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D&D 5E Everything We Know About The Ravenloft Book

Here is a list of everything we know so far about the upcoming Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.

rav_art.jpg

Art by Paul Scott Canavan​
  • May 18th, 256 pages
  • 30 domains (with 30 villainous darklords)
  • Barovia (Strahd), Dementlieu (twisted fairly tales), Lamordia (flesh golem), Falkovnia (zombies), Kalakeri (Indian folklore, dark rainforests), Valachan (hunting PCs for sport), Lamordia (mad science)
  • NPCs include Esmerelda de’Avenir, Weathermay-Foxgrove twins, traveling detective Alanik Ray.
  • Large section on setting safe boundaries.
  • Dark Gifts are character traits with a cost.
  • College of Spirits (bard storytellers who manipulate spirits of folklore) and Undead Patron (warlock) subclasses.
  • Dhampir, Reborn, and Hexblood lineages.
  • Cultural consultants used.
  • Fresh take on Vistani.
  • 40 pages of monsters. Also nautical monsters in Sea of Sorrows.
  • 20 page adventure called The House of Lament - haunted house, spirits, seances.




 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

JEB

Adventurer
I am pretty sure this isn't true, but it has been a long time since I've poured closely over the lore. I believe Barovia is a domain that was actually pulled from its original location. Again I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure the options are:

a copy of the place
a newly crafted place
the original place gets pulled into ravenloft
You're correct on those three options, but a Prime Material Barovia continued to exist independent of the domain, and appeared in the Ravenloft adventure Roots of Evil.
 

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I don't know. I think real world reactions to fear are reluctance to act, inability to act, or freaking out. Losing control of your character due to fear, I think is fair.
Losing control of your character is bad gameplay. Anyone who has played a D&D videogame where your character fails a fear save and you can't do anything apart from watch them run around the screen with a skull icon floating over their head will tell you.

Player agency is absolutely central to the D&D experience. Take that way and they might as well be reading a novel or watching a movie.
 

Ravenloft has not to be 100% gothic horror but it can be horror with some pieces of drama/tragedy, murder investigation and action adventure, and even with enough space for dark comedy and some supernatural romance if you want. Players want to be Buffy vampire-slayer, not always hidding like a survival horror videogame.

If too many characters die the dramatic effect could be lost. The right thriller story need a balance between despair and hope. If you know everybody will die but the final girl then fear is lost.

Some DMs and authors wants the faith as key to the survival in their gothic horror stories, and other want the opposite. Here the RPG publishers need to be in a diplomatic ambiguity.

* It is a strange feeling. I miss the occultist/psicraft classes by Pathfinder for Ravenloft.

* The madness system about sanity points is not my cup of tea. I would rather something like the system by Unknown Armies, and even I tried to create a d20 version:

Sanity-Madness system as Unknown Armies.

I think a varrior can face better violence, and a pious soul with enough faith can face better supernatural menaces.

* One of my crazy ideas is sometimes there are a temporal plane into the material plane, when in certain dates a haunted place become a planar gate. It sounds cool but practically it's a trap. Let's imagine the PCs facing ghosts in a cursed castle for the anniversay of a deadpool and when the enter the portal they find a Lovecraftian cult trying a human sacrifice or a mad scientific with his half-golem bodyguard.


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Sons of Midnight by Marvel Comics.
 

I always disliked the save or roleplay act scared mechanics. Acting scared when you intellectually and emotionally don't feel it drains scenes of their atmosphere and can lead to eyerolling as the player loses agency over their character and increases emotional distance from how their character would be feeling. I always just worked to have the situation play out and try to effectuate actual tension and uncertainty for the players. I was doing this before Ravenloft in places like the Moathouse to good effect and I feel it works better with the desired Ravenloft play experience. If it does not always work it is ok for things to not always be scary even in Ravenloft.

I am generally more a fan of supernatural fear effects that instead impose more mechanical penalties like inducing minuses to hit or disadvantage on checks.

I agree with this. If you have players who can act, then it can work, but when we did our trip to Vecna's realm some of the players were afflicted with despair and it was supposed to be a "secret". DM pulled them into a private chat, ect ect, no idea what exactly had happened to them.

