Book of Crypts
Summary of Content:
Bride of Mordenheim (2-4th level, Lamordia)
Mad Step Dad
Book of Crypts is a collection of short adventures designed specifically for the Ravenloft setting. Going by release date alone, this is one of the first few products ever produced for the campaign line. This release came very early in the RL nexus, so that must be taken into consideration when examining its contents. But in no way should its release date exclude it from Ravenloft relevance – an inventive DM can find a spot for every included adventure.
The collection opens with an introduction entitled “Fear and Horror”. This relays not only the mission statement of the module, but the entire Ravenloft line (still in its infancy at the time). They were trying to differentiate Ravenloft from the alternatives by stressing the inclusion of FEAR and HORROR – two emotions “critical to a successful Ravenloft game adventure”. Many have confused the two, but BoC succinctly describes the difference – describing horror as “revulsion, dread and anguish that results when a character confronts something that shouldn’t be” – and Terror as “extreme fear that arises when creatures or events immediately threaten one’s life”.
Remember, “slash all you want but don’t forget the horror!” Despite the fact this product came at a time Ravenloft was still in it’s “Weekend in Hell” evolutionary stage, this module does include a fair amount of “on-the-scene numbers” – adventures in which the PCs start the Game already in Ravenloft. Of course, the intros are adaptable either way so if one’s the other you can change it with little trouble. On to the adventures…
Bride of Mordenheim is designed for four characters of 2nd to 4th level. It introduces the young maiden Katrina von Brandthofen – as well as the nefarious Doctor Victor Mordenheim! After the PCs arrive in Lamordia, they caught up with the lovely Katrina, who is searching for her missing aunt. All signs point to that mysterious “mansion atop the cliff”. A mansion so deadly and dangerous, you can be wounded just knocking on the door! (1 point of damage when they knock on the door – wood splinters mercilessly into their knuckles). The PCs have caught Doctor Mordenheim at a point where he is experiment with soul transferal. He wants to use Katrina’s body as the receptacle for his dead wife’s soul. It’s up to the players to save the day!
While combat is expected, the module does offer a couple instances of variation. Before they can attack Victor he may ask them to bear witness to this new medical miracle. What if the players believe the hype? What if they can’t rescue Katrina in time? Will Victor’s experiment succeed? The module explains this possible outcome as well. It even offers a “Dread Possibility” (long before the term was in vogue) that could introduce the players to the true Darklord of Lamordia… The character of Katrina Von Brandthofen is given a half page description, so it’s assumed she’ll be around for the long haul. Victor Mordenheim, in comparison, gets only one paragraph worth of information. Of course you did need the Ravenloft black box to play this adventure, and Victor (as well as his mansion on the cliff) is referred to there. Most notably, BoC lists Victor as a 0-level human male. That’s it. But of course he has been “blessed – and cursed – with a permanent regeneration spell”. The module flat out says, “Victor is essentially immortal”.
Blood in Moondale: This is one of the adventures expected to occur after the players have been in Ravenloft for a while. It’s designed for three to six characters of 3rd to 5th level. It’s an adventure about broken trust and betrayal. This adventure takes place sometime in the winter at a place called the Moondale Inn (in the village of Moondale). A village plagued by vicious wolf attacks. The players are asked by Captain Rapacion of the local county militia to aid him in ridding the snow covered village of the menace. However, Captain Rapacian hides a darker motive. Just a little bit of fleshing out can take this short adventure to new heights.
It gives a rich role-playing opportunity when the players hit it off with Dante Lysin (proprietor of the local inn). Dante too hides a dark secret, one that illustrates a “shades of gray” philosophy in Ravenloft. Who can the players trust when the wolf attacks suddenly target them? This adventure would work best by introducing Captain Rapacian a few sessions before beginning. There should be a certain level of trust between the Captain and the players, so as to not give away the whole story. The adventure even suggests substituting the Captain for another trusted NPC if you must. Again, every NPC introduced in this module could become a recurring character.
The Dark Minstrel: An adventure for three to five characters of 3rd through 6th level. Here, the characters become “trapped in the netherworld study of a dark minstrel and must discover a way out – or wait 100 years to again see the light of day”. Introducing Baron Lyron Evensong for the first time in Ravenloft history, this module takes place entirely within the walls of the Baron’s study. After a gentle invitation brings about much misery, the players find themselves trapped with the amicable Baron. This adventure STRESSES roleplaying and puzzle solving – practically beating that concept over the players’ heads. Much like Victor in “Bride of Mordenheim”, Baron Evensong is essentially unbeatable. Even if the players somehow find a way to “kill” the Baron – the adventure doesn’t stop until one specific instance is reached. Even hack-n-slashers will find their super kill-em-all skills to be little use against Byron OR his study. Everything becomes “increasingly resistant” to attacks. They must discover the metaphorical room key to escape, or find themselves growing old and dying within the study. The bookshelves of Baron Evensong are detailed and it is expected the players at least do SOME research. Baron Evensong seems like a one-shot NPC, but his legend can live forever within a campaign world.
