Ravenloft Gazetteer - Volume Four
Authors: James Lowder, John W. Mangrum, Ryan Naylor, Anthony Pryor, Voronica Withney-Robinson, Andrew Wyatt
Errata: In Borca, Praesidius Levin Postoya’s abbreviated statistics (gender, race, class, & level) are missing. Levin Postoya is a LN male human Clr6 of Ezra/AoM5. (Anchorite of the Mists prestige class, found in Van Richten's Arsenal.)
One of the most brilliant productlines in a long time, the Ravenloft Gazetteers have always provided an entertaining closeup of the Dread Realms, and is equally useful whether you are new to Ravenloft, or a long time fan.
A lot of detail about Borcan vanity, customs and economic is presented, all well thought through. The best thing for me, however, is the way John Mangrum ties the history of the Church of Ezra into his account of the land, thus making it a very interesting read.
Some complaints have been made about the lack of non-darklord NPCs present in this Gazetteer, but it’s understandable, with five realms pressed into one book, and two twin darklords and two almost-darklords. Thus, we don’t get any stats for Nostalia Romaine, but we get a line of vitals. She’s about a CR 12, a significant threat in Ravenloft. Other NPCs in other realms are covered in similar ways.
After Borca comes Invidia. Like all domains in this Gazetteer, the write up is very good. Geographical details are added, and S describes the relationship with Falkovnia well. There is a Falkovnian trade-enclave in Karina. I want to object to one thing however: how come so much of Gabrielle Aderre’s personal history is so well known? I understand that the stories of Malocchios father may have seeped out, but personally, I feel that the rumor of Gabrielles infidelity and possible child with Ardonk Szerisia should be a bit more hidden.
Verbrek is covered quite well, and finally, we get to see something about the human culture of the realm. It’s not much, however, as they are truly a pathetic lot. The werebeasts are described very well, dividing them into different clans and categories. The most interesting category is the Ghosthowlers, werewolves that have almost rejected their human side totally. The legends of this realm and the mysterious Wolfgod is also interesting, and apparently, there is also a werebeast resistance, consisting of lycantrophes of other phenotypes. (There’s also a sly reference from S of “borrowing an awkward term from van Richten.” There’s nothing like a bit of in-game humor!)
Valachan is very well written, and the religion of Yutow the Peacebringer is well detailed. I do miss a better coverage of the lands gnomish population, however, although they are mentioned several times. It seems to me that they are the only truly civilized people in this realm. The last domain is Sithicus, done by well experienced Ravenloft writer James Lowder and Voronica Whitney-Robinson, the co-writer of Spectre of the Black Rose. They did an excellent job together, but I feel that Lowders stated intent to build up to a possible third Sithicus novel might be a bit selfish. It does present some very interesting possibilies, but it also serves to give the last part of the chapter a sort of “Reader’s Digest” feel of a condensed novel, perhaps not fitting S’ objective style so much. This could easily be explained of as the Truth of Sithicus influencing her, however, and all in all, it doesn’t harm the chapter. As I understand it, John Mangrum also added a update on the former darklord Soth, now only referred to as the Black Rose, which in my opinion is well suited, but which didn’t sit well with Lowder.
This volume features some both new and old artists. Talon does the NPC portraits, as usual, and they’re all nice, except for baron von Kharkov, which doesn’t quite do it for me. It seems like Talon might need some training in drawing ethnicities other than Caucasian. I do like how he acknowledges the Domains of Dread version of Ivan Dilisnya, which is very good, both in light setting and appearance.
So, summing it all up, is the fourth Gazetteer worth your buck? Yes. I’d definitely say so. In fact, all of the Gazetteers so far have been, if you are going to use the domains in question. It does suffer a bit for being so cramped, and had it featured only the four usual realms, I’m sure it would have been even better.
All in all, 4 out of 5 blooddrops!
Well to begin this view I would like to say that overall I was pleased with this product. The authors managed to do well despite having to cram descriptions of five domains into one book. Not just any domains either. Domains such as Valachan and particularly Verbrek have been shafted as far as published material is concerned. I'm going to review each domain separately looking at their good and bad points.
Borca: Initially I was skeptical of this extremely political domain. I was pleasantly surprised to find my self drawn into this realm of political intrigue and its two horrific darklords.
Pros: The authors did a great job describing the history of this realm be pre and post Grand Conjunction. They go into detail about the previous darklord, Camille Boritsi and her crimes. They talk about how the darklords are bleeding the domain white through their decadence. The authors also did a wonderful job of portraying Ivan Dilisnya as sick, twisted, depraved man that he is. The Emordenung are mentioned as is their leader Nostalia Romaine.
