Children of the Night: The Created
Authors: Peter Adkinson, Steven "Stan!" Brown, William W. Connors, Dave Gross, Miranda Horner, Harold Johnson, John W. Mangrum, Steve Miller, Thomas M. Reid, Cindi Rice, Lucien Soulban, Ed Stark, and David Wise.
First: for me, the cover of this product is one of the most disturbing, nightmare-inducing of the whole Ravenloft line, all editions combined. Excellent!
The best: Aggregate Golem (interesting split personality concept), Azenwrath (the best of the lot - creepy background, interesting 'it will be here soon'-type adventure. Great to see this creature in Gazetteer 1 (it originated in Forlorn)), Chaperone (cool concept), Gestalt (but I wonder how to introduce this in a campaign as a long term tenant)
The average: Angelique (a golem so wonderfully created it has no stitches ? Another rule bending to create something unique…), Automatic Man (I was never fond of mechanical golems anyway), Alexandre du Cire (as JWM noted, this guy is indeed reminiscent of one of Carnival troupers), Doppleganger Golem (the return of Bollenbach in another crazy experiment), Lumina (cool concept), Min'kins (odd good aligned NPC)
The not so good: Living Armor (from a beholder ? Taken where in Ravenloft ?), Lucre (interesting idea, but in the unliving category looking for its parts, Azenwrath is much cooler), Transient Golem (too weird, not really a created as some kind of mist horror).
4.5 on 5.
Martijn van Roosmalen
First of all, this book has one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. At first I didn't recognized it as being a Ravenloft product (which is also due to the very small Ravenloft logo).
The Aggregate Golem: this is a fairly basic golem, but I like the whole setting of the adventure. I love the idea of a city plagued by a mysterous disease. I'd give this golem 4 drops.
Angelique: this golem is also very 'usual'. The only unusual part is that she is not immediately recognizable as a golem. Because of this the adventure has got some nice surprises for the PC's, but end to quickly to my liking. 3 drops.
Automatic Man: I love this one. My only complaint is about the explanation of how he(it?) came to be. I understand how he became golem, but how did he become a house? (Perhaps it's this kind of things men was not meant to know..) Nevertheless, good an terrifying story. 4 drops
Azenwrath: this one is creepy. Just study the cover for a few minutes. Gave me the chills (Looks like a bundle of dead wood, but somehow it lives..) The story is also good. Nice twists. (murder, talking idols, village under siege by forest). I only disliked the Treant 'giving away' Azenwraths history, but apparently it is the only way to let it be known to the PCs. 5 drops.
Chaperone: nice story, but somehow I didn't like this golem. 2 drops.
Alexander du Cire: this is a good one. The story could be developed into a campaign in which some of Ravenloft's nobility is introduced. The wax house is very creepy. There are a lot of good suggestions to make this adventure really horrific. 5 drops.
Doppleganger Golem: somehow this story reminds me too much of Chilling tales. Does this Bollenbach guy have a preference for windmills? He is a nice recurring villain, though. (I can hear my PCs complain: Oh no, has he made another super golem.?!!!!) 2 drops.
Gestalt: I like the background of this one. The story is fairly straightforward, but the scene in which the golem replaces his rotting skin really gave me the creeps. The only minor flaw is that the fact that the golem has two personalities doesn't have any apparent effect on his behavior. (besides the zeitgeber) 4 drops.
Living Armor. Not my kind of Golem. Can't see the big differnces with a real beholder (apart from a man inside it). I don't think my players see it too. The picture looks scary, but the adventure is to much hack-n-slash. 1.5 drops
Lucre: Good one. Can be used as a recurring villain. ('What? There are 12 more coins somewhere!). Also a really nice story. 4 drops.
Lumina: nice golem, but the story is too short to my liking. But since one of my PCs is a priest of Ezra, I could flesh things out a little. 3 drops.
Min'Kins: very strange. The first adventure can be very good (in a strange house with a strange man and something is creeping (or running) through the house..) After that it gets too weird to be scary. 2.5 drops.
Transient golem: this looks more like a monstrous compendium entry than an unique monster. Why is it called a golem anyway? Nevertheless a nice creature to be used in my campaign. 3.5 drops.
Conclusion: this is a really good product, better than CotN:Werebeasts. 4 drops.
David "Jester" Gibson
This is the forth and final published book in the Children of the Night series for Second Addition D&D. The name, The Created, is the term applied to all golems in the VanRichten’s Guide series although that focused primarily on flesh golems. This, like the other three CotN series details thirteen unique constructs and includes small introductory adventures. Unlike the others the Ravenloft logo of the book is tucked away at the side making this product seem more like a generic AD&D product despite so many of the rules and setting expecting knowledge of the Land of the Mists. Obviously they were trying for a broader appeal.
