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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


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JEB

Hero
Good news: Valachan explicitly states Von Kharkov WAS the old ruler, and that Chakuna kills him to replace him as lord. Chakuna was a rebellion leader who grew tired of being hunted by Von Kharkov so he hunted the hunter and in doing so his cruelty gave him the darklord status (he also has Von Kharkov's heart; literally).

Now what VGR doesn't do is spell out who exactly VK was. Gone is the explicit ties to Faerun, the panther-turned-man-turned-vampire, or the white flu. When Chakuna takes his heart, he becomes a were panther and gains control over the flora and fauna. Could this VK be the classic one? It doesn't say it couldn't. It doesn't say it has it be, This VK could simply be a puppet lord, a were panther, or just a footnote. Point is, Chakuna is in charge now.

If you are willing to accept that Valachan changed shape (no longer a long thin "coast" and terrain (temperate forest to proper jungle) you can establish that link to DoD Valachan. Or you can ignore it and never dwell on VK's reign.

Dementieu has a similar, subtle example. One of the adventure seeds is a man in an asylum with "impressive powers of persuasion" claims to be the real Duke. You want an explanation? Sadria committed Dominic to a mental ward where his powers are dimmed by "therapy" and she gained control of the domain and instituted the masquerade. The domain shrank to accommodate her narrower focus. Or not and he's a crazy man who is really good at lying.
Right, I was aware of the Valachan and Dementlieu callbacks. And they're great, exactly for the reasons you state - they could refer to classic Ravenloft, and the domains changed to match their new lords, or they could just be Easter eggs. Tepest is another that appears to do this.

But then there are ones like I'Cath and Souragne, where the domain lords get new histories and motives that overwrite the originals, and they don't appear to be reconciliable. (I get that there are problems with the old versions, but if they could recontextualize the Vistani to make them work, they could have done it with them too.) Or, in a much more minor example, Kartakass with its werewolves instead of wolfweres. (That one just seems lazy.) Veteran fans certainly can rationalize these changes too, but it would have been nice if they'd given them a little bit of official help, like in the examples above.
 

JEB

Hero
I really don't understand why people even want 5E Ravenloft if they get upset that they change things...
People can want a setting updated for the current edition of the game, but still want that thing to resemble the version of the setting that they grew up on.

Honestly, I doubt that "doing it right" is really going to pull old fans in. Most of the complaints I've seen here tend to be about lore (like things like this "reboot" or that it isn't the core anymore). And these don't matter for what system people use. I highly doubt that getting the lore precisely correct in the way the "old D&Ders" like is going to bring people to a system they already don't like.
It seemed that early 5E did a better job of appealing to older fans than its predecessor did, while also keeping an appeal to newer fans. And at least part of that was the restoration of the pre-4E status quo for assorted bits of game lore. So it certainly appears that it can be done "right". It may require more of a balancing act than a reboot, of course, but it does appear it can pay off.
 
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Faolyn

Hero
But then there are ones like I'Cath and Souragne, where the domain lords get new histories and motives that overwrite the originals, and they don't appear to be reconciliable. (I get that there are problems with the old versions, but if they could recontextualize the Vistani to make them work, they could have done it with them too.)
Could they have been?

I'Cath was more an adventure location than an actual domain. It had one person in it and a bunch of monsters and bells. The only way to make it suitable as a domain would be to go back to before it was one and start over. And at that point, Tsien Chiang's entire shtick was hating men and liking death. She really had no depth or other hooks.

And Souragne was pretty much cinematic voodoo and antebellum Louisiana with tons of built-in bigotry, with the only difference being that the bigotry was class-based instead of race-based. It's kind of built on problematic tropes. I mean, it's absolutely ripe for horror, but I'm not sure what could be done with it to make it sellable.
 

JEB

Hero
They absolutely pretend the 4e changes never happened. The Sundering adventures never amounted to anything, characters from before the 4e change are just alive again with no explanation given, everything about the setting has completely reverted to the pre-4e status quo.
And yet the 5E Realms still acknowledges events like the Spellplague, dragonborn didn't go away, Asmodeus is still a deity and they still use him to explain the 4E/5E-styled tieflings in the setting, and so forth. They may have undid many of the changes 4E wrought, but they do recognize that they happened.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
And yet the 5E Realms still acknowledges events like the Spellplague, dragonborn didn't go away, Asmodeus is still a deity and they still use him to explain the 4E/5E-styled tieflings in the setting, and so forth. They may have undid many of the changes 4E wrought, but they do recognize that they happened.
They recognize them when they have to, and ignore them when they can get away with it.
 

JEB

Hero
Could they have been?

