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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

robowieland

Adventurer
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. :)

Nearly all my experiences of Ravenloft were in 2e. Action horror can still be scary. Evil Dead is action horror. From Dusk Till Dawn is action horror. Aliens is action horror.

There were moments of horror and corruption but they weren't driven by mechanics like the ones in this book or by something like SAN in Call of Cthulhu.
 

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Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
Nearly all my experiences of Ravenloft were in 2e. Action horror can still be scary. Evil Dead is action horror. From Dusk Till Dawn is action horror. Aliens is action horror.

There were moments of horror and corruption but they weren't driven by mechanics like the ones in this book or by something like SAN in Call of Cthulhu.

I thought the Wolfwere-infested inn scenario in "Feast of Goblyns" was very From Dusk Till Dawn-esque...
 


dave2008

Legend
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.
You can defeat / destroy their manifestation, but the will eventually reform. That has been previewed for the new book and someone posted earlier in the thread that it was also in Curse of Strahd. Also, they are not providing stat blocks for them in this book, so there is that too.
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.
Fortunately it is very easy, IMO, to make 5e much less heroic if that is what you want.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
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.
I doesn’t appear to. But you could easily take the Sanity mechanic from Call of Cthulhu, flip it from dropping as you go to accumulating as you go, and have a system that approximates stress. Failed stress checks, breaking points (temporary, indefinite, permanent, bouts of stress, etc).
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I doesn’t appear to. But you could easily take the Sanity mechanic from Call of Cthulhu, flip it from dropping as you go to accumulating as you go, and have a system that approximates stress. Failed stress checks, breaking points (temporary, indefinite, permanent, bouts of stress, etc).
I like the idea of cumulative stress and then having ways to "de-stress", whether it's hanging out in a peaceful village, crawling into a bottle, painting, etc. A more or less continuous struggle to stay mentally fit with failure increasing the chances of injury or death. Players would need down time for more than crafting or research. And, the player might end up with a PC going into semi-retirement if they stress out to often / quickly. This shouldn't make me smile... but hey :D
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Just for Clarities sake can you tell us what is the difference between Gothic Horror and Ghost Story?

also what are the unique motifs of Occult Detective stories?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I like the idea of cumulative stress and then having ways to "de-stress", whether it's hanging out in a peaceful village, crawling into a bottle, painting, etc. A more or less continuous struggle to stay mentally fit with failure increasing the chances of injury or death. Players would need down time for more than crafting or research. And, the player might end up with a PC going into semi-retirement if they stress out to often / quickly. This shouldn't make me smile... but hey :D
There’s also the Alien RPG with stress dice and panic.
Just for Clarities sake can you tell us what is the difference between Gothic Horror and Ghost Story?

also what are the unique motifs of Occult Detective stories?
FryMinis is a YouTube channel with a lot of coverage. It has videos on each of the genres covered by VGR.
 


Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
Somehow double posted! But I can use this to state that the new book is pretty nice. I am a long time fan of Ravenloft, but back in the 2E days I actually used the domains as actual realms in my home campaign to fill out unexplored zones that I didn't prep for otherwise. I could see this working in a similar way, but really using it as a resource for demiplane adventuring works great too.

I see nothing in this edition that is in the least bit incompatible with prior editions and styles of Ravenloft. That's a perception brought with the viewer more than the product, I think.
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I posted it yesterday, it's on page 10, visible in preview videos. You can kill them but they just come back to life again.
Just like in original Ravenloft. --Though, I seem to recall in original Ravenloft it was possible sometimes with the right circumstances to take out a domain lord for a long time, or even permanently. There was a six part series of modules that led to major changes for this reason iirc.
 

Voadam

Legend
Yeah I was gonna say, they actually seem more brutal and terrifying here due to the fact that you can't kill them. I seem to recall that was how it was before, too, though, so whadda I know.
My memory is that individual darklords had specific darklord powers that could bring them back from death in a specific way, but that this was not a universal thing.

Possessing the nearest dire wolf in the domain and taking over its body and an amulet very similar to a permanent magic jar come to mind as examples.

Other darklords died. Renier took out the former darklord and he's gone. Duke Gundar is dead.
 

My memory is that individual darklords had specific darklord powers that could bring them back from death in a specific way, but that this was not a universal thing.

Possessing the nearest dire wolf in the domain and taking over its body and an amulet very similar to a permanent magic jar come to mind as examples.