Special note should be made of the simply beautiful cover of this book. It is frightening and features and obviously artificial monster that is noticeably different from any other construct. It evokes a feeling of terror and menace and draws the reader in, much like the Werebeast book. Only in this case the creature on the cover is included in the book and its story comes later. The fact the author chose one of the included and most different creatures really complements the book and the creators.
The book starts with a small two-page introduction to the series and includes a brief summary of rules and guidelines from the VanRichten Guide. It is short and concise leaving room for more information elsewhere but is still more than just an intro to the setting or useless recap of base rules. There is some good discussion on psychology although this is the most compressed of the sections and thankfully the book makes mention of zeitgebers, which actually have a role in the book. All the aspects from the VRGuides are present unlike earlier CotN that overlooked vital additions such as chemical banes or unique weaknesses.
The first golem in the book is the Aggregate golem, a fairly standard flesh golem, only with a twist. This golem has a multiple personalities from the bodies it is made of as well as related zeitgebers to each personality that can trigger personality shifts. This is not all, as the golem as has unique combat abilities -a unique salient power if you will- that might seem extraneous if it did not fit the background so comfortably. At the same time this golem is paired with a backstory of tragically lost love. The accompanying adventure is not truly a full story but instead more of a set-up detailing the major characters and events while offering a few separate possibilities for stories. It includes fulls stat blocks for multiple NPCs and enough information to easily use the monster. While a defined introduction to the character would have been nice the variety and customisability of the tale are enjoyable. With the instant familiarity of the monster coupled by a few twits this is the perfect start to the book.
The golem known as Angelique follows, another flesh golem, but (again) with a twist. This entry is sadly unoriginal with many elements that have been done before; the doctor and his lost love, the struggle to save her, amnesia and the other story elements. Sometimes this tale has been done with the lost love resurrected from the grave by magic, but the use of surgery is equally common. The accompanying adventure is also quite linear and straightforward so a party of even half-intelligent players will easily cruise through this without worry or trouble. And yet, this is still a good entry. It is simple and it is uncomplicated with little that could bog down or confuse those involved. The set-up allows for some good opportunities to role-play and the sad ending, made so by the difficult choice, make this an interesting story. The writer does not take the easy way out at the end by making Angelique into a monster or having her invariably destroy herself regardless of the players’ actions. The story does not necessarily wrap so neatly. Unoriginal and uninspired but still fun, and in D&D that is what matters the most.
The third Created in the book is the Automatic Man. It takes a very standard idea for an adventure, an eccentric inventor who mechanises his home complete with a ‘robot’ butler, and adds it into Ravenloft. A simple enough set-up that so obviously goes awry. However, this is complicated by the ‘butler’ essence shifting locations and the resulting changes. The players would expect the mechanical butler to a golem and evil, and this is true, but the author shakes this up just enough for the entry to be interesting. There are also some other minor twists and complications such as the involvement of the Guardians. The one problem is the obvious lack of space. In many cases it is apparent information had to be cut or condensed to fit the page-count. Likewise the accompanying map of the manor makes the house far too small and not nearly as mechanised as one might hope. A little creative addition adding from a DM would easily improve this tale.
Now the book reaches Azenwrath, the ‘golem’ featured on the cover. Azenwrath is by far of the most unique Created in the book not truly being a golem. Instead of being made by another it ‘created’ itself and is almost more an undead plant. The twist is that Azenwrath is an evil treant that was turned into magical items, scrolls and other wooden items but returned to ‘life’ to reclaim all its pieces. Unlike other CotN entries where an alternative version of a creature is introduced this feels less like a Monster Compendium entry and more like the NPC it is meant to be. He is not a ‘new type of golem’ but a unique being. Azenwrath is set-up excellently with some potentially as a reoccurring foe. It is relentless and without morals but not truly evil. The adventure is a nice introduction with Azenwrath only arriving at the end; it is more an introduction to the creature with the entire tale building up to its arrival. Most of the story revolves around events in motion while it is still on the move. The real threat in most of the adventure comes from other creatures and the largest mystery has nothing to do with the golem. The ending is also a challenge with no easy solution, especially against such a powerful creature as Azenwrath. Simply a great entry.
Chaperone is another non-flesh golem although in this case it is an entirely new type, the patchwork golem. As such it walks the fine line between new monster and actual unique foe. Thankfully the background is good if a tad creepy in an unintentional way; Bethany’s actions are a tad on the unbalanced side so even if she survives the tale she is not likely to be a normal young woman. She is also far too young for the role the story suggests, or rather she appears too young to modern readers. Thirteen was an acceptable age for courting during the period most Ravenloft adventures are set but now it borders on images of molestation. Ageing her by five years would in no way affect the story though. Overall it is above average but lacks the sheer impact of other entries.
