" While there's nothing wrong with historical accuracy, room must somehow be left for translating the reality of history into a playable adventure. "
Title: Vlad the Impaler: Blood Prince of Wallachia by Avalanche Press
Format: D20 Setting Sourcebook
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: "For over 500 years, people have spoken his name in whispers: Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia. Dracula. The books and movies paint him as a monster, a madman, a destroyer of souls. The reality is worse." Take a trip back to the Dark Ages in this D20 supplement set in the history of our own world, where you take up the role of a medieval adventurer in the land of Vlad Tepes himself, made exciting by the premise that "it all really happened." This book will either spark a passion within you to draw steel in the historically accurate setting provided, or make you wonder why you stopped playing Ravenloft to run this adventure. Do you want to know which one Genghis Kong felt? Then read on, my ravening mongrel… err, Mongol… horde.
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: Vlad the Impaler. Every schoolchild knows that this is the man upon whom the legendary monster Count Dracula was based; a ruler who impaled his own subjects on spikes and ate his dinners while watching them die there. What Avalanche Press has done is heavily researched his history and the lore of that time period and region and packaged it into about sixty pages of supplement so that players can enact their own stories within the well-known legendry. The problem is that the adventure given has a hair-thin premise whose twist is fantastically predictable - the Catholic Church has charged the characters to discover whether Vlad Tepes is a supernatural demon or just a sadistic ruler. It does not rely on the characters having played in previous Avalanche supplements (a few of which can be directly connected to this adventure), but shamelessly panders those equally odd choices in setting (by gamer standards) throughout the book, pointing out how much more sense the adventure makes if your characters witnessed the fall of Constantinople or were part of the Greenland Saga. The authors make a lot of rather odd assumptions about Vlad and his past, basing a lot of the information on the game from leaps of intuition they made about events that "might" have happened. The history is fairly accurate and the detail is intricate, but none of this stops it from being terribly boring to read and extremely dreary to contemplate. Information and factlets are repeated multiple times, and much of it seems added for the purposes of padding the book. 2 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The book itself is fairly plain and not particularly pleasing to the eye. There are no page borders, so the paragraphs are formatted simply in two columns that could have been printed from a Word document. The artwork is mainly taken from historical texts, which means it is largely of very poor quality in the first place, then run through a black and white scanner. The maps are grainy and hard to read, the side panel borders are ugly, and what little original art is contained within is barely worth mentioning. The cover is a rather gaudy and disproportionate oil painting that makes Vlad look like the lead singer from Monster Magnet, with a large-breasted woman beside him in a chemise (who is, I will note, about half his size), added in to draw the eye of the browsing gamer despite it being of rather unexceptional quality. There is all of one image in the entire book that caught this monkey's eye, and to be honest, it looks like it was a leftover from another supplement. 1 out of 5.
Playability: If you're gung ho about setting your D20 campaign in historical Europe and always wanted to have your characters interact with the original Dracula, then this book is aimed at you like the barrel of a shotgun. But if you're the average gamer, and a historical campaign with D20 rules made to be 'realistic' doesn't appeal to you much, you aren't going to like this book. The adventure itself is uninspired, strung along by a rather dull premise through one pointless encounter after another, until finally culminating with the big dinner at Vlad's encampment. Now, I'm sorry to spoil the surprise for those of you waiting to read the book yourselves, but the big shocker is that Vlad might possibly be a vampire. It's your DM's choice as to whether or not he actually is one, but that's like choosing whether or not you're going to put sugar in Kool-Aid. The average gamer is going to play through this adventure with little supernatural influence, no magic items, an all-human group, and no real point, and wonder what his DM was thinking. There are four Prestige Classes included in the book, as well, but you will find absolutely no use for them, as it is patently obvious to even the casual observer that they aren't good for much. 1 out of 5.
Desired Content: While making for an interesting historical text for the casual reader, there is little in this book that a gamer can really consider 'valuable' - most of the historical information is available online or at your local library with even the smallest attempt at research. The adventure is unexceptional, the Prestige Classes are almost unusable, and the game information is entirely impossible to port over to any setting - you either play it in historical Wallachia or you don't play it at all. The monsters included in the book are silly at best, nauseating at worst, with the most notable being the Obru, an undead creature that derives its nourishment from shit. A bitter shot in that particular section toward game reviewers (who the book quotes as making likely candidates for Obru, despite it's claim of being historically themed) is certainly not going to save this supplement from being a serious letdown. 2 out of 5.
|Avalanche Press has made a valiant attempt to corner the market in D20 games set during historically accurate events in the European Dark Ages, but overall falls flat in the fun department. Their unfortunate mistake is in thinking most D20 gamers are interested in a concept traditionally dominated by other story-based games, who find ways of making their settings both accurate and entertaining, whereas Vlad the Impaler is merely accurate. While there's nothing wrong with historical accuracy, room must somehow be left for translating the reality of history into a playable adventure.|
The Good: Tons of great, historically accurate information on medieval Wallachia…
The Bad: …that you could find out for free, which probably won't interest you anyway, and in no way encourages you to actually play a game in the setting.
The Overall Ugly: Did you know people were impaled up the ass? Don't think too hard on that, you'll draw some uncomfortable conclusions about Vlad, reinforced by the game text.
What it's Worth: I'm really not certain, but generally I expect restitution for this kind of abuse?