Tabletop Review: Ravenloft – Children of the Night: Werebeasts (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)

Children of the Night: Werebeasts
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (originally TSR)
Page Count: 98
Cost: $9.99
Release Date: 1/22/2013 (Originally 1998)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com

It’s been a month or so, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Children of the Night: Werebeasts, one of the four Ravenloft themed releases currently on DNDClassics.com. I’ll admit right out that the three Children of the Night books and the adventure entitled, The Created are not the best offerings the Ravenloft campaign setting has to offer, but it’s all we have (legally) available in electronic format right now. DNDClassics is putting up new stuff regularly, but so far, Ravenloft fans are getting the short end of the stick in terms of both quality and quantity. I really did want to review this though, especially after doing the Vampires CotN and found it to be better than its infamous reputation, which shied me away from picking it up when it originally came out in the late 1990s. Since I never picked up this (or the Ghosts) version back in the day, what better way to return to Second Edition Ravenloft (my favorite D&D setting of all time) than with the only releases I never purchased?

Werebeasts follows the same of Children of the Night: Vampires. You have thirteen creatures, each with their own section, which is then followed by an adventure that highlights the creature in question. We’re going to now do a quick run through of all twenty-six sections and see if Werebeasts is worth your $9.99.

Andre de Sang: This is a pirate wererat. Pirate lycanthropes have been done before, even in Ravenloft – just look at the lord of Arkandale. However, Andre is a really interesting one as he is definitely a fall from grace character. He started off with noble and good intentions and along the way became everything he ever hated – all for the love of his mother. This is a really fun character that could make a great recurring antagonist, especially if your Ravenloft campaign spends a lot of time on the Sea of Sorrows or the Islands of Terror. 1 for 1.

Feast of the Rats: This is a fun swashbuckling adventure where players have to deal with a port town plagued by a ghost ship that…isn’t actually filled with ghosts. It’s not a Scooby-Do type affair, but it is filled with twists and heel turns a plenty. This is definitely an adventure that will take players by surprise and teach them a hard lesson about the true nature of Ravenloft. 2 for 2.

Angel Pajaro: This is your typical elven/half-elven werefox backstory. What sets Angel apart is the fact she is an opera singer and thus has a town of NPCs to work with and a degree of fame, meaning she can’t be the typical “seduce and eat” were-elf. Nice twist on an old trope. 3 for 3.

A Night at the Opera: This adventure if a bit of a riff on Phantom of the Opera. It’s by no means an exact carbon copy, but you can definitely tell it was inspired by it, even if the text itself didn’t admit this upfront. This is a really fun adventure that will keep players guessing, especially if they assume that it will unfold exactly like Phantom. Thankfully it veers off pretty drastically and will be a memorable affair for all involved. 4 for 4.

Radiff Chandor: This is where things start to go south and you begin to have an inkling that Werebeasts is mostly crap pulled out of a hat. Radiff Chandor is a weretiger, which is fine. However, he’s an evil weretiger, as are those that made him, which is unusual for D&D. As well, Radiff doesn’t have a hybrid form according to his stats and the text. This is fine…except the book’s artwork shows in only in a Hybrid Man-Tiger form. Whoops. Just not very well done. 4 for 5.

Hunter and Hunted. This is an odd adventure where there are three sides, all of which are dicks and the PCs end up siding with one, only to eventually jump ship to one of the others or just try and kill the other two. It’s an oddly done affair to be sure and it doesn’t help that the players are expected to be part of a tiger hunt (Which because it involves a weretiger, goes spectacularly awry). Unfortunately most good aligned players wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) want to take part in the hunt and if your gaming team has a Ranger and/or Druid, this adventure is basically a non-starter. It’s just not very well done. There are some interesting ideas, but it’s poorly written and just doesn’t leave room for PC deviation which is almost sure to occur. 4 for 6.

Vladimir Nobriskov – This is an interesting werebat who masquerades as a foppish playboy. It’s a very different take on the Werebat and oddly enough, Borca owes Dr. Van Richten for letting loose this monster on them. Whoops. 5 for 7.

The Scarlet Prince – I really enjoyed this adventure. It involves the players discovering an acquaintance of theirs is losing blood via two small holes in her neck. Obviously it is a vampire, right? No, it’s the werebat leaving a false trail of vampire like clues to throw people off. Better yet, he’s even got a perfect patsy to take the fall as the suspected vampire, leaving him in the clear. Can players discover that the actual killer isn’t undead but a lycanthrope? A lot of fun to be had here. 6 for 8.