Then they started droning on about how nothing matters and we were all going to die and that there is nothing worth living for while sighing loudly at the end of their sentences. It was so blatantly obvious what was going on that instead of being horrific it was just an annoyance, and trying to act like we had no idea what had happened was painful.
 

Losing control of your character is bad gameplay. Anyone who has played a D&D videogame where your character fails a fear save and you can't do anything apart from watch them run around the screen with a skull icon floating over their head will tell you.

Player agency is absolutely central to the D&D experience. Take that way and they might as well be reading a novel or watching a movie.

Mmmm, yes and no.

In general I've got no issue with fear affects in combat. In fact, in some games I've been in they created decent situations. But, in others, we have had combats where the character's fear prevented them from fighting in the combat. Like, one exmple coming to mind was a long combat we had where a mage kept casting Fear on the party, causing characters to spend their entire turn running away, finding cover then coming back. One guy literally made a single attack roll the entire combat (and I think he missed) because he kept getting smashed by fear.

So, that sucked, but at the same time it doesn't suck any more than the wizard who got dragonbreathed repeatedly (DM rolled 3 recharges in a row, legit) and wasn't able to participate in the fight, or the rogue getting hit with Hold Person and not being able to participate in the fight. It doesn't feel good, being knocked out of combat and just sitting there no playing isn't good, but that isn't a problem of emotional spells alone. And sometimes, if it works, things like Charm or Fear can really up the feel of what is going on, like the time a different party pissed of an Archdevil's avatar and she forced us all to supplicate before her. It really helped get across the feel that we were out of our league dealing with a deadly force.
 

Losing control of your character is bad gameplay. Anyone who has played a D&D videogame where your character fails a fear save and you can't do anything apart from watch them run around the screen with a skull icon floating over their head will tell you.

Player agency is absolutely central to the D&D experience. Take that way and they might as well be reading a novel or watching a movie.

I disagree very strongly on this point. This is entirely a subjective opinion.You not liking it, doesn't make it bad design or bad game play. It isn't bad game play at all IMO. In fact, as a player who generally values agency a lot, this is one area where I think a little loss of control to reflect fear immerses me more and is more effective. That said, I was never a big fan of the parts of fear checks and horror checks that force actions like running away. On the other hand, the part that inhibits action, that is great, and feels a lot like real world fear to me.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Losing control of your character is bad gameplay. Anyone who has played a D&D videogame where your character fails a fear save and you can't do anything apart from watch them run around the screen with a skull icon floating over their head will tell you.

Player agency is absolutely central to the D&D experience. Take that way and they might as well be reading a novel or watching a movie.
Agreed, within reason. I tend now to use certain checks (typically NPC Charisma checks) as guidelines for PC actions, not the action itself (which is up to the player). For example, an NPC who rolled high on a persuade check "appears sincere and candid in his statement", but it's up to the PC to determine what that means to thier PC.

I would treat fear and horror similarly; the biggest problem with how 2e used them were as detrimental effects that were everywhere and often times ruined the flow of the game by causing everyone to bug out and spend hours (real time) trying to overcome the penalties so they could continue.

The 5e DMG have some barebones rules for FHM, I suspect that they might give some meat to those rules, but no new systems as elaborate as the 2e ones.
 

Voadam

Legend
Right. That’s CoS, and you’re at 50/50 on taking out the Dark Lord of the Domain. So, what can you do in the rest of the setting? At that point nothing but bringing Dark Lords is a challenge. So what is there to be worried about that’s not Dark Lord smiting? Basically nothing. Nothing else in the setting that wouldn’t also give Strahd himself a run for his money is a challenge for your group. I don’t see how anything else would be a challenge. That’s not horror anymore. That’s not even gothic horror. It’s superheroes painted in black, white, and red. I want my Ravenloft games to be horror. So a low level cap.
That is . . . an incorrect extrapolation of what I wrote. First, I specifically do not give us even 50/50 odds while being loaded up with two specific anti-this darklord artefacts. We have been repeatedly close to TPK with half the party making death saves multiple times against not the darklord. There was the Temple, The Thing in the Water, The not top-tier Witches, a secondary Vampire and his minions that turned very south despite the advantages we had.

Plus there is a difference between terror and horror as the original black box put it. Being in fear of dying is terror. Finding out the bad stuff going on generally is the horror.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
It’s been a really interesting thread to read. Lots of different view points. Here are some of mine.

