Forged of Darkness
Authors: William W. Connors
It is very bad. Avoid at all cost, unless you find a cheap used copy. Very ordinary items IMHO, and many of them are useful in one place only (where to use Guiseppe's toys if not in Odiare, tell me). In a low magic setting like Ravenloft, there was no need of such a thing. Use instead the cover's suggestion to make your own forged in Ravenloft items. Of the lot, however, a few items are interesting: the interesting Tome of Terror (nice way to introduce recurrent nightmares afterward, perhaps) and the Hands of Power (the weird candles).
1 out of 5.
I love twisted relics, and Forged of Darkness is one of those few Ravenloft accessories I probably couldn't game without, as I have a vile itch of throwing nasty artifacts into any game regardless of what campaign world my players desire to play. As an accessory, however, Forged of Darkness really is a book for campaigns that center on items of dread, and even gives hints and tips on how to create your own nefarious relic.
For ease of reading, Forged of Darkness is subdivided into groups that relate to histories and similarities. As an example, Azalin's Black Vault is a recommended read, as it gives a beautiful list of what delicious items still remain lingering in the Dread Realms. The one major irritant to this otherwise it'll-have-to-do accessory is the names given to the items. Death-in-a-Box? Too cliche for an item that's supposed to be forged of darkness. I eventually resorted to renaming this Odiarian item (at least in my games) "Malicious Jack," which I believe has much far-reaching repercussions when put into an appropriate campaign. Overall, as I said earlier, it's for Ravenloft campaigns heavy on the relic hunting.
Three out of five lacquer-encrusted skulls.
David "Jester" Gibson
I found this cheap in my local game shop after the release of Domains of Dread. Ignoring the poor reviews on the new defunct Secrets of the Kargatane site I bought it. For the most part I was motivated by the idea of cursed items for my players to hunt in the style like the old Friday the 13th television series. I was also pulled in by the excellent cover. It is violent and a tad to blunt for Ravenloft but still fascinating. You want to know why the killer is using that particular weapon and why he looks so crazed. Very interesting.
The inside cover has five random tables for randomly rolling up new cursed items. Included are Hidden Powers, triggers, Curses, Method of Destruction and the Last Known Location. Some of these powers and curses are chilling and very interesting while others are just more of the same ‘bad-thing-happen’ from the old Dungeon Master’s Guide. Given the random nature the curse could easily outweigh the benefits or the powers could be some useful the curse would be ignored. Likewise the risk is run for overbalance based on character level and capabilities. This is especially true for curses that only end with the destruction of the item, some of which seem all but impossible to accomplish. Use only if suffering terminal lack of imagination.
The items in the book are divided into several sections that loosely tie the items together. This workers better for some items, such as the Hands of Power and Guiseppe's toys, and less effectively for other items, such as those in the Black Vault and the Relics of Doom.
The book starts with a very brief description of the entries’ layout. This rigid layout is help throughout the book, which is useful for finding information but restricts the items into a specific mold. Unlike other cursed items featured in the earlier books such as the Fang of the Nosferatu or the Blood Coin each item in the book has to have powers, curses, and legends. This unnecessary structure becomes the most apparent in the ‘Charges’ sub-column which is included in every entry in the book. However, the vast majority of these items do not use charges! So instead they must state that the item does not wasting space instead of just stating that a few items do and elaborating in those entries.
The book starts with the Hands of Power, four candles made from human hands that empower a specific branch of the core classes in AD&D. The Many-Fingered hand benefits priests while the One-Fingered benefits warriors. Warriors being divided into Paladins, Rangers and Fighters. This is unusual because most of the classes in the group could not make or use the hand without losing class abilities. The hands are also not well balanced, the hand that benefits Wizards automatically results in three failed power checks for its construction. That’s right, one action results in three checks, and checks that are automatically failed. No mention of how redemption is possible. That is one of the large flaws of the book, it tosses out Dark Power Checks as if they were candy. The Unfingered Hand that benefits Rogues also bestows the benefits of a Haste spell on the use. The writer(s) of this book evidently loves that particular spell as it shows up repeatedly throughout. Also, the Tome of Magic, and optional book, is all but required as many of the spells contained within were used in this book, especially with the Three-Fingered Hand. For those keeping score the much improved and revamped hands appeared in Ravenloft Gazetteer vol. V.
