Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Vlad the Impaler: Blood Prince of Wallachia

Jerry Stratton, June 25, 2004

The first twenty-three pages are a sourcebook on Wallachia during the time of Vlad Tepes. The next sixteen pages are a compilation of creatures, characters, weapons, and skills, with their d20 statistics. The final twenty pages are an adventure involving a papal mission to Wallachia to meet Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes.

Characters who have been through “The Last Days of Constantinople” may meet some familiar faces in this adventure. According to the notes, there are also some links to ”The Last Days of Greenland”, but I have not read that sourcebook yet. It appears to be out of print.

Like its sister product, “Vlad the Impaler” is useful for far more than an adventure in a historical setting. It provides ideas and fantasy adventures that parallel real-world adventures. Wallachia, in the context of the greater areas it separated, provides a complex, interesting setting for any fantasy game which involves two warring empires (one, perhaps, not a cohesive empire at all) separated by a small country. Everyone wants that country’s rulers on their side.

Wallachia’s problem is pretty much summed up in one paragraph headlined “Outsiders”:

Despite its almost inherent poverty, Wallachia is far from isolated. Its position on the map has made it a frequent stop for invaders, and the current struggles between the Christians and Turks have only heightened the poor country’s woes.

Wallachia shares with Constantinople the dubious honor of being a buffer between Christian Europe and the Muslim Turks. Any party wanting to invade the other side has to go through one or the other. Constantinople had its problems with Crusaders. Wallachia has its problems with both Turks and Christians as well.

The historical portion of the book has one section devoted to Vlad and his strange, even for the time, obsessions. Even in a world where impalements are accepted practice, Vlad finds ways to set himself apart enough to be “the impaler”.

The other historical portion is devoted to Wallachia itself, the “constant battlefield” and “desperately poor country” where Vlad rules. This is a place where “a man can expect to live to 35 if he’s lucky, 25 if he’s very lucky.” As described, it is an extremely interesting and adventure-filled place for fantasy adventurers to visit.

New Creatures

Besides a handful of new classes that aren’t of much use outside of Dungeons & Dragons, there are some interesting new undead. The book introduces a new class of undead, the “moroi”. Their vampire, the “strigoi”, probably shares etymological ties with the stirges of Dungeons & Dragons and the strigae of Gods & Monsters. In Vlad, the strigoi are a new kind of vampire, not a blood-sucking bird or a child-stealing demon. The moroi bird is the vukodlak, an undead creature that comes into existence by accidentally stealing the evil from a corpse.

The three undead are interesting and easily used in Gods & Monsters.

The Adventure

The book is worthwhile solely as a sourcebook. Like Constantinople, however, it comes with a papal-oriented adventure. The characters are hired to rescue a lost merchant and to check out the rumors of Vlad Tepes’ strange behavior.

It is a fine adventure, comprising papal intrigue in Varna, a journey through Turkish lands, and a sojourn in poor country that once, in the prime of the Byzantine empire, saw far more merchants and merchant money than it sees today.

Used straight, the adventure requires a homogenous party of humans in a European campaign. All it would take to convert it to a more standard fantasy campaign world would be changing some names around and adding some notes on how the locals view non-humans. The underlying issues in the adventure--cultural clashes, border war, greater and lesser evils--are universal.

Cover Issues

I have to comment on the cover. Avalanche seems to have some problems with getting quality cover illustrations. Their cover on Constantinople was a mediocre 3D rendering. The back cover on Vlad is very nice: moody, stylized, dark. The front cover has a nicely stylized background, but the front cover is reminiscent of a cross between Michael Jackson and Dr. Evil from Austin Powers: Vlad the Impaler wearing an open shirt, a coke spoon, stroking a cat, and with an unbelievably large-breasted thin woman sitting next to him in a frilly shift.

This image does not reflect well on the quality product within. The images on the inside are also better. Some of the maps are quite handsome, although a bit muddied; they may have been meant as color maps.

In all, if you can find this product, I recommend looking through it. I found it fascinating, and did not hesitate to pick it up at the local game store after picking up Constantinople.

November 29, 2004: Gonzo Gaming

I don’t really know where to put this one, so I’m putting it here in the news section. Earlier, I reviewed Avalance Press’s very nice “Vlad the Impaler” game supplement. While browsing their site for my upcoming review of “All for One and One for All” I ran across a history of gonzo in their game offerings.

Mostly it’s about their wargaming offerings, but towards the bottom they started talking about their d20 line:

Our line of role-playing books was not exempt, either, and John Phythyon took to this tradition with gusto. The first few books had only a few gonzo elements, though I was very proud of the uniped’s special ability to taunt player characters using their darkest secrets. But it was Vlad the Impaler that set a new standard for us: the dung-hurling vampire. This inspired perhaps the strangest moment in the history of Avalanche Press.

I knew I liked these folks. Go to their page to read the rest. Suffice it to say that their playtesting is much deeper than mine.

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