@doctorbadwolf Curse of Strahd provides several events that can occur following Strahds death. It’s isn’t all doom an gloom. The return is also definitely not within a specific time. It suggests months but it isn’t set in stone. Other rulers, other vampires gaining power etc its all possible. Not to mention the fact that most players need never know that Strahd will eventually return. You do the story as you want. Incidentally a years respite from hell still provides hope. It gives proof that there can be future respite.

In my campaign the players will be descendants or protégés of those who defeated Strahd the first time round, who will very much be NPCs. They will be trying to find their way in setting visiting other realms. At some point Strahd will return. Possibly brought about by a secret society manipulating the original PCs (Similar to the Mummy or Lord Voldemort). Or perhaps they’ll be able to prevent it.

Comedy absolutely can be effective in horror. It diffuses tension and prevents continual alertness meaning when the action does happen it is all the more effective.

Trying to force players to act scared is a bad idea as is forced insanity. Much better to take the player to one side and ask how they want things to manifest. Offer them inspiration if they play it well. However I do like the corruption mechanic from WFRP that carries penalties, which can be reduced in exchange for PCs willingly performing dark deeds.

Ravenloft borders should depend entirely on if the players catch the eye of the Dark Lord/The Mists. Which they absolutely should. Just because farmer bob can take his cart across the border doesn’t mean the PCs should.

Lastly. Agency is not a binary issue. There are degrees of loss. When a character gets knocked to 0 hp they lose agency but that is acceptable to us. Being dominated, charmed, paralyzed, scared all involve temporary loss of a characters abilities... so does a anti magic field though. They key is to use these sparingly. Better get, make sure your players lean into the style. A player who gets Ravenloft and wants to play in it, should relish the opportunity to be scared, charmed, replaced by a doppelgänger or a little unhinged. If these things bother them, perhaps just play it as a regular gothic adventure setting. Don’t force round pegs into square holes.

To run Ravenloft as I envision it, I just need players to create characters that are able to be scared and have something to lose.
 

Remathilis

Legend
To run Ravenloft as I envision it, I just need players to create characters that are able to be scared and have something to lose.

This is true for every setting, IMHO. The players should buy in to the central concept of the game. Eberron relies on Pulp/noir, Dark Sun on brutal survivalism, Theros on the influence of the Gods, Ravenloft on horror. Making a PC to subvert the theme can work, but a character who ignores it often times ruins the fun for everyone.
 

Trying to force players to act scared is a bad idea as is forced insanity. Much better to take the player to one side and ask how they want things to manifest. Offer them inspiration if they play it well. However I do like the corruption mechanic from WFRP that carries penalties, which can be reduced in exchange for PCs willingly performing dark deeds.

I think one reason I like the old fear mechanics, is because they can be used to make the players scared. I agree with you, forcing people to act scared, when they are not, isn't very useful (it is one of the reasons why I don't like the "if the players RP their fear, you don't have to roll a fear check" thing). I am not interested in the table playacting being affraid to some imaginary audience. I am interested in mechanics that cause fear. Losing your ability to attack, losing your ability to move, etc these kinds of things, if done well, can add fear to the game. I think the old fear and horror checks should be reworked a bit to focus on the elements that added to it, but I do think they added to it when it came to things like you suddenly can't swing your sword. To me that isn't about whether the character is acting appropriately fearful, it is about the player is now extremely vulnerable in an already dangerous situation (and anyone who has experienced that kind of fear, or even just been in a dream where they can't move and someone is chasing them, understands that). You might want your character to be brave in the fave of a wall of ghouls, but I think it is fair for the system to say "you just aren't as brave as you thought".
 

MGibster

Legend
Trying to force players to act scared is a bad idea as is forced insanity. Much better to take the player to one side and ask how they want things to manifest.
Trying to scare your players is a fool's errand. Your players are sitting at a comfortable table amongst friends, and if stereotypes are to be believed, filling up on Cheetos and Mountain Dew which is not fertile ground for fear. Unless you're one of those gamers in their 40s who has to worry about their waistline and cholesterol.
 

