Children of the Night: Werebeasts
Authors: William W. Connors
Summary of content:
Average book, with interesting, unique concepts for werebeasts, but the adventures are unfortunately somewhat feeble, nothing to makes you jump from your chair. However, Meeka and Profesor Arcanus are good entries, and the adventure hooks with Arcanus are great (Gundar is back!!! Coupled with Gundar's entry in the BoSecrets netbook could mean endless possibilities for a campaign …)
3 on 5.
David "Jester" Gibson
This is the third in the series and, like the others, it details thirteen unique villains complete with personality and backgrounds. All of who just happen to be werebeasts or related to lycanthropes. A special note should be made about the cover. Unlike previous covers to CotN: Vampires and Ghosts that feature generic examples the cover to Werebeasts really stands out. It features Aztek style dress and background architecture. The Were transforms under the moonlight with onlookers watching. Are they preparing to strike? Or do they stand agape in fear? The cover screams out a story, there is a tale behind that and it beckons you inside to find out more. The problem is it is not followed up on inside, the Mayan lychanthrope priest remains a mystery. Still a nice cover.
The book starts with a brief five-page summary of the VanRichten Guide to Werebeasts, a much larger rehashing than the other books. Yet, this extra material is quite useful. It offers some excellent quick information on the different types of lycanthrope, triggers, and other handy tables in addition to the brief primer of the Ravenloft mood for those people who just have this book and not the campaign setting. It acts as a handy refresher and helps prevent flipping through guides in the middle of an adventure. Of all the introductions –so far- this one is easily the best.
The first of the thirteen is Andre de Sang, a cursed wererat pirate. His background is a good read and de Sang’s descent into barbarism is a nice, if cliché, touch. His relentless pursuit of those who wronged him is a nice motivation, especially for a monster that is normally just savage or greedy. His monstrous nature also makes sense, what with the number of rats associated with early sailing vessels. To have a wererat pirate is so simple it is brilliant, but the execution here is also well done. There is a truly horrific aspect to de Sang’s past and what he suffered. The adventure itself is sadly simplistic, the majority of it serving as a key and guide to de Sang’s ship. If the boat were more remarkable or customised this might have been of use but for the most part it resembles every map of a ship I have seen in D&D.If it were performed properly it would make a nice interlude adventure in a campaign, especially one close to the sea, and serve as an excellent introduction to de Sang. Despite all this, his curse and background statistically de Sang is just a common wererat, albeit a cursed one. No special chemical bane or weaknesses (it does not even say which metal type injures him, silver is just a given!) and no variant powers.
The next Were is a classic example of misdirection of the players, a frequenttheme of the book. Angel Pajaro is a passable character but her background isnot particularly remarkable. She only seems to have a single personality trait,a hatred for men. Misandry is hardly the basis for an entire character. Theadventure itself is an intentional and admitted copy of The Phantom of theOpera going so far as to mimic the falling of the chandelier. While theintent to mislead and misdirect players, or at the least keep the foe’s truepower a mystery, is one thing the outright copying of ideas just smacks oflaziness. Plus any player worth his salt is going to instantly recognise thatthe most obvious suspect, the Opera Ghost (or a caliban in the basement with anexcellent singing voice), is not going to be the killer. Eventually, whenAngel’s true nature is revealed it is unlikely to be revelatory, where pastclues fall into place, but will instead just seem to come from left field.However, if played well and with a few more plot points thrown in the adventurewould prove to be a fun night at the opera.
The third lychan is Radjiff Chandor whose adventure and background bothreference the two rival factions last seen in the module Web of Illusion.While it is not necessary to own this product or be knowledgeable in the land ofSri Raji, it is certainly helpful and easier if you know who Kali, Arijani, theStalkers, and the Dark Sisters are. Much of the subtext of the background isabsent without that product, or the Monster Compendium Appendix II thatdetails Jahed of the Stalkers. Many of the names just lack impact or resonance.If the players anger and find themselves hunted by the Dark Sisters it lacks theappropriate fear that would result if the players knew how influential andpowerful the group was. The accompanying adventure is passable although thereare some curious moments. The agent the Dark Sisters send to find Chandor doesnot do a very good job, you would think the priestesses would have at leastprovided a rough description of him. Instead she fails to recognise him untilfar too late.
