A Guide to Transylvania
Authors: Nicky Rea
Summary of Content:
David "Jester" Gibson
The final product of the Masque of the Red Death (not counting anything forthcoming at the time of this writing) is the guide to the homeland of everyone’s favorite bloodsucker. Dracula I mean, because if you thought I meant Lestat you will probably find this book a disappointment as it has little to do with France.
This book is essentially the first Ravenloft Gazetteers, only with a far larger page count than even Darkon received. Of course Transylvania is larger than the entire Core by some counts so covering anything in a book of this size would be tricky. It starts with the history of the land dealing primarily with Vlad the Impaler. Included with the history is more Masque style grey boxes of Forbidden Lore detailing the nasty little secrets Impaly likes to keep hidden. Following that is a lengthy look at the land touching on such topics as transportation, climate, flora, fauna as well as several cities and sites of interest. Each city and site is treated to its own tidbit of Forbidden Lore. The third chapter deals with the various ethnic groups that make up the land as well as some local culture. Included here is a pronunciation guide that I thought was an excellent touch. Details on the cultures include such things as weddings, handicrafts and folklore. Even a few proverbs have been snuck in. The final chapter deals with famous individuals both fictional and historical with a few new faces. Or at least new to me. There is a full write-up here of such famous figures as Abraham Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker. And a vampire or two.
I have some mixed feelings on this book. It is incredible informative and packed with legends and story ideas with a few characters squeezed in and it does a good job of describing the land and giving the reader a feel for the environment and people. That is all good. However, the book felt really dry and many times I was uninterested in what I was reading. Parts of the book simply did not hold my interest. I think this is partially due to the writing style as, unlike the Gazetteers, it is written in a factual manner without narrative. There is no first person perspective or break in the information. At times it felt like a History of Anthropology textbook. Of course if you are the type to read a textbook for fun then this might be a plus. For myself, after eight months of textbooks I found this blandness off-putting.
There are other good points to the book. Included in the descriptions of the towns are brief maps of a few core streets or a major building. It is a pity the maps on the inside covers of the country and surroundings were not as well done as these maps. The Forbidden Lore entries are liberally sprinkled through the book far more often than I would have expected. And there are an additional five Qabals introduced in this book.
One other thing of note is the influence of the Red Death. Unlike the Dark Powers the RD is most definitely evil and manipulative, apparently sculpting and guiding events to craft Dracula into its chief servant. I found this an interesting characterization of the Red Death but a curious addition. By having this extra-dimensional force pulling strings it takes some of the self-damnation out of Dracula. He is no longer wholly responsible for his sins and did not willingly choose darkness over light. The Ravenloft fan in my winces a tad at this.
Usual whining aside this book was everything I expected it to be, if a trifle dry. It is not a spectacular must-read that you will have trouble putting down, nor is it a book crammed with insane amounts of amazing and mind-blowing details, but is a quite usable and informative game supplement. A must for anyone playing a game set in Transylvania or anywhere on the Gothic Earth. I have said in other reviews that I thought the Gothic Earth needed more fleshing out and this book certainly does that. Heck, I think I even learned something reading this. And much of the book, such as the cultural practices and the like, are even of use in standard Ravenloft games and could be used to flesh out Barovia. And like the earlier reviewed Gothic Earth Gazetteer much of the book is statistic-free so it will still be of use at the end of the year when the Third Edition remake of Masque of the Red Death is slated to be released.
Three and a half severed digits out of Five
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