than scary and Jack is a truly pathetic villain. Why his adventure is set in Kartakass is another mystery as he really does not fit with the environment there.
Lady Heather Shadowbrooke is another less stellar variation on the vampire myth being a sap-drinking ex-druid. This is another silly entry featuring a vampire shambling mound and "Mugrub, the warthog monstrosity". Not particularly inspired as Heather has few real goals or evil schemes and is horribly limited in movement staying close to her stone circle. With some heavy modification Heather could prove to be a more remarkable foe instead of a single strange one-shot filler villainess.
The unfortunately named Ezra, with nothing to do with the goddess of the same name, is a fairly unremarkable and uninteresting nosferatu. Why he is a nosferatu is not really explained, as he would have functioned just as well as a regular vampire. In contrast the adventure designed around Ezra is actually quite good with the emphasis not placed on slaying the vampire, a challenging task, but instead simply smashing his thieving ring. The adventure is well set out and non-linear and despite its simplicity offers a nice range of action and player choice. The outcomes are limited but for its size it is quite well done.
Mulger D'Ajust must be a very popular vampire, as he is referenced in two earlier entries in this book. The adventures of both Myxitizajal and Ezra make mention of D'Ajust and Ezra's is designed to serve as a lead into this entry. Despite this D'Ajust and the adventure are not particularly memorable. Some parts of it, such as a town of over two thousand being frightened and held at bay by 12 wolverines and 30 zombies are particularly laughable. And the sudden appearance of umber hulks, for no real reason other than extra combat, break with what little atmosphere is available. The author even has the audacity to slip in hints of a portal out of Ravenloft brining back memories of weekend-in-hell adventures and every hero being an Outlander. Less than stellar.
The final vampire is also one of the strangest. Keeping with the tradition of Myxitizajal the vampiric Ixitxachitls, Marla's entry brings in a new and starkly un-gothic creature for the sole reason it is kinda like a vampire. It is undead and drinks blood and hates the sun therefor it fits the paper-thin criteria for this book. Following that logic mosquitoes qualify for a write-up. The adventure is short and shallow with a list of suspects smaller than Marla's personality. It is also one of the few adventures to assume the villain will be killed at the end. So it is not even designed to introduce a memorable and long-lasting enemy to campaigns but just function as a quick one-shot adventure.
Overall one of the things I was disappointed by in this product was the lack of standard vampires with unique personalities; instead it focused on alternate vampires that varied heavily from the standard myths. Things that were vampires only in that they were dead, had fangs and craved something to drink. There were no attempts to use VanRichten's Guide to Vampires and add the many salient powers or extra abilities tied to age. In fact there was only one single traditional Vampire, Lyssa, all the rest were unique or Nosferatu. It feels like the only way the authors knew how to make a vampire stand out was to give it extra powers and make it unusual opposed to giving one unusual methods or a particularly cunning modus operandi. Likewise all the vampires were treated as if they were simple monsters with only one having any form of character class.
The art was the real saving grace in the book. All the work was done by a single illustrator whose style was oddly like a comic book, normally not something that works with Ravenloft, but was done so cleanly and smoothly every piece turned out well. It simply looks good. Especially for a book such as this that requires the Dungeon Master to have a clear look at the NPCs that will be thrown into the game.
The first entry into the Children of the Night series is a real case of hit and miss. For every classic character (such as Jander or Lyssa) or interesting new character with a fun adventure (such as Beck, Alexi and Ezra) there are some very poor excuses for vampires (such as Moosha, Myxâ€¦ heck, all the rest). Too much emphasis was placed on the oddities and strange powers and not enough on the personality and background emphasises at the beginning of the book. Likewise, the established canon products were not used. And now even the rules are out of date furthering its diminished impact.
Three severed digits out of five, but only just barely. The potential of the rest of the series and thrills of seeing Jander push this product just above average.
Yeah, I will admit it, I am total Jander fanboy and that is totally the main reason that I bought this book. . Beyond that I have mixed feelings on the rest of the characters in this book. My two favourites other than the aforementioned Jander, were Don Pablo and Alexi they both had interesting character backgrounds and I liked their adventures. I also liked the idea behind Jack Bequick even though his adventure was far too much of a dungeon crawl for me, and it was nice to see an update of Lyssa.
The characters that I liked least were Myxitizajal (Hello, just because its vampiric does not make it scary.), and Mulger D'Ajust (I can't place my finger on it but I just don't find him at all interesting in any way.) Most of the rest of the characters were a bit mixed bag, I would have liked to have seen a bit more flavour to them. It almost makes one think it would be a good idea to have a totally new CotN: Vampires, for third edition to actually make up some more interesting vampiric foes for players.
Summary: 13 Vampire NPCs and mini adventures that are given for DM's use in the land of mists.
Children of the Night: Vampires is a work that I am honestly almost as fond of as the Monstrous Manual II of Ravenloft, since both make the assumption that DM's are more interested in unique monsters than flat out canon fodder that don't have anything resembling a tragic back story or horror elements beyond the fact that they are evil. The mini adventures of the books were interesting and usable, if rarely up to module speed and better used in the midst of 'larger' adventures. Nevertheless, the NPCs were quite invaluable.
Jander Sunstar being Chaotic Neutral and still alive was a good decision by the developers, no matter how many people complain about the character's suicide being interrupted. While I don't particularly care for the Time Travel (it didn't work in 'Champions of the Mist' either), the Mists preventing Jander from killing himself was a joke that is pure Dark Powers sadism. Ravenloft is like the Hotel California, you can check out but you can never leave. It was the first real confirmation of nonevil vampire options too.
The module had a few stinkers honestly with Mulger D'Ajust being...yes...a Dwarven vampire and Ezra being a vampire thief (*yawn*). Lyssa Von Zharovich's adventure unfortunately stunk since it more or less made her completely unusable as a villainess (I can't explain why without giving away the included adventure really). Furthermore, it did nothing to expand on her background or make her any less tragic. In my campaigns, I have Lyssa Von Zharovich as the creation of Strahd and the Baroness of Blood to his Dracula. Marla the Pendagallan is also another example of a character without too much zing. In fact, didn't I read about her destruction in the Ecology of the Pendagallan where she was destroyed by Rebecca Cryptgarden (I know because that was my favorite Dragon fiction of all time)?
I'm softer on some of the vampires because Heather Shadowbrook may be a WEIRD vampiress but with alittle tweaking, she could be a powerful recurring nemesis in Tepest and the same goes for Jack Bequick (whose bizarity can be terrifying if the DM knows how to play him). Myxitizajal is actually one of my favorite villains because the adventure is actually wonderful once you get past the oddity of a vampire ixitxachitl. A town gives sacrifices to a local "sea god" who murders them and then forgets the person ever existed. I added takes that this is the third town that has been completely depopulated and had the players told by the 'Sea Demon' that there were thousands of his kind as they killed him. It was quite freakish and made the ixitxachito's actually monsters to be feared. Alexi I used as a party 'sidekick' oddly enough as the vampire accidentally created a huge band of bandits by not knowing how to prevent their ressurection and other unintentional 'whacky' deeds. Becks pretty one note but oddly would make a better darklord than the current Captain.
Moosha, Don Pablo, and Lady Adeline are all perfect though and I'm glad for their inclusion. All of them are tragic in their own way and while Adeline is irredeemable scum, she remains the best henchwoman for any Dark Lord (or henchman for that matter).
4 blood drops out of 5.
Please send your Reviews of art, books, movies, music, television shows, and video games to firstname.lastname@example.org