I'Cath was more an adventure location than an actual domain. It had one person in it and a bunch of monsters and bells. The only way to make it suitable as a domain would be to go back to before it was one and start over. And at that point, Tsien Chiang's entire shtick was hating men and liking death. She really had no depth or other hooks.

And Souragne was pretty much cinematic voodoo and antebellum Louisiana with tons of built-in bigotry, with the only difference being that the bigotry was class-based instead of race-based. It's kind of built on problematic tropes. I mean, it's absolutely ripe for horror, but I'm not sure what could be done with it to make it sellable.
I suppose we'll never know, since it doesn't appear that they tried. (And I still don't get why, once you've changed every single other detail of the domain, you wouldn't just change the names too and free yourself from that unwanted baggage.)
 
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Could they have been?

I'Cath was more an adventure location than an actual domain. It had one person in it and a bunch of monsters and bells. The only way to make it suitable as a domain would be to go back to before it was one and start over. And at that point, Tsien Chiang's entire shtick was hating men and liking death. She really had no depth or other hooks.

And Souragne was pretty much cinematic voodoo and antebellum Louisiana with tons of built-in bigotry, with the only difference being that the bigotry was class-based instead of race-based. It's kind of built on problematic tropes. I mean, it's absolutely ripe for horror, but I'm not sure what could be done with it to make it sellable

but sauragne worked great. And as you point out ripe for horror. Why can’t a domain have class based bigotry: it wasn’t an endorsement of classism
 

Remathilis

Legend
but sauragne worked great. And as you point out ripe for horror. Why can’t a domain have class based bigotry: it wasn’t an endorsement of classism
Souragne got a paragraph. In it, it changed the nature of the power dynamic from slaves/servants to prisoners, which still keeps the involuntary labor but changes it from plantation to prison. They also change Anton's death from being dragged down from his betrayed lover to being drowned in the swamp during a prison riot due to the abuse he inflicted on the prisoners. He still rises up as a zombie and still ends up gaining control of his prison though necromancy and controlling the swamp.

Personally, it all feels you could get a southern gothic feel there. Anton views himself a gentleman but is a sadist, and the first thing I imagined was a Green Mile like southern prison with chain gangs and the like. The voodoo element is very played down (though still hinted at, esp in Larissa Snownane's writeup) and the fact that the control he keeps over his people has moved from slavery to criminal incarceration can still be relevant if you did want to keep the race elements for whatever reason. It's still a Domain of zombies and swamps and gators, it just changed the nature of the human bondage.

It was the best they could do in one paragraph, but if you must keep plantation slavery as an important part of the domain, I guess nothing was going to save it.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Right, I was aware of the Valachan and Dementlieu callbacks. And they're great, exactly for the reasons you state - they could refer to classic Ravenloft, and the domains changed to match their new lords, or they could just be Easter eggs. Tepest is another that appears to do this.

But then there are ones like I'Cath and Souragne, where the domain lords get new histories and motives that overwrite the originals, and they don't appear to be reconciliable. (I get that there are problems with the old versions, but if they could recontextualize the Vistani to make them work, they could have done it with them too.) Or, in a much more minor example, Kartakass with its werewolves instead of wolfweres. (That one just seems lazy.) Veteran fans certainly can rationalize these changes too, but it would have been nice if they'd given them a little bit of official help, like in the examples above.
I discussed Souragne above, and to be honest I didn't read I'Cath nor did I remember enough of the old one to comment on the differences yet.
 

It was the best they could do in one paragraph, but if you must keep plantation slavery as an important part of the domain, I guess nothing was going to save it.

A couple of things. Content in media does not equal message. This cannot be said enough. You can enjoy media maturely and understand that. So a domain with plantation slavery could be viable as an interesting place based on something from real world history (especially if you are trying to model it after something from America). But number two, I didn't mention plantation slavery. Number three: Sauragne in the black box and DoD is a little vague on what the exact situation is. Black Box has almost nothing. DoD says lower class people are basically serfs, but it isn't based on race. There are black people there, there are white people there, but it says there is no issue of racial prejudice. The only thing that matters is class. Which is why I made the remark about having class based bigotry in a domain isn't an endorsement of it. It is essentially a feudal domain with serfs if I recall (the wealthy own land and the lower classes, if I remember, live off that land. I don't think there was specific mention of slaves (I could be misremembering, as it has been a while but I just checked Black box and skimmed DoD and am not seeing reference to slavery----perhaps Night of the walking Dead has some reference to it: lost my copy of that so can't check it). But that wasn't the point I was making. Still I don't see why interesting historical backdrops like that have to be taken off the table. Horror often is set against terrible things (the witch craze for example was horrible, but can provide all kinds of interesting things for a horror campaign). Having the witch craze in a setting wouldn't be an endorsement of witch hunts.
 