Trying to scare your players is a fool's errand. Your players are sitting at a comfortable table amongst friends, and if stereotypes are to be believed, filling up on Cheetos and Mountain Dew which is not fertile ground for fear. Unless you're one of those gamers in their 40s who has to worry about their waistline and cholesterol.

It is definitely possible to scare players. If you expect it all the time, every time, you will probably be disappointed. But I got quite good at finding the opportunities, hinting that something was off, and building a sense of dread. I also got very good at designing monsters who could scare parties. Just to give in an example, in another game and setting I made paper shadow puppets that were supernatural and could attack your shadow (and every limb they hit got paralyzed--obviously took a bit of inspiration from The Created here). But their presence was usually preceded by a suona horn that controlled them. These monsters exploded the table when they first appeared. The players were quite impacted by it. Some of that was the set up and build. Some was I knew when to introduce something supernatural and horrifying (the campaign wasn't all monsters), and take them off guard. But a lot of it boiled down to that paralysis ability. After that, any time they saw oiled paper walls or heard a suona, they got quite nervous.

Now this won't work for everyone. And you have to have the right rapport with the players and buy in for it to work. But my point is, a lot of what I learned running Ravenloft in the 90s (including what doesn't work), has been stuff I can take into other settings and other games and make use of to help create more horror at the table.

I do think it is healthy to not take oneself too seriously though, and to understand something you think might land and horrify or cause fear, might just come off as corny or prompt laughter one night (there are so many variables and it is a social event). For me, I am fine having very little horror in a session, if it ends with something genuinely scary. I am also fine with players munching cheetos and laughing as they explore a setting that feels like a bunch of hammer studio sets filled with strange monsters.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
This is true for every setting, IMHO. The players should buy in to the central concept of the game. Eberron relies on Pulp/noir, Dark Sun on brutal survivalism, Theros on the influence of the Gods, Ravenloft on horror. Making a PC to subvert the theme can work, but a character who ignores it often times ruins the fun for everyone.
Right. And this is what I’ve run into repeatedly. “Please run Ravenloft. Oh, you want to run it as horror. I don’t like horror. My character is never scared of anything ever. Charge!”

So, fear, terror, horror, and madness checks. To force actual roleplaying. Like making a low INT character make an INT check when their high IQ player comes up with a brilliant plan their character never would in a million years. Or having the high CHA character roll Persuasion instead of forcing the painfully shy and socially awkward player to roleplay through the whole social interaction. This isn’t new or revolutionary stuff. There are spells that freeze, charm, or frighten on a failed save. Why are those acceptable but these are not?
 

Remathilis

Legend
Right. And this is what I’ve run into repeatedly. “Please run Ravenloft. Oh, you want to run it as horror. I don’t like horror. My character is never scared of anything ever. Charge!”

So, fear, terror, horror, and madness checks. To force actual roleplaying. Like making a low INT character make an INT check when their high IQ player comes up with a brilliant plan their character never would in a million years. Or having the high CHA character roll Persuasion instead of forcing the painfully shy and socially awkward player to roleplay through the whole social interaction. This isn’t new or revolutionary stuff. There are spells that freeze, charm, or frighten on a failed save. Why are those acceptable but these are not?
I think part of the backlash comes from overuse. I certainly saw my fair share of DMs who bludgeoned PCs with F/H checks (and Powers checks, but that's a different kettle of fish). Every time a PC encountered supernatural effect or something gross or morbid, dice were called for. Often, it derailed the horror as people got sucked out of the moment in a flurry of rulebooks looking up which penalty they now had (and often times hammily playing up effect to almost comedic effect) and the rest of the session revolved around making the PC playable again.

There is some use in both checks, but in my opinion if you are calling on fear checks more then once per session and horror once per character level, you might want to see if you are overdoing it...
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I was playing in a CoS 5e game before it went on hiatus due to DM burnout. At the end I was a 9th level flesh golemized bladesinger Esmerelda who was immune to non magical attacks and had ridiculous stats and skills and attacks. The party paladin had the two big undead smiting artifacts. We were about as high powered as can be expected in the module. I still felt the horror of the setting and figured Strahd had better than 50 50 odds of wrecking us as we drew closer to the culmination. We were all expecting it was probably going to end horrifically poorly, but possibly not and we were working hard through a comedy of errors to try for that possible not horrible ending for our monster hunters.

