Game: Lords of the Night: Vampires
Publisher: Bottled Imp Games
Review Dated: 28th, April 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 54
Average Score: 7.71
Lords of the Night: Vampires is Bottled Imp Games’ first book. If you don’t believe me, then I don’t blame you; it doesn’t look like a first book. I can’t imagine there’s much room left in the scrum at the bottom of the d20 ladder these days. If Vampires represents Bottled Imp Games’ attempt to launch themselves by aiming somewhere higher, further up that ladder, then they’ve succeeded. They’ve certainly got a finger or two (or should I say fang?) on that higher up rung anyway. The 128-paged book has an enticing front cover with a nice matt black feel to it, good text density, a two column layout that switches to three columns for the spell lists, new ideas and a reassuring feel.
It’s the combination of new ideas and a reassuring feel that makes Lords of the Night: Vampire a comfortable read. That might be the book’s most important success. The roleplaying hobby isn’t short on vampire material but there’s a disjunction between those RPGs which are all about vampires as characters and those games like D&D where the default vampire wouldn’t be amiss in an old four colour comic. Lords of the Night brings the two together, makes a good job of it and gives us the best of both worlds.
The book gets off to a good start by defining a vampire as anyone who drinks blood to survive. That’s a strong enough definition and it doesn’t involve tragically hip angst or crumbling castles. Readers familiar with tragically hip vampires will be familiar with the narrative style, clues to a bigger story, which runs through the book. Gamers more at home under the aegis of the d20 logo won’t find the flavour text overbearing. In fact Lords of the Night: Vampires is just the first in the Darkness Rising series, a series which seems to be something more than just a collection of race books but not quite a campaign setting either. We’ll have to wait and see what comes next and Bottled Imp Games will have to work hard to produce the series as good as the first book promises.
There are different types of vampires, all bound together by the Vangual creation myth, and presented as detailed templates. The EL for the templates can be found much later on in the book, once the effects of both vampire type and age can be factored in. The Children of Vangual include Ash Vampires, Black Bloods, Fire Vampires, the Lost, Mock Vampires, Ravenous Vampires, Shadow Vampires, Vangaard, Vampire Scions, Dhampyre and the Vampire Touched. There’s some nice twists in there; the Lost aren’t typical vampires but cursed and exiled Outsiders and the Vangaard are hulking barbarian styled vampires facing a decline in numbers as civilisation rises. These different types are more than just names; each vampiric race is different from the last and often with a clear vampire shtick. The nickname for each vampire type is generally a pretty good clue as to the angle on the template; Ash Vampires, for example, are known as Corruptors.
The universal vampire rules have a chapter of their own. It’s here we find the rules for vampire age categories, those feats all vampires get and the first mention of Dark Gifts. There are some nice touches in here; like the huge boost of strength a newly risen vampire receives, just enough to allow the monster to break free from crypt or grave before it fades. Similarly you’ll find rules for drinking blood, sunlight, waking, turning, stakes, traits and that sort of thing.
When people talk about Lords of the Night: Vampires they’ll talk about the Black Classes. There’s a Black Class for every core class, there’s a Black Fighter, a Black Druid, a Black Ranger and so forth. The Black Classes are more powerful than their equivalent though; the Black Classes are empowered by the Void and the dark heart of vampire power. The Void weighs on the Black Classes though, dragging the character down and corrupting him. Ah, I suppose the purist supporters of “roleplaying issues shouldn’t be used to balance game mechanic issues” might complain but the Black Classes are balanced among themselves and aren’t that much more powerful than the core classes. The Black Classes certainly inspirational though, they just want to be used by evil GMs.
Dark Gifts are a lot like feats. They might as well be feats but as feats with vampire only prerequisites and vampire only benefits they’d be rather awkward. It makes sense to keep them separate and as a vampire trait. There’s about fifty of these Dark Gifts that pretty much guarantees that vampire villains will have something new to terrorise players with or PC vampires will have enough scope to entertain their players. Unlike feats Dark Gifts sometimes require the vampire to spend blood points. The blood point cost balances against the really nifty things some of the Dark Gifts can do.
