Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales (AD&D 2nd)

A couple of caveats. I love Victorian RPGs.  Also, I primarily reviewing the PDF release.

Wizards of the Coast and their partner has released the latest PDF from the TSR/WotC back catalog, this time a product I know very, very well.

Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales is nominally released under the Ravenloft line and you will need one of the Ravenloft core books to be able to play this along with the AD&D 2nd Edition rules.  However if you know the AD&D rules well enough you might be able to get by.  The premise of the game it rather a simple one. What if the Dark Powers from Ravenloft found their way to Earth?  Well...I should state out and out that they never actually say that, but imply it rather heavily.  The is a dark, malignant force controlling things on Earth, known here as The Red Death, and this Earth of the 1890s certainly has a lot more in common with Ravenloft.

Pretty much from the time it was published to the onset of the new 3rd Edition rules, Masque of the Red Death was my campaign world of choice.  I still played AD&D2 in Ravenloft, or rather, I ran AD&D2 in Ravenloft, but the lines between Ravenloft proper and "Gothic Earth" became very, very blurry.

For this review I am going to talk specifically about the PDF and only discussing the original boxed set format when appropriate.

To begin with we get five PDFs in this package. These correspond to the four books and the DM's screen.

Book I is the main Masque of the Red Death book.  It is 130 pages of a high quality, OCR scan.  Some the images are fuzzy, but I feel that is more due to the source images rather than the scan itself.  The scan comes in at just over 35 meg.
We begin with an overview of what this campaign guide is about.  I might be mistaken, but this is the first official AD&D product to take place on Earth.   This followed up with a history of Gothic Earth.  Things began to go downhill for everything around 2700 BC when Imhoptep (yes, same as the Mummy movies) began experimenting with darker magics.  The next dozen or so pages bring us to the present day (1890s).  The history is a fast read and I would not ignore it. It sets the tone for the entire game.
Chapter II details character creation.  There are different methods used than the PHB to reflect that characters are not your sword wielding barbarians of a bygone age.  So characters are more average.
There are rough parallels to all the classic AD&D classes, Soldiers, Adepts, Mystics, and Tradesmen.  The AD&D Proficiency system is used here as well.  Interestingly the system seems make more sense here (since skills are really what sets characters apart) but also shows its wear and tear.
Money and Equipment is also detailed in Chapter IV.   Interestingly this one of the few Victorian era games where the default currency is listed as American Dollars rather than Pounds Sterling.
It should be of note that this also the book that adds guns to AD&D2.  Quite a number of guns are detailed here as well.
Chapter V covers magic and you really need the Player's Handbook for this section.
Chapter VI covers the changes to combat.
Getting back to what really makes this special is Chapter VII An Atlas of Gothic Earth. I should point out at this point that the large poster sized map that came with the boxed set is not included here.  It gives a brief overview of the world.  This section is done much better in the full fledged product that shares it's name.
The first Appendix covers various character kits.  If you remember 2e at all, you remember kits. Quite a few interesting ideas are detailed, but you could also do these with the base four classes and good roleplaying.
Appendix II covers some villains of Gothic Earth. There are plenty of old favorite here and some new takes on old characters.  Though I will admit the one thing that still gets on my nerves is Moriarty re-done as a Rakshasa.  In my games he was human. And yes, Dracula is there as well.
And finally Appendix III covers adventuring in Gothic Earth.

Book II is an adventure in 3 parts by future Pinnacle Entertainment head honcho Shane Hensley and featuring the rock star of Gothic fiction, Dracula.  The advantage of this PDF over my boxed set copy? I can print this out and make changes to it. Yeah it is a good adventure, but I can't help but feel it is a pastiche of Hammer and Stoker's original work.

Book III is a Jack the Ripper adventure, Red Jack. Unlike Moriarty's change into a supernatural creature, this adventure make "Jack" into something more mundane.  Normally I would be fine this, but the name of the adventure itself and some of the elements BEGS it to be tied to the old Star Trek episode The Wolf in The Fold and Redjac.

Book IV is the Red Death, an adventure based around elements of the Edgar Allen Poe story.  Some details have been changed and added, but the spirit is the same.  Again, I am tempted to make the main antagonist, Prospero, the Prospero.

Book V is the DM's screen.

Again I'll point out that the large poster sized map is missing.

Once upon a time this boxed captured my imagination like no other game.  This PDF makes me want to crack open some 2e.


Dr. Theda said...

We love Ravenloft...
If we could choose anywhere to spend our remaining days... the "Lands of the Mists" would be it...

Dr. Theda said...

We have "Gypsy" (on my Mom's Father's side.... Hungry Bulgaria and Romania...)

John Middleton said...

Played this to death back in the day.


William W. Connors said...

Thanks for the interest in what was, and still is, one of my favorite projects. If I had to single out the thing I most enjoyed working on at TSR, this would be it.

William W. Connors
"Faithfully serving our secret alien masters since 1962."
Quod fuissem, fuit.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

One of my favorite AD&D settings ever.

Timeshadows said...

It is/was wonderful; agreed, the adventures were the least lustrous of this shining star of a product.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I agree!