Cons: I have two gripes with Borca. First instead of having the court poisoner PrC they should have put in a section going into detail about Nostalia considering how integral she is to plots of Ivana and the history of the realm itself. Second S seemed to be able to get info about the crimes of the darklords far too easily.
Invidia: This domain has been a bit of a favorite of mine. While the darklord is the epitome of a seductress her son is a very compelling character. Malocchio is the Demiplane's very own Little Hitler and he is very much on the way of turning Invidia into a medieval version of Nazi Germany.
Pros: We get more info on the people of Invidia something that has been needed since the Evil Eye adventure. The authors do a good job of describing how Malocchio's tyranny is reshaping the domain.
Cons: The authors should have had more info about the Midnight Slasher. I do believe they altered the ending of the Evil Eye adventure somewhat in order to avoid doing this as now Gabriel is found by Matton in the forest instead of in her castle as she is being assaulted by the Slasher. The author's are still dangling the fate of Gabriel's daughter over our heads like a carrot. I doubt this plot point will ever be filled by the authors at least not until they start detailing the Time of Troubles most likely.
Verbrek: Arguably the most neglected Domain in Ravenloft. Verbrek is the only Core Domain that has for the most part been left in the dust until now. This is one of my favorite domains as it is the perfect place to instill a primal sense of terror into the party.
Pros: Well for one thing we're finally getting some worthwhile information on this wonderful domain. The authors do a wonderful job of conveying the idea that the humans are the prey in this Domain. We also get a look into the society of the werewolves. Pretty much any info about this Domain is welcomed as it's been so long in coming. It's also good to see S paying her dues so to speak.
Cons: Despite the fact that we get info on the werewolves it's just not enough. While we do get the standard S lookover of the Domain and its denizens and a sidebar that details some of the secret stuff regarding the werewolf culture we should have gotten more. This domain has been the redheaded stepchild of the Core since its inception. Space concerns were probably the big culprit here. It may well have been worth postponing the description of Sithicus until Gazetteer V for more info on this Domain.
Valachan: Valachan is another of those don't look, don't touch Domains. There were a few bizarre stories about it and its tormented darklord but this is the first time for us to get a really in-depth look at this Domain.
Pros: We get a good look at the Valachani and their backwater beliefs as well as info about the Von Kharkov's enforcers. Like Invidia the best thing is that we're getting some info on the overall Domain itself and the people living in it. The minor mention of the mistway to Odiare was also a nice touch
Cons: Like Nostalia, Lady Adeline should have been detailed in the Who's Doomed section. Darn space concerns.
Sithicus: This Domain just doesn't seem the same now that old buckethead isn't in charge. Still Sithicus is quite a spooky place and wonderful place to bring your PCs if you want to scare the crap out of them or just play with their heads.
Pros: The whole Guilt of Sithicus effect is a great idea and let's the GM play around with his PC's minds if he/she desires. There are several good plot hooks including the Blessed Knight and the Wanderers. We finally get to see stats on Inza and her fate as the darklord of Sithicus. The authors at least call Soth by his well known nickname which is better than referring to him as "that cursed knight" or "that blackguard".
Cons: Again S seems to be able to get information too easily regarding the darklord of the Domain. The Elves are supposed to be pruddish around those who aren't Elves. Heck they're supposed to be pruddish even with Elves who aren't from Sithicus so how is S managing to drag this info out? There was no mention of her casting charm magic on the Elves' stubborn brains so it's a mystery.
Overall this was a great book and I do recommend it to anyone GM or player who wished to know more about the Domains of the Demiplane of Dread. I do hope the authors will considering writing up and releasing a large web enhancement for this book as the major problem plaguing the book is the space issues. I give it a 4 out of 5.
The fourth in a continuing series of Gazetteers continues S's wintery journey into the dark and foreboding forests of the Southwest Core. I received my copy only recently (September 2004), but I believe it's worth the wait. But the sole reason why I desired the book was Sithicus, fully detailed here: I wanted to find out what happened after the events of "Spectre of the Black Rose," and to find out if this elven domain could still be a good campaign setting after the disappearance of the Black Rose. I wasn't disappointed: the writers gave an excellent job of detailing Sithicus post-Soth, and none of the elven magic and mysticism that could be conjured from this domain were removed. If I were to rate Gaz4 based on Sithicus alone, I would give it four out of five salt shakers.
This fourth volume in the gazetteer series covers awhopping five domains - Borca, Invidia, Verbek, Valachan and Sithicus.Unfortunately, no doubt due to the space considerations, all the entries in thisvolume suffer from a lack of extras such as the Dread Possibilities and SecretSocieties sidebars readers have grown accustomed to.
