Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/15/tabletop-review-mummy-the-curse-guildhalls-of-the-deathless-world-of-darkness/
After an extremely successful Kickstarter, Mummy: The Curse was released at the beginning of this year to both critical and fan acclaim. If you read my extremely long and enthusiastic review, then you know that I consider it to be one of the two best releases of 2013 so far (along with Numenera). Guildhalls of the Deathless is the first supplement for Mummy: The Curse, and it’s a worthy second release for the line. Although it’s not as impressive as the core rulebook, and there are a few issues I have with the book here and there, they are minor ones, and with a fifteen dollar price tag, Guildhalls of the Deathless is an exceptionally good deal considering you are getting nearly two hundred pages of content that will help to flesh out your Mummy: The Curse campaign. You even get an extremely long adventure that should take multiple play sessions to get through, which is only the tip of the iceberg for an extremely long metaplot based campaign.
So let’s talk content. There are eight chapters to Guildhalls of the Deathless. The book is divided into two parts – one for players and one for Storytellers. Unlike the core rulebook, I can’t say that there is anything in Guildhalls of the Deathless that would spoil the playing aspect of the game – unless you read the adventure before you played it of course. You also don’t NEED to read or own Guildhalls of the Deathless to play Mummy: The Curse, but the book does give an extremely in-depth look at how the five guilds view themselves and each other, in addition to a long history of each organization and how they work towards restoring the glory of Lost Irem. If you’re picking up Mummy to read or run a game, then you will probably WANT to get Guildhalls of the Deathless as it is extremely informative and well written, helping to better define the five guilds. This will let the Storyteller better design inter- and intra-guild relations and give characters a chance to better understand their place within the organization they chose at character creation, as well as the place in the grand scheme of the Judges.
The first five chapters comprise the entirely of the player’s side of Guildhalls of the Deathless. Each chapter is devoted to a specific guild. Chapter One is for the Maa-Kep (middle management), Chapter Two is about the Mesen-Nebu (alchemists), Chapter Three talks about the Sesha-Hebsu (scribes), Chapter Four is about the Su-Menent (priests) and finally Chapter Five gives us the Tef-Aabhi (masons). I’m really glad each guild received their own chapter in which specifics were talked about, as they received a level of depth, history and philosophical discussion the core rulebooks imply but didn’t have room for. It’s great to see all five guilds in a single book too, instead of spread out amongst five small “Clanbook” style releases. Here we get everything at once, early on into the life of the game, and for far less than if you had to purchase the content in five smaller books. This is simply the best way to do this style of content and it really benefits the player. Note that reading these five chapters is bound to change your original impressions for each of the five guilds. The extra depth will change how you look at each one, and also give you insight into their own goals… as well as the internal issues plaguing each organization. All five chapters are really worth reading if you’re even remotely interesting in playing or running a chronicle of Mummy: The Curse.
The only real problem I had with the player side of the book is that the five chapters for the guilds are neither equal nor uniform. What I mean by this is that some guilds have more pages devoted to them than others. So, for example, you’ll learn far more about one guild than you would another. As well, the information you are given isn’t presented in a stable format, so one guild might see a sample PC presented within its pages, but the other four won’t have NPC stat blocks at all. I think editorial could have done a better job by telling the writers to outline each chapter in a uniform format. For example, maybe do a brief overview, then the information, then what other guilds think they know about the guild in question, followed by what the guild of topic thinks of the other guild. So on and so forth. That would have made the book flow a lot smoother, and it would be easier to find the information both players and Storytellers might be hunting for in a pinch. Instead, the chaotic way each chapter is written might make it enjoyable to read, but it certainly makes using the book as a resource while PLAYING a lot harder. An index would have been a godsend. It’s also extremely obvious that there are different writers for each guild, as the voice, writing style and content are so different from each other. Whether or not you would prefer a more uniform voice is subjective however, but I do wish the voices for the book would have blended together better, as the end result feels piecemeal instead of cohesive. I can’t emphasize enough how MINOR the above issues are, but they are noticeable and thus worth pointing out.
