Happy New Year, readers! Here’s to another wonderful year of reading and discovery for you all!
Back in 2020, we told you about the very cool Kickstarter campaign for Jonathan Green’s gamebook Dracula: Curse Of The Vampire. I received my copy partway through 2021, but didn’t have time to sit down and read/play through it till the recent winter holiday. I admit that I’d been missing RPGs quite a bit, so this felt like a nice light-to-medium-weight solo stopgap till at least one of my groups picks up again in the New Year (tonight, even!)
Tho I’ve certainly read more than my fair share of vampire novels, I’ve never been a big Dracula aficionado. And tho I love rpgs (enough to design a few games myself,) I can be a little iffy on following rulesets. While D:CotV is set up so you can just read through your options without rolling any dice or marking up the game sheets in the front (which was the approach I took for a number of reasons while reading game books as a teenager,) I thought I’d do this the “proper” way, so sat down one evening once the kids were in bed and started reading through the several pages of instruction. As RPGs go, the rules are fairly simple, tho still more complicated than people whose only exposure to the genre are Choose Your Own Adventure books might feel comfortable with. And that’s okay! The rules are here for those who want the crunchy experience of rolling dice and marking points: the book works just as well if you skip those aspects altogether.
But since I wanted those aspects, I grabbed a pencil and the Google dice roller on my phone, and sat down over the course of several days to immerse myself in vampire hunting, as envisioned by Bram Stoker and translated for the 21st century by Mr Green. And y’all, this was so much fun! It became quickly apparent that while this book is strongly rooted in Mr Stoker’s seminal text, it’s also happy to riff off of various vampire-related mythologies and stories to further enrich the experience. Readers, I squealed when I got to the murder on the train! This book definitely isn’t just a reorganization of the original into a “playable” version: it’s a witty and often delightful melange of various vampire and horror stories through the ages, written in a way that hearkens back to the original but is possessed of greater clarity and accessibility.
I started my initial playthrough as Jonathan Harker, and went about as far with him as possible (i.e. till his Terror track was almost impossible to roll past) before switching over to Mina’s perspective. I actually rather regret waiting till so late, as I missed out on almost the entire Mina-Lucy part of the story. On the other hand, this definitely increases the replay value of this book, as I’m very motivated to go back and start with Mina earlier. I also really want to read/play this book as Count Dracula himself, which is a pretty awesome option here.
One hint, tho, regardless of who you play when: put off using your The Pen Is Mightier ability as long as you can, as some of those later monster encounters are huge. I may or may not have fudged some of my rolls closer to the end, because I really wanted to see what happened next (which may or may not also be my style both as a role-player and a gamemaster who prioritizes story over lethality.) But even if you’re strict with your rules adherence, you’ll find that the game balance here is quite fair, at least for the vampire hunters. In general, you’ll be asked to make rolls with a generous average rate of success. I imagine this is the same while playing the Count, who also has a decent spread of attributes, tho I’ve yet to fully investigate how the Suspicion score affects that.
Overall, this was a delightfully spooky, often suspenseful game experience that is elegantly constructed and really well written, showcasing its creators’ love for and abundant knowledge of vampire and monster mythology. It’s also perhaps the first gamebook I’ve immediately wanted to dive back into and replay once I’d successfully completed my first go-through. Oh, and I’d be remiss to end this review without mentioning Hauke Kock’s brilliant art work! The line drawings are gorgeous, and invite readers to flip through the book looking not only for more to admire but also for the often-twinned illustrations that you’ll receive depending on the success or failure of your ESP rolls. This is a must-read for any horror aficionados/gamers, who will find hours of entertainment within its pages.
Dracula: Curse Of The Vampire by Jonathan Green, illustrated by Hauke Kock was published October 4 2021 by Snowbooks and is available from all good booksellers including Amazon.com.