Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nosferatu: Plague of Terror Review & Commentary For Your Old School Horror Campaigns

Way back in the annals of time when comic book shops were just starting to become legit. I came across a series called Nosferatu A Plague Of Terrors.
Here's the wiki piece on the series:
Nosferatu: Plague of Terror was a four-part comic series released by Millennium Publications in 1991-92. Conceived as both a prequel and sequel to F.W. Murnau’s silent film, Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horrors, it was written by Mark Ellis, designed by Melissa Martin, with art provided by Rik LevinsRichard Pace and Frank Turner. The storyline presented a more complete story of Graf Orlock, the Nosferatu, separate and distinct from the Dracula legend.
The shadow of this vampire is long indeed and follows on the heels of its silent movie
 predecessor. Here's the full movie. 

At the time of the release of this series I was just getting to know White Wolf games back then. OD&D was still at the top of my list. But this series was really appealing to me and became the basis of four different old school games 

The plot of the series according to Wiki with MAJOR Spoilers ahead : 
Returning from the Crusades in the eleventh century, English knight Sir William Longsword stops at the castle and finds the nuns dead or dying of plague. Longsword’s squire, seeking treasure, inadvertently frees Orlock who kills the man. He bites Longsword but does not turn him into a vampire—rather, he becomes immortal for reasons known only to Orlock. The series tracks Orlock throughout history as he perpetuates his evil, instigating wars and bringing down plagues. Longsword tracks him through 19th century India and the madness of the Vietnam War and finally catches up to him in an abandoned cathedral in contemporary Brooklyn.
The final chapter ends in a conflagration in which both Orlock and Longsword are killed but the curse of the Nosferatu is passed onto an innocent, as it was to Longsword ten centuries before. The series was notable for presenting a vampire character drawn from European folklore rather than the refined Anne Rice model that was in vogue at the time.
Nosferatu: Plague of Terror compilation in graphic novel format was released by Millennial Concepts in October, 2009.
The series was very grind house in and yet had an epic feel as history seems to weigh down on the characters who are passing through the graphic novel. 
Ellis and company do a nice job of creating a tight plot, quick easy going writing, adding something slightly different to the grand legend of Count Orlock. There are some really interesting twists that are in the series. 
Using Nosferatu: Plague of Terror  For Your Old School Campaign 

There wouldn't appear to be a lot to mine in this series but actually there is quite a bit to gain from this centuries spanning epic. 
Orlock is of  course the  "Nosferatu",  a living corpse also known as "The Bird of Death".
 The series can be used as a framing device for a party or parties encountering Orlock throughout history along with his immortal adversary. 
There is a ton of material to use from the original silent film in which the character is akin to a walking disease of undeath rather then a figure of romance of any kind.
This is the essence of the series. This thing is nothing more then a walking abomination.
If we use the original plot like of the silent film as a jump off point and combine it with this series. The DM is left with a world spanning campaign of death, disease, plague, and undeath.
Here's the original film plot according to wiki:

