Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Review: She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd
A couple of months ago, beginning of September I think, I was made aware of a new title on DMsGuild called She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd by Beth the Bard. 

I checked it out and liked it. Hopped on to Twitter to offer her congratulations and mentioned that she would hit Gold Best Seller status.  Well, this past month she did it!  I thought with Halloween coming up and so many people running the 5e Curse of Strahd this would be a great time to review it.

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd

by Beth the Bard

157 pages, color art, PDF.

To start with you will need the 5th Edition version of Curse of Strahd to use this resource. Though I am going to also talk about how this can be used with the original AD&D 1st Edition adventure I6 Ravenloft.

She is the Ancient is more than just giving us a distaff Strahd. You don't need a guide for that.  This guidebook shows how changing the gender of Strahd, but keeping her as a strong warrior figure, changes the nature of her relationship with, well everyone. The most interesting is her new rivalry and even hatred of Tatyana.  These new relationships take up a good bit of this guide. 

Beth the Bard reminds us that this IS a horror adventure and to assume that bad things can't happen to, well, everyone, is unreasonable.  So yes there is still violence here and it's directed at everyone this time.

The changes are largely of these sorts:

Characters/NPCs.  Several characters get changes, some minor, others are major.  Strahd is now female, as is Van Richten.  Others get minor changes. Any of these can be used optionally.  Many of these are much more interesting than the ones we get in Curse of Strahd

Relationships. Related to the characters are new relationships.  These are very well detailed and even if you never change a single character according to this guide this is a very useful tool for Curse of Strahd.

Encounters.  There are also changes to various encounters all over the Curse of Strahd adventure.  This takes the shape of some encounter rewrites and others with tips.  Additionally, there are encounter "flowcharts" that show how the various encounters are related to each other.  There are also new handouts that you can print out to give to players.

That is overly simple, there are 157 pages here after all, but this is the gist of it. 

The layout is clean and clear and the art is rather fantastic.  It is on sale right now, but even at its regular price of $19.99 is a good deal, especially considering all we are getting here.

She is the Ancient

The overall feel is the same I get from watching a classic horror movie.  "Dracula" is a horrid monster, someone that kills pretty much everyone in his path.  "The Bride of Dracula" is just as evil, and likely kills as many people, but for some reason, her story seems more tragic.   This new guide turns even this around.

Strahd is tragic, his love for Tatyana has driven him to become a monster.  In this new Strahd, she is still a tragic figure, but it is nothing so prosaic as love that drives her, but hate and betrayal and yes jealousy.  THIS Strahd is motivated by more violent emotions and desires.  You anger her at your peril. 

There is an accessible version of this adventure available. Link included in the PDF.  There are tokens and NPC portraits you can use with this OR with the original Curse of Strahd if you choose.

I6 Ravenloft

Curse of Strahd is the newest iteration of the classic Ravenloft tale.  This is "Dracula Untold" with Luke Evans.  "I6 Ravenloft" is Hammer Horror with Christopher Lee.  SO it stands then that "She is the Ancient" applied to I6 Ravenloft is Ingrid Pitt, in her "Countess Dracula" role. 

I have not sat down with this new guide and Ravenloft and analyzed it line by line, but I have run Ravenloft several times since I purchased the original shortly after it was released.  I have run it for every version of D&D since 1983, including D&D 5e before Curse of Strahd was released.  My feeling here is that She is the Ancient can be used with the classic module just as easily. 

All versions of Castle Ravenloft

Much of what is presented in the She is the Ancient is relationship-based. So conversion to or from 5e and 1st Ed is not an issue.  There are some 5e stat blocks, but nothing that can't be easily replaced or swapped out. 

Honestly the next time I run I6 I am going to give this a try.

What I like best about this is an attempt to do something different with what is now can be considered a classic sort of tale. It shows that like love, the topics of hate, revenge, and undying purpose are universal and can transcend simpler concepts of gender. 

I had thought, originally, that this would give me some ideas for my own Darklord and Domain, Darlessa and Arevenir.  Thankfully, She is the Ancient is not only NOT distaff Strahd, it is also NOT just a generic female vampire Darklord.  I will, however, adopt the adventure flowchart idea and the relationships as they are modeled here.  There are some great ideas to be honest.

Who should buy She is the Ancient?   Anyone who has run and wants to re-run Curse of Strahd and wants to try something different. Personally, I feel the DMs that have run Curse of Strahd already will benefit the most from this.

I also think that first-time DMs of Curse of Strahd will enjoy this, but there is a LOT going on in both Curse of Strahd AND She is the Ancient.

Once you have this you can adopt/adapt as much or as little as you like.   Or even just use the flowcharts and relationships to flesh out all the characters more.

I would say my ONLY complaint is that there is no POD option, but in truth, the layout and design are such that any page or collection of pages can be printed out and slotted into your Curse of Strahd book. Though a POD would be nice. 

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd is not going to be for everyone and that is OK.  BUT, for the people that are inclined to use it is a great resource and guide.  It is well written with great art and layout.  A lot of work went into this and like the original Ravenloft, it provides yet more options for replayability.  

6 comments:

Justin Ryan Isaac said...

I definitely want to pick this one up when I have some extra cash. Thanks for the review and brining it to my attention, sir.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I think you would enjoy it to be honest. Nice fresh take on the subject.

JB said...

Ha! Interesting! In my current reworking of I6, I've changed Strahd to a woman (a countess instead of a count) though I've completely jettisoned the Strahd name and story (no Tatyana, no dead brother, etc.). I'm hardly surprised these days when I find someone beats me to the punch with an idea, although...all things considered...in this case it is perhaps a BIT surprising that gender-bending Strahd hadn't occurred sooner!

What's a little..."bemusing," I suppose, is that someone wants to run the same tired storyline (female Strahd or not). Although I guess 5E is much more about storytelling these days than 1E ever was.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

There is still an absolute ton of deadly combat in 5e. It's that unlike 1st Ed. it doesn't all have to be that.

And Countess Strahd is really is a no-brainer. Look over the movies Hammer released and you can see that there was almost always a female version of whatever monster they had featured the year before.

JB said...

I wouldn't say 1E has to be all about deadly combat...at all. Cue usual discussion about treasure for x.p.

Dick McGee said...

I think Tim was saying that combat in 1E was generally very deadly when it occurred, not that combat was all the edition was about. If anything, you were strongly discouraged from fighting when you had the choice because characters were so fragile. Or at least that's how I read it, maybe I'm wrong.

5e gives players more mechanical tools to swing the odds in their favor and there are fewer "sudden death" elements like save-or-die poisons and spells. It makes combat a less unattractive option (perhaps too much so) but you can still get killed fast if you're careless, unprepared, or unlucky enough.