Legacy of the Blood – Great Families of the Core
Authors: Steve Miller, Anthony Prior, Penny Williams and Skip Williams
Summary of Content:
Introduction (Steve Miller)
Chapter Two: Manipulators of the Mind - d’Honaire family (Steve Miller)
Chapter Three: Spillers of Blood - Dilisnya family (Anthony Pryor)
Chapter Four: Blood of the Mighty - Drakov family (Anthony Pryor)
Chapter Five: Blood of the Haunted - Godefroy family (Penny & Skip Williams)
Chapter Six: Blood of Madness - Hiregaard family (Steve Miller)
Chapter Seven: Blood of Invention - Mordenheim family (Penny & Skip Williams)
Chapter Eight: Blood of the Rat - Renier family (Steve Miller)
Chapter Nine: Blood of Hunger – Von Zarovich family (Anthony Pryor)
Appendix: A Rogue’s Gallery
David "Jester" Gibson
Legacy of the Blood: The Great Families of the Core is a book that was a long time coming. In the original Campaign Setting, now lovingly nicknamed the Black Box, there were a series of eight family trees of famous bloodlines of the Setting. This book follows up on that long-forgotten idea detailing six of those families along with three additional ones. The book begins with a brief introduction giving advice on the use of the book and how to allow players to become member in the detailed familial lines. It also gives some very quick advice in playing members of the nobility.
The first great family is the Boritsi family. Their chapter opens with a small piece of opening fiction -as almost all the chapters begin- told from the perspective of Gennifer Weathermay-Foxgrove writing a letter to her sister. This is easily the best opening fiction, not just because it features one of everyone’s favourite twins, but also because it introduces a new member of the Boritsi line (detailed in full in the DM appendix) as well as featuring a brief cameo by Ivana and a mention of a mysterious new artifact. It acts as a lovely teaser for what is to come. The chapter gives a brief history of the family, which unfortunately conflicts slightly with what had been written in Gazetteer IV concerning Sulo Boritsi. Other than this the history does an excellent job of balancing the new information with the old and not repeating too much of what has gone before. There are also some excellent plot threads woven throughout the chapter. It does quickly become clear, through the frequent obvious darklord references and revelations, that this is not a player-friendly book. Rounding out the chapter are the family traits, four feats and a prestige class. From the introduction it is obvious that the writers assumed readers would own a great many 3E Ravenloft books as there are references and requirements for feats scattered throughout the line. It is required for members of the family to select certain feats at their character creation and many are from other books. Thankfully they are spread out enough that most players will have access to at least one of these required tomes. This chapter also introduces the longevity of the Boritsi and how they tend to age gracefully, a very nice addition used to justify Ivana’s long life and continued beauty and explain away how everyone has not burned her at the stake. The chapter ends with a discussion of three new magical items including both a minor and a major artifact and finally a detailed story hook that serves as a small introductory adventure.
The d’Honaire family is next opening with a small letter written by one Celeste d’Honaire-Loverde. The fiction tantalizes readers with two new characters and the new mystery of the rift in the d’Honaire family that is detailed and explained in the section of the family history. While neither as long nor diverse as the Boritsi fiction it serves as a good introduction. Like the previous chapter there is a very nice history section plus the requisite advice on fitting into the family. In this entry, however, there is a split between the Mordent and Dementlieu branches as well as a lost branch whose fate is left entirely to the DM. Included are five feats, a prestige class, one magical item and a couple short story hooks. Like the Boritsi chapter this does an excellent job filling in some of the smaller blanks in the family’s past and adds some new depth and conflicts for the darklord; this was especially needed for this family as both the line, its token darklord and its most prominent domain have never been the feature of a novel or adventure. Thus this chapter and included NPCs are especially notable for their additions to the setting.
Next comes the Dilisnya family, one of the more widespread and sordid family lines in the setting being major players in the pasts of at least three domains. This is one of the few chapters not to have a full-page opening text instead having a smaller intro of a few paragraphs. Much discussion on this chapter goes into explaining the role of the family in the Core and how the fit into the grand scheme of interwoven politics and feuding houses thus it is contains less new information and much more explanation. What little history is included also sadly overlaps heavily with events detailed elsewhere. That oft described night of murder, betrayal and assassination in Castle Ravenloft those many years ago. The really juicy part of the chapter comes in the gaming information in this chapter with three new feats, a prestige class, a new spell and a minor artifact. There is also three short story hooks included to round matters out.
Drakov and his myriad brood receive the focus of chapter four. Taking advantage of Drakov’s recently revealed policy of First Night privileges that force women of the land to surrender their virginity to him on their wedding night allows many in the land to be of this line. As the family’s history is less diverse and telling than that of previous families much of this chapter goes into describing the lifestyle of the bloodline from those who hide and deny their heritage to those who embrace it. It would have been nice to see the effects of famous Drakovs on the world or other members of the line who broke away from the familial domain but this is not really detailed. Interestingly, until this point it had been part of Drakov’s curse that his offspring would inevitably be disappointing and failures in his eyes, especially in the marital arts. This placed greater emphasis on such offspring as Vlad Drakov II, who ironically, given Drakov’s own many illegitimate heirs, is not of the Drakov line. It would have been much more interesting if the chapter had followed that curse and had members physically weaker or cursed with failure. But instead the author chooses the much simpler route of a martial family, which makes Drakov’s curse much more personal in that it is he that sees his children as inevitable failures regardless of their actual achievements. The family curse does make this line inappropriate for unskilled players and a challenge to role-play, given so many actions are tied to the roll of the die. This is unfortunate given they are one of the easiest bloodlines to work a character’s background into. One plays a warrior of the line at their own risk. Included are three feats, two prestige classes, a new weapon, spell and a couple of magic items. There are also two short story hooks with the first being sadly unremarkable.
