Authors: Bruce Nesmith and William W. Connors
Good expansion of the Black Box. Oaths of Evil (curses, etc.) was average, IMHO, as nothing spectacular was to be found in it. However, the Cryptic Allegiances is still my prime source of info on many secret societies such as the Kargatane and the Keepers of the Black Feather. Excellent booklet. Nova Arcanum - the second part of the book (new spells) was quite cool and meant hell for the players! The Waking Dream was simply outstanding and still my preferred source for the Tarokka over the RL3eDMG (sorry Carla!). The dikesha was less useful, IMHO. Kalidnay was odd at first, and still is for me - I don't see Dark Sun and Ravenloft mixing well (not gothic enough and too fantasy).
Overall, well worth the time spend to get a paper copy!
4 on 5.
David "Jester" Gibson
This is the first real Accessory for Ravenloft. It is true there were other products published before the Forbidden Lore Boxed set (Darklords and Islands of Terror) but these were simply expansions on the main Campaign setting and just more lands doing nothing to really add depth to the setting. More of the same, really, while whole sections of the Core were blank, but I will say more on them when it comes time to review them. Forbidden Lore was different as instead of just presenting a few new realms and Lords it expands on the rules and supplies additions that could be added to the game without moving the players across the Core.
The box is divided up into five smaller books, each with their own subject. This was unusual at first as they could have all been easily squeezed into a single book, but keeping the information separate is actually a good idea. This works as a plus for most of the books, if one only needs the rules for the Tarokka or the information on a secret society those books can be removed and the rest left tucked away, much easier than searching through a single large thick tome. It should be said that this product simply failed to "wow" me. It was far more useful than Darklords or Islands of Terror but lacked anything to make it a fun read, the scattered NPCs lacked a lot of depth and there are few interesting stories or chapters here. It was simply four books of rules and guidelines (secret societies aside). I’m also a fan of the cover of this box, a very nice picture. And the Shadow knows!
Staring with Oaths of Evil, this book details curses and the infamous Dark Power checks. While both were introduced in the Black Box they are expanded here with extra guidelines and rules. There is a lot of useful information on constructing curses in this book, from escape clauses and defining their strength to a handful of example verses. Much of this information has been repeated in later settings but the volume of information here is still impressive and much is said without resorting to hard game rules. It may be the most complete guide to curses published yet. Likewise the rules for Dark Power checks are detailed with much information that has been reduced or left out of future supplements. The rules for shades of grey are particularly notable. Rounding out the book are three cursed objects, the Timepiece of Klorr, the Fang of the Nosferatu and the Blood Coin. All three, especially the Fang, have popped up in future products.
The second book is the Waking Dream with rules for fortune telling using the Tarokka and the Dikesha, both of which are included in this boxed set. It is still the only place to buy a copy of the Dikesha dice. The descriptions of the cards along with the positioning of cards are nice and still quite usable with the recently released (and beautiful) Tarokka deck published by Swords and Sorcery. There are also some brief words about using the cards in adventures. The dice are less useful and atmospheric than the deck, and much harder to stack, but they make a lovely random element to the game. On the back cover of this book is a quick reference sheet matching the images on the Dikesha with the dice.
The third book Dark Recesses deals with the mind, or more specifically, the minds of psionicists and the insane. This book updates the 2nd Edition Psionics Handbook for Ravenloft offering full conversion of all the powers found therein. The madness rules are unremarkable with the madness developed not reflecting what caused the mental illness it is simply a random development. Also this chart perpetuates the idea that schizophrenia is related to Multiple Personality Disorder. Sadly most of this book is used to update the Psionic rules and there simply is no real additional information on madness that is not found in any other tome. At the end of this is the ill-fated crossover attempt between Darksun and Ravenloft with the domain of Kalidnay. The less said of this the better.
The forth tome in this box is Cryptic Allegiances, which details a handful of secret societies in the Dread Realms. This book introduces and details the Dark Delvers, Kargatane (!), Ildi’Thaan, Ata-Bestaal, Adam’s Children, and the Keepers of the Black Feather. This is one of the few books to include any information of most of these groups, and some, such as the Ildi’Thaan have yet to appear in any Third Edition text. Cryptic Allegiances is still one of the better sources of information on such famous groups as the Keepers or the Kargatane who only manage to ever get a half a page of information. Still, at a scant 31pages this book is still far too small. Not all of the secret societies are ‘winners’, the Dark Delvers struck me as a mite odd and I am unsure if I would ever use the Ata-Bestaal in a game, but they are still an intriguing read.
The final book is Nova Arcanum, which I believe means ‘new magic’ in one of those dead languages that people refuse to let stay dead. 10% Dark Powers check for the writers for grave robbing! This book starts with conversion rules for the spells found in the Tome of Magic AD&D supplement. The second half also introduces some new spells into Ravenloft; Strahd himself pens most of these spells. So of course the book starts with a fragment from the Count’s diary (not yet called "I, Strahd") and a very unappealing picture of the Strahd. The cover of this book if far more flattering. As the spells are from an outdated system and most of the new spells either require lengthy updating or have already been reintroduced this book is the least useful of the five.
The first true Accessory is a worthwhile addition to Ravenloft, when released there was so much here that instantly became essential to the game, however, like most of the original products it has not improved with age. Most of the mechanics have changed and much of the information has been republished elsewhere (with the exception of the Dark Powers check, which oddly has not changed at all since this book and should have been updated to d20 a long time ago). For someone hunting for an original Tarokka and the Dikesha this is the only place to look. Likewise the secret societies and fortune telling information is useful and a worthy addition.
The original rating would be a solid three and 3/4 severed digits out of five. The lack of "wow" in the writing (as it is just rules) prevents it from reaching a 4. The current rating is 3 out of five.
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