The second section in the book is the mismatched collection of items known as the Black Vault, the secret repository of all of Azalin’s magical wealth stored under the Grim Fastness, former headquarters of the Kargat. It is worth noting in the introduction to this section it mistakenly places Castle Avernus within the city walls of Il Aluk. There is very little unity in this section and just seems to be the place all the miscellaneous items were shoved. Some of the items, such as Azalin’s Crystal and the Dead Man’s Armour, were created for or by the King of Darkon. Others, such as Bane’s Adder and the Golden Blade of Ren found their way obviously to the lord as described in their history. But what is confusing is so many of the entries do not even mention Darkon, let alone Azalin or the Vault. No description and no history, they were just shoved into this section.
It makes some sense of items such as the Blacker’s Hook but other items are better served outside the vault. The Tome of Terror, one of the most interesting items in the book, has no place in the Vault nor is any reason given as to why Azalin would want it. Another problem with this section is the non-inclusion of an item that would fit, the Hourglass of Souls, which is mentioned as being in the Vault and was created by Azalin is instead placed in the Workshop of Klorr section. That is simply sloppy editing. Many of the items presenter here are simply lacklustre. The Dead Man’s Armour is a strange piece without purpose.. It was created from the suits of what must have been dozens, if not over a hundred, fallen paladins. That’s a lot of paladins for a low-magic setting such as Ravenloft. Heck, that’s a lot of paladins for the Forgotten Realms. The suit turns the wearer into a killing machine but quickly drains them of their life making it a terrible threat to inflict on players. They die if they fail a single roll fighting it and get energy drained if they wear it. This introduces yet another flaw in the book, a very liberal use of level draining maic.
Also this section features the second item that causes Haste. It appears that the writer simply enjoys aging characters by several years.
One quick note on the Black Vault section, this chapter begins with a small story noting that at one point Van Richten and a group of heroes ventured into the vault to steal many of the items and destroy them. The chapter then lists, for no apparent reason, thirty-six (36!) items Rudolph Van and his company destroyed. Or was believed to have destroyed. No descriptions are given and there is no information detailing these artifacts. Some appear to be from the Dungeon Master’s Guide hinting that the vast collection was pre-existing items culled from various sources and thrown in as a potential list of useful trinkets but this is not mentioned nor explained. And no mention of where to find these items is given. They are just simply there.
The third section is Guiseppe’s Toys, trinkets from the small but advanced island domain of Odiare (see Domains of Dread or the 2E adventure the Created). Think Gepetto from Pinocchio and you are on the right track. He was a toy maker whose toys are now all magic and evil. Some of these are rather interesting such as the Dancing Men and the simplistic Toy Nightmare. The Tops are different but very powerful and the illustration of them is poorly done. They also demonstrate yet another flaw in the book, the lack of original powers. So few of the items have unique or special abilities and the vast majority simply replicate existing spells from the Player’s Handbook. The Tops are a perfect example of this being a hodgepodge of spells and powerful magic that risks instantly killing PCs. The Death in the Box is good for a one-shot scare but is predictable and once again brings in level draining. The biggest flaw in this section is too much attention is paid to Maligno and recapping the background to the adventure The Created, this is completely unnecessary and we really do not need to know how to kill Maligno in this book. Likewise it gives no indication why or how these items became magically enchanted with such powerful abilities. Master craftsmanship or not they received some pretty heft enchantments.
The forth section in the book is the Workshop of Klorr, a famed wizard who once created a pocket watch in a far-away unnamed world that was his home. Why so many of his earlier works were drawn into the Mists is unknown. The fist item, the Hourglass, once again uses the Haste spell as its main benefit. The Moondial is a masterful further example of strange decisions and bad editing. The text description lists the Moondial as being numbered from one to thirteen in the script of his home, but both pictures have twelve squiggly ‘numbers’ on the dial. Likewise instead of thirteen strange powers there is only ten, eight tied to lunar phases and the other two tied to eclipses. The final item in the workshop is the Water Clock. Why anyone with the technology to build a pocket watch would construct a water clock is beyond me. A grandfather clock or similar device would be much more atmospheric. Not to mention portable. But then we would not have the same interesting power the Water Clock bestows. This item transforms the user into, wait for it, a water elemental of varying hit dice. There is no temporal or time related power or curse. No countdown or rhythmic ability. This makes the item very strange. There are no alternate powers or other legends of use, it simply turns the user into liquid for the duration.