5e Ravenloft can work for not super low level PCs.
That is . . . an incorrect extrapolation of what I wrote. First, I specifically do not give us even 50/50 odds while being loaded up with two specific anti-this darklord artefacts.
Sorry, the bolded bit looks exactly like you gave 50/50 odds on beating Strahd. You worded it as him wrecking you, but the alternative in that binary is you beating him. Though I did drop the words “better than”.
We have been repeatedly close to TPK with half the party making death saves multiple times against not the darklord. There was the Temple, The Thing in the Water, The not top-tier Witches, a secondary Vampire and his minions that turned very south despite the advantages we had.
At 9th level with all that gear?
Plus there is a difference between terror and horror as the original black box put it. Being in fear of dying is terror. Finding out the bad stuff going on generally is the horror.
I distinguish the three like this. Fear is anticipation of bad things happening. Hearing the sound of something sharp being scraped along the wall outside your room evokes fear. Terror is the sudden reveal of something menacing. Jump scares, basically. Horror is the realization of the implications of the first two. Like when you check the body of the vampire you just killed and realize it’s your friend.

I know I’m using fear in a different way that the Black Box. My use is more in line with how horror writers talk about it and I’ve been using that definition for years.
 

Remathilis

Legend
(it is one of the reasons why I don't like the "if the players RP their fear, you don't have to roll a fear check" thing).

I tended to treat it as, "if you are using an abundance of caution, you can negate the effect of the shock." For example, the PCs open the door to an old library and a spectral form hovers in the room, that if call for a fear check. But if the PCs approach quietly, open the door a crack to peer in and catch the figure in corner of thier eye, they can open the door fully aware there is a ghost and no fear check if needed. It rewards careful play and investigation rather than kicking in the door.

Then again, I tend to use fear checks mostly as one part morale check, one part surprise roll/negate jumpscare. YMMV.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think part of the backlash comes from overuse. I certainly saw my fair share of DMs who bludgeoned PCs with F/H checks (and Powers checks, but that's a different kettle of fish). Every time a PC encountered supernatural effect or something gross or morbid, dice were called for. Often, it derailed the horror as people got sucked out of the moment in a flurry of rulebooks looking up which penalty they now had (and often times hammily playing up effect to almost comedic effect) and the rest of the session revolved around making the PC playable again.
That’s part of the problem. Without those checks no one roleplays the horror...so without those checks, there is no horror.
There is some use in both checks, but in my opinion if you are calling on fear checks more then once per session and horror once per character level, you might want to see if you are overdoing it...
In a two-hour horror movie about how often do the characters scream and run and act horrified by what’s happening around them? That’s about the right amount of times the characters should be reacting that same way.
 

Remathilis

Legend
That’s part of the problem. Without those checks no one roleplays the horror...so without those checks, there is no horror.

In a two-hour horror movie about how often do the characters scream and run and act horrified by what’s happening around them? That’s about the right amount of times the characters should be reacting that same way.
The difference for me is that Ravenloft PCs aren't scared teenage camp councilors in the woods, they're trained combatants versed in magic and martial skill. They have seen some things you wouldn't believe, and it takes a like more to get them off thier game. They are the heroes, and they get to be heroic. F/H should be used to throw them off thier game, not keep them submissive.

EDIT: how often are the six hunters in Dracula (the Harkers, Steward, Morris, Godalming and Van Helsing) paralyzed from fear or revulsion?
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
The difference for me is that Ravenloft PCs aren't scared teenage camp councilors in the woods, they're trained combatants versed in magic and martial skill. They have seen some things you wouldn't believe, and it takes a like more to get them off thier game. They are the heroes, and they get to be heroic. F/H should be used to throw them off thier game, not keep them submissive.
The PCs generally start as 1st-level adventurers. That’s fresh off the farm with granddad’s rusty sword not seasoned combat vets. Besides, even seasoned combat vets freak when faced with something new and truly terrifying. Like say being magically transported into a new land of nightmares. Look at Aliens as an example. Over time they’d get used to the awful, but that’s why you throw new awful things at them.

I think this divide comes down to wanting to play actual horror vs wanting to play horror-themed action heroes. I want Ravenloft to be horror. Not exactly like every other D&D game with gothic monsters instead of orcs and goblins.
 

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