Other darklords died. Renier took out the former darklord and he's gone. Duke Gundar is dead.
Well...cough Gundar is...well, not exactly alive now, BUT...

I really like the short treatises on the different flavors of horror. I especially love that they got the description of Cosmic Horror right...
Whereas some authors for other systems (cough*Pathfinder*cough) make the mistake of stating that the Great Old Ones etc. are somehow gods of madness, here they manage to go back to the immensity of such beings and how it means that you basically never matter to the cosmos, regardless of how powerful you might be.
Thanks. You got it.
Also, Bluetspur. Love the suggestions about the repressed memories and how it plays into the alien abduction theme.
In general, from what I have read the writers appear to have a strong grasp of the respective themes.
It's got a lot to use even if one might not use Ravenloft-as-written.
 

The fact that a Dhampir Monk, if I understand natural weapons and how they count, can pretty much make his Pearly Whites a Monk Weapon since it is classified as Simple Melee Weapon AND it's not two handed or a special property like Versatile. So you get a Monk Weapon that can do up to D12 healing/damage AND a D12 bonus to the next ability check or attack roll you make. I mean, yeah you gotta reach that point via leveling, but you still get those D6s/D8s/D10s on the way to there.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
The fact that a Dhampir Monk, if I understand natural weapons and how they count, can pretty much make his Pearly Whites a Monk Weapon since it is classified as Simple Melee Weapon AND it's not two handed or a special property like Versatile. So you get a Monk Weapon that can do up to D12 healing/damage AND a D12 bonus to the next ability check or attack roll you make. I mean, yeah you gotta reach that point via leveling, but you still get those D6s/D8s/D10s on the way to there.
It can't be a d12, Martial Arts Dice only goes up to d10's. However, they are Monk Weapons and can also be Kensei Weapons. A Dhampir Kensei Monk can literally be "armed to the teeth".
 

It can't be a d12, Martial Arts Dice only goes up to d10's. However, they are Monk Weapons and can also be Kensei Weapons. A Dhampir Kensei Monk can literally be "armed to the teeth".
Whoops, my bad on the MA Dice. Still ya get the jyst and dang, I didn't realize about the Kensei weapon option as well. That's another neat idea as well!

Although in my defense, the Way of the Living Weapon Monk subclass from Exploring Eberron actually goes up to D12 for its MA Dice. That's probably what my mind was subconsciously thinking of.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The fact that a Dhampir Monk, if I understand natural weapons and how they count, can pretty much make his Pearly Whites a Monk Weapon since it is classified as Simple Melee Weapon AND it's not two handed or a special property like Versatile. So you get a Monk Weapon that can do up to D12 healing/damage AND a D12 bonus to the next ability check or attack roll you make. I mean, yeah you gotta reach that point via leveling, but you still get those D6s/D8s/D10s on the way to there.
Monk's martial arts gives you the option to use DEX instead of STR, but Vampiric Bite gives you no option, you use CON. So you'd be forced to use CON bonus instead of DEX as per the wording of the Vampiric Bite ability, so your ability to hit with it is going to be terrible. (Yes, I intentionally avoided the obvious pun. Puns suck.) Though you get advantage on the attack if you're under 1/2 hit points.
 

Monk's martial arts gives you the option to use DEX instead of STR, but Vampiric Bite gives you no option, you use CON. So you'd be forced to use CON bonus instead of DEX as per the wording of the Vampiric Bite ability, so your ability to hit with it is going to be terrible. (Yes, I intentionally avoided the obvious pun. Puns suck.) Though you get advantage on the attack if you're under 1/2 hit points.
True, but part of me wonders how a High DEX/High CON Monk would work out.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
True, but part of me wonders how a High DEX/High CON Monk would work out.
It would make them MAD. You'd need high DEX for about half the stuff the monk actually does, WIS for the other half of stuff the monk actually does, then CON to make their HP higher and get a slightly better bonus on this one attack. Probably easier to burn a ki point to stun then hit them with the bite rather than build around the bite and have to juggle going for high DEX, WIS, and CON.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
It would make them MAD. You'd need high DEX for about half the stuff the monk actually does, WIS for the other half of stuff the monk actually does, then CON to make their HP higher and get a slightly better bonus on this one attack. Probably easier to burn a ki point to stun then hit them with the bite rather than build around the bite and have to juggle going for high DEX, WIS, and CON.
A vampire built like that as an opponent would be cool though
 

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