The Godefroy family chapter begins with short tale recollecting the birth and childhood a young medium. It is a nice and chilling tale although much of it seems like an extended introduction and background to a single character and less the bloodline but it suffices. This chapter, despite the limited places in history to fit in a character to the long-dead darklord’s lineage, has a very small section on the family, Fitting In and Claiming Membership. The family history is also more a description of the darklord’s past, retold once again, than a description of the family. The family is also particularly cursed with every single person they kill returning to haunt them! Not a family that should become warriors to say the least. Making up the rest of the chapter is three feats, two prestige classes, two magic items and a tiny story hook. A useful chapter but it did little to detail the lord or his family and much more information should have been added to the family’s history.
The Hiregaards follow with a letter from Stephen, the new chief constable of Kantora and grandson of Tristen. This is one of the few works were the narrator or those involved are not detailed in the DM appendix, which is a tad disappointing. I would have liked to have seen Stephen Hiregaard and the possible future victim of the family curse more than Narana. The introduction is followed by an expansive history which does a good job balancing established history with the new details and feel of the land from Gazetteer V and all the necessary new familiar information. There is a tad too much written on Malken for my tastes because, other than his obvious connection to the family, he has very little to do with the bloodline. There are some nice dark rumours tied into this as well as the addition that Hiregaards age gracefully, a very nice addition that explains why Tristen’s longevity has not raised many eyebrows. Hey live even longer than the Boritsi. Also included in this section is a lengthy path of madness for Hiregaards who fail powers checks. The results of these checks are a tad more random than I would like but this is easy enough to remedy. Also included are a new feat and prestige class as well as a new artifact that adds a new threat to the land of Nova Vassa. It is always nice to see old monsters get placed so well in a domain.
Mordenheim follows, despite the scientist of that same name never having conceived a child with his wife and not being the sort to be unfaithful. The opening text adds a new wrinkle to his past revealing the fate of his adopted daughter who, according to the diary entry, may have a son old enough to be in school. Interestingly enough the NPC entry of the character mentions she only has young children and elsewhere it says that her offspring are too young to be player characters so this is an interesting contradiction. There is also the wrinkle that Lamordia formed either in 579 or 683 BC (depending on which timeline is used) so there is already an age discrepancy. Some Mist Travel could be assumed but since this is not directly explained it is easier to assume the author goofed on his chronology. It has not been 25 years since she fell but instead 64! Oops. There is a small family history that once again dips far into the lord’s past and not enough into his blood’s. Given that Mordenheim’s relations are so seldom described it would have been nice to have learned more of them. However, given this chapter’s author’s goof regarding the timeline it is probably better he did not as nephews who should be old enough to have grandchildren of their own would be listed as being children themselves. The bulk of the section is devoted to the Prestige Classes that, along with the five new feats, allow an alternative to spellcasting for fantastic feats. The Learned Physician is a biologist who artificially replicated clerical healing abilities and the Scientist has myriad special talents at his disposal. Additionally there are a great number of related inventions and devices at the scientist’s disposal. It ends with the small requisite story hook.
The book continues with the Renier family and a letter from the new character Javier Renier to his wife. The family history here is very well done dealing with the long-dead Claude Renier and his past as patriarch of the family. It also details the split in the family similar to the one in the d’Honaire bloodline that allows players to easily pick from two home domains. Additionally there is even a small sidebar on the lesser DuBois bloodline. There is also a new feat, a couple prestige classes, a new spell and a new magical item as well as an extended story hook. A sidebar also describes the use of the Bluff skill in telling gossip. Special note should be made of the bloodline’s weakness, which is a very appropriate and original curse for the family. It definitely stands out as something that could inconvenience a play plus lead to some excellent role-playing situations. A very nice and smooth chapter.
The final family is the Von Zarovich line. Again the opening fiction features characters that are not described or mentioned elsewhere but this is alright as the characters do not really seem interesting or worthy of detail. Most of the opening fiction is a retelling (again) of the events of Sergei’s wedding night. The family history is shockingly brief and much more attention goes into how a character’s past is explained as well as the various restrictions imposed upon the line. Von Zarovich’s suffer under a heavy curse of variable effect with some having frightening effects on a character’s actions or a dramatic influence on their life. Thankfully these curses are still not as severe as the Godefroy curse. Following this are five new feats, two Prestige Classes and five magic items with one being a minor artifact. I am unsure why the Tome of Strahd needs to be a powerful magic item though, its general existence is enough without it being horribly cursed. The chapter ends with three story hooks, one of which inexplicably includes Malocchio who is suddenly able to leave Invidia despite the Vistani curse upon him.