The old I'Cath always seemed to me like someone had been doing a bit of reading about Chinese hells and wanted to write a domain very faithful to those concepts, but gave very little thought about how on earth anyone would ever actually use it in a real-life game session. As far as actual practical use of the domain, SOME sort of rewrite was almost mandatory.
 

Serious question (and one that's largely unrelated to the rewrite/retcon/change debate) - what did you do with Valachan, in-game? Other than the main plot with Urik von Kharkov and the Cat of Felkovic (which was the plot of the dungeon module), it always seemed like a domain with very few points of interest. In the let's read thread I was really wracking my brains to think of anything to do with the place, outside telling that single story. I'd love to hear from anyone who grokked it in a way I didn't - if you really liked Valachan and ran a game there, what was the attraction, and what sort of game did you play?

It has been some time since my peak days of running Ravenloft so my memory is pretty fuzzy on details. These days I run it more as a once in a while thing between my regular campaigns. But I can say my memory is initially Valachan was a domain I overlooked. But if I remember there was a Dungeon Adventure set there in 1994, and that really made the domain pop for me. I don't recall exactly why, but it had something to do with giving me a better sense of towns or locals or something. Whatever it was, I started fleshing out the domain a lot more (black box Ravenloft you really were expected to extrapolate and it was a question of whether the domain spoke to you and inspired you). Generally the way I used domains wasn't to center them on the main figures in them. If you do that most are pretty lean actually (they would basically just be places to go domain lord hunting). Instead I used domain lords as models and blueprints for the logic of the domain. So I had a lot of Nosferatu vampires, but because he was a panther, I also ran a lot of cat people or sleepwalkers style adventures (I remember making a monster entry for creatures based on the movie sleepwalkers and using them). I imagined clusters of Nosferatu in the cemeteries and countryside. Also there was some mention of Valachan I believe in one of the Van Richten books. I can't remember the details. But those books often gave me a knew way of seeing domains because you were plunged into many of Van Richten's hunts. And I think I got inspiration for some kind of bog golem or were bear scenario there (I really can't get it straight in my memory, but I do recall doing stuff based off that).

In terms of geography, Valachan shifted quite a bit during 2E. So there is the very remote version in black box, and the less remote version in red box and DoD. I liked both placements for different reasons. The latter placement had it bordering mordent, verbrek and sithicus, which worked really well for me. I had a lot of Kartakass domains and Mordent is a good home base for lots of adventures because of Van Richten. So in that instance, there was always a good reason to pass through and I remember having a lot of 'on the road' adventures through Valachan and Sithicus (and the on the road stuff was often the best). But as a remote domain it worked too. I think it worked very well for example for a kind of Dracula style adventure. The domain is similar in lots of ways to Barovia, but has a much different vampire lord. And because Nosferatu drain con, that is a little less lethal for a low level party, and also a little more in line with how things are described in Dracula. I believe the 94 dungeon adventure was built around this type of scenario. But any nosferatu scenario involving Baron von Kharkov, his vampire slaves, or another cluster of Nosferatu led by some NPC (this is the sort of adventure I tended to prefer). Also with its wilderness it was the kind of place that was easy to imagine having anything you needed for an adventure (an old forgotten tomb, a creature ravaging homesteads, etc).

I don't t think it was introduced till after the black box (the domain was pretty lean in black box: von Kharkov didn't even get an entry until the Darklord book if I remember). But I remember really liking that the domain had inhabitants who were black with straight black hair but culturally it seemed vaguely German to me (they might have been going for something else, but the names to me resonated as German). I think the reason it struck me as interesting was just the world building. It reflected the dark lord, but also it separated culture from ethnicity. I am sure it had been done many times before but this was my first encounter with that in a game product and it influenced how I approached world building as a GM (I still see merit in both approaches, since sometimes you want to clearly invoke a historical period or something). But I remember quite liking this detail (especially since it was just kind of expected, if a place sounded German, the people would look German).
 

Why wouldn't the reboot and change everything the author's didn't like?
That's what they did for the Forgotten Realms in 4th Ed, for Dragonlance SAGA, and Greyhawk after GREYHAWK WARS. And the fans all universally loved those products and they became the new standards for those settings.
 

