Review of Daughters of Darkness

Review Summary
Playtest Review
Written Review

March 16, 2007


by: Lev Lafayette


Style: 1 (Unintelligible)
Substance: 3 (Average)

The artwork competes for bottom rung in roleplaying books; so bad it is likely to cause SAN loss. The setting standard fare, a little on the dull side. Bulk of the package is decent background material, four major scenarios and five encounters all of which are average in quality.

Lev Lafayette has written 133 reviews (including 65 RuneQuest reviews), with average style of 3.17 and average substance of 3.20. The reviewer's previous review was of AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

This review has been read 5358 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Daughters of Darkness
Publisher: Avalon Hill, Chaosium
Line: RuneQuest
Author: Robert Innes, Tony Hickie
Category: RPG

Pages: 96
Year: 1991

SKU: 85717
ISBN: 1-56038-026-8


Review of Daughters of Darkness


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"The Daughters of Darkness and the Chronicles of Santon" is one of two "gateway" settings published by Avalon Hill for RuneQuest3e, neither of which are terribly popular among RQ fans (three if you include Griffin Island, which is questionable). The product is a 96p cardstock publication with a two-sided colour map, one side of peninsula Menetia, and the other of the city of Santon. Accurately described primarily as an "adventure module", the book also includes the world of Menetia, fauna notes, system of government, religion and magic, the district of Santon and its personalities, and local area knowledge, before moving on to the nine scenarios of which only five are, in reality, simple encounters. Both the cover and interior art is seriously substandard in general, and in some cases extremely so. Almost invariably an entire page is given to such dubious aesthetic endeavours; the Walktapus and Jack-o-Bear on page 90 are almost painful to look at; the average elementary schoolchild can produce far superior drawings. The peninsula map is both quite unpleasing to the eye and geographically quite improbable, and half the city map is effectively blank space, either river or undetailed land outside the city walls. The various building and village layouts are quite acceptable. The writing is of average quality and the layout is a rather dull two-column text throughout.

The text opens with a description of the peninsula in general. It has many hills and mountains, with warm summers and cool winters and significant winter rainfall, none of which explains the serious absence of forested regions indicated on the main map. The land of the people is ruled by the Autocracy, following the murder of the region's King some twenty years prior. The people live with a traditional landlord-peasant relationship, with a significant fishing industry and the dozen or so mainly coastal cities having between 3 and 100 thousand people, although the text does not provide any numbers. To the north are a distinct barbarian people. Elves, dwarves and trolls also have small communities. The section on 'fauna' provides stat-blocs on a large carnivorous bat and gargoyles and not much else.

The Autocracy is actually several families who compete over various positions such as the Magistracy, the Guardians, Wardens (provincial governors) and Judges. The five main families are given a brief description of their current power and positions. Overall, the political system seems improbable given the technology and lay of the land. Rather than a centralised and hierarchical autocracy the description of the region suggests, at best, highly decentralised confederation of city-states; unless of course that significant naval power is utilised, however the entire pack is absent of any such an indication.

The "religion of the people" in Menetia appears to be the "rare and expensive" euphoric drug Farweed, which is taken in snuff form and sells for approximately 20 pennies for a week's supply. Such a drug would be well out of range for the poorest of the poor, would reduce most people (landed peasants, craftsmen) to abject poverty and would substantially dent the income of a master craftsmen. In the more formal sense, the main cults are the Sea, War and Underworld. There is nothing terribly wrong with the creation and mythos story and there's even a couple of inspired moments.

The vast bulk of the book is the description of Santon and the adventures. Santon, where it is assumed the PCs are based, and its personalities and local areas knowledge are all fairly good. The place is run by the fat and bored (and very Lunar/Roman looking) Alory, with his mistress, the cheesily named Cruella Vullen who appears to have an interest in leather outfits and whips. Background is also given to the local healer, who doesn't require monetary payment but expects payment in kind, a huge, boring, slow-thinking and talkative local, a snitch, a jeweler, a minstrel, an old soldier, a grumpy impoverished sage, the portly and cheery inn-owner, a local urchin, a drug-dealer and, of course, the local brothel madam. These are all handy characters with at least one significant personality trait each, a notable physical feature and offer potential plot leads.

The next section is the adventures. As mentioned a number of these are encounters at best. The first is protecting a drug supply which is a simple ambush encounter and demand for surrender, which is unfortunate as ambushes in RuneQuest are deadly, and especially with crossbows. In the playtest it was a case of character generation, first major die roll, critical impale to the head, and the lead dark troll is dead. The fact this was followed through with a warrior trollkin rolling five fumbles just added to the tragedy. A lesson in narrative design; don't make the first encounter of a story a deadly encounter. Subsequent events include saving a local from a group of thugs, a justified (and difficult) theft from a town notable with political ramifications, a trivial visit to a hermit, a town and temple investigation and reconnaissance with more political intrigue (the patron's refusual on the details makes very little sense and is best ignored), a risky and significantly underpaid reverse pickpocket chance, a treasure hunt with an established ally, a protection money incident, and finally, a huge (1/3 of the book), many-session courier journey where an old nemesis plays a wicked role.

Overall the adventures play quite well. The shorter ones can be slipped in as singular encounters or, with minimal effort, can be tied into the larger (for example, tying the assault with the theft). The four main scenarios tie together with non-central plot devices and it is possible that without narrativist intervention that the PCs will complete the tasks and overlook the necessary lead. Further, the conclusion of the final scenario takes the PCs far from their original base which provides a subtle hint to the GM to engage in their own development of a different part of the peninsula

"Daughters of Darkness" is a below average product overall. Initial and thoroughly justified reactions of extreme horror at the art and production quality however is not replicated in either the setting or the scenarios, all of which are quite reasonable with some challenging situations, significant intrigue and opportunities to build solid character relationships. If anything, the greatest weakness is that the environment is a little dull; the weather is mild, the region rugged, the aristocrats are playing games, and the population is poor; pretty standard stuff, really. Of course, compared to many other RuneQuest scenario and setting products it faces serious competition; this is certainly nowhere near the quality of Pavis/Big Rubble, Borderlands or Vikings, but by the same token it certainly doesn't deserve conflagration either. It is quite a useful product overall and with a little work can be integrated even into Glorantha; I ended up turning Santon into Boldhome, the Gyverck river and cult into The Creek, and the ocean voyage into a camel train into Prax, all without problems. All of which leaves a seriously mystified question: Stylistically, what the hell was Avalon Hill thinking?

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