The Cedar Chest: Designed for two to five characters of 4th through 6th level. The constabulary of a harbor community calls upon the party to locate a missing person and thus solve several deaths he (or she) has committed. As tension mounts and the party closes in on the killer, one of the characters discovers that the murderer resides within him (or her). This is a tricky adventure, because it “affects the recent history of a PC – and the DM should carefully select either a trusted and well-liked NPC, a PC whose player cannot attend a Game session or the PC of a good role-player to subject to this Jekyll-and-Hyde curse”.
This is your typical whodunit murder mystery, but with a sick little Ravenloft twist. Even though this adventure is over 10 years old (back when they couldn’t even say “demon” in print) - you’ll still find some of this material pretty hardcore for 2004. Descriptions like “her fear was delicious, though the bouquet of her death lacked subtlety” and “empty eye sockets weeping ruddy tears” clearly illustrate the maniacal mind they are tracking. The killer is a brutal foe and vicious sadist. O Woe to the fragile mind that learns this sick killer resides within! This module introduces the supra-genius psychopathic killer Ejrik Spellbender. It is he who has infested your player’s body. He has a purpose, and after the players learn his identity – they must foil his plots. It’s a cool lil’ twist for 1991.
Corrupted Innocents is designed for three to five players of 5th to 7th level, with hopefully at least one good guy amongst the party. It introduces the rogue Ermordenung assassin Elenia Windalla who attempts to lure the party into her trap. This adventure takes place in Borca, and while the players will have no contact with the Darklord (strictly Ivana Boritsi at the time) – she is detailed heavily in Elenia Windalla’s background. It’s a twisted tale of treachery that finds Elenia coveting Ivana Boritsi’s youthful beauty, only to find her dastardly plots turned around on her. Elenia’s transformation into an Emordenung warps her mind, and she takes to stalking the lonely roads of the Borcan woodlands. Enter the players.
A certain amount of trust is expected between the players and their DM, in the sense that Elenia’s deception is not supposed to be detected until the final act. So if the players have had bad experiences with little children, or NPCs betraying them – they may be too scarred to properly enjoy this adventure. They’re SUPPOSED to portray the roles of noble heroes who choose to aid the small child out of the kindness of their heart. I would suggest inserting this adventure into your campaign after a few sessions of good-hearted fun and/or calm tranquility – that way the “surprise twist” at the end will be memorable.
Rite of Terror is recommended for six to eight characters of 4th to 8th level, and is my personal favorite out of the collection. It deals with a small community ravaged by mysterious kidnappings and the disappearance of their local wildlife. Are the two events connected? Are there really ghosts in the cornfields? What IS the deal with the strange faith of “Weeshy the wind god”?
Players are called upon to investigate the matter, and find themselves tracking a mystifying – very powerful – foe. I’ll refrain from spoiling the surprise here (as I still have my Episode #12 recap to finish) but suffice to say, the fanbase is generally split down the middle on this one. Good idea/Bad idea. Myself, I lean towards the former. The main enemy is a specific race of monster that some feel MAY be inappropriate for Ravenloft. But that’s not the case, as this (thus far unrevealed) monster has made MANY appearances in Ravenloft products – so that minor quibble shouldn’t deter you from incorporating this adventure into your campaign.
The module nicely details the little village of Aferdale for future reference (provided the players save the village from near-extinction) and introduces a few other high-powered NPCs (9th level town constable, 13th level fighter/tavern owner and a 10th level priest). Yes, that’s right – double-digit NPC levels and a requested number of players totaling six to eight. The reason being, of course, that the main villain (I’m still keeping it a secret – buy the book!) in Rite of Terror is very tough. Players be warned…
The Man With Three Faces is designed for two to three characters of 8th to 11th level. This adventure introduces the insane Davion – a man with the power to change reality. The introductory paragraph of the adventure SOUNDS like the original Black Box description of the Nightmare Lands, with “everything and everyone around them changing without warning or reason”. This whole adventure is a mind-trip on the players, with absolutely NOTHING be real – not the NPCs, not the places, not the things. Nothing.
