I should probably note before I commence that I am not much of a fan of the original Ravenloft, or of the world as a whole. Of the alternative game settings offered in the last gasps of TSR Ravenloft is much weaker – in my opinion – than Dark Sun or Planescape. To me it just all seemed a little too cheesy, a little too Bela Lugosi and we all know how unscary the old 40s and 50s horror films seem these days. Some of that ‘cheese’ always seemed to taint my encounters with Ravenloft from fortune telling gypsies to vampire lords and, so, I’ve never been that enamoured of it. I know people love it though, so I’ll try to rate this d20 remake gazetteer based on its individual content rather than the world it describes.
For a ‘gazetteer’ this is a big book, 178 pages, and it is mostly written in character from the perspective of the narrator, an immediate strike against it in my book I’m afraid. The books are also supposed to exist, in character, as items within the world. Mostly this contains what you’d expect from the older, slimmer gazetteers – descriptions of areas, important people and intrigues for you to use in your own campaigns but, this feels somewhat self defeating as a prospect given that GMs need freedom and open spaces in which to work their own stories. This operates more like a throwback to both the heavily detailed Forgotten Realms and/or the painstakingly metaplotted World of Darkness – not that surprising given the book’s providence.Artwork
The artwork throughout the book is fairly basic black and white, mostly line art which suits the feel and tone of the book quite nicely. None of it is particularly outstanding and the layout wastes a great deal of space around the text but the motifs and themes of the layout, along with the torn-parchment inserts does make it feel more like the book it is supposed to be.
Embedding important information in an in character piece is a sure-fire way to annoy me, particularly as a GM, and while this book does that it isn’t quite so awful as it could have been. Rather than being embedded in sub-Anne Rice prose the in-character author of the book is writing a genuine report for their Master and, so, there isn’t quite so much florid waffling to get through in order to get to the meat of the matter. There’s also a good amount of statistical summaries and so forth in sidebars which render much of the IC text redundant but do make it easier to reference after a first read-through.
Fully a third of the book is, fortunately, dedicated to the GMs viewpoint and dispenses with the in-character conceit.Unfortunately this isn’t so much to clarify the preceding sections so much as it is to supply the usual rag-tag bunch of prestige classes and new monsters, none of which really stand out in brilliance or excitement or are, necessarily, even needed at all.
- Detailed exploration of a large section of the world.
- Overly detailed.
- In-character writing.