It is unfortunate that Borca was not included in theprevious volume, because it sticks out like a sore thumb in this volume as thesingle “civilized” domain covered. It also clear that it suffers the most fromthe aforementioned space considerations. Only one secret society was presented,the Emordueng, and half of that entry centered on Nostalia Romaine. As JWMpoints out in the author notes the details of the cities of Ilvin and Vor Ziydenwere also left out. The omission of secret societies and dread possibilities Icould handle, but to skip two prominently featured cities is just bad planning.
Still, there were some high points in this chapter. Theauthor really did a good job of differentiating the realm (its culture andeconomy) from its neighbors. The history section also nicely fleshes out a realmthat didn’t receive a lot of attention in 2nd edition. The Degravoand Miscordia entries portrayed the attitude and environs of two darklordsextremely well.
In the Invidia chapter we get the first real hints ofAzalin’s new plan. (He seems awfully interested in Malachio.) This chapter alsoboasts a good map of the domain, highlighting all the features “S” mentions. Iam very pleased at how the authors took a seemingly insignificant domain andmade it a focal point of the Core. We also finally get more information on theformer darklord of the realm, the werewolf Bakholis. Overall the domain was verywell done, and the plot developments from Evil Eye were moved forward ina realistic way.
A few things did bother me, though. The description ofKarina is pretty much a rehash of the information first presented in EvilEye, but not nearly as detailed. Castle Loupet wasn’t featured at all, whichis a shame because of its likely importance in any adventure set within thedomain. The Curriculo section was also very sparse on useful information.
Verbek is far and away my favorite entry in this volume.The author manages to pack in a lot of good information on this neglecteddomain. We are introduced to three secret societies – The Woodcutter’s Axe, TheCult of the Purple Moon, and the Duskpeace Lodge. All three are naturaloutgrowths of the domain and its inhabitants. We also get a good primer onwerewolf culture that really fleshes out their goals and motivations. This givesthe DM a lot more options in portraying them other than just using them assimple rampaging monsters. There is also extensive information on the Cult ofthe Wolf-God that ties in well with the realm’s false history.
It was good to finally see the domain of Valachan get somelong overdue attention. This entry suffers slightly because of the fact thatRavenloft already has a domain ruled by an iron-fisted tyrant who just happensto drink blood. Still, the author does the best job possible. One secret societyis presented, The Cat’s Eye, though I’d rather call it half a society, becauseof the fact that it doesn’t really exist. Still, I like the concept; it issufficiently eerie and shows the lengths von Kharkov will go to gain completecontrol. I loved the information presented on Church of Yutow. It reallyhighlights the differences between itself and the Church of Bane. The church ofHala is finally put to good use in Rotwald. The false history was alsosatisfactory, if somewhat formulaic by now (previous tyrant deposed by futuretyrant).
The Valachan chapter has four Dread Possibilities (the mostout of the entire book) but unfortunately they come off as sloppy and rushed. Iwould have liked more information on the Black Leopards. The Scarlet Mazesection was so short it really defeated the purpose of even mentioning it. Andfinally, turning the Valachani into a matriarchal society was a good twist, butthat only begs the question… why then does a man rule the realm?
And finally there’s Sithicus, the most changed domain sincemy last reading of the module When Black Roses Bloom. I must admit Ihaven’t read either of the Black Rose books by James Lowder. Therefore, I lot ofthe events that recently took place are new to me. Unfortunately, I don’t thinkthe author of this chapter does a good job of bringing the storyline up to dateand I am left with more questions than answers. Why wasn’t the domain remadeafter Soth was expelled? Why doesn’t Inza confront Azrael? Where did the wildelves come from? How does a lone dwarf rule over an entire kingdom of elves?Altogether it seem like a mishmash of clichés, none of which fit the gothic orfantasy horror feel of Ravenloft.
There were a few good points in this chapter, however. TheBitterkinder, the Guilt of Sithicus, and the updated info on Nuitari were welldone, as well as the dread possibility that features the Blessed Knight. Therecap of the former darklord was also well written and concise.
Much like the rest of the book, the Attached Notes sectionhad a lot of information to cram into a limited amount of space. With four outof the five domains having two rival lords, only the most high profile NPCs werecovered. I was delighted, however, to finally find out Alfred Timothy’s curse.It’s so simple, yet so brilliant. Other highlights include the primer on poisonsfor Borca and the Moonchild prestige class for Verbek.
So, we have one excellent domain, three adequate domains,and one poor domain. I’d give this volume 3.5 drops out of 5. This is thepoorest showing yet out of all the previous gazetteers, and I hope the trenddoes not continue in the fifth and final volume of the series.
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