It certainly seems like an adventure that would rattle the players. Especially when they get to the final showdown with Davion the Mad, who is a 15th level wizard (by 2E standards). Much like many of the other villains in the book, Davion’s personal history is intricately detailed. Shades of the “villains must be fully-developed characters with a back story” philosophy of the Black Box. Davion the Mad mistakenly absorbed the personalities of three other individuals when his “wish” spell went awry. So at any given time, the other facets of his personality may manifest – thus turning Davion into a 10th level fighter, 16th level cleric or 12th level mage. Each of the three alternate personalities are detailed as well.
This is a curious little romp through a constantly-changing dreamworld called “Thornewood”. The players must unravel the mysterious cause of these sudden changes, and put an end to the madness. Tread lightly, for most players don’t like being manipulated by “illusionary” or “imaginary” storylines – ones that exist solely in the characters heads. Also, it’s entirely possible (neigh – MANDATORY) that the PCs acquire a Ring of Wishes. This could be HIGHLY unsettling to a Ravenloft campaign, but I trust your DM to know how to handle this. This ring is the only way to “cure” Davion and separate him from the other three hosts. But a crafty DM could come up with other methods if the “Wish” option isn’t to his liking.
The Living Crypt is for five to six characters of 9th through 12th level. The introductory paragraph says straight up “this adventure is useful when one player cannot attend a Game session…” This is helpful, cuz the hook of the adventure starts off with the PC (or an important NPC) missing. The players must act fast, for their friend is not the only one to turn up missing – two other abductions happen the same night.
This adventure takes the opportunity to introduce a new monster, not just a few new NPCs. Here we have a “Living Wall” – all stats and info which are helpfully included at the back of the book (along with MM reprints of Ravenloft Golems (bone and doll) and the Ermordenung).
It’s best if you lead up to the discovery of the “Living Crypt” as a major find. That way, when the menace is defeated – the players may feel the Game has been won (sadly, it appears their friend is dead). But wait! The mastermind behind the evil, cannibalistic wall of horror is a [Edited to Exclude Spoilers]! HA! Thought I was gonna spoil that one, huh? Well I’m not. Just know the enemy goes by the name “Nightblood” and he is a VERY powerful foe. Perhaps even more potent than the mystery villain in “Rite of Terror”. A TPK (total party kill) is a distinct possibility. A Ring of Blinking, a Staff of the Woodlands, a Chime of Hunger and a potent spellbook are all included within the module. A hearty reward for a very hearty foe. Good luck, players!
Death’s Cold Laughter is for three to six players levels 3rd through 12th. The levels are so varied, because this entire adventure hinges upon one climatic scene. The players find themselves in the village of Risibilos, where they practice a very critical law known as the “laughing law”. Every spoken statement must be punctuated by a “ha ha ha” at the end. Failure to do so is punishable by DEATH. Eventually the PCs will encounter Puncheron, who is the main villain of the story. He is an unleveled “Jester/King”. Using 3E rules it would be very easy to create a fun and entertaining Puncheron NPC using just the details provided here.
The PCs are forced into an illusionary battle (just don’t tell THEM it’s an illusion) where they must combat their “worst fear”. This could be everything from a mere wolf to “Count von Zarovich himself” – it’s up to the DM to know his players’ worst fears. While the climax of the adventure is a major battle, there is nothing but roleplaying goodiness leading up to it. They must learn the law, discuss incidents with the locals and of course have a big meeting with Puncheron himself. I’d encourage you to really lay it on thick during the roleplaying encounters, cuz that will make the eventual battles that much more cringe-worthy.
Beating Puncheron himself is no easy task, as he too has absorbed another personality (similar to the Man With Three Faces adventure). You must verbally solve the riddle AND physically enact the solution – whatever that may be. Only then will the players truly be free from Puncheron and his mad, mad world.
In conclusion, while the Book of Crypts doesn’t represent the golden era of Ravenloft – it is still a very good and serviceable accessory. Coming at a time when little to no modules had been released yet (I think only FoG and SoH were out) this accessory was designed to fill the gaps. It gives the Ravenloft mission statement of the day - that being Fear and Horror are integral parts of the Game and help differentiate RL from the other TSR worlds. Released at point when Ravenloft was still considered a “weekend in hell”, most of (if not ALL) of these adventures deal with entering and escaping the dread realms. Of course, a DM is expected to take creative liberties with each and every accessory, making sure he/she can properly integrate it into their campaigns.
This is a worthy accessory and a relic of a bygone era. While some of the Book of Crypts aspects may seem out-of-date or cartoonish, I assure you a respectable DM will be able to work magic with this book. Good luck and enjoy.
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