Following the trip to the steaming jungles the book turns to Borca andintroduces a MacGuffin Were, Vladimir Nobriskov. Vladi here is designed strictlyto mislead and fake-out players into thinking they face a vampire. If they gofor the lure it is quite possible they will be confused and unprepared for theinevitable, and most likely bloody, final confrontation. Of course players,being suspicious types, might quickly recognise the suspect is just a tad tooobvious and suspect a trick. The adventure plays up this ruse and the ScarletPrince, as he is nicknamed, plays up the vampire stereotype so blatantly thatplayers are more likely to believe the latter. This could be argued to bemetagame thinking where the players, being paranoid bastards, expect DungeonMasters to pull sneaks tricks, while the characters, being blissfullyignorant to the common behaviour of DMs, would presumably be relieved by aneasier case. The author is close to putting the players into a frustratingCatch-22 situation where they know they are being toyed with but cannotdo anything about it without blurting out “The DM is far to smart to make itthis obvious, we’re being yanked around!”
Following the Scarlet Herring… er, Prince… comes an actual original Werebeast, Meeka. Instead of being a human that turns into an animal she is thereverse. An infected wolfwere of sorts. Meeka is notable because she is notevil, simply misguided and primal. She is quite literally amoral. The adventureitself ties in nicely with the creature’s past but sadly ends too conclusively.There is very little chance of Meeka surviving to fight another day. Thecharacter is pretty much presented as an example of a new monster more than atrue character. The adventure also presents some problems in explaining themotives. The author realised this and included a section offering advice onfilling in the loose ends but all seem cliché and silly. The final gasped wordsthat explain everything or the innkeeper’s wife recognising a dead cat she hasnot seen in years. With some modification the adventure and character of Meekacould be far more interesting and prove a worthy addition to a campaign. I havedevious thoughts involving a wizardly familiar, Bwa-ha-ha-HA!
One Abu al Mir follows, a pathetic semi-villain that might be more useful asa reoccurring character than as a foe. The descriptions of this pathetic figurereally capture the imagination making him quite easy to envision. His backgroundis rather nice and adds some more detail to the seldom mentioned land ofHar’Akir. The adventure is set-up fairly well and has an interesting premisethat works nicely with al Mir’s past although the execution in the middle coulduse a little work. The players are given very little choice in theirinvestigation and are all but forced to follow the established path(s). Theadventure itself would also work fairly well if the characters were alreadyfamiliar with al Mir, if not his Were nature. The adventure is also written sothe players face an unbeatable foe and must flee to survive. Many players wouldrather die than run and it seems unfair to force them into a situation wherethey are guaranteed failure. Aside for this al Mir is a nice addition to acampaign.
The next lycanthrope is Sheneya. Described as a master assassin she is one Were who would benefit from the modern template rules. As it stands she is notparticularly different from other werecobras. Her abilities, and combatdescription, do not befit or describe an opponent who is “a master assassin”.Her adventure is a standard dungeon crawl remarkable only for its uniquepoisons. Why people guarding a temple of a holy relic would make it so you haveto spring all three traps just to stop thieves is a fairly strange, and not veryefficient, idea. The poisons are interesting but almost seem like the authorwanted a deadly, lethal poison and to show its use without actually killing anyplayers. Sheneya is set-up to be a reoccurring enemy, she does all she can toavoid a straight fight where she may face death, but her section does not reallyoffer many motives or plot threads to occupy or involve her. Not a bad Were,just not a particularly good one either. With a few liberties she could be adeadly and fiendishly evil addition to a 3E game.
