Encounters with the Dark Powers is a supplement by Christian Zeuch and Matthew Wulf that provides an alternative to death in Ravenloft.
The supplement gives us a total of 20 unique encounters, that can occur when a player character dies. In those encounters (all named with a certain theme: The Haunted One, The Misty One, The Silent One, et cetera) the players get the option to come back to life – but with some significant side effects. We get a roll table with the mechanical effects for each one at the beginning of the supplement, and then for each of them about half a page describing the situation of the encounter.
Mechanically, the effects are quite interesting, with both a positive and a negative aspect affecting the character after their intimate brush with death. Usually, the negative effects are somewhat stronger than the positive, which makes sense thematically; this isn’t an instance where your buddies lug your corpse to the nearest cleric and pay a small fee to get you resurrected – rather, in the Domains of Dread, death is a big deal, and you don’t get to escape it without leaving something behind.
This is also reflected very nicely in the individual descriptions: Each time, the characters find themselves in a horrific predicament, and given a chance to escape by various mysterious figures. The characters can never talk to these figures to find out what exactly is going on; and since they can be described as enigmatic at best, sometimes downright inscrutable or even sinister, the players might choose to accept death rather than whatever bargain or “gift” they have been offered. This is emphasized by the writer: you can give the players a chance to come back, but ultimately they are the ones to decide if they want to take it; and they must know that their choice will have consequences.
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Editing, Layout, & Art
I did notice a couple of very minor issues with both editing and layout: some spell names that needed to be italicized or capitalized and an instance where a box of text overlapped with the paragraph above it, but nothing that really detracted from the supplement. So overall both editing and layout are quite well done, especially when it comes to adding the art in the pages.
Speaking of art, it is quite the mix; most pieces I would call simply alright, especially some of the 3d renders (which are admittedly very hard to get to look just right, so I can’t hold it against anyone). However, there are some other pieces that are just tailor-made for the encounters and certainly look very very good.
Overall, Encounters with the Dark Powers is a great supplement, with a very fitting tone for Barovian campaigns – and in general Gothic (and not only) horror. The encounters are perfectly designed to unnerve players – and that says a lot, considering they’ve already been through a place called “the Domains of Dread” and died.
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