By Thilo Graf
I only own the dead-tree version for this book, thus I can’t comment on bookmarks and the like. The dead-tree copy is soft-bound, has 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page blank inside the back cover, 2 pages of advertisements, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages ToC and kicks off with a short introduction to the topic at hand by Wolfgang Baur himself before going on to provide 68 pages of information on the undead lands.
As you should know if you’ve read my review of Liber Vampyr, I have very distinct opinions about how/what vampires should be like and subsequently, I was rather sceptical about the principalities of Morgau and Doresh, to which the first half of this gazetteer is devoted. Loosely inspired by classic Transylvanian cliché of Dracula and his lands, the principalities are ruled by the undead – but not as some all life eradicating tyrants, but as “realistic” rulers, i.e. creatures, who, though they might demand a price in blood and dead flesh, still are the leaders of their countries and not some cutboard evil psychopaths. The mixture of religion, tradition and everyday life serves to provide an interesting glimpse at a society that might be a dark place to live, but still remains a place to live rather than be undead or meat.
Meat is a good prompt, as it’s the true currency of the next chapter – the subterranean ghoulish empire led by the high ghouls (called Darakhul, template provided) and comes, as does the Principality, with a nice 1-page map of its expanse. In contrast to e.g. the principality, we get more information on the goods, strange structure etc. of the empire and its feeding laws, allies and enemies, military organization and even some new items, spells, etc. Darakhan, white city and capital of the empire gets its own section, albeit no map of its own.
The gazetteer closes with a massive bestiary-section containing e.g. bone-collectives (undead swarms that can form humanoids, the ghoul’s war beetle-steeds, a smattering of ghouls and vampires with class-levels, lich hounds, bone-powder ghouls (which are both deadly and cool – Ghouls that have existed so long/starved/been ground to pieces so that they become strange, deadly piles of dust – until they rise), deadly Mycolids and the Gynosphinx. Many of the creatures get their own, stunning b/w-artworks.
Layout adheres to the two-column standard, is clear and straightforward, the b/w-artwork is nice. Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice a single glitch or mistake and the same holds true for formatting. I was quite sceptical whether the vampiric principalities would appeal to me, but let me say so much: Wolfgang Baur and Scott Gable did an awesome job of making this gazetteer appealing to fans of Ravenloft, classic vampires and just about anyone who likes the idea of INTELLIGENT, sophisticated yet decadent and evil creatures. The chapter on the Ghoul Empire is absolute gold, too – the subterranean dread lurking below the surface is simply disturbing in its commoditization of human flesh, military relentlessness and prowess as well as its capability to assimilate their enemies into their ever devouring ranks make for a more than disturbing nation to test the wits of PCs -for brute force will get them killed. I gather that one of the early, limited ODs I missed alongside Castle Shadowcrag was about this empire and thus don’t know how much material has been recycled/updated to PFRPG and whether this section is interesting to people who own the OD, but I gather the update itself should be worth it. Apart from that, we get several stat-blocks and cool critters, imaginative magic and alchemical items and all of that for a relatively low price – as you can see, I have nothing to field as a complaint apart from wishing the book was about 150 pages longer – thus, the Imperial Gazetteer gets full 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval for being an outstanding product. If you haven’t checked it out and even remotely like undead, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
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So what do you think?