Professor Arcanus is a strikingly different creature to the previous characters. For starters he is good (alignment, not just quality, although…),and secondly he is not the main enemy in his entry. Set-up as a carnival figurebefore the publishing of Carnival Prof. Arcanus is an oddly fun NPC fullof personality and life. His only real flaw is the disturbing background thatseems to hint that being excessively drunk acts an excuse for aggravated sexualassault. It is almost a “boys will be boys” rationalisation. If more emphasiswere placed on Arcanus’ redemption and regret over his past actions, say even asingle line, it would make him a more likeable character. The Exhibits are thehighlight of the chapter and one or the more interesting parts of the entirebook and an excellent use of canon and other elements of Ravenloft lore.It quickly references five famous figures, two artifacts and an adventure. Theextra pages here detract from the adventure making the story far smallercompared to other Weres in the book. And most disappointingly of all, the fallenDarklord referenced in the adventure that serves as the villain is provided withno stats at all! It would have been a perfect place for the author to slip in aquick stat-block but evidently the Book of the Dead and Spellbook ofAr-Shickanus were far more important to detail. A very regretful missedopportunity! Still, Arcanus is probably the best figure in the book.
Following in the footsteps of White Wolf’s Werewolf: the Apocalypsecomes Mother Fury. Not particularly inspired.A savage werewolf who embraces heranimal side and has a small cult she is training to do the same. Notparticularly inspired. The adventure is short and quickly drags the players bythe nose into combat with Ma and her cubs in a fight to the death. The adventureis set-up so the only way to win and release the victim from lycanthrope is tokill Mother Fury completely eliminating her as a possible reoccurring villain.Just a one-shot kill the furry story. Once again, it is not particularlyinspired.
Henri Milton follows; the most talented painter in the Land. Or so it isbelieved. An interesting idea featuring a nice cursed item and a background thatmakes for a good read. Milton is relatable and his desires are not unrealistic.However, Milton’s lycanthrope seems to be an unnecessary addition includedsimply so he would fit the theme of the book. Milton’s animal form has no realbearing and would be more a confusing surprise to the adventure than horrifyingor explanatory. It strikes me that the only reason he is wereboar is because theauthor thought it would be fun to have a famous and respectable artist look likea shaved pig in fancy dress. If the element of lycanthrope was removed and amore suitable curse added this adventure, and character, would be far morenotable.
The book the turns to a very different entry, Vjorn Horstman, the onenon-Were. Instead he is a scientist that has experimented on lycanthrope and hasdevised a serum that turns victims to Lychans. I found Horstman to be afascinating character, especially with him based in Falkovnia. It has beenremarked that he is the Josef Mengele to Drakov’s Hitler. The character’spicture is also characteristic of a mad scientist complete with leather apronand gloves and the scarred and blind white eye. This is very, very stereotypicalbut very, very fun. Sadly the accompanying adventure does not enhance himinstead telling a short railroading tale that leads to the invasion of his laband unavoidable infection of the players with Horstman’s drug. Why? Becausehaving them believe he cursed them with lycanthrope is apparently fun. No saveto avoid being hit and no saves to resist the drug with the players are all butforced out of town. Very, very poorly done. Not to mention the ending does notleave much room for Vjorn’s survival. Most of the adventure, which revolvedaround prior lab rats of the Doctor, has almost nothing to do with lycanthropy.Good character, poor adventure.
The next foe is Sandover, a werecrocodile and essentially an avatar of alizard god, or at least so he believes. Sandover is a more alien foe whosemotives are not exactly human. He follows the teachings of the god Merrshaulkalthough, sadly, there is no description of this god or its ethos. It simply isa mysterious god referenced, apparently, in DMGR4: Monster Mythology.Also included is a race of diminutive lizard men who worship Sandover, althoughthese are not particularly named or detailed. They remain a mysterious race ofmini-reptile men without even a reference to where they came from (although,they apparently have the same game statistics of kobolds who were not reptileswhen the book was published, but makes it is far easier to use the lizard folkin Third Edition. If it’s the same type as a kobold and has the same stats as akobold…). The adventure is fairly standard, rescue the villagers, stop the evilscheme and generally be heroes. The adventure does assume that Sandover survivesthe adventure though and offers advice for repercussions, which is nice.
