Champions of Darkness
Champions of Darkness Playtest Review by Tama Hatanaka on 22/10/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Ravenloft d20 book Champions of Darkness has a few warts, but offers a lot of rich detail for running anti-hero campaigns.
Product: Champions of Darkness
Page count: 120
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Tama Hatanaka on 22/10/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Horror Gothic Other
PUBLISHER' DESCRIPTION: Inside this booke are rules for creating and developing anti-heroic characters as well as prestige classes, information on the dark religions and secret societes in the land of Mists and ideas for running campaigns.
What You Get
The Introduction gives a rough definition of an anti-hero character and some of their motivations, followed by a section called :Creating the Anti-Hero," which introduces twelve new prestige classes. All are five levels. They include: Charlatan, Dreamcaster, Highway Rider, Manipulator, Master of Curses, Mesmerist, Moon Bane, Night Lord, Propagandist, Scourge, Solitary Outcast, Worldbreaker. Several of these include less than mystical self-serving types which fit well with the concept of an anti-hero campaign. The most interesting being the Charlatan, Master of Curses, Mesmerist and Moon Bane. The Charlatan is exactly what it sounds like, for good or for evil -- an expected and necessary component to a gothic-flavored game. The Master of Curses is a favorite of mine as a specialist for both giving and receiving curses. The Mesmerist provides a perfect template for anyone looking for psychiatric care, and neatly provides a template for those running the older Nightmare Lands campaign setting. Moon Banes are angst ridden, cured were-creatures. And for the not so good. The Night Lord is almost like a cleric or anti-paladin of a dark lord, maybe one that is more favored over others -- but lacking in any individualized characteristics of the particular, served darklord. The Dreamcaster was just disappointing. Having run the older Nightmare Lands campaign setting, I expected a more sophisticated prestige class than this to deal with the topic of dreams. The Scourge is a torturer with a little magic added. And the Worldbreaker is a lightweight worshipper of Kali. The rest, are expected components of a gothic setting -- useful, but not as interesting as the others.
CoD introduces 31 new feats. There are a few that are background based, so they should only be granted to players when they create new characters. There is plenty here to like, and most have at least a little taste of Ravenloft rolled into them.This is followed by a short section on PCs who become monsters. Its a short, reflective text that doesn't add significantly to a game experience if you already have some of the excellent Van Richten's guides, but if you don't you will be happy to have this.The Partrons section would have been better named as Organizations. The societies covered include Carnival, Freemen of Falkovnia, The Hunt Club, L'Acadeime des Sciences, The Order of the Ebon Gargoyle, Sans Merci and the Tribes of Hyskosa. This section goes into detail about the motivations of each organization, enough to provide excellent seeds for a campaign. The Order of the Ebon Gargoyle and Sans Merci were disappointing however. The Order seems too highly visible -- its like bringing the Zhentarim in from a Forgotten Realms campaign into Ravenloft. Sans Merci is simply a guild of torturers. The Freemen of Falkovnia provide an excellent "rebel force" for PCs to join. I dont have the previously published suppliment on Carnival, so its unclear what has happened between this and the previous rendition.
Who's Doomed -- We see the return of Jander Sunstar, minus his Forgotten Realms background. Jander Sunstar was the main character of the first Ravenloft novel. Its interesting to note that although in products like the Campaign Setting and Gazeteer Volume 1, the writers specifically sanitized references to Forgotten Realms, they did manage to slip in that Jander was associated with Lathander, a Forgotten Realms god. The strength of this section is that the examples also provide some good examples of the new prestige classes. The downside? Sheriff von Zarovich, an example of the Nightlord AND Scourge. This guy reeks of Forgotten Realms type junior evil overlord.The Dark Campaign -- Sections called "Motivation"and "Powers Checks in the Dark Campaign" read mostly like a retelling of the fall into darkness detailed in the Ravenloft Campaign Setting with a little extra flavoring for a grittier campaign. Any GM who is reasonably familiar with the risks of Powers Checks and classic gothic story misadventures will probably find these portions skipable. This is followed by "Story Ideas for Dark Adventures" which are much better than the rest of this chapter. This section provides exactly what it called, story ideas for "anti-hero" adventures, including campaign tips for running a campaign for characters levels 1-20. While the campaign notes are well, fairly light on detail, they do provide a very good outline of a campaign where PCs have to make a choice between two evils. The final portion of the section are the "DM's Notes" which adds a few additional critters and templates that arenít likely to show up in most campaigns. The product is a softbound book of 120 Pages with a similar cover design to the other Ravenloft books already in print from Arthaus.
I left the non-text content details to the last, in that its important but ultimately, only I am going to look at it, not my players. The layout should be familiar to anyone who owns the other Arthaus products. Its evocative of a dark campaign, with their "spooky" font for titling, Ravenloft page ornaments and a very clear and easy to read font for the text itself. It comes with a table of contents, but no index. The loss of an index isnít very noticeable given that the book is only 120 pages long. The artwork is a real mix. Interior art is all black ink on white backgrounds, with art from at least two artists. All of the artwork is fairly simple in design. Some of it is evocative and attractive. However, some of the artwork is amateurish. Heads and figures are often out of proportion and donít appear to follow normal rules of the body. Itís not an "Im a flesh golem" situation, but that heads donít sit right on necks, characters in motion look very stiff -- that sort of thing. Itís well below the quality standard of the rest of the product and rest of the art in the book.
Value. If you are running a Ravenloft 3rd Edition campaign, this is a must have book. Given the amount of price creep in the RPG industry, the cover price of $21.95 is very reasonable for the amount of extremely useful material.