It may seem strange to be talking about a product that is not out yet in this series, but I was lucky enough to have a chance to playtest some of Transylvanian Adventures. In case you think it biases my opinion, I should also note that I created six illustrations for this product as well.
Transylvanian Adventures, the brain-child of S.A. Mathis, is an expansion of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game core rules that allows you to play Gothic horror scenarios like those found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the many, many horror films based off of them – particularly those of the original Hammer Films era.
Fantasy role-playing games have always been rife with images from this genre, going back at least as far as the inclusion of the vampire, flesh golem, werewolf, and similar monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The first edition of Pacesetter’s Chill was the first time I encountered a game that actually made strong use of the horror elements, instead of simply using a horror gloss on what was otherwise straight adventures.
Yet, horror elements are often used to good effect in weird fantasy, and are a staple of such Appendix N authors as Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and H.P. Lovecraft. As has been noted by others, the Hammer Horror films had a definite impact on Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, with the ability to “turn undead” being based largely off of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing, and the abilities and limitations of vampires being based off of Dracula, as portrayed by such stalwarts as Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee.
Moreover, the Gothic era is on the cusp of the supposedly rational modern world, wherein the irrational makes inroads into the orderly conduct of the Age of Reason. This is not only directly used in the oeuvre of Appendix N, but its opposite number is as well – modern or near-modern men who fall backwards in time, who travel to far planes of existence, or who otherwise enter secondary worlds where the rational tenets of the Age of Reason may or may not apply. Transylvanian Adventures not only allows you to play a Jonathan Harker or a Mina Murray, but it makes strong inroads into letting you play the kinds of characters you read about in The Moon Pool, Lest Darkness Fall, The Carnelian Cube, The Dwellers in the Mirage, At the Mountains of Madness, Witch World, and so on.
I am not allowed to discuss specific mechanics, but I can say that there are some mechanics in the nascent work which will allow judges to better use the tropes of the Gothic Horror genre. There are also mechanics that you will want to expand upon to better use the tropes of the Sword & Sorcery genre. Like first edition Chill before it, Transylvanian Adventures wisely avoids taking the path of introspective navel-gazing – a definite danger when writing a horror role-playing game, wherein the author can so disempower the characters to increase the “horror” that they become nothing more than pawns. No, Transylvanian Adventures is written to be one part Gothic horror to two parts ass kicking. It is a potent mix.
Included with the playtesting materials I received from the author was an introductory adventure, a 0-level funnel for Transylvanian Adventures characters. This adventure makes good use of the tropes of the genre, and plays well with the new rules of the main work. I would be happy to see a line of Transylvanian Adventures supporting Transylvanian Adventures; I would certainly buy them if they were the same quality as the first.
I find myself counting the weeks until this project is finished, and in my possession. How many weeks? Luckily, I am not counting alone. You can find out more about Transylvanian Adventures at http://landofphantoms.blogspot.ca/.