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Sunday, 1 March 2020

Leagues of Monsters & Places

Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion is a supplement for Leagues of Gothic Horror, itself a supplement for Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!. This is Triple Ace Games’ roleplaying game of globetrotting adventure and mystery pushed into that most melodramatic genre, full of legends, ghosts, vampires, dark magic, great evils, sinister villains, and even romance—gothic horror. Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion adds an array of new character options, a whole new culture, haunted upon haunted locations, and new monsters, NPCs, and heroes. There is a wealth of content in this supplement which will support a campaign for some time.
The options in 
Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion open with new Talents for the player character, including Corruption Resistant, Evil Eye—which lets a character place a minor curse on others, (Monster) Hunter—which grants a bonus when hunting and investigating specific types of creature, and Past Life—provides access to a skill that the character may not have, but the ancestor might. Flaws range from Slow Healer to Opinionated and include genre standbys, Screamer and Fainter. Both pure Hammer Horror! Of the two new Leagues, Fairy Investigation Society is perfectly in keeping with the Victorians’ fascination with fairies, whilst the Gypsy Lore Society ties in with the background information given about the gypsies in the book’s second chapter. There is just the one new Ritual, that of Nightmare, which inflicts a terrifying dream upon the victim.  

The selection of new Weird Science devices showcases a pleasing degree of invention, such as Ecto-Armour which protects against ghostly attacks and Etheric Purgative Tablets which can expel a possessing spirit from its host, whilst many a player character is going to want a Miniature Gatling Gun. Unfortunately, it is only available from the Ministry of Unusual Affairs! Similarly, the Specimen Collection Vehicle, an internal combustion powered vehicle designed to safely collect and transport supernatural creatures and evidence, is also only available from the Ministry of Unusual Affairs. Both add a certain muscularity to a Leagues of Gothic Horror campaign a la Torchwood. As well as devices,  Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion gives numerous occult relics. So the Babel Stone Amulet adds a bonus to the Linguistics skill, the Kladenets is a ‘self-swinging’ sword of Russian fairy tales, the Ghost Shirt and Fumsup both protect against bullets, genuine Lucky Heather does provide a luck bonus, and the Witch Pin can be used to determine if someone knows magic (though not if they are a witch). Witch hunting dominates the list of new occult tomes, such as Compendium Maleficarum, Daemonolatrione Libri Tres, and De Lamiis et Pythonicis Mulieribus. This a good selection of things to add to a campaign, giving the Game Master lots of potential and pleasingly, if there is a focus on Europe in the relics and tomes, it is tempered by a few interesting entries from elsewhere round the world..

Any coverage of the Gypsies—or Romany—is covering potentially contentious ground, but fortunately, ‘Gypsies & Szgany’ provides both their history and their background as well as ways to bring them in a game of Gothic Horror. It highlights how throughout their history, the Gypsies have been distrusted and discriminated against, with reputations for enacting curses and cheating and thievery. What the chapter does is separate the Gypsies into two groups—Gypsies and Szgany. In particular, it makes clear that it is the Szgany who are responsible for the poor reputation that Gypsies have in general. Whereas the Gypsies are sworn to defend all of humanity against evil, the Szgany have long fallen from grace, corrupted by supernatural horrors native to the Balkans, having turned to superstition rather than faith and sold their loyalty for gold, including knowingly vowing their loyalty to powerful vampires. This includes the ultimate vampire lord himself, Dracula, a la Bram Stoker’s novel. What this means is that the Game Master can still be seen to use Gypsies as villains and henchmen, so adhering to their role in the genre, whereas the Szgany are the true villains. At the same time, the Gypsy way of life and their culture can also be brought into play, whether that is as a Gypsy globetrotter player character or Gypsy rituals, and so on. 

