Set in Open Design's campaign world that has already explored for both the 3rd and 4th Editions of Dungeons & Dragons, this Gazetteer describes the Principality of Morgau and Doresh and Realms Subterranean; the powerhouse of the undead in this setting. In the Introduction, Wolfgang Baur explains his fascination with death and the undead and their suitability as major-league villains within role-playing games. Highlighting the tendency of many games to restrict them to skulking in crypts, here is presented undead society in all its glory, princes and lords of their lands, at least as potent as any mortal monarch.
Chapter 1 tells of the Princes of Morgau and Doresh, once as unremarkable as any noble but now exclusively drawn from the ranks of the undead: ghouls, vampires and other undead with sufficient intelligence for the role. Always a bit of a haven for bandits and the lawless, things started to go downhill with the arrival of an exotic nobleman who just seemed to... take over. Promoting the worship of the Blood Goddess Marena and dealing harshly with anyone who questioned his status, this Prince Lucan was soon founding the Order of the Knights Incorporeal and leading the people of Morgau in conquest of Doresh - and so this rich tapesty of background and history goes on up to the present: a land constantly at war with its neighbours possibly to keep the citizens too occupied to rebel against masters who require not just taxes and military service, but their very blood! However, the various undead nobles don't just make poor neighbours, they are continually bickering amongst themselves as well. Rich detail on the personalities involved (and Pathfinder game stats, should your characters meet them) are supplied. It's a fine Ruritanian setting, all crags and castles and petty nobles seeking advantage while everyone else seeks to survive - just reading about it spawns adventure ideas a-plenty! And the wealth of information ends with a note that few outsiders know much of what is going on here, so your characters can have fun (?) finding out - with a few ideas about how to persuade them to visit!
Chapter 2 explores the Ghoul Imperium. This lies under Morgau and Doresh, with the ghouls generally only coming above-ground to feed. They fight a fair bit when below ground as well, amongst themselves and anyone else they encounter. The place is a swirling maelstrom of intrigue, individuals and religious cults vying for power; with slaves an important currency - even if frequently eaten by hungry ghouls. There is much here that is unusual and fascinating... if you can stay uneaten long enough to discover it.
Chapter 3: Underdark Locations and Encounters provides an underground gazetteer for anyone tempted to visit the Ghoul Imperium (or who survives being captured and taken there by force). It could be quite interesting to go spelunking here, but fairly deadly as well. NPCs you are likely to meet and rumours you might hear are well-described, fertile material for interaction for those brave enough to venture down here. Not everyone down here is undead, and apart from the Ghoul Imperium described in the previous chapter there are other settlements and groups who may prove somewhat more welcoming, or at least unlikely to eat you! One brilliant aid for the GM is that the distinctive smells of each place are described - most fairly vile and the well-prepared traveller might want to take a nosegay or improvise a gas mask (such a device is detailed as a magic item available in the Ghoul Imperium, although I didn't think bad smells bother them...). The smell of a place can be very evocative and potent in setting the scene, so it is good to see it mentioned here.
Continuing the exploration of subterranean realms is Chapter 4: Darakhan, the City of White. Capital of the Ghoul Imperium, it's a hard and unforgiving place, under the sway of undead legions, much of the population impoverished and scavenging for scraps, filled with intrigue and endless striving for advancement and advantage.
Finally, Chapter 5: Monsters, provides details of many new underground denizens, mostly but not all undead, who can provide extra challenges to unwary travellers. All are described with great attention to detail - society, appearance, habits - as well as the information necessary to use them in a fight. Whether your characters wish a brawl or a conversation, you have what you need to run them effectively. Strange indeed are the mycolids, for example, sentient mushrooms that farm and trade far underground.
Above ground and below, this book provides a wealth of resources, places and people to bring undead - well, I was about to say 'to life' but that doesn't sound right - into prominence in your game, whether in the intended setting or transplanted to a suitable location in your regular campaign world. Undead can be a whole lot more than combat fodder, and this work gives you ideas and tools to use them to full effect.
Return to Imperial Gazetteer page.
Reviewed: 3 May 2010