Gothic Earth Gazeteer
Authors: William W. Connors
Summary of content:
David "Jester" Gibson
The Masque of the Red Death continues in this nice little campaign expansion. This book, as stated in the introduction, was designed to fill in the Whos, Whats and Whens to the world of the Gothic Earth, the Wheres, Whys and Hows being previously covered in the main MotRD box. This is a book for Dungeon Masters and people who plan on running the game, there is very little in here for the players. It deals too much with the ‘future’ and what is to come and the detailed knowledge provided could lead to a conflict with what the players and what the characters know. To avoid some painful metagame thinking players should avoid this book. Of course, since so much is historical, there’s nothing truly surprising that a good history buff would not know.
This book, like the core book, does not provide a long detailed history of the Gothic Earth. While twenty or so pages in this book are devoted to history the events are restricted to the 1890s so the full history of the Gothic Earth is still vague. Research is a must for campaigns in the world. This is good in that DMs can interpret historical events to their own plans with as much or as little interference of the Red Death as they choose. Much detail in the history section is paid to the Spanish-American war, although there is a diverse range of events covered. Most of the listed events, such as the publication of famous books and plays and great scientific discoveries, are obvious inclusions in the history. However, there are many more obscure or less dramatic events listed that bring to mind adventure ideas. The series of events also listed after the headlines come with detailed background as well as Forbidden Lore entries.
The majority of the book, almost thirty pages, is devoted to an encyclopedic listing of the names of historic figures. Written loosely in a biographic style by someone in the late 1890s this means some people are included whose greatness and historical contribution have yet to occur, such as Winston Churchill. Interspersed among the entries are small grey boxes of Forbidden Lore, although not ever person rates a dark secret. Some people have some dark secrets and ties to infamous people or shadowy organizations. There are some interesting ideas included here and many adventure hooks. These are very close to the Dread Possibilities found in current Ravenloft books. The list, while vastly large to the point of being cumbersome, is still not anywhere near complete. It is interesting how some famous literary figures, like Sherlock Holmes and Professor VanHelsing, are considered real while others are not. Or at least not given entries in this book. Dorian Gray is mentioned in reference to his book being published, but details on the noble figure are not included. Sadly no statistics or character classes are mentioned for anyone in this book, not even levels.
Lastly, at the end of this volume there is finally some information presented on Qabals in the Gothic Earth! The last chapter lists nine organizations in quick detail (one for each alignment and each gets a page). There is also a full list of *known* Qabals in the Gothic Earth (past and present) although no further descriptions of these are offered. It is easy to figure out whom some of these groups would include, but for others it is perplexing. The groups provided offer a nice broad example of what Qabals in the Gothic Earth do and how the operate.
A note should be made of the artwork in this book, which is apparently all taken from actual Victorian sources. This lends a great atmosphere to the pages and really improves the overall presentation of the book. It simply looks different form most gaming supplements of the age. While few full-page or supernatural pictures there is enough dark and fascinating images to draw the attention. Terrific stuff.
My main gripe with the book is the feeling of a lack of content. Really, this book only covers two or three topics, a quick history lesson and a massive list of names and a handful of organizations. I was left feeling unsatisfied and still overwhelmed by the amount of potential research required to undertake a Masque of the Red Death campaign. There was no further information on villains or lairs and no additional crunchy game content. No kits, equipment, spells, rules, etc. The entire book was fluff text, and while nice there was nothing that could not have been found through reading a single encyclopedia. It does save sometime on research, but heavy reading is still required.
Despite my whining about having to trek to the library, this book was an informative read and skirts the line of educational with all its historical knowledge. And the volume did a good job on expanding the world given the limited amount of space. If anything this book deserved to be much larger. 64 pages are simply not enough.
A dense book and worth picking up for any Masque of the Red Death campaign, even a Living Death one using Third Edition rules. Given the recent rule change the lack of hard rules in this book works to its advantage. No conversions or pesky adjustments. Heck, this book would be fairly useful for any campaign in any game system set in the 1890s, such as White Wolf’s Victorian Vampire.
Three and a half severed digits out of five
Coan “Coan” Harvey
I purchased this Gazetteer along with the 3.5 Edition of Masque of the Red Death (separate reviews can be found on this site) and was pleasantly surprised by how extraordinarily useful this can be for a DM. However being made in1995 it may be hard to find.