Meeka. Meeka is a cat-were. She’s a housecat infected by lycanthrophy and thus can take a short statured human form or a cat-woman hybrid. It’s an interesting concept and one we don’t normally see, especially in D&D. 7 for 9.

A Cat’s Revenge. This is kind of a disgusting adventure, partly because it is disturbing, partly because this is the third adventure in the collection that advocates animal cruelty as acceptable behavior but that hurting a human is reprehensible no matter what and because the writer somehow thinks players will solidly get behind someone who has no problem drowning kittens and extols said character’s virtues and passes this off again, as an acceptable act. The crux of the adventure is that because she was a black kitten, Meeka’s human owner tied her up in a sack and threw her into a river because hey, black cats are bad luck. Disgusting. Then, years later when she is back for revenge, the author of this adventure thinks that good aligned PCs will automatically side against her because humans > cats. Ick. Seriously, in this case of this adventure even Paladins would be siding with the werecat after what the human did to her as a kitten. You have to wonder how this adventure passed editorial, much less didn’t get anyone’s ire up when it was originally published. This is just awful no matter how you look at it. 7 for 10.

Abu Al Mir – A werejackal of stunted growth and power. He’s listed as neutral evil, but his bio pretty much makes him true neutral. He’s not evil, just weasely and trying to survive, because even as a lycanthrope, he’s pretty pathetic. An interesting character but there’s not much you can do with him as he won’t make an effective antagonist and it’s hard to have a werecreature in your party as a NPC or henchman. 7 for 11.

Darkness and Secrets – This adventure puts the players smack dab in the middle of the aforementioned werejackal and a Greater Mummy out to destroy it. They adventure is interesting until things hit the climax as the PCs are supposed to be completely dominated by the Greater Mummy and will end up either being forced to take the Abu Al Mir in as a temporary (or permanent) ally or risk a Powers Check by leaving him to fend for himself and more than likely die horribly. Again, this is an interesting concept, but unless you really want to have a chronicle with a werejackal or a series of adventures set in Har’ Akir, you can’t do much with this one. 7 for 12.

Sheneya – This is a werecobra. Yes, they’re really starting to beat a dead horse here. Notice there isn’t a werewolf yet. There won’t be either. Anyway, Sheneya is more a half-bree Yuan-Ti by her background description than a lycanthrope. This book really starts to stretch the concept of a werecreature with this one, not just by the concept of a werecobra, but how and why Sheneya comes out. Not good. 7 for 13.

Kiss of the Serpent Woman – this is basically a dungeon crawl very reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s opening, just with more snakes. A lot more. Sheneya has only a small role to play and there’s never a chance of combat with her, so she’s really not even necessary to the plot and can be removed entirely with little editing by the DM. Fun adventure though and probably the only way you can really use the werecobra. 8 for 14.

Professor Arcanus – Okay, this is another one where you can not only see TSR was desperate for something other than a werewolf, but that whoever was writing this had some strange ideas about good and evil. For example, Professor Arcanus is a weregorilla. What? Not only is this extremely stupid, but it makes no sense. There are no gorillas anywhere around the area where Arcanus is changed and yet that’s his curse? The form doesn’t even relate to his actual crime. What was his crime? Attempted Vistani rape. Yep, Arcanus is a rapist. Then when he was caught and prevented from his act, he said it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk. What a class act. Yet, somehow his alignment is Chaotic GOOD. Yes, because most rapists wouldn’t be spotted by Detect Evil. I’m just flabbergasted rape isn’t a Powers Check or alignment modifier, but a weretiger who wants revenge on a dark cult for brutally murdering his family and causing him to be infected with lycanthropy is chaotic evil. This is just such a messed up collection. 8 for 15.

Missing Bones – Professor Arcanus accidentally causes Duke Gundar, one time Darklord of Gundarak to be resurrected. Okay, first of all when a Darklord dies as decisively as Gundar – LEAVE HIM DEAD, don’t give him an out, especially when his land was absorbed. Thank god Third Edition Ravenloft ignored this adventure even existed. Second, what is the point of bringing a Darklord back for a single adventure without a) giving his stats and b) making the adventure about trying to kill the resurrected nosferatu? A Darklord shouldn’t be dispatched in a throwaway adventure; that’s just insane. WHY would someone even think this is a good idea? 8 for 16.