The next section, Relics of Doom once again just slaps a label on several unrelated items. They are all essentially items undertakers use but evil. Why they are given such a flashy and unnecessarily cryptic name like ‘relics of doom’ is unknown. Just poor work. With another spectacular display of poor editing the introduction to this section also includes the background information for the next section, Powers of Nature. Given the mix and match categories already it would have made sense to combine the two, but they are separately grouped. The proper Relics of Doom section starts with the Caskets of the Damned, coffins that turn the victim entombed within into an undead and which have been employed by the Kargat. Yes, apparently the powerful group of evil wizards, vampires and more has trouble animating the dead and must use these coffins to bolster their numbers. Obviously they cannot just use the vampires already in their ranks to make more, that would be far to easy. Furthermore, the entry says the coffins have been in use for two generations and that the creator cut the lumber to make them decades ago from the tainted woods close to the Shadow Rift. What is not mentioned is how this is possible because at the time of publishing the Shadow Rift had only existed for less than ten years!! Likewise the Linen of Mummification is very, very poorly done. The magic linen is apparently used to make mummies completely and totally ignoring the information on them provided by Van Richten’s Guide to Ancient Dead! It even mentions regular and greater mummies not listing rank or other variations.
The final section is the Powers of Nature, a pair of druidic items that remain mostly uncorrupted by the darkness of the demiplane. Interestingly both items were crafted by a single druid known as Kren, whose name is spoken oddly reverently in the book as if it had some great significance (a major character in one of the novels? Maybe an important NPC in a module?). Why these two items were grouped separately is strange and why the title does not mention their shared creator is equally strange as both the Klorr and Guiseppe sections mention their master. It is as if there were to be more nature-based items that were cut for space. Neither are very interesting but are quite free of curses and negative effect and feature and astounding array of powers depending on the herbs used. This is once again just a grab-bag of replicated spells of varying levels.
The final page offers two updated items that are essentially quick examples of traditional magic items modified by the tables in the cover. Nothing really spectacular. The anti-were knife is interesting as Gabby did posses a knife used to slay the previous werewolf Darklord of Invidia, but this does not look to be the same item.
One more final note, in at least two entries a vampire-dwarf by the name of Axrock is mentioned. This servant of Azalin is mentioned in a manner similar to Kren, named-dropped without reference to other appearances or further reading. This is really annoying because they are mentioned as if their names were to have some significance but this is simply not followed up on. Even the other known creators, Klorr and Guiseppe received some mention to their earlier work, and while it did not say where the Timepiece of Klorr could be found (the Red Box and Forbidden Lore, for the record) it was evident it existed and was of importance. Guiseppe on the other hand, received a full reference to his module.
As mentioned this is a very disappointing and poor product that even fails to improve on rereading. It was less than valuable when originally published and has only diminished with the outdated rules and mechanics. For those looking for interesting stories and backgrounds to cursed artifacts and magical items look elsewhere. The backgrounds get less than half the information devoted to powers and curses and the like. There are very few stories and satisfying motivations for the curses laden on the items. Even the art is not a saving grace. Much of it is cartoony and poorly done not reflecting the descriptions in the least or simply being a confusing mess. And at least two pictures have been stolen from earlier products. The entire product has an unfinished and unprofessional feel as if it were heavily, but hastily and badly, edited for space. But as it is 64 pages this does not seem likely and it is more probably that the writers exceeded their word-count and multiple items and/or descriptions had to be cut. Once again this seems amateurish. Given the number of mistakes and errors and poor quality it seems unlikely that veteran writer William W. Connors (listed as designer) was the sole author and more likely the Development team is also to blame. Little back story, bad editing, sloppy fact checking, few original powers or curses and heavy dependence on established spells as well as over-use of power checks and mechanics. Toss in some bad art and poor organization skills and this makes for one poor product.
Unless you find it used in a bargain bin or simply “gotta catch ‘em all” then avoid this book. Even Champions of Darkness ranks higher in my esteem.
Half a severed digit out of five.
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