Ravenloft Gazetteer - Volume Two
Authors: John W. Mangrum, Ryan Naylor, Chris Nichols, Andrew Wyatt
I must admit it makes a worthy addition to my bookcase next to Gazetteer I. Darkon simply rocks: much detail, a lot of new ideas and a lot of variety is added. Necropolis was well written. But there were some minor style issues as I don't think that S would write in style "on some accounts huge rats live in sewers" -- he's probably the only one talking about inside of Necropolis: There can be no speculations. This would have worked in other domains, but in this one it was a bit strange. Lamordia was my own particurlar favourite with its people in progression and decay or stasis at the same time. Meeting with Adam being particurlarly vivid and intense scene with its accompanying dialog and picture.
I had great expectations from Falkovnia, which is still my favourite domain, so I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get this feeling of oppression from reading the piece as S concentrated on the facts of the realm. Probably it was my own fault to assume S would be more melodramatic in Falkovnia. The realm, however had a lot of details, many quite fitting, some downright nice. I still think that Falkovnia should have gotten a Russian based language instead of getting a German based one, since Falkovnia is Russia under Stalins rule as I see it.
Art was again a controversial issue. I did not like the fact that we had three artists with significantly different drawing styles. The line artist (Giadrosich) does a nice job on scenery, but not on the NPCs (Theodorus Raines). Talon is my own favourite, but Ebb was a bit messy. Azalin was too good as well as the the usual interpretation of Death. Vlad Drakov, Kazandra and the vampire with glasses were breathtakingly stylish. Falkovnian artist does very well with dynamic images, I think, but some of the pictures end up too muddy. A more uniform style to the pictures would be of help, I think.
The layout guy gets its share of critics as usual. Damn, if the book is using gray background, it is foolish to put in square shaped pictures featuring white backgrounds. If one is unable to do it he might just as well use white background on the pages so that his sloppiness won't show. Map of Darkon gets a plus, other maps get minuses because we don't need blowups of R3E maps. Necropolis' could have been a better one since minimal time was devoted to creating that one.
Editor (or the authors), please take credits for seeking out typos: while there may have been some left I did not see them this time, which is rarelythe case. I hope this trend continues. Whoever made the "DM Tips" sidebars (or came up with the idea of doing so) deserves a cheer, the one about opposing Azalin was a particurlarly welcome moment.
This Gazetteer made me sometimes feel uneasy since I was constantly referred to as Azalin. The feeling makes sense if one recalls the lost vignettes from R3E (that are now lost almost literally since Kargatane has returned to Darkon, taking most of the shop with them). This book is worth every page it contains; Five drops.
After reading the first volume, I highly anticipated acquiring the second installment of the Ravenloft Gazetteer series. This book covers the three domains of the northern Core and the pocket domain of Necropolis.
Being the largest domain in the Core, there was a lot of material to cover, but I think it was done very well. The description of the land was a good follow-up to the characters and places that were introduced in Domains of Dread. I don’t know if this information was covered elsewhere in the product line, but I found the full story of Azalin’s return very informative and revealing. There was also tons of stuff in this chapter that DMs could use to create new adventures; Azalin’s new highway projects, the “false history” of the domain (“Hey, let’s go look for Moonblood’s treasue!”), and the splintering of the Kargat. All these elements were well portrayed and greatly enrich the domain’s playability.
Given that “S” conducted a five year study of Necropolis, I was underwhelmed with this entry. This might be due to my ingrained prejudice against the whole idea, or because of the way the details of the city were presented. Thinking of all manner of undead acting like their living counterparts just doesn’t seem to fit for me. Still, if Ravenloft had to have a city of the dead, I guess this is as good as any. The introduction of Necropolitan Amaranth was a good touch, providing a way PCs can pass through the Shroud and into the city itself. The map that was given, however, didn’t show the area in great enough detail, so a DM still would have to make up most of the city himself. At least this chapter was only a dozen pages long.
Lamordia is next, and serves as an interesting foil to most of the other domains of the Core because of its emphasis on science instead of magic. The Smothering of Reason was a nice explanation of this phenomenon. Although it lacks such gothic favorites as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves, this domain still has a lot to offer. It was good to learn that Adam’s Children (last seen in the Dark Allegiances booklet from the Forbidden Lore boxed set) are still around. Baytown (first introduced in the adventure module Adam’s Wrath) is also an interesting locale. The only quibble I have with this chapter is that the dwarven mines that were referred to in the text were not explored further.
Falkovnia rounds out the bunch, and I was very happy with the way the bleakness and despair of life in Falkovnia was described. I did find, however, that some elements in the text which I felt should have been expanded on were left out. In particular, I’m talking about Gondegal’s Shadow Insurrection, The Spawn of the Lizard, and the Dark Men. To me, these revolutionaries, bandits, and outcasts would serve as an ideal way to introduce the PCs to the domain, but virtually no information is given on them. Conversely, some of the sidebars that were presented, such as “Shadow Cities,” “The Central Prison” and “Selberhas Aerie” didn’t really add anything that wasn’t already gone over in the text. I also thought this chapter would be the perfect place to put more information about the League of Four, since this is the domain which served as its catalyst; but, alas, it was not to be.
The DM Appendix was also very well done. While I don’t like Necropolis, the creature templates were very good and would prove useful for any DM who wants to feature the city in their campaigns. I thought all the NPCs chosen were very appropriate, except for Vladimir Ludzig. His history didn’t really add any depth and all the info I really needed was already present in the Lekar section. I especially liked the comparisons drawn between Gondegal and Vlad Drakov. The atmosphere of Falkovnia is a perfect fit for this character. The inclusion of Ebb was surprising. The insertion of a dragon into Ravenloft doesn’t feel very gothic, but I think it fits the flavor of the domain.
Overall, it was a worthy successor to the first volume. I give it 4.5 drops out of 5.
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