Count Orlok dwells alone in a vast castle hidden among the rugged peaks in a lost corner of the Carpathian Mountains. The castle is swathed in shadows, and is badly neglected with a highly sinister feel to it. He is in league with the housing agent Knock, and wants to purchase a house in Wisborg. Local peasants live in terror of Orlok and never venture out after dark. Thomas Hutter scorns their fears as mere superstition, and ventures to the decrepit castle, however the coach-driver will not take him over the bridge. A black-swathed figure in a black coach (Orlok in disguise) drives him the rest of the way. He is greeted by Orlok, who claims as it is past midnight all his servants have gone to bed, and the two dine together and discuss Orlok's purchasing of a house in the fictional city of Wisborg,Germany. Hutter accidentally cuts his hand when slicing bread and Orlok is barely able to control himself from drinking from Hutter's wound. After Hutter collapses in a chair, Orlok feeds off of him, but this is not shown on screen: Hutter discovers two bites on his neck the next day but is unaware that his host is a vampire.
Hutter only realises the horrific truth later in his chambers after further reading from "The Book of the Vampires", and he discovers that he is trapped in the castle with the Nosferatu. Orlok advances upon Hutter, and Hutter's beloved wife, Ellen, senses through telepathy that her husband's life is in mortal danger; she screams for him and somehow Orlok is powerless to touch him. The next morning Hutter searches the castle, and discovers to his revulsion that Orlok is "sleeping" in the basement in a filthy coffin filled with earth. Hutter then witnesses Orlok loading a cart with several coffins filled with soil, one of which he then hides in and they are driven off to be loaded on to a ship headed for Wisborg. This soil is later revealed to be unhallowed earth from Orlok's grave; according to "The Book of the Vampires", all Nosferatu must sleep by day in the unholy earth from their graves to sustain their power.
On board the ship, he kills every crew member until only the captain and his first mate remain. Later when the first mate goes to the cargo hold to investigate, Count Orlok rises from his coffin, terrifying the first mate who jumps overboard in fear. The captain ties himself to the wheel of the ship when Count Orlok creeps up on him and kills the captain. His journey by sea spreads plague all over Europe.
Upon his arrival in Wisborg, Orlok infests the city with rats that sleep in his coffins, and countless people fall victim to the plague, forcing the local authorities to declare a quarantine and provoking hysteria among the citizens. Rather than come back as vampires, however, his victims simply die. Ellen and Hutter know the causes of the plague but fear they are powerless to stop the vampire. Ellen watches sullenly as lines of coffins are carried through the empty streets, and she realises Orlok must be stopped. Ellen learns from "The Book of the Vampires" that - rather than a stake through the heart - the Nosferatu can only be vanquished if a woman pure in heart willingly allows him to feed off her long enough to prevent him from seeking shelter from sunrise. Ellen coaxes Orlok to her room and lies in bed whilst he drinks from her neck. The sun rises, and Orlok is burned away in a cloud of smoke. Knock is able to sense Orlok is dead. Ellen dies soon after. 
There are several things to remember about Orlok. 
  1. He is a disease and as evil as any age old Lovecraftian horror. This monster is a force of nature and nothing more then animated corpse of legend. His presence brings the plague because he is that plague embodied in unliving flesh. 
  2. "The Book of the Vampires" is a tome that appears over and over in the film. I've used it as a plot device in several games including Call of Cthulhu as the Necronomicon of vampires. 
  3. There is a megadungeon that is still in Transilvania. At the end of both the comic book series and the movie several locations of Orlock remain. What happens to those. Does evil simply vanish once the vampire is dead? There are always lesser evils that accompany the grand vampire. Things that must be put down. The comic book series opens this link up further with various lairs, hideaways, and weird locations.
  4. The comic book series does a good job conveying the evil that is Orlock and how he comes to impact on the world in no small way. This impact is something that the DM can exploit. Exploit it ruthlessly. 
  5. Orlock isn't simply some random horror monster. He's a disease vector moving across the face of Europe who must be stopped at all cost. His very presence seems to warp reality around him. 
  6. The fact is that with the presence of Orlock evil itself seems to crawl through the atomphere of the movie. The comic series also presents this fact in stark detail several times throughout the series. 
  7. The comic book is certainly worth getting into and considering the scope of the work, very well written and concise. 
  8. Using the comic as a jump off point a DM should view the movie and read the comic to get the feel of the entire story.
    You can order this wonderful book right over HERE


  1. Wow,
    I adore the movie and didn't know this comic existed. I definitely need to track it down. Thanks!

  2. It was in my prime time round about back in the 90's and it was my go to for a couple of different games. I can expand my thoughts on this one including some campaign notes if your interested.
    Thanks for the comment and please by all means go track it down. Mark is a great author and needs to be more well known. If your interested in me expanding the entry on Plague of Terrors, please let me know.

  3. Thanks for your comments, I was surprised to learn the story had been adapted into a game but it makes a lot of sense, so much to work with there.

  4. Wow thanks for the comment Melissa Martin Ellis! I've been a huge fan of both you and your husband's work for years. Let me be crystal clear on something though. In no way or shape have I tried to infringe upon the copyright or trade mark of the writers or copy write holders of the Nosferatu: Plague of Terror comic graphic novel.
    Its been adapted into a fan table top role playing campaign. Not as a for sale table top role playing set of rules or even something available for download.
    I just want to be crystal clear on that issue. This was for a private table top role playing campaign.