The final Were is Hilde Borganov, a wereray in the Nocturnal Sea on theEastern Coast of Necropolis/Darkon (although it is mistakenly named as theWestern Coast). Hilde is obsessed with a sunken city formerly ruled by a raceknown as the Shay-lot. Whether or not this is an established D&D race is notmentioned, much like the Reptile Men of the Sandover chapter. This isfrustrating because you simply do not know, and thus the article feelsincomplete. The adventure has some flexibility with some room given for theplayers to move but all in all it simply is not that impressive. There is somenicely described set-up for the adventure although the idea of a storm andshipwreck is done a tad too often. Until the true enemy is revealed there shouldbe some fun paranoid and fear in the adventure, especially after Borganov turnson the players’ crew. However, it does feel like the author is once again tryingto mislead players and fake them out into thinking they face a sea spawn orother mind-influencing creature or insidious foe. Interestingly done but withoutknowing the water bound nature of the foe the misdirection fails and wouldsimply remain mysterious. There is also the unresolved problem of how Borganovkeeps control over half the people in an entire village. Bribery and theats donot seem enough for the level of unease present. And even a small village wouldso greatly outnumber a party that any fight would be suicide making this tricky.In short, Borganov, frankly, just did not grab me.
There are some shining moments to Children of the Night: Werebeastsbut far too often interesting characters are paired with dull or pooradventures, single-shot stories or worse. There are many different takes onwerebeasts such as a man that has unleashed his totem animal and becomes a hugecrocodile, a tortured artist transformed into a beast by a cursed item or a petturned into a predator. As interesting as these are they fail to capture theimagination. There are no Weres in this book that scream out to be included in acampaign. And like CotN: Vampires far too much emphasis was placed onunique and different types of Were rather than unique motives, personality orsituation. There is not a single standard werewolf in the book! And even withall these unstandard causes there is really not that much different between themand the cookie-cutter non-wolf Were in the Monstrous Manual. De Sang hasan interesting origin but he’s just another wererat. Chandor may be a masterhunter and stalker but he is just a regular weretiger. No special powers, no useof allergens or chemical banes, nothing (not counting the occasional were havingaccess to priestly spells that is…). So even when there are unusual Were thereis not really anything new, exciting or unique about them.
It looks good but fails to really thrill. Three severed digits out of five,it is not bad it is just not good. Many of the Were included might adapt verynicely to Third Edition though.
I had read the previous reviews concerning this volume and wanted to see formyself if it was as bad as everyone was saying. Unfortunately, with a fewexceptions, I have found this to be the case.
Some of this might be due to the ongoing stylistic changes in the entireseries, although the basic format for the entries remains the same as that forChildren of the Night: The Created, except for the omission ofappropriate PC levels for the adventures and the organization of the entries.(They are not arranged in alphabetical order.) These are minor quibbles, but itis this lack of attention to small details that permeates the entire book andmakes it overall a very lackluster product.
Andre de Sang, a wererat pirate, is first up. A pretty good character with anicely detailed origin. The only question I have is why does his crew take ondifferent forms than he does? Is it part of his curse? It was never clearlyexplained. The adventure is a good intro to the character, but doesn’t give theDM much to go with afterwards. He’s basically just a marauding pirate with atwist.
Angel Pajaro is a pathological werefox that resides in Port-A-Lucine. Maybe Iam unfamiliar with the mechanics of vixens, but if she is an infectedlycanthrope, shouldn’t she only have two forms instead of three? Her backgroundis needlessly convoluted and doesn’t really give an insight into personality orgoals. The adventure setting is well fleshed out, but themystery and cluesdoesn’t really give the PCs enough chance to ferret out thevillain. They justhave to get lucky and happen across Angel in her lair.