The book ends with a thirteen new NPCs using the new bloodline rules. Bevel Boritsi is a nice addition to the line both as a character who is not evil and yet still a bastard with a fun connection to one of everyone’s favourite monster hunting twins. It is really a fun and evil decision to have her fall for the potentially ‘wrong man’. Then there is James Mousel, apparently one of the greatest psychiatrists in the Dread Realms. It is very nice to see another sanatorium in the Core although Dr. Illhousen and Dr. Heinfroth might disagree with his reputation. He is well done and it is nice to see him pulled in many directions while still trying to be a respectable figure. Celeste d’Honaire follows her kinsman and is a surprising addition to the book if not the setting, although a very welcome one. Andrei Palascu, a Dilisnya follows although there is something simply unremarkable about him. He might be useful in a single story but given the frequent descriptions of how the bloodline is filled with rogues in the chapter actually seeing one just seems predictable and unimaginative. Anyone could have dreamt up Andrei after reading this book. Rodjan Dilisnya on the other hand seems much more interesting with a much or evocative accompanying illustration. While he does not fill a unique niche as a fallen paladin he is interesting for the fact his is both a Dilisnya who was a paladin and his particular path of corruption. Sadly the portrait does not reflect his descent into corruption.
For the Drakov line we have Viktor Helsinger who is not wholly remarkable and yet still interesting due to his determination and yet growing doubt. Michael Jendais, whose background was featured heavily in the Godefroy section, comes next. He is used as a rational for why the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins have not investigated the most haunted house in the Core and could be useful as a supporting cast member in a story set in Mordent. Other than that he is of limited use. The granddaughter of Tristen Hiregaard follow, one Narana Hiregaard whose sole claim to fame is that she is a rookie adventurer just setting out on her first travels. Useful as a companion or as a student for the players to teach but there are so many more interesting and important members of the family who could have been detailed. It is an evil though to consider what would occur if she were to become the recipient of the family’s curse but this seems unlikely. Although, it would be a nice change to have the lord be an adventurer, perhaps it is simply planning for a possible eventuality. The sole entry for the Mordenheim line is Artisa Juvenoth, a semi-new character that decisively fills in several old mysteries that perhaps would have been better-off left ambiguous. Seeing Artista teetering on the edge of the family’s evil does make the entry stand out, there is a strong mystery present over whether she falls or avoids temptation. As mentioned earlier there is much timeline confusion regarding her past…
Continuing with the NPCs is Javier Renier who seems like he was created to be an example of one of the new Prestige Classes and a foil to Louise as he is of the Darkon line of the family. Javier is a workable character though with enough related plot threads for him to be easily worked into a campaign. Following Javier is his kinsman Louise Renier, the twin sister of the more famous Jacqueline. Much of her background seems to be filling in old plot-holes and mysteries while accidentally making a new plot hole itself. Her entry suggests that the patriarch Claude was allergic to camphor although, as established in Gaz III, he was actually allergic to something entirely different. However, this is simply an unexplained misconception on the part of Louise who was being mislead and manipulated. Despite this Louise is a driven character very useful for a campaign of politics and society in Richemulot. Following this is Talena Von Zarovich, who seems to be a more magical version of the Sheriff from Champions of Darkness, just as the Crimson Hound PrC earlier in this book also seemed to fill a similar role. Talena seems much more befitting the atmosphere than the Sheriff, but her description still leaves a little to be desired and the use of the slang “buffing” detracts greatly from the entry and just does not seem befitting a professional work. The last NPC is Andrez Weissritter, a paladin in the Von Zarovich line. This is not entirely unpredictable as the entry on that lineage made mention of those who strove to be true and noble so it is sadly predictable that there would be a Von Zarovich paladin. It would have been nice if either Von Zarovich NPC had been mentioned in the actually family chapter instead of having them come from nowhere in the appendix. There was a similar surprise from the equally unmentioned Dilisnyas.
Legacy of the Blood is not a book for those new to the Land of the Mists. It is useful either as a tool for Dungeon Masters in making NPCs and foes with ties to the big names of the Core or more advanced players who are either experience role-players or very familiar with this setting. It is best used with a veritably library of the other books referenced within and as a challenge for players looking for something slightly different. Every entry and chapter is filled with multiple ideas and story threads, small concepts tossed out and fuelling the imagination of the readers. Much of the book makes great use of the history and mythology of the setting complementing and even expanding on it. Despite this and the presumed collection of books the bloodline histories have an unfortunate tendency to repeat common knowledge instead of simply commenting on it and showing its place in the greater family legacy. This is especially true for those families whose bloodlines are limited or were presumed long dead. Much of the book falls into the old trap of being obsessed with darklords and relating too much to their personal actions.
Despite this the book is remarkable for how it explores old families while filling in the backgrounds of lords and the histories of the land. It expands on what has been written while adding new pages in the story if Ravenloft along with new mysteries and tales to be told by the Dungeon Masters.
Four severed digits out of five!
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