Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales
Author: William W. Connors, D.J. Heinrich, Shane Hensley, Colin McComb
Page count: N/A
Capsule Review by C.H. Gallant on 02/24/98. Genre tags: none
Masque of the Red Death is a neat idea. Not an original one, to be sure, but one with potential. It is also either a stupid move, or a greedy one. Since I didn't create the game, I cannot say for sure which principle guided it. First off, the boxed set is labeled as a campaign expansion for Ravenloft. It is not. MotRD is a stand-alone setting that requires a stack of expensive products to make it work. Characters can never move from Ravenloft proper to the Gothic Earth of Masque. If, as a DM, one decides to take his party to Gothic Earth, the whole group has to role up new characters from scratch. Dragonlance is more a campaign expansion of Greyhawk than this is of Ravenloft. At least Dragonlance and Greyhawk have more in common than rules on terror and madness.
Someone new to AD&D is not likely to ever get his or her money's worth from this product. To play, a DM needs the Player's Handbook, The Dungeon Master's Guide, either Domains of Dread, or the red boxed Ravenloft set, Masque of the Red Death, and the Monstrous Compendium. While the MC isn't necessary, without it a DM is confined to encounters with humans or the few super villains given in the MotRD. Even for DMs equipped with the basic AD&D tools, the core Ravenloft rules must be purchased in addition to MotRD. That's $55 that could go farther with another game.
MotRD is set in the 1890's on Gothic Earth, which is strikingly similar to our own except that a nebulous evil entity called the Red Death has arrived, possibly from space or another plane, to terrorize the populace. The main book is 128 pages and well written and presented. William Connors is to be commended on workmanship and especially the quality background material. The taint of evil is widespread without being as overwhelming as it is in Deadlands.
Unfortunately the new rules covering modern firearms shoot this product in the foot (or worse). A mugger with a .32 can decimate a party in only a few rounds. Melee in AD&D is far from realistic, but at least it works. Add guns to the fight and you have a mess and a lot of dead warriors.
Three adventures come in the MotRD box. Not one of them is especially clever or interesting. They all follow the same formula. Characters are brought in to investigate something that has killed people. They discover that it's the work of a powerful monster/villain/entity. Then they shoot at it. Of course, this is rarely the best solution when dealing with a supernatural villain in role-playing, but the adventures all give the PCs stuff to shoot at.
A DM screen, a poster of the box art, and a world map take up the rest of the space in the box. The DM screen is average and lacking the info on horror/fear/madness checks, since that's in Domains of Dread/Ravenloft boxed set, and putting it on the screen might allow some people to get out of buying the Ravenloft campaign. The map shows political boundaries, major rail routes, and paths of 19th century exploration. The border is cluttered with period woodcuts that detract from the map's overall appearance. If the rules were different, and if it was a complete campaign, this would be a good product. In light of that, it comes as no surprise that TSR discontinued the Gothic Earth line in the face of slow sales. As a fan of Victorian role-playing, I can only recommend it as somewhat useful source material for an 1890's Call of Cthulhu game, Age of Empire, and Space: 1889 games.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)