Radjiff Chandor follows, an infected weretiger that lives in the jungles ofSri Raji. His stats say he is a maledictive weretiger, but his background seemsto point to infection by the Stalkers. Also, the accompanying picture ismisleading, because his second aspect is that of a tiger, not a hybrid. Besidesthat, do we really need another weretiger in a domain that already has a groupof weretigers? Why not just join the Stalkers in his quest to get revenge on theDark Sisters? The following adventure is way too linear and forces the PCs alongto the end without much choice or creativity.
Vladimir Nobriskov is a true werebat nobleman who currently resides in Borca.I find nothing wrong with his background or motivations, but there is nothingexceptional presented either. Just a common werebat with an interesting gimmick.The adventure is a fake-out, which again, I see nothing wrong with, but I thinkit could be a great deal more drawn out, instead of forcing the PCs into makingquick (and most likely wrong) judgments.
Meeka, the catwere, is next. While her origin is original, the characterseems rather goal-less, which I guess is fitting for a feline. If her humanaspect was introduced in the adventure, I believe the PC’s confusion about theevents could be sidestepped. Perhaps that would create its own problems, but atleast the ending would be more satisfying and less forced.
Abu al Mir is a true werejackal hailing from Har’Akir. Although, if he’s atrue lycanthrope, he should have three forms instead of only the two that he isgiven. This character has a good solid origin and a believable personality. Thefact that he carries a bronze blade to ward off others of his kind is a nicetouch. The adventure was also interesting, providing a good chance forrecurrence for this character.
Sheneya is a maledictive werecobra originating from an unknown land, althoughher background story leads the reader to believe that she should be considered atrue werecobra, or at least a hybrid creature. The adventure is odd, in thatthere doesn’t seem to be any reason why Sheneya couldn’t carry out the plan onher own. The character does have a good chance of recurrence, though, because ofher strange (if vague) quest.
Professor Arcanus is a roaming maledictive weregorilla showman. Another goodcharacter, but with a bland background and motivations. If he really wanted toget rid of his curse, wouldn’t he be trying to atone for his past transgression?Still, the adventure was good, if short, and the character has a lot ofpotential for recurrence.
Mother Fury is a true Loup-Garou who leads a cult of her infected progeny inthe hills of Kartakass. I think placing her in Verbek and giving her a moredetailed background would have benefited this character greatly. As it stands,the adventure is just a variation on the standard werewolf hunt. Not veryinspired, and not enough reason to give her a recurring role.
Henri Milton is an interesting entry. He is an artist in possession of acursed magical item that turns him into a maledictive wereboar. Paccilli’sPallete is an interesting item, but I think its curse should reflect the inneraspect of its user. If that was explained in its history, it would inject a morepersonal element into the story. The adventure is serviceable, and if a few plotpoints were reworked, ridding Henri of his curse might prove an interestingscenario to follow up on.
Vjorn Hortsman is another interesting character with a good background andfirm setting in Falkovnia. We are also introduced to the Dark Men, a group thatis rife with potential for future encounters. The adventure, however, issomewhat lacking in subtly, as making their way through Hortsman’s house is wayto easy, and the final battle seems more confusing than enjoyable for the PCs.Another small annoyance was the inconsistent use of the Primal erum’s name inthe text.
Sandover, the maledictive werecroc from Sourange is next. This characterdoesn’t seem to fit the flavor of the domain. I would rather place him in SriRaji where a giant ziggurat towering over the jungle would be easier to hide.His origins and goals seem kinda bland, as does the accompanying adventure.
Hilde Borganov is a true wereray living in a small town off coast of theNocturnal Sea. Again, her character and background are rather straightforward,but the adventure really sparked my interest. If played correctly (and prolongeda bit) it could have a similar feel of The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P.Lovecraft. The Shaylot are also introduced in this adventure, which just beg formore adventures to be created around them.
Overall, I give this book three drops out of five. The characters areinteresting and varied (with a few even being carried over into 3rdEdition), but they need a lot of work to become truly memorable.
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