Chapter six sees dozens of new spells; often blood and darkness related. There are some new domains, the Black Cabal spells and the Faithful Undead summoning list. Chapter seven offers up several pages of similarly themed magic items.
Avystervan (Av-Iss-Ter-Van) is the City of Graves. It’s the seat of power for the Black Council and where the eldest vampires live. It’s a piece of campaign setting but it’s isolated enough to be used in almost campaign setting or ignored without carving a hole in the rest of the book. The chapter is laced with plot-bites; sample words from the vampire language, notes on visitors and mortals in the city, black practises and bloody rituals. There are places of interest, the Cathedral, Tower of Arikostinaal, the Black Temple and others. It’s not a pre-written adventure but instead (and this is the option I prefer) there’s enough information to make it easy to run an adventure there.
Vangual is the God of Vampires, the Lord of Suffering, Champion of the Void and chapter nine is all about him. We’re given some of the blatant and sly ways mortals worship him. The Chapel of the Merciful Heart, for example, appears to be an order of benevolent doctors and physicians but is actually busy siphoning blood for vampires.
Lords of the Night: Vampires is not short on chapters. There are twenty in the book.
Chapter ten is about the First and the Black Council. The First are, as you might guess, the first vampires created by Vangual. The Black Council are the vampires who rule Avystervan. Once again there’s no pre-written adventure here, just well written game meal that invites you to take it but which you can safely refuse if you want.
How or why vampires might cooperate, vampire broods, is addressed next.
New monsters are a mix of creatures like the Blood Hound and Blood Elementals as well as applied template creations like the 6th level Black Fighter age 1 Black Blood (CR 9). The vampire ghoul and vampire simulacrum do have ECL modifiers. It also looks at “common monster vampires” like goblin or lizardmen vampires and more exotic ones like beholder vampires; but it’s just a look, not a stat block.
There are notes for the DM. There’s everything here from the basics of infecting darkness into your game to more out of the box suggestions – such as running a game with specially created, wholly good, vampires. The next chapter contains tips on how to play a vampire. Lords of the Night does manage to be a Player’s Handbook, DM’s Guide and Vampire Monster Manual all in one.
Chapter fifteen is about the Void, it’s not just game meal here but crunch too (most chapters being either a crunchy bit or game meal). A table charts the progress from good to evil as the character or NPC builds up their Void points.
If players become worried about mounting Void points (trying to save themselves from the darkness) then the Darkness Rising series has the concept of the Katharein. The Katherein is a run away success of a plot idea. You’re character is “killed” by a vampire; you want desperately to retain your old alignment and mind when (if) you rise as one of the undead. How? You could make a willpower saving through – but isn’t that the worst kind of anti-climax? A Katherein quest at the time of death is a far better idea. A spiritual quest is taken by the dead character to see how much of his old self will preserve or whether they’ll dive head long into Vangual’s temptations. The next chapter takes things a step forward and looks at rumours and possible ways to cure the vampire curse.
I could say that a whole chapter is devoted to looking at the vampire’s infamous energy drain. I could equally say that a whole page is spent talking about the effects of the drain as well as extra side effects. I don’t really mind single page chapters, as long as the content is worth it and in this case it is. It’s just an example of another stone that the book turns over.
Chapter nineteen is full of plot hooks and adventure ideas. The final chapter in the book is – well, it’s a bit of a tease really, setting the scene and giving indications of the rising darkness. The book concludes with a page long lexicon and a summary table of all the vampire types in all possible age combinations. It’s here that you’ll get the ECL and CR modifiers. The brutish Vabgaard enjoy +20 strength in their final age category, the Lost get +12 to wisdom in their final age category and the Shadow Vampires +15 to their dexterity. The modifiers for the first age category are much less scary +1s, +3s and so forth.
Lords of the Night: Vampires is surprisingly cheap; quoting a suggested retail price of $US 19.95 and £UK12.99. That’s for 128 pages. As a whole Lords of the Night qualifies as one of those rare d20 books with it’s own mythos, it qualifies as an even more rare d20 book in that has a mythos that’s actually tempting and easy to use. You don’t need to pay even lip service to the mythos to get plenty of use out of Lords of the Night though. The new vampire templates, spells, creatures, dark gifts and age rules can be used anywhere.