The last three chapters of the book are for the Storyteller. It’s odd because the bulk of the book is the Storyteller sections rather than the chapters on the guilds themselves. Those first five chapters and the introduction take up 78 of the 178 pages in the book. That’s less than half. In fact, the longest chapter (roughly 45 pages) is the adventure, which is only part one of a Chronicle. To get the rest of the chronicle, you’ll have to purchase a different book (most likely the upcoming Cursed Necropolis: DC release). I would strongly have preferred to see the Avarice Chronicle be released as its own separate supplement rather than spreading it as a tagalong throughout other books. That way, if you wanted the chronicle, you could get it in one shot instead of having to purchase multiple, possibly unrelated or unwanted, books and then having to cart all of those around (physically or in e-reader format) instead of having them in a single book. It also makes looking up information insane, as you have to hunt through multiple books (without indexes BTW) instead of, again, a single release. This was bad form from WW/OPP and I have to say I’m very disappointed with their decision to release the chronicle in this format. Again, this is a minor issue to me, but one I know other people will probably feel strongly about, so I’m bringing it up now as a head’s up that you will need to buy multiple books if you want the full chronicle.
Chapter Six is entitled “Keys to the Chamber” and it’s mainly about rules for guild (inter- and intra-) disputes and how to resolve them with dice and roleplaying. Obloquy takes up the bulk of this chapter, and it is an interesting read, but not something that will come up often (or at all) in your Chronicle unless you really want to tell a story about it or you are running M:TC like V:TM. The rest of the chapter is about creating and designing talismans (a magic item within the game) and some new abilities for your character. Guild Affinities can be purchased in relation o a character’s Guild Status rating. There are also new rules for Mummies combining their powers into one channeled effect. This is known as Unison. This can create effects up the equivalent of Level 10 Sekhem, which is insanely powerful. I like the Unison idea, although I do wish the rules for it were more defined and also not tucked into the tail end of Chapter Six in a supplement. I can see this being missed by a lot of gamers. There’s some great new rules and content in Chapter Six, and I can see why they were put in the Storyteller section instead of the Player area, as it lets the person running the game decide if they want to use these and if they want to make DISCOVERING this new option part of an adventure.
Chapter Seven, “Beyond the Door,” is mostly mechanics. Here you have more Guild Affinities, but these are geared towards specific guilds rather than the universal ones found in the previous chapter. Again, these are very much tied into Guild Status, so if a player didn’t take any during creation these are unavailable to him or her. You’ll also find magic items and NPCs here as well. The chapter is grouped by guild, which makes looking for information easier, but an index would have made finding and using the pieces in this chapter so much easier.
Finally we have Chapter Eight, which is the first part of the Avarice Chronicle. This is a huge chapter, the largest in the book, and the Chronicle is a mini campaign in and of itself, meaning it will keep players busy for many a playthrough. Now, will it keep them busy long enough for the second part of the story to be released? That I don’t know. This is White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing, after all, and they do have some issues getting things out on time, even more so than most companies in the tabletop industry. As such, you might want to hold off on running this until part two is in your hands to ensure your characters aren’t stuck without anything to do until the new release. I’ve seen this happen to many a Pathfinder gamer after all…
The adventure itself, Crucible of Fate is an excellent one. It takes place in Washington D.C. (my backyard – literally; I look out my window and there’s the Washington Monument), which is a good place to hold the Grand Conclave – the largest gathering of mummies in thousands of years. After all, D.C. is rife with Egyptian style art and motifs. Who is to say that the inspiration for these things is not far older than the mortals suspect? Such a large gathering gives a fine explanation as to why there would be a clutch of mummies able to have adventures together all in one spot. After all, the hardest part about writing a Mummy adventure is figuring out a task that requires ONE Mummy, much less three or four. This particular adventure touches on all the basics. You get to interact with multiple Arisen, witness mummy politics, discover some potential heresy against Irem, Duat and the Judges, fight some unholy creations, and most importantly see the schism between multiple mummies regarding how to view the modern day world, as well as exactly where an Arisen’s loyalty should lie. The adventure is a lot of fun and you can definitely feel the metaplot hammer hitting the characters repeatedly here, so even if you don’t want to play Crucible of Fate, you will probably want to read it to see how the world of the Arisen is about to dramatically change.
All in all, Guildhalls of the Deathless is a wonderful release, and it compliments Mummy: The Curse beautifully. It’s not a flawless however, and whether the flaws Guildhalls of the Deathless contains are minor or major will vary by the reader. I was quite happy with this book and Mummy: The Curse continues to be the crown jewel in the New World of Darkness for me (although The God Machine Chronicle came close and Blood and Smoke might surpass it, but I’m starting to think the latter won’t hit until 2014).