Headlines of the 1890’s:A double edged blade when it comes to Gothic Earth is the historical setting. To really make an adventure (and especially campaign) stand out and give it that sense of terror within realism, some kind of historical research is likely going to be needed. From the year the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy was renewed (with large consequences in the future) to a growing military stock pile of ships that would lead the world to a World War, a basic knowledge of such events is most definitely helpful. Of course the new 3.5 Edition book covers some of these events but this book goes further with the years of 1890-99 covered in a ‘per continent’ base (save Australia and Antarctica) as well as a day by day account of the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Each one of these events could be an adventure in itself or just background to mention for setting and helps to give a starting point to begin any research. For what it is these headlines achieve their purpose but I would have liked more information –still this could not possibly have been achieved without a further page count.
Events of the 1890’s:As I have just said, I wanted more depth. The book does so by going into seven small ‘essay like’ analysts of the greater movements of the 19th Century. These include Ghost Dancers, Arctic Exploration, Zionism and others. Following each is a Forbidden Lore expansion on the fictional aspects you could add to make these events all the more sinister. Essentially these are adventure hooks with background for the DM.
Well written with names included (for further research if wanted) these events are covered in enough detail so that you can understand what they were about. They are also varied enough in coverage that many a different kind of campaign or adventure can be run concerning them.
Who’s who on Gothic Earth:The bulk of this accessory (26 pages from a 64 page booklet) is an encyclopaedia like listing of some of the more important figures of the late 19th – early 20th Century. Some examples include: Sigmund Freud, Professor Challenger and Elizabeth Blackwell. Many may think that being in this era of history women are almost ignored in these pages -but this is simply untrue. While yes, the majority are men some interesting and strong willed women crop up; like Marie Curie, ‘Calamity Jane’ and Nellie Bly among others.
Each person is given about two or more paragraphs and dates are given on their more notable contributions and life events up to 1899. Forbidden Lore (i.e. Dread Possibilities) do crop up from time to time but the majority seems to be a solid listing of important people and their lives.
Two curious points occur to me as I read this. One, with years of birth being given it seems by 1890 most of these important figures are in the middle or autumn of their lives (especially with life expectancy being quite low for an adult). This could be a sad fact revealing the death of an entire generation of potential snuffed out in ‘The Great War’, meaning that the young who would become great never managed to achieve the wonders of science and philosophy that the earlier generation had.
Second, the list of people is hugely biased towards the West. William Connors makes sure to warn the reader of such as it follows the tendency of the Red Death Setting. It dawns to me this is possibly one reason why the upcoming release of Masque of the Jade Dragon may have been announced.
Still this is an excellent chapter and achieves its goal of showing some of the more prominent citizens of Gothic Earth (many more can still be found as talked about in the Gazetteer).
Qabals galore:Nine cabals are listed (reused in the 3.5 Edition Campaign Setting) as well as information on the similarities of Qabals in general. This section would have been good but now due to the reuse of the information in the new issue of Gothic Earth it finds its uses as ‘expanding’ on the information presented in the Setting. A page on each of these qabals is included with a description of their symbol, membership and (most importantly to me) their history.
A partial list of known qabals (active and inactive) is also included with name and alignment –but none of the detail the other nine have been given. However names give away much and inspire the imagination. Other qabals like ‘PRIME’ and ‘The Betrothed’ simply boggle the mind at their purpose and definitely show that Secret Societies are as ingrained into Gothic Earth as the Red Death itself.
Other parts: Also included with the gazetteer are a list of world leaders by nation with the inclusion of date of appointment and replacement (if they leave their position within the 1890’s). Good to know and it does save you time from trying to find out. However only power nations are included which counts against it slightly in my opinion.
On the other side of the inside cover is a list of recommended monsters with the 2nd Edition book they are listed in (no doubt covered in similar books like the Monster’s Manual and Denizens of Dread books). With the new ‘masque’ abilities in the Setting Book this isn’t as useful as any monster can now be used with forethought.
Also given is a Calender poster of 1890-99, for those of you who want to be precise in the day and date of your adventures. Accurate and with advertisements from the age it is an interesting little extra.
With the new rules, the history and fluff text base of the book (lacking any stats) actually prevents it from depreciating in usefulness. History never really changes just its interpretation and view point (unless you’re the DM and make your own history). It’s also an interesting read and a constant reference source. Not great but entirely useful (and cheap) so if you’ve got some spare cash and see it on a shelf, get it.
Recommendation:For a DM who would like some easy reference material to help start and ease their research for a campaign in any setting set in the late 19th Century.
I’ll score it 3.5 out of 5.
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