Transylvanian Adventures is a supplement aimed at introducing the flavor and atmosphere of Gothic Horror to the Dungeon Crawl Classics game. Its objective is similar to my own efforts with the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque series: blending classic fantasy role-playing games with influences drawn from Hammer Horror and Gothic literature in place of the usual Appendix N inspirations.
The physical presentation is passable for an amateur production. The layout is serviceable. The art ranges from good to less than good. However, the book did need another few editing passes before heading to press; for example, here's a sentence from the first page that needs some work: "Transylvanian Adventures has muskets, steampower and flintlock pistols, even pistols and rifles." This sentence is telling us that the game has muskets, pistols, and pistols and rifles--oh dear. Here's another example: "Devoid of the elements that had defined and ultimately denigrated its films thirty years earlier." That's not even a complete sentence, let alone an intelligible thought. Similarly, there are odd uses of capitalization throughout the text and areas that simply needed to be rewritten for clarity. The tone of the writing in the book is very informal, so much so that I can imagine it might annoy people who prefer a less casual tone. For example, if a heading that reads "OMFG! WTF With All These Haus Rulz?!" would bother you, well, you've been forewarned.
Worse yet, Edgar Allan Poe's name is inconsistently spelled throughout the book. It's Edgar ALLAN Poe always; Edgar ALLEN Poe never. If you're going to claim him as a major inspiration, at least get his name right.
The introductory section does a nice job of laying out the themes of the book. I appreciate that it defines its scope as "Gothic ass-kicking horror," and that it advises us to abandon historical verisimilitude in favor of whatever makes the game more fun for the players. The brief detailing of Gothic conventions such as myth vs. science, the transhumanism of mad science, corrupt figures of nobility, the role of religion, etc. all seem grounded in a fairly solid understanding of the Gothic's literary and cinematic modes.
I can't comment thoroughly on the rules modifications to the DCC system, as I'm simply not that familiar (or interested) in it, but I will note a few things that caught my eye as I was reading. Instead of making armor an important piece of gear, all character classes instead have a Base Armor Class (after all, you seldom see the protagonists of a Hammer Horror flick donning plate armor before their confrontation with Dracula). There's a nice table of "0-Level Occupations" that could be put to use as a handy background table for other RPGs, even if it does include some surprising entries such as "Bacteriologist." Indeed, taken as a whole, the tables for Random Character Traits could be used to quickly generate a character's looks and personality on the fly; tables for Height, Build, Fashion Sense, Appearance, Hobbies, Absolutes, Principles, and their Catalyst for fighting the forces of the supernatural are included.
The default set-up for the game is that the characters are largely Western Europeans who have traveled to Transylvania to fight evil. As such, Transylvanian Adventures substitutes its own classes for the usual ones found in DCC to reinforce this "strangers in a strange land" theme. Most of the classes are fitted well to this style of adventure; we have the Valiant (a everyman defined by their virtuousness and bravery), the Halfbreed (a character with a darkly inhuman heritage), the Hunter (a monster slayer), the Polymath (a scholar), the Reaver (a combat bad-ass--I wish a bit more work had been put into contextualizing this one), the Scoundrel (the typical rogue), and the Survivor (this one also could do with a bit of thematic sharpening). We also have the Exotic, a class that covers all non-white character options. While thematically-appropriate, the Exotic could raise some eyebrows. Also, I'm not particularly sold on the Exotic's mechanical implementation; no matter where the Exotic hails from, they're basically going to be an AD&D-style monk. Frankly, I'm surprised there wasn't a Clergyman option. A further class, the magic-wielding Theorist, promises to be detailed in a forthcoming volume.
If the first half of the book is about making characters to fit the ass-kicking Gothic vibe, the second half is all about what to do with them. There is a helpful section of suggestions for campaign arcs, and a 0-level adventure that has the characters exploring one of Dr. Frankenstein's abandoned labs. (There's a lot of death-traps in the lab, so this adventure could definitely be a bit of a meat-grinder.)
The rest of the book is largely given over to random tables to help a GM set-up things like Mysteries, Investigations, Carousing, Mishaps, Hammer-inspired names, etc. If you've a mind to, there's likely a lot of material here that could be adapted to your system of choice if you aren't keen on DCC.
Transylvanian Adventures is rounded-out by a list of inspirations. On the cinematic side, included are discussions of Hammer Horror films to watch (but why on earth would you recommend the re-make of Let the Right One In over the stunning original?), and a recommendation of Brotherhood of the Wolf (though I disagree with the author's assessment of the movie's ending). On the literary side, we're recommended Poe, M. R. James, the usual Gothic suspects (Stoker, Shelley, etc.), and a few Weird Tales authors. Also recommended is the Castlevania series of games and a few RPGs (oddly, the author shies away from mentioning Castle Ravenloft by name...even though this is fair use and WotC can't nail you for saying that it is something you enjoy).
In short, I like where this book is coming from, but I think it definitely needed more polish before it was released into the wilds.
* * *Bonus content time!
Notes on Using the Character Trait Tables
from Transylvanian Adventures with Savage Worlds
Here's my conversion of the Character Trait Tables from Transylvanian Adventures for NPC generation in Savage Worlds.
For rolls that require a bonus/penalty (Height, Build, Fashion Sense) use the following chart to convert Savage Worlds attribute dice to a bonus/penalty for use on the Transylvanian Adventures tables:
Height – d6 + bonus/penalty from Strength and Spirit
Build – d6 + bonus/penalty from Vigor and Spirit
Fashion Sense – d6 + bonus/penalty from Smarts and Spirit
Roll once on the Positive Appearance Trait, Negative Appearance Trait, Hobbies, Principle, Catalyst, and Absolute tables.
If the table gives you options for Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral characters, just pick the one that makes the most sense for that character's personality or role in the game.
Sven Rolfsson (Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigor d6)
– Sven is a potential ally for the players, so let's say he's “Lawful”
Height – 5, Average Height
Build – 6+1, Well-Muscled
Fashion Sense – 4+1, Dapper
Positive Appearance Trait – 12, Five O'Clock Shadow
Negative Appearance Trait – 5, Close-Set Eyes
Hobbies – 89, Reading Tales of the Wild West
Principle – 17, Resilient
Catalyst – 68, Targeted by crime syndicate
Absolute – 19, Never attacks a defenseless opponent