Posted on October 21, 2009 by spikexan
White Wolf popularized a concept nearly twenty years ago. They revolutionized gaming by permitting players to take on the role of the monsters rather than those who slay various supernatural critters. They now offer a deeper layer through their Night Horrors line. See, even the boogeyman is scared of something or some things. This lines opens up the urban legends and myths of the monsters. These are the monsters underneath the monsters’ beds.
I’m reviewing two comp copies from White Wolf today since they have a great deal in common. Both weigh in at 163 pages. Both hold to the same concepts. Both seem to have been given the same amount of creative energy. Why, then, are they different prices (19.59 versus 23.09 at RPGNow.com)? You’ll get your answer by the review’s end.
Let’s talk werewolves first. Wolfsbane is broken into a mere three chapters (and some introductory stuff just prior to those). The first thing that comes to my attention with books, especially those in a line has to be their layout. Wolfsbane keeps the smart layout from Werewolf the Forsaken. Various totems are watermarked into the pages. The bordering, which continues to elude me, remains the same. Sidebars, smartly separated by slashes and a off-color font, are plentiful, but well-placed (and mostly necessary).
The artwork proves as feral as usual. There is a wider range though within these pages, offering a little more than usual. I usually find the artwork in the Werewolf lines (Apocalypse and Forsaken) to be the weakest in White Wolf’s plethora of titles; however, this book rises above all that. I don’t love everything in the book (some renderings still look flat to me), but I found myself checking the artwork out a little more keenly.
What about the monsters? There are creatures in the book created to run a pack of werewolves into the mud (Mussughana); however, there are also creepy beings out there too with the “best interests” of the future in mind (Gatherer Wolf). The format follows an engaging pattern that delivers a background, story seeds, statistics, rumors, and more. These bad boys and girls and things get a few pages apiece, which is plentiful to get a good handle on what each being is about.
Okay, while we have a full moon out, let’s talk about the other denizens of the night. The Wicked Dead immediately lets readers know why they are paying a little bit more for the same sized book. The interior of the first book was black and white while the latter is full-blown color with much more graphic design thrown into it for good measure.
The layout gets a little busy at times, but the end result proves worthwhile. An example of what I’m talking about is this: many pages in the book are the cobbled investigative works of some nameless vampire. We have photos, Post-Its, and receipts showing the investigator’s clues.
Your printer will hate this book and will break up with you, but it might be worth it.
The artwork in this book ranges from the demented to an almost pulpy feel. I should even go ahead an mention the near pin-up girl artwork in this book. Yep, this book shows a bit more than a Victoria’s Secret catalog. I could personally care less, but I know some would have issues with nekkidness. It’s funny really. A book about bloodletting and murders upon murders hardly raises an eye; yet, a little peek inside the vampire’s version of the Playboy Mansion achieves grumbles. Ugh.
I’m ranting. My bad.
The writing in Wicked Dead is a bit more dense than in Wolfsbane. There is more fiction introducing the chapters. There are more sidebars linking earlier releases to this book. I’m not sure the monsters are more memorable, but they are equally creepy (Ragged-Men, for instance).
Somewhere in the hyper-kinetic layout I get a little lost. This came as a surprise to me as I expected to enjoy the vampire book more. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the Hell out of both books; the Werewolf book just sparked a few more inspirations out of me. You have to respect the Muse.
Overall, these books fit perfectly into a library even if the core titles aren’t there. There is no reason why one of these beings couldn’t be thrown into an Aletheia or Heaven and Earth campaign. For example, Bloody Mary from the Wolfsbane doesn’t have to be linked to that mythos. Her story is creepy enough if she’s just part of a demented family. Of course, if your gaming group is a bunch of hardcore types . . . why not let that inbred family just wolf out for good measure?
My scores for Wolfsbane are:
Layout: Three out of Five Dice (Keeps in line)
Artwork: Four out of Five Dice (My favorite Werewolf contribution)
Writing: Four out of Five Dice (Inspired and Fun)
Overall: A solid Four out of Five Dice (Fun)
And my scores for The Wicked Dead are:
Layout: Three out of Five Dice (Way Busy)
Artwork: Five out of Five Dice (Most Awesome, especially creepy dummy girl)
Writing: Four out of Five Dice (A worthwhile fight)
Overall: Four out of Five Dice (Freaky Fun . . . Halloween goodness)
Review by Todd Cash