Authors: Andria Hayday with William W. Connors, Bruce Nesmith, and James Lowder
Summary of content:
Excellent book. Expansion of darklords known from the Black Box and new ones as well. These villains are all well designed and easily inserted into a campaign. The descriptions made of Keening and its City of the Dead city is quite cool and useful and makes Tristessa less weird and more useful. This is the only source of good info on many domains not yet converted to 3rd editiojn as I write this. The Headless Horseman screams to get in to your campaign. The House of Lament is great stuff! Odd thing is the Phantom Lover's dragon foot. I don't get it, but heck, he is quite cool. Get this book!
4.5 on 5.
David "Jester" Gibson
Listed as an Accessory but really more of an expansion of the Core setting Darklords expands and fills up some of the holes left behind after the Black Box. It details some of the Darklords that were absent from that setting. Additionally it ads a few new lords to their Domains to the setting, although these are primarily Islands or Pockets.
The first thing I noticed about this book that continued to irritate me is the organization. The Darklords are organized by their name instead of by their domain. This continues the trend initiated in the Black Box of placing emphasis on the lord before the domain. This comes after the introduction on using Darklords says that lords need not take center stage in the adventure and are more interesting in the background. True most of the lordsí chapters have a section on their land these tend to be small and unremarkable compared to the background and the powers of the lords.
Anhktepot, the ruler of HaríAkir is the first lord introduced. I found his inclusion interesting as that land had been featured in the Black Box as well as in the adventure Touch of Death. And yet this is the first full background we get on him. It also contains a useful map of the mummyís tomb and a quick recipe for mummification.
Following the former Pharaoh is the Banshee. Also known as Tristessa, although this is apparently not her true name. I found this to be one of the more interesting chapters as so much of it has lapsed from canon with the introduction of the Shadow Fey and phasing out of the drow from Ravenloft lore. This chapter also features some of the most detail on a land found in the book. It is almost a quick guide to the land with even a map of the City of the Dead included.
Bluebeard follows, the lord of Blaustein although they fail to mention if it is an Island or include any details of the land surrounding Bluebeardís Castle. Bluebeard is one of the few direct copies from fairy tales. With the exception of the darker ending with BB remaining alive and all. Nice little map of the castle included though.
Something new follows with the next chapter that introduces Ebonbane. Following, or rather starting, the longstanding Ravenloft tradition of Islands of Terror as being the setting for one-shot adventures where the heroes confront then kill the Darklord inside a tiny clump of land. Ebonbane is a fine example of this with access through the mists into its manor, but the only exit being after it is slain. The background to Ebonbane is interesting and it also introduces the Shadowborn family into the setting, although Kateri is supposedly the last of the line they show up elsewhere. Her manor home is included with a fairly nice map.
This is also the first introduction to the Three Hags of Tepest, and most of their chapter deals with their origin. There are many unsolved mysteries such as who abandoned the sisters or why they really turn to evil. I was disappointed by the background given as it felt the triplets were simply born evil, and that simply does not make for a good Ravenloft origin. I hope this is expanded on in the forthcoming Gazetteer next month.
After the hags is one of the first pocket domains created, that of the Headless Horseman. Iíve always found the horseman rather useless as he is without motive or true background and is simply a killing machine to toss at the players. A beta version of the Sheriff von Zarovich. Having heads bounce along behind it and attacking just seems silly more than frightening. Compared to other horseman, such as the one in the Tim Burton re-envisioning of Sleepy Hollow the Ravenloft one just is not scary.
The House of Lament is also created for this book, another small pocket domain. It is a lovely little haunted house with a sad tragic background and a poor soul that needs to be laid to rest. Unlike many other pockets this house is technically reusable, the adventurers do not have to kill the lord or destroy the structure but simply escape and laying the dead to rest is no easy task.
Another missed lord follows the house, the baron Urik von Karkov. The Valachan lord was simply described as a nosferatu vampire in the Black Box so most of the details introduced here are new. However, there is still almost no information regarding his realm, even after this it is just the few paragraphs included with the Black Box. There is a map of Urikís castle included as well but only an exterior view.
Merilee the child vampire is one of the few non-Darklords included with this book. Like most of the characters introduced here she is a non-native to the Dread Realm. This is a short chapter and not much is written about her. It feels like the author just wanted to add a Claudia from Anne Riceís book to Ravenloft. The few pages included for Merilee could have been better spent expanding on other Domains and fleshing out some of the lands and people.
The same could be said for Monette, the lord of Líile de la Tempete, ruler of a tiny island. A pirate that runs a cursed lighthouse that reaches into the Prime Material Plane. While and interesting idea and a different way to bring people into Ravenloft there is very little else this ruler is useful for. His Domain (along with that of Bluebeard and DíPolarno) has been moved from Island of Terror to actual island.
Breaking the trend of tiny four page lords is the Phantom Lover that receives five pages of text. While I have never used nor see myself using the Lover in an adventure the concept is intriguing. Another lord of a pocket his Domain consists of only a tower and labyrinth below. Pity there is no motive given to the lover, he is simply a two-dimensional figure that seduces and leaves. He has an MO and does not vary much from it. Interesting but not particularly useful.
Returning to small undetailed Islands is the land of Ghastria. This is a Domain seemingly inspired by Oscar Wildeís Picture of Dorian Gray although Stezen is a less fascinating character. There is no map of Ghastria supplied, only one of the small town DíPolarno makes his home. The land does get more attention paid to it than most of the other Domains featured (with the exception of Keening).
The final two Darklords are Tiyet, ruler of Sebu and Gregor Zolnik the lord of Vorostokov. Tiyet is a strange lord that has been called a mummy in other books but is more a unique creature. Her desert domain is mostly empty but fairly well detailed. Its map is a mite strange compared to others but still usable. It is small but works well when paired with HaríAkir.
The final land of Vorostokov is remarkable as it is a single Island however, based on the scale it is larger than the entire Core. Iíve always found it an interesting place but have never centred a campaign around it. Gregor always seemed like an interesting Darklord who was driven to evil through sheer desperation marred with greed. Pity then that such a huge realm gets so little description.
Overall this book seems more like a Children of the Night with small villains and assumed adventures tied to them. New foes to toss at players for them to defeat and move onto the next threat. There are simply too many lords in this book with not enough individual attention paid to their lands and inhabitants. A frequent complaint of mine. Additionally, for a book that seemed to flesh out so many lands on the Core it simply did not bother to finish the job and detail all the lands. Domains such as Nova Vassa and Gundarak could have easily been highlighted here. Instead they were delayed details for years, if any at all. As a current accessory the book has some use. Some of the Darklords contained within have yet to be reintroduced to Third Edition, although many of the islands here will presumably be featured in Gazetteer VI. There is some use in the books maps as it is the only place to find a full map of the House of Lament or the City of the Dead. So for someone wishing to make an adventure with Bluebeard this Accessory is a must.
Three severed digits out of five.
Please send your Reviews of art, books, movies, music, television shows, and video games to firstname.lastname@example.org