Mother Fury – this is the closest Werebeasts gets to a classic werewolf, but it’s the Loup-Garou Ravenloft variant meaning, gold, not silver is needed to slay the beast. I always found that to be a neat but potentially TPK twist. Mother Fury is especially interesting as she’s a doomsday cult leader. This was a pretty unique idea back in 1998. Mother Fury is an unrepentant killing machine and definitely makes for a great recurring villain. 9 for 17.

The Howling Clan – This adventure pits the adventurers against the Mother Fury’s cult. A good friend (or perhaps even a PC) has been indoctrinated into the cult and infected with lycanthropy. Can the PC’s save them? It’s a pretty cut and dry adventure flow-wise, but it’s very well done and to the point. There’s even modifications listed for making this a solo character affair, which is quite awesome. 10 for 18.

Henri Milton – Evil wereboar painter. Yes, that’s what this antagonist really is. He’s not even really developed personality wise. Instead he’s a backdrop to a magical paint set that turns its owner into a chaotic evil wereboar. Why a boar? Who knows! TSR just needed yet another werespecies. Just stupid. 10 for 19.

A Bloody Canvas – The PCs are caught between two wereboars fighting over the magical painting palette of doom. Another one for the “just stupid” file. 10 for 20.

Dr. Vjorn Horstman – Oh my. This is another “what the hell were they thinking” character. Vjorn isn’t a werebeast at all. Rather he’s a mad scientist who has figured out how to make a temporary lycanthropy serum. This is pretty interesting as mad scientists are always fun and the applications for a temporary one hour lycanthropy potion are numerous. However, the writer ends up ruining it by giving Vjorn the stats block of a Level 7 Wizard but the first line of his text is, “Although Dr. Horstman is classed as a wizard, he is not actually a spellcaster.” THEN WHY GIVE HIM WIZARD STATS? This is why we have NPC classes. Holy crap. Again, just a major sign that Werebeasts was slapped together without any real thought or editing. 10 for 21.

The Unnatural – This is a really fun adventure that highlights how depraved Falkovnia is, along with the horror of the PRIMAL SERUM. It’s a pretty creepy affair and is a great showcase of how dark Ravenloft is supposed to be. 11 for 22.

Sandover – Sandover is a werecrocodile who gained his hybrid and animal forms through the worship of a Loa. A group of primitive reptile men worship him as the Avatar of their god and he’s not really evil, content to live with his people and occasionally eat human babies or children. Okay, so he is evil, but they had me looking at him as actually neutral until they hamfisted the baby eating aspect onto Sandor. Still a neat character. 12 for 23.

The Viper’s Grasp – a terrible name considering this is about a crocodile lycanthrope, not a snake one. Still, I have a soft spot for the island of Souragne and the combination of voodoo and a cult of lizard men is just oozing with potential. One of the more interesting adventures in the book. 13 for 24.

Hilde Borganov – A were-manta ray. Yes, truly the last werebeast in Werebeasts is the stupidest one. Basically this is the wife of a burgomaster (shouldn’t it be burgomeister?) who has infected most of her humble home with her strain of lycanthropy. Yes, a city of half-men, half-rays. Oh, the terror!Q It also doesn’t help that the hybrid design makes you want to laugh as soon as you see it. They look like Chunk from The Goonies with filed down teeth. Just terrible. 13 for 25.

The Forgotten Ones – As you can imagine, this adventure is about the PCs innocently finding themselves in the town of were-rays. The adventure ends up being a second rate Escape from Innsmouth and it’s just hard to take seriously from beginning to end. Stupid concept, stupid adventure. 13 for 26.

Hmm. So as you can see, a thumb’s in the middle is a pretty accurate descriptor for Children of the Night: Werebeasts as it only has a fifty percent quality rating. TSR was trying too hard to come up with as many lycanthropic variants as they could instead of focusing on quality. There’s also a lot of strange decisions made here in terms of alignment and storytelling that some will no doubt find offensive. As bad a reputation as the Vampires edition of Children of the Night has garnered over the years, Werebeasts is a far worse product. I really wish I knew who was in charge of vetting what Ravenloft products were going live on DNDClassics.com because I’d really love to talk with them about their choices.

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