The wax golem Du Cire is next and he interestingly is placed in a house of wax. There is nothing really unusual or extraordinary in this entry, it is a standard wax golem right from the pages of a Ravenloft book of monsters. There is not even a zeitgebers making this one of the few entries without (this NPC was written by the author of CotN: Werebeasts so it appears he is fond of cookie-cutter monsters without a unique VanRichten-style Achilles’ heel…). Nothing really stands out about the entry or the adventure, nothing any Dungeon Master could not think or themselves. The sole point of interest is the use of player’s suspicions. In stead of simply attempting to ‘fake-out’ the players or mislead them it tries to take advantage of the fact most players will guess ahead of time something is amiss at the House of Wax simply from so many stories and movies that feature horror in that setting. Instead of trying to do something misleading of different the author suggests giving the players what they want and replicating some of the key moments such as vats of wax or sudden exposure of the villain’s nature from bright flame. Just crazy enough to work…
Despite the next section’s name of Doppleganger Golem it is really about Emil Bollenbach, a lovely reoccurring villain who has appeared in previous products and will likely appear again. The golem itself is principally a trumped-up flesh golem, but with other powers. The set-up over the Doppleganger Golem’s adventure is a bit misplaced since, if players are at all smart, they will likely not face the golem in combat. It is not the true foe of the piece and just another new monster. The adventure is sadly forced with certain key events required to happen regardless of how careful or intelligent the players are. This makes it a tad unreliable of a tale. There is also the moment where Bollenbach tries to flee through the stereotypical secret escape passage, a very cliché end with the villain ducking out at the climax. Not great but the main purpose seemed more to toss out a fun new monster and detail Emil with full stats and history so it is valuable for that at least.
The next golem is another flesh golem, they are the big ones in Ravenloft so it makes sense. Thankfully Gestalt is another golem with a twist. The backstory is not hugely original but since it is a tale of lost lives, love triangles, jealousy and duelling; it would be difficult to think of anything involving those that had not been done before. Without adding a wise-cracking teen sidekick that is. The section is solid with the history being moody and well suited to the setting, placing the story in Richemulot certainly works to the tale’s advantage, so does the regional background of other figures. The adventure itself is simple with all the pieces fitting together nicely. It does require fortuitous roles and one player to let his character be taken off-guard but there is nothing too uncomfortable in this. While Gestalt himself might not necessarily make a great reoccurring villain there is more than enough information provided, especially with the small section at the end, for him to make a return.
The Living Armor is the next golem and by far one of the strangest in the book. It is a flesh golem created as a meat-suit for a wizard with an inferiority complex and designed to mimic a beholder. This is a fake-out adventure where the point is to make the players believe they really do face a beholder in Ravenloft. The background to the adventure is good and some of the characters are fine but the adventure and concept just seem poor. A giant floating flesh golem with many, many eyes all enchanted with magic spells just does not seem to capture the right atmosphere. In a more high magic game this might be a fun entry but in a book that so strives to fit the Ravenloft mood and setting this is simply out of place. The author gets points for originality and it is a good change of pace but just lacking.
Another equally original golem is next, Lucre the coin golem. Lucre is very challenging foe that would make for a deadly adventure, possibly even a few nasty encounters. It would be hard to permanently kill such a creature and it would be a good ‘stumper’ to toss at players. The bulk of this ‘mystery’ though comes in a single fight, albeit an extended one. There is no long investigation into the foe and no zeitgeber; the heroes must simply best their enemy and find the solution or flee. However, the motivations of Lucre seem limited and shallow. Special mention should be made of the art in this chapter though, which includes both sides of Lucre’s coin with nice attention to detail. The chapter even comes with a fairly nice map. Not bad but just not great.
Continuing down the alphabet is Lumina, a simple adventure that is a whodunit with some insane monks, large red herrings, mysterious powers, a vengeful ghost and the like. The bulk of the adventure revolves around the solving of a single mystery complete with visions and possessing spirits reliving the past. There is a lot squeezed into this chapter seamlessly. The resolution can come in multiple ways with even a combat-less option included. It is a nice adventure that is playable at almost any level. The villain is not very villainous though so it is a single-shot tale at best. This entry does stand out for nice use of the setting with its name-dropping reference to Ezra instead of simply creating a new faith.
The odd Min’kins and their creator Punchinel follow. This is essentially the basis for a micro-campaign or small series of connected adventures. The Min’kins are oddly different but are more related to animated dead or zombie creatures than golems. Included is an alright map of Lian’s manor although it does not fit the map key exactly and there either some twisted images or missing staircases. The adventure does assume the heroes make the odd choice to allow Lian to continue his disturbing hobby as well as assuming the villagers do not quickly descend into an uncontrollable angry mob instead of the easily placated semi-mob present in the story. Unnecessarily included is a large list of the entire population of the town, their classes and a few quick notes on personality traits. This is a nice idea, fleshing out the village, but considering this takes up more than an entire page and the village itself does not warrant a map it seems like needless filler.