Remathilis

Legend
A couple of things. Content in media does not equal message. This cannot be said enough. You can enjoy media maturely and understand that. So a domain with plantation slavery could be viable as an interesting place based on something from real world history (especially if you are trying to model it after something from America). But number two, I didn't mention plantation slavery. Number three: Sauragne in the black box and DoD is a little vague on what the exact situation is. Black Box has almost nothing. DoD says lower class people are basically serfs, but it isn't based on race. There are black people there, there are white people there, but it says there is no issue of racial prejudice. The only thing that matters is class. Which is why I made the remark about having class based bigotry in a domain isn't an endorsement of it. It is essentially a feudal domain with serfs if I recall (the wealthy own land and the lower classes, if I remember, live off that land. I don't think there was specific mention of slaves (I could be misremembering, as it has been a while but I just checked Black box and skimmed DoD and am not seeing reference to slavery----perhaps Night of the walking Dead has some reference to it: lost my copy of that so can't check it). But that wasn't the point I was making. Still I don't see why interesting historical backdrops like that have to be taken off the table. Horror often is set against terrible things (the witch craze for example was horrible, but can provide all kinds of interesting things for a horror campaign). Having the witch craze in a setting wouldn't be an endorsement of witch hunts.
Souragne did tiptoe around race-based slavery inserting some language like that to cover their butts, but it doesn't take a genius to connect the dots between it and Antebellum Louisiana and Voodoo, which are topics that should be treated with the same care as the Vistani have recently gotten (or do you think that the VIstani should remain a pastiche of Gypies, since the media isn't the message?)
 

Remathilis

Legend
Why wouldn't the reboot and change everything the author's didn't like?
That's what they did for the Forgotten Realms in 4th Ed, for Dragonlance SAGA, and Greyhawk after GREYHAWK WARS. And the fans all universally loved those products and they became the new standards for those settings.
Maybe WotC should just play it safe and only release Forgotten Realms modules and Magic: The Gathering crossovers.
 

Souragne did tiptoe around race-based slavery inserting some language like that to cover their butts, but it doesn't take a genius to connect the dots between it and Antebellum Louisiana and Voodoo, which are topics that should be treated with the same care as the Vistani have recently gotten (or do you think that the VIstani should remain a pastiche of Gypies, since the media isn't the message?)

I don't think they used that language to cover their butts, they used that language to make it explicitly not about race. So they aren't tiptoeing at all. It certainly could have been antebellum Louisiana, but it also could have been modeled after something in the Caribbean as well. In all likelihood whatever it was based on probably had race based slavery, but they didn't include it as far as I remember. In fact it looks like they specifically separated race out of the equation just to make sure it wasn't an issue. But my point is even if they had, that period in history existed, it is something you could draw on in a setting, and doing so wouldn't be an endorsement of slavery. It would be using something we recognize in order to provide a setting appropriate to horror (slavery is a terrible thing, particularly racially based slavery). I am not saying Ravenloft needs to have that or should. I am just saying if they did, I don't think it is automatically a problem, in a horror setting (unless they are doing something awful like defending it---but they wouldn't be doing that)

I just re-read the vistani section in the black box and I thought it was fine (actually I think the curse of strahd Vistani had more negative traits than the black box but I could be wrong). But I liked the idea of vistani who could move freely from domain to domain, and existed slightly outside of time, and were connected to the gypsy horror trope. But again, I grew up in the states. Gypsies really weren't something we encountered. So the trope had very different meaning here. And I think the usage of it in Ravenloft was one where they were holding up gypsies as cool (they had a very bohemian vibe).
 


since the media isn't the message?)
please don't change my language. I never said the media isn't the message. I said content does not equal message. By which I mean, using something like the holocaust as a backdrop or something like racial conflict and tension as a conflict in the game, isn't an endorsement of either one.
 

I imagine the difference is now there's so many more newbs who don't give a flip about old lore and continuity changes, there'll be less bother about the revisions
Expect to see an equally changed Dragonlance or Greyhawk now

It's worth remembering that even when old lore was new lore, lots of people hated it. In Dragonlance, the 'new' War of Souls lore is so old that it's closer in real-world time to the 'old' 1980s War of the Lance lore than it is to now, and is older than a large percentage of the modern D&D player base. And in Greyhawk, jeez. If you're adhering to the old lore, do you stick to the old 1992 From the Ashes continuity which was so hated at the time? And do you respect the lore from the clown-shoes original Castle Greyhawk module which was written as a middle finger to Gygax as he left TSR, or the more serious retcon later on in Greyhawk Ruins? Sometimes old lore was just bad. Did anyone like Dark Sun MORE after the Prism Pentad blew up the setting? Retconning half the original 2e DS line and winding the timeline back to post Kalak is one of the few things in DS 4e that got almost universal approval.
 

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