Whether a haunted house or castle, the decaying mansion of a devil worshipping despot or a blood covered Aztec altar, or a vampire’s crypt or werewolf-stalked forests, supernatural sites in Leagues of Gothic Horror are meant to be special and should ideally offer the Game Master solid roleplaying potential which she can work up into a good encounter, scenario, or mystery for her players. Besides generic locations, the Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion offers over fifty such supernatural sites, from Australia and Austria to Russia and the United States. Each comes with a suggested antagonist from Leagues of Gothic Horror or from one of the other supplements such as Guide to Apparitions or Guide to Mummies, plus a suggested number of bonus Style points for those using the optional Dark Places rule. Optional rules allow for Corrupted Sites where even just spending time in them means that a Globetrotter might accrue Corruption Points and Eerie Atmosphere which penalises a globetrotter’s Horror checks! Under these rules Castle Dracula is not a place you want to visit just because…! Finally every location comes with an adventure seed, suggesting how the Game Master might use it—which means fifty over adventure hooks.

The sites themselves include Devil’s Pool, reputably the most haunted site in Australia; Houska Castle in Bohemia, constructed over a void known locally as ‘the Gateway to Hell’; and Farringdon Street Station in London, an underground said to be haunted by a ‘Screaming Specter’. It is fair to say that the majority of the supernatural sites described do come from the United Kingdom, which does have a reputation of being particularly haunted, yet this is also in keeping with the Victorian focus of Leagues of Gothic Horror and Leagues of Adventure. It also addresses one of the issues with Leagues of Gothic Horror and that is a lack of supernatural places.

The longest chapter in Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion is ‘Things That Go
Bump in the Night’, so monsters. Or rather some forty or so ghosts, monsters, greater horrors, unique villains, and more. The ghosts are categorised as types, such as the strong motive of the Avenger, the hope-sucking Leech, or the forlorn Lost, but also include variants like the Clanker, effectively a weaker, noisier poltergeist, or an alternative, spirit-like version of the Wendigo. The monsters include classics likeAnimated Armour and the Hangman Tree as well as more specific beings like the raven-swarm Sluagh of Scottish and Irish folklore, which rip the souls from the near dead. Greater horrors take a step up in terms of power and evil with demons such as Baal who grants or curses invisibility and Focalor, a duke of Hell specialising in the sinking of battleships, and then unique villains tie back in to several of the supernatural sites detailed earlier in the book. For example, Black Annis, the crone who lurks in the wilds of the Dane Hills of Leicestershire and is known to have a predilection for the flesh of children, and then Doctor Henry Howard Holmes, the infamous serial killer of 1890s Chicago. Doubtless though, the Game Master will have fun with Igor, a scientist henchman who keeps working for scientists already on a dark path over and over… Similarly Doctor Who fans will take a certain pleasure from encountering the giant, two-hundred-and-fifty pound rat known as the Mudger, lurking in London’s extensive sewer system. In addition to ghosts and monsters, Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion includes two cults—the Benevolent Society of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Cult of the Horned God—both suited for longer term play and both suitably gothic in their origins. Certainly, the Cult of the Horned God echoes the stories of Dennis Wheatley, but both feel inspired by Hammer Horror.

Lastly, Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion includes heroes both ordinary and unique. The latter includes Andrei the Bear, a Gypsy monster hunter, and Penny Dreadful, a masked avenger who hunts werewolves and vampires. Plus there is a whole of ordinary NPCs, including Gypsy Horse Dealer,  Gypsy Storyteller, and Reformed Szgany to tie back into the ‘Gypsies & Szgany’ chapter, and several sample, ready-to-play player characters, such as the Cursed Clergyman, Folklorist, Fortune Teller, Scarred Survivor, Stage Magician, and Werewolf Hunter.

Physically, Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion is surprisingly all text—there are no illustrations. That aside, it is neatly laid out, the writing is good, and despite the lack of index, the contents are relatively easy to reference.

At its most basic, Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion expands on the dearth of supernatural locations detailed in Leagues of Gothic Horror. Indeed, fifty or so adds a great number of them, but that is only a quarter of the book! Plus you do get a scenario hook with every location. In fact, half of Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion is dedicated to new monsters and ghosts, NPCs and cults, plus new player character types. Which is exactly what a roleplaying game of gothic horror really needs and that is in addition to new character options and a nicely done treatment of the Gypsies! All together, Leagues of Gothic Horror Expansion is useful companion to Leagues of Gothic Horror, but the new supernatural locations make it an essential supplement.