This is a review of the first expansion for Dracula’s America and the accompanying line of minis. Read the review of Dracula’s America first for best results!
“He don’t look like no priest to me.” The gunfighter smiled, revealing the fangs he’d had capped in gold. His posse, near-mindless thralls that had been the townfolk of Redemption, hissed and awaited their master’s word. The man in question certainly did not look like a priest. In the light of the solitary torch he bore, he could have been any sort of drifter. Pallid, gaunt, haunted. A victim of too much laudnum, or even an Animus addict. But a priest? He bore no cross or collar. The master’s telegram had been plain enough, but this man couldn’t possibly be the one the Carpathian Guard themselves wanted apprehended so badly.
He pointed, turning his head to nod at his starving posse as he did. Take him.
A half dozen vampires surged forward, faster than quarter horses. Father Lynch threw the torch at the gunfighter’s feet, and threw both his arms up in a makeshift sign of the cross. Light blazed forth, brighter than noon.
“St. Michael the Archangel” Father Lynch laid hands on the first, and as he did so the creature screamed and burst into flames. “Defend us in battle.”
The priest cast the first aside, and before the the body hit the ground he spun sideways and destroyed another. The gunfighter smiled. So it was him, after all. The infamous Father Lynch. “Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.” Another of his servants fell. Three in a matter of seconds. He was rapidly getting his fill of it. He could see the Carpathians point. And the man was fast. Interesting sideshow, but past time to end it. He reached for his gun.
“May God rebuke him, we humbly pray” Two more vampires fell screaming to the dirt. The smell of fire and roasting flesh filled the air. Smoke began to form a fog. And worse, the gunfighter realized, he could not see through it. He pulled his weapon, a huge custom pistol that President Dracula himself had awarded him. His hearing, many orders of magnitude beyond human, told him the priest’s exact location. He chuckled. The fool was still praying, to boot.
“and do Thou, o Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God” The gunfighter sighed. By some miracle, in the split second he had drawn a bead on him and started to squeeze down on the trigger, another vampire had grappled with the Priest and blocked his shot. The creature fell, and the others fell back and away from the priest. The gunfighter drew a lethal bead: the shot would take him right through the forehead when he fired it.
“Well soil my bed and call me Jed.” The gunfighter’s voice was full of levity, but sounded like a voice from a tomb. “It’s the blessed Father hisself. I like you, boy. You stop burning my servants up and surrender, I’ll grant you a quick and painless death. Of course, part of me really hopes you don’t.”
Father Lynch stepped forward out of the smoke, standing eye-to-eye with the Sire. The barrel of the pistol was mere inches from his skull.
“They say if a man says a prayer and cannot finish it, angels will finish it for him.”
The vampire smiled. He reached up and tipped his hat. “Maybe they will. Can’t say I care either way. President Dracula wants your head mounted on the wall of his study. Adios, old hoss.” He pulled the trigger, but before the gun could fire something shot the weapon out of his hand along with three fingers.
“Thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” The voice was female, but full of power. She walked out of the darkness firing pistols from each hand, and every shot dropped a vampire to the ground. The gunfighter screamed, full of rage and fear. He rose upward into the air as quickly as a hawk taking flight, transforming into a bat as he did.
Father Lynch beheld the Seraphim and wept with joy.
“Amen,” he said.
The world of Dracula’s America is compelling. Equal parts western and Hammer horror film, the setting begs for further elaboration. As I stated in the review of the core rules, this is a fertile backdrop for a narrative RPG. With this first expansion, Jonathan Haythornthwaite takes a first, tentative step in that direction while adding new factions, monsters, rules, and story to his creation. Also looming large in this expansion is the narrative element, with story elements taking shape depending on whether good forces or evil are triumphant.
So let’s take a look at what new goodies Hunting Grounds has to offer.
First up, we have The Forsaken. These are the remnants of the ill-fated 7th Cavalry, bearing a terrible curse in the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Like Skinwalkers, they transform into a hybrid human/beast form. Unlike Skinwalkers, this is a curse. In campaign mode, they are hunted by every other faction for varying reason, are considered Outlawed, and cannot revoke this status with the payment of blood money. Outlaw status is a new rule that confers a handful of drawbacks, but can confer benefits if the Posse achieves higher levels of infamy–fear has its benefits.
The Shadow Dragon Tong add a mystic and martial arts element to the game, as well as a Fu-Manchu style leader named Lan-Yuo. Only Chinese characters can be in a Tong posse, and magical tattoos add a unique firepower to the faction.
Skinwalkers gain some additional variations to round out the expansion. Three variations for Plains, Mountain, and Desert tribes add new options and powers to the Skinwalker faction, making it the most diverse in the game as of this writing.
New Concepts and Rules
The setting becomes a bit more detailed with this setting. We now have the titular Hunting Grounds, a parallel dimension that has elements of both faerie and purgatory. Some figures can slip in and out of this world in play, and there are also gates between the two worlds that allow any figures to pass from one world to the other and back–assuming they do not get lost. The Hunting Grounds is also the source for a new magic item/treasure called….
Animus. This is basically liquid ectoplasm. This acts both as a hallucinogen and a source of mystical power. The trade is tightly controlled, making it both a desirable item and a major plot point for the games development.
The storyline begun in the core rules moves forward. The format is now visible: each expansion will bring in new factions, rules, items, and hired guns, as well as moving the story forward. The narrative element is contained in the books. The books essentially take on the job of telling the story, and the results of the tabletop battles the players engage in determine the direction in which it unfolds. Their are two meta-factions introduced with this volume, the Alliance of Order and the Alliance of Chaos.
New hired guns include the Bounty Hunter and the Exorcist. Players who wanted a Gatling gun in the rules have their desires granted, with rules for use.
As is usual for Osprey, the presentation and editing are top-notch, with excellent artwork and photography throughout. The books look and feel like serious products for serious gamers.
But what about the miniatures?
What indeed? The very lifeblood of a tabletop skirmish game are the figures. That’s where all the investment and time spent on painting figs and building scenery pays off, when the minis hit the table and people say “wow!”
North Star Military Figures are the source for these, although they can be found from domestic vendors on ebay. The question is, are the figs any good in hand?
Yes. They are pewter (I think) and have a good solid feel. In terms of the sculpts, they are a throwback to the Grenadier figures of the 1980s. They have the same more restrained posing that those early figs possessed, and even the style of the sculpture is similar. This is a good thing: I like the retro feel and the more restrained character of the poses is perfectly suited for the time period. After all, even a vampire hunter and a vampire might be expected to have a moment of gentlemanly banter before the serious business of mutual destruction began.
The one huge drawback is availability. These figs are just not easy to come by. This is a UK import product, and putting together full posses may be a tall order until enough vendors in the US start backing this product in a big way. (And I am hoping they do!)
I’ll also repeat my non-negotiable demand that Osprey develop this property as a narrative roleplaying game. It’s a classic waiting to be released.
Another suggestion would be printed cardboard figures–a lower cost option for players who want the gameplay and love the setting but can’t invest several hundred dollars doing the figures and scenery justice. Neither of these suggestions should be construed as criticisms, however, the game is well worth the time and money for any gamer who enjoys a Weird Western Tale.
The Seraphim tipped her hat and vanished, leaving behind a smell like burning incense. Two men, improbably wearing both dusters and Crusader breastplates emerged from the shadows.
“We meant to find you before sunset, Father. Forgive us our tardiness. I am Brother Martin. And this,” he said, gesturing to the man beside him, “is Brother Paul. His Holiness was told in a dream to find you. Pope Pius IX bids you greetings, and welcomes you into the Twilight Order.”