Gothic Horror: Vampire Wars
Gothic Horror: Vampire Wars is a set of rules for skirmish games in a world inspired by Universal Pictures and Hammer Studios horror films. It was written by Stephen L Lawrence, and has much in common with his other publications, such as the Warpaint rules for Wild West games.
Accompanying the rulebook, West Wind has released some 45 packs of 28mm miniatures, amounting to over 150 figures, sculpted by Andy Cooper, head designer at historical manufacturer Old Glory, as well as designer of West Wind's WW2 range, Berlin Or Bust.
Future plans include supplements covering the Legend of Sleepy Hollow , Jack the Ripper, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the Mummy.
There is no full specific background given: it has to be inferred from some poor fiction, and from the backgrounds given to the various creatures and groups of humans. It doesn't look good. For example, although the game is set in Eastern Europe c1900, the only Church mentioned is Catholic: no Greek or Russian Orthodox, let alone Muslim or Jewish groups exist. One group detailed is the Teutonic Knights, but the author seems unaware of their actual (and legendary) historical connection to Transylvania. He thinks peerages could be renounced in the early twentieth century (and seems to think it would be necessary if leaving England for a while). He thinks there was a newspaper called the "London Times", and so on. There is also a lot of bad pseudo-Latin.
The basic rules take up about 20 pages. Most of the mechanisms are familiar.
Figures each represent one person, though figures can be grouped into units. They have three different characteristics: Attack, Defense and Willpower. Each is classified by the type of die rolled - a "quality dice" system similar to that used in Stargrunt, except that each characteristic might be a different die. For example, Van Helsing rolls a d10 attack die, a d12 defense die, and a d20 willpower die, while an ordinary human rolls d8 for each.
Movement rates are determined by die rolls, with different rolls for different figure types (e.g. humans move d6+8 inches per turn, dog-creations move 2d6+4 inches), modified by terrain type. This creates clumsy results: our dog-thing moves across swamps at a rate given as 2d6+4-(1d6+1) inches. You have to reduce this to 1d6-3 yourself!
Shooting involves rolling higher than a target number to hit (5+ close range, 11+ long range, with modifiers of the usual sort ). Close combat involves the attacker rolling his attack die, and the defender his defense die: the highest wins, after modifiers. There is then a saving throw (16+ on a d20, for humans). If this is failed, the casualty is killed; if passed, he is wounded, with the usual sort of negative modifiers thereafter. In keeping with the setting of the game, however, some hits don't count: werewolves ignore any weapon that isn't made of silver, and vampires can only be wounded or killed by wooden stakes or weapons (or really strong monsters) capable of beheading them.
Willpower tests have to be taken to enter combat, and on being wounded, losing more figures than the opponent and other familiar occasions. Vampires are also allowed a Willpower based attack.
There are special rules for sighting in the dark and ambushes, but no discussion of the practical difficulties of hidden movement on the tabletop.
I don't understand the game sequence. It is card driven, but very confusing about what happens when each card is drawn, at one point saying each player can move any and all of his units when one of his cards is drawn, at another saying he can move only a specific type of figure (e.g. all his Vampire Lords on one card, all his Evil Cossacks on another). The author was obviously unhappy with the game sequence too, as he provides three alternative systems.
Background, characteristics and special rules for different creatures and humans are given in the next section of the rulebook, amounting to about 40 pages.
The following nasties are covered:
- Nosferatu (feral vampires) and their servants;
- Vampire Lords (Lugosi types) and their acolytes, henchmen, evil cossack guards, and bats;
- The Mad Doktor (sic), his fiance, assistant, servants, and monstrous creations.
The goodies are:
- Van Helsing's Vampire Hunters;
- Hungarian, Zendarian (i.e. German), English, Frankish (sic) and American Vampire Hunters;
- Wolfen-Jaeger (werewolf hunters)
- Several rival Roman Catholic groups: The Vatican Hit Team, Teutonic Knights, Templars and Hospitallars;
- Local "Politzei" and the Mob;
Van Helsing's team is loosely based on Stoker's Dracula. The various national groups are based on national stereotypes (eg the French eat so much garlic that Vampires have to pass a Willpower test before attacking them), except for the Americans: a group made up of a preternaturally strong and fast young woman called "The Chosen", a librarian, two witches, and their young friends...
There are also rules for the involvement of escapees from a Lunatic asylum. The rulebook suggests that these should be controlled by the Gamesmaster - such a person is mentioned twice in the rule book, but his or her role is never discussed.
Some 20 different scenarios are included, together with maps. This is a nice touch, and should provide useful hints on the types of games intended by the authors, even for those who don't play the published scenarios themselves.
Production & Gripes:
The rulebook is 8.5 inches by 11, square bound and clearly printed. It does not seem to have been proof-read. Typos abound, including mislabelled columns in tables. Van Helsing is given two different forenames (neither of them Abraham), and is sometimes called Von Holtzig.
Figure designer Andy Cooper provides a lot of internal illustrations in a sketchy, cartoony style that I rather like, but is not up to the job of painting colour covers.
Overall, West Wind seem to have taken these rules out of the oven before they were properly cooked. They do not live up to the high standards set by the figure line.
Please Note: Any prices quoted in this review were correct at the time of publication of the original hard copy version of the review, and may have subsequently changed. Please check prices with the manufacturer before ordering.
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