The final golem is the Transient Golem. It is not really a golem. Nor is it truly unique being more a new monster entry squeezed into this book. It has no real personality, few goals and only limited use. While some fascinating stories could be written for the Transient Golem it simply is not as gripping as other characters in the book. The adventure included is more a small introduction to the beast that provides very little information. The open ended nature of the tale does allow for some follow-ups and some possible ends but, as mentioned, it is more an adventure hook than a true adventure.
Children of the Night: Created is easily the best of the series taking advantage of new concepts included in the works of Rudolph Van while having a balanced mix of classic monster types and new variants. There is even a balance between combat heavy adventures and investigative tales. While some of the authors strived more for the ‘new’ and ‘original’ and did not focus enough on the personalities, backgrounds and adventures other entries more than made up for this. There is not a single entry in this book that is completely unusable and all have their redeeming features. However, with thirteen different authors writing thirteen different entries there is a measure of conflict in styles. Sometimes the difference in approach is jarring and since every adventure had to have the same rough word-count there was no shifting of chapters to accommodate other entries. Longer monsters could not lose pages to give others more room. This is especially noted in the heavily-shrunk Automatic Man chapter and the Min’kin section with its page-and-a-half of extraneous NPCs.
The only major problem is the shift in game editions that make some conversion needed. This is a tad problematic and costs the book half a point. Despite this it is a great book full of ideas.
Four severed digits out of five!
Golems are by far my favorite types of monsters in Ravenloft. Even more so than vampires and werewolves, they come in an amazing variety of forms. Thus, this is the first book in the COTN series I had to get my hands on. I am glad to say I was not disappointed with its contents.
The Aggregate Golem is a good entry. While its history is rather formulaic (lost love, tragic death, etc.) the side characters add a lot of depth to the story and gives the DM a lot of possibilities to work with. The only problem I had with this entry was its lack of a firm setting. I’d want to place this town somewhere near Falkovnia or Lamordia, although Borca would be a good option too. I thought Angelique was a nice twist on the golem story and not just because she is a woman. While her history is also formulaic, the adventure is a nice break from the usual hack and slash variety. I’m not sure what more could be done with the character after it’s over, however. The Automatic Man is a solid entry, although it’s not really to my liking. If it were up to me, instead of possessing it’s old home, I would have the golem seeking to reanimate its remains and get its revenge on the townsfolk that killed it. But again, it’s a nice twist on the haunted house theme.
Azenwrath has the most interesting and unique origin of the bunch. This is a great recurring character. A smart DM could create an entire campaign that follows Azenwrath’s movements. The PCs could slowly learn more about his origin and even wind up helping him collect his scattered remains. A really great entry with lots of potential. The Chaperone is one of my favorites. A patchwork golem pet is one I haven’t heard of before. Also, it has potential for a reoccurring role even if its creator is killed. It could simply find a new person to “adopt.”
Alexandre Du Cire was also one of my favorites. Some people say he is too similar to Mr.? from the Carnival accessory, but I think the author takes the concept of the wax golem one step further and gives it an air of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. But, then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for wax museums. I loved the return of Emil Bollenbach for the Doppleganger Golem entry. Even though his accompanying adventure was basically a rehash of his introduction in Chilling Tales, he is still a fun character to run.
Gestalt is a standout because he is a golem created from only two donors. It is pointed out that this is in contradiction to Van Richten’s guidelines, but I think the story is sufficient to warrant such an exception. Most people don’t seem to like The Living Armor either. I, however, thought it was a nice break from the usual tragedy inspired backstory. While the main foe is definitely a serious threat, the circumstances surrounding its creation is kinda humorous to me. Lucre is a pure killing machine. His background is interesting and it leaves in a built-in potential for a recurring role. This entry is a good contrast to the others that require more thinking than fighting. Lumina was also nice entry, but one with limited potential. I like the mystery element in the adventure provided, but after the adventure runs its course there’s really nowhere else to go.
Min’Kins is a very offbeat addition. Again, most people don’t seem to like it. While I think naming the town Idlethorp is a bit heavy handed (idle=lazy) Lucian would be a nice NPC to keep in the background and drop in on every once and while to see what he’s up to. Also, this would throw a curveball to the players expecting the golems to turn on their master while in fact it’s the schemes of the townspeople that really create all the problems. And then there’s the Transient Golem. This is the only entry I did not like of the whole lot. Like others have said, it reads more like a new monster than a unique individual. It was a nice try at something new, but not at all inspiring.
I would give this book a 4 out of 5. Aside from the Transient Golem, there’s not one character I feel you couldn’t insert into a worthwhile campaign either as a major plot point or brief side adventure.
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