Van Richten’s Guide to the Ancient Dead (1994)

I generally think the gill-man is unfairly under-appreciated when it comes to classic monsters. Case in point: there is no Van Richten’s Guide to Gill-men. After the gill-man, I think the mummy is next in line for the title of under-appreciated.  Karloff’s Mummy, unlike all the other classic Universal monster movies, had no sequels, though it has been re-imagined many times (with sequels). The mummy also gets killed first in Monster Squad, which is disappointing.

Anyway, Van Richten’s Guide to the Ancient Dead (1994) is one of the best of the guides. Whereas most of them – vampires, werebeasts, created – often spend a lot of their time telling you things you already sort of know, Ancient Dead is full of surprises. For starters, it encompasses all intelligent, preserved undead, untangling the concept of “mummy” with ancient Egyptian culture. That opens a lot of possibilities.

Like the Vampire and Ghost guides, much time is spent giving DMs the tools to create their own unique ancient dead (the lack of this sort of detail in the lich book is…puzzling). Supporting this is a large selection of rules and tables and such, far more than any other of the guides. Like liches, Ancient Dead also provides a number of salient powers for further customization. There’s a whole chapter on different tombs. DM catnip right there.

Stephen Fabian once again does a lot of heavy lifting here adding mystique to the various types of mummies. I love his classic bandaged wrapped mummies. His pulp roots really show with them. And what is going on with that minotaur mummy! Now that is an adventure I want to dig into.

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