Authors: Lisa Smedman, with Steve Miller
Chilling Tales is collection of eight adventures that was published in 1995 (roughly halfway through the lineís first incarnation). It followed closely on the heels of the last Van Richten Guide and serves as a coda of sorts to that celebrated series. All of these adventures allow PCs to interact with Ravenloftís most famous monster hunter, Rudolph van Richten, and features one sample creature from each of the Van Richten Guides.
Through Darkened Eyes Ė is about a darkling, Lomar Gojanivic, who was expelled from his tribe for murdering his sister. Of course, he is seeking revenge against them and plans to use Van Richten and his allies to do his dirty work. This adventure also introduces a unique Vistani magical item, the jeshka. It is made from the heart of a murderer pierced by thorns and is able to summon a Ravenloft grave elemental. This is set early in his career, and Van Richten is easily fooled by the darkling because of his blind hatred of the Vistani. Itís a simple low-level encounter, but a good introduction to Ravenloft.
Undying Justice Ė is a nice, compact ghost story. It concerns a Borcan businessman, Robert Tatenna, whose manor is being haunted by the ghost of his butler, Tomas Dendarich. This is a rather straightforward investigative adventure, and Van Richten doesnít really figure into it too much, however; he merely passes on rumors of the haunting to the PCs and lets them take care of things. Thomas does have some interesting salient powers related to his death, and as a 3rd magnitude ghost he can be quite a formidable opponent.
Gazing Into the Abyss Ė is a about a vassalich in service to Azalin who wants to destroy Van Richten and his reputation, believing it would please his master. He accomplishes this by posing as Werner Ruscheider, the son of an old school friend of Van Richtenís. It also involves a cell of the Kargatane calling themselves the Seekers. When the PCs arrive on the scene, having been summoned to help with the investigation, Van Richten is completely under the spell of the vassalich and has already killed three supposed vampires that he believes infest the city. This is a very dark episode in the good doctorís history, and could be a dangerous trap for inexperienced players as well. Overall, I think it fits the campaign setting very well.
Family Feud Ė is, unfortunately, the odd man out in this accessory. Itís more of an outline than an adventure (taking up a mere two pages). Itís a tale of feuding werebeasts in Valachan. In this case, a pack of vicious werewolves have moved in on the territory of a family of weretigers. Van Richten is uncharacteristically gullible and quick to judge in this episode (especially after having gone through a similar kind of setup in the first adventure).
The Surgeonís Blade Ė features the legendary Emil Bollenbach, everyoneís favorite mad scientist. The plot is pretty basic Ė Van Richten gets kidnapped and the PCs must save him before he is killed. This adventureís got it all - a giant windmill, a super-golem, and a motley crew of misfit thieves and murderers. What more could you ask for? Itís an instant classic and the debut of a promising recurring villain.
The Scarlet Kiss Ė is about a vampire that has infiltrated a local hospice devoted to Hala, and is set in Mordentshire. Posing as a sister of that order, she has seduced Van Richten and started the process of turning him into her undead slave. Yes, itís another race against time adventure. This one, however, focuses on the more investigative aspects of a vampire hunt. The vampire in question also has a lot of unique traits to throw the PCs off, so both brains and brawn will be needed to win the day.
Ancient Dead Ė is a quick little adventure featuring a mummy and is set, of course, in HaríAkir. The mummy in question was once a priestess of the crocodile god Sobek, and as such is a rather unique creature. Where most mummies are dry, withered husks vunerable to fire, this one is a drippy mess impervious to flames. This is a somewhat abbreviated adventure. After a very short dungeon crawl, the PCs encounter the evil cult trying to awaken the mummy, and afterwards the mummy itself. Unfortunately, no wrap-up is given for the story, itís just assumed that the players kill the monster and go on their merry way. Still, anything that expands the mythos of HaríAkir and fleshes out the domain is a welcome addition.
The Taskmasterís Leash Ė is a combat heavy story that features not one but two fiends. It is set in Dementlieu, where the two fiends arrived in the Demiplane after the Grand Conjunction. They have set about taking over the town of Chateaufaux by posing as the mayor and chief of police. To ensure their masquerade works, they have doped the water with a powerful hallucinogen. Van Richten is caught by the pair after visiting the town, and the PCs receive a letter from the good doctor asking for help. Like I said, this is a pretty standard rescue operation, involving a ruthless and corrupt police force and a daring jailbreak before the big final confrontation.
In many respects, I think collection is better than the Children of the Night series that was soon to follow. Unlike most of the entries in COTN, each story is grounded in a very particular locale and each creature is a unique monster. Instead of detailing 13 vampires with the same basic history and abilities and only token motivation, you have hear 8 individual monsters whose powers and weaknesses donít fall into the normal categories. Itís plain that a lot of effort was put into every aspect of each adventure, not just coming up with a cool new monster to fight, but also in giving players the flavor of each domain.
Another interesting issue that had to be constantly addressed was preventing Van Richten from taking center stage and allowing the PCs to do their own thing. He acts a little out of character, jumping to conclusions or dismissing alternate theories too fast, but thatís mainly due to the story requirements and can be forgiven.
4 severed digits out of five
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