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My Favorite Parts of Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft

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Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is the most hotly anticipated Dungeons & Dragons book in a while. Ravenloft has proved to be one of the most popular official settings. Fans are excited to see a full setting book for this classic realm. The copy sent to me by Wizards of the Coast turned out to be so much more. Let’s look inside and check out some of my favorite parts just in time for the book's release on May 18th.

Toys For Spooky Girls And Boys​

The book includes a few of the expected player options like lineages and subclasses but there are a couple of interesting implementations. Hexblood, Dhampir and Reborn lineages all fit the theme of character choices for a horror setting but there’s also an implication that players can trade out their current lineage for them. Have a character die? Discuss becoming a Reborn. Get bit by a vampire spawn? Perhaps the curse only partially takes hold. These options are a great way for players to try out new character options without rolling up brand new characters.

Along those lines, the book also outlines dark gifts which can be given to plays as a cruel token from the powers that be. Each of these offers something like a class or ancestry feature with a disadvantage to balance them out. Second Form, for example, a character can cast alter self once per long rest to assume a monstrous form. But they also must choose a situation where they change involuntarily, like seeing a particular phase of the moon or being touched by silver. These gifts are a great way to show how Ravenloft changes and corrupts heroes and villains alike.

Mod Strahd​

Chances are anyone interested in this book has a copy of Curse of Strahd in their library. The write-up for Barovia in this book splits the difference between new and old information. It calls out the specific themes of Barovia and makes the torments that trapped Strahd in Barovia clear to help Dungeon Masters make good thematic choices when running the adventure. It also offers some advice on how to modify the adventure, such as changing how Tatyana appears in this incarnation. She could be someone else, a ghost or even one of the player characters!

It’s A Cookbook!​

Often in the Fifth Edition line, a book claims to have extensive guidelines to modify the material within for personal use and that guidance ends up being a quick paragraph buried in the introduction. This book has a lot of discussion on how to use horror in Dungeons & Dragons through dissecting different types of horror. It offers discussion on the differences between things like Gothic Horror and Ghost Stories as this book expands into different types of horror. The book also talks about setting boundaries with players to make sure the story doesn’t cross the line from a spooky good time to scaring someone for real. A lot of play groups discuss how far they want to take things like gore but it’s also a good idea to discuss phobias and other less obvious things.

The best example of how the book is a genre toolkit first is that it discusses how to roll your own Domains of Dread before it gets into talking about Ravenloft proper. By setting up the toolbox first, it helps readers understand how the writers deconstructed Ravenloft and then put it back together again.

Everything Old Is New Again​

This may be the most controversial part of the book. The domain writeups reflect a soft reboot of the setting. Barovia remains relatively unchanged thanks to Curse of Strahd, but the developers took this opportunity to look at the other domains and take a fresh look at them. Some get cosmetic changes or gender flipped characters. Some went back to the original inspirational material and went in a different direction. Others have been completely redone. It reminded me a bit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the basics are the same, but the developers altered anything they felt they needed to change.

If you’re a long time fan expecting metaplot updates or explanations as to why everything’s different, there are some hints and Easter eggs but no official explanation other than a discussion on how Ravenloft is always changing. If you’re brand new to the Mists, you won’t have to do any additional reading.

Say Goodbye to Madness​

Ravenloft has always played to me like action horror. The heroes encounter something creepy, they get scared for a moment, then they rally and kick the monster’s butt. In the Dungeon Master’s Horror Toolkit, they offer two sets of rules to mechanically enforce a character’s reaction to darkness. Rather than losing sanity or inflicting madness, the systems are called fear and stress.

Fear plays like an additional bond or ideal. The player chooses at least one seed of fear for their character and if they play into the fear at the appropriate moment, they gain inspiration. Stress, on the other hand, piles up and enforces a penalty to attack and saving throws when characters experience horrible things. The penalty only decreases after spending time in calm circumstances and a long rest. Neither is put forth as the official rule but I like that there are options for tables who want to act out their fear and ones who wish to feel it affect their characters.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is a spectacular example of a genre handbook that anyone looking to add horror to their Dungeons & Dragons campaign should check out.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


For me, personally even though I don't have the book yet, my fave part is probably gonna be the Ancestral Legacy/Lineages that are in this book. I feel like the number of races we have so far in 5E+the new method going forward as it continues to develop, will help out with creating a lot of new characters.
 


This will be my last purchase of an official Ravenloft product. It is a sad event for me as the Realm of Terror boxed set was my first D&D setting purchase and has remained my favorite setting. I am no longer the target audience. From what I have seen I will need to go to the DMs guild for any further material that fits the setting I know. It's not to say this book is all bad, I like some of the ideas in it and even some of the re-written domains. However, it is losing too much in the exchange in essentially dumping the entire history/plot lines of the setting like it never existed. This new version of Ravenloft feels more like Supernatural than Dracula. I can enjoy both but I prefer Dracula.
 




Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
This will be my last purchase of an official Ravenloft product. It is a sad event for me as the Realm of Terror boxed set was my first D&D setting purchase and has remained my favorite setting. I am no longer the target audience. From what I have seen I will need to go to the DMs guild for any further material that fits the setting I know. It's not to say this book is all bad, I like some of the ideas in it and even some of the re-written domains. However, it is losing too much in the exchange in essentially dumping the entire history/plot lines of the setting like it never existed. This new version of Ravenloft feels more like Supernatural than Dracula. I can enjoy both but I prefer Dracula.

I'm just the opposite - I used Ravenloft as a toolkit of stuff to drop into my homebrews, so I never really cared about the history or metaplot. So this sounds like the perfect product for me and I'm even more excited about it now...
 


Iry

Hero
I am eagerly looking forward to the book, since I happily consume anything related to Ravenloft.
P.S. Shakan Kain is an awesome character.
 
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R_Chance

Adventurer
Fear as an additional character trait to gain inspiration from is brilliant. Stress as a mounting penalty to attacks and saves you can shed by spending time and resting in calm environments is likewise excellent. I will definitely use these mechanics.
I really like the bit about stress. I hope it includes both a lower effect (or higher requirements for it) as you level up (as in "been there, done that") and possibly some long term issues. Maybe trouble sleeping / resting, or suddenly coming violently awake... interesting to see how this works out as a mechanic vs. "just" role playing.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I really like the bit about stress. I hope it includes both a lower effect (or higher requirements for it) as you level up (as in "been there, done that") and possibly some long term issues. Maybe trouble sleeping / resting, or suddenly coming violently awake... interesting to see how this works out as a mechanic vs. "just" role playing.
That would be really cool! I do want to manage my expectations though. Even if it’s just a simple penalty, it’ll be a cool hook to hang homebrew mechanics off of.
 

opacitizen

Explorer
Ravenloft has always played to me like action horror. The heroes encounter something creepy, they get scared for a moment, then they rally and kick the monster’s butt.
Up until now Ravenloft—for me—was anything but action (as in action movies.) It's been, essentially, gothic horror. My template would be like the heroes encounter something creepy, they get scared and horrified, they realize that in the long run they're up against something essentially unbeatable, something beyond their power and possibly understanding, then they try their best to save whatever and whoever they can (including their own sanity and uncorrupted souls) and get out (of a given domain) alive. Beating a darklord is an extremely rare event. Even victory over its minions while escaping is a big thing.

Then again 5e is a game of flashy fantasy superheroes, and it's no wonder Ravenloft had to adapt to that and not the other way round.

Fortunately, AD&D 2e is still there for those times when you and your party want your characters not to wear their pants on the outside. :)
 



Up until now Ravenloft—for me—was anything but action (as in action movies.) It's been, essentially, gothic horror. My template would be like the heroes encounter something creepy, they get scared and horrified, they realize that in the long run they're up against something essentially unbeatable, something beyond their power and possibly understanding, then they try their best to save whatever and whoever they can (including their own sanity and uncorrupted souls) and get out (of a given domain) alive. Beating a darklord is an extremely rare event. Even victory over its minions while escaping is a big thing.

Then again 5e is a game of flashy fantasy superheroes, and it's no wonder Ravenloft had to adapt to that and not the other way round.

Fortunately, AD&D 2e is still there for those times when you and your party want your characters not to wear their pants on the outside. :)
The fact that you can't kill Darklords in 5E Ravenloft seems to upend your dunking on 5E Ravenloft.
 

Kurotowa

Legend
The fact that you can't kill Darklords in 5E Ravenloft seems to upend your dunking on 5E Ravenloft.

From what I've gathered (and few of us know for sure, with the book not official out yet) it's not that you can't kill Darklords. You totally can, and it triggers a period of peace (or chaos and destruction) for the Domain. It's that the Dark Powers often don't let the Darklord stay dead and bring them back in continued service of whatever their ultimate goal is. Except sometimes they decide that there's a better successor to inherit the Domain, or that the Domain has served its purpose and is to be decommissioned, or some other major change that suits their inscrutable whims.

I get the sense they're trying to walk a line where killing the Darklord is a valid goal but isn't the automatic response to entering a new Domain. A lot of people have been copying the original Strahd adventure and treating it as the default purpose for Darklords, to be the BBEG to be killed, and I believe they're trying to move away from that.
 

opacitizen

Explorer
The fact that you can't kill Darklords in 5E Ravenloft
Errr… What makes you think you can't kill darklords in 5e RL? Where's the source for that (which would make it a "fact")? Not having stats does not mean they're unkillable.

Edit: And even if they were actually unkillable in 5e (which they don't seem to be), that wouldn't change my view regarding 5e being way more over the top / actioney / superheroic than 2e was — which is cool, if you like that, and cool if you like your horror as something in which your heroes "kick the monster’s butt" as they do in your average Hollywood flick.
 
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