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Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft Review Round-Up – What the Critics Say

Now that you've had time to read my review of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and the book officially arrived in game stores on May 18, it's time to take a look at what other RPG reviewers thought of this guide to horror.


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Terrifyingly Awesome...​

Games Radar not only ranked VRGtR one of the best D&D books ever, they also praise it for taking a fresh approach to the decades-old RPG. GR notes that the chapter on domains could have become repetitive quickly, but instead it's packed with creativity.

VRGtR transformed the reviewer at The Gamer from someone uninterested in horror into someone planning a horror masquerade adventure. While they praise VRGtR for its player options, they like the information for DMs even more. That ranges from the new mechanics that replace the old madness rules to advice for DMs on how to create compelling villains.

Bell of Lost Souls praises VRGtR for how it makes players think about their character's stories, not just in terms of backgrounds but also through the Gothic lineages, how they came about, and impacted the character. They also like all the tools DMs get plus an abundance of inspiration for games. They actually like the fact that Darklords don't have stats because if they do, players will always find a way to kill them. Overall, they deem VRGtR “indispensable” for DMs and as having great information for everyone, which makes it “a hearty recommendation.”

Polygon was more effusive calling it “the biggest, best D&D book of this generation” and that “it has the potential to supercharge the role-playing hobby like never before.” As you can tell from those two phrases, Polygon gushes over VRGtR praising everything from the new character options to safety tools to its overflowing creativity, and more. They compliment the book for being packed with useful information for players and DMs.

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...And Scary Good​

Tribality broke down VRGtR chapter by chapter listing the content, and then summed up the book as being both an outstanding setting book and horror toolkit. They especially like that the various player options, such as Dark Gifts and lineages mean that death isn't necessarily the end of a character, but rather the start of a new plot.

Gaming Trend also praised VRGtR, especially the parts that discourage stigmatizing marginalized groups to create horror. They also considered the information on how to create your own Domain of Dream and Darklord inspiring. For example, it got them thinking about the role of space in creating horror, and how the mists allow a DM to drop players into a Domain for a one-shot if they don't want to run a full campaign. GT deemed VRGtR “excellent” and then pondered what other genres D&D could tackle next, like comedy adventures.

Strange Assembly loves the fact that VRGtR revives a classic D&D setting, and especially focuses on the Domains of Dread. They like the flavor of the Gothic lineages but not that some abilities are only once a day, preferring always-on abilities. Still, that's a small complaint when SA praises everything else, especially the short adventure, The House of Lament. VRGtR is considered an excellent value and worth checking out if you like scary D&D.

Geeks of Doom doesn't buck the trend of round-up. They really enjoyed the adventure inspiration and DM advice but especially appreciate the player options. agrees They really like the flexibility that's encouraged – and the new version of the loup-garou.

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The Final Grade​

While none of these publications give out a letter grade, the superlatives VRGtR has earned makes it pretty easy to associate ratings to each review. Games Radar, The Gamer, Polygon, and Bell of Lost Souls are so effusive in their praise that they would obviously be A+. Gaming Trend, Tribality, Strange Assembly, and Geeks of Doom also praise VRGtR, though their language isn't quite as strong or they have a very minor critique. That would make their reviews at least an A. Adding in the A+ from my own review, and Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft grades this product by which all others will likely be judged in the future:

A+

 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Faolyn

Hero
I didn't refuse. I gave you examples (with details: I explained how an assassin might follow an internal or external code of conduct for their kills if they are listed as lawful or a more random approach if it's listed as chaotic, for example), you argued with me about them, and then followed that up claiming I didn't find them useful.
Right, and when I mentioned that that should be determined in the creature's background, you said "oh no, this is for nameless NPCs only!" Well, by nameless, you said, NPCs you didn't expect the PCs to interact with, which is pretty much the same thing.

And when I brought up CE shopkeepers and minions of the BBEG, both good examples of nameless NPCs, and asked how alignment would help with them, you ignored the question. (Which does beg the question of, if they're so minor that you never expected the PCs to interact with them, why would they even have an alignment?)

So either you're springing random assassins on your players without figuring out why they're trying to assassinate your PCs first, or you just moved your goalposts around a lot.
 

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Azzy

KMF DM
With this sort of argument, why don’t you remove Type as well - why do we need to know that goblinloids are type humanoid when it can just be described in the monster entry? What’s that, there are spells that only work against certain types? Like how Protection from Evil works against Lawful Evil creatures?
Protection from Evil and Good works against aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead regardless of their alignment.
 

Alignment is a shorthand for behavior; it is not a straight jacket, but a guideline. Many people like having a shorthand for this soft of thing, and don't automatically assume that moral nuance is always a good thing in a game where people get together to throw dice and maybe work off some real life tensions. The people cheering its removal are essentially happy a tool other people appreciated and used is being removed, because it sometimes caused arguments.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
Alignment is a shorthand for behavior; it is not a straight jacket, but a guideline. Many people like having a shorthand for this soft of thing, and don't automatically assume that moral nuance is always a good thing in a game where people get together to throw dice and maybe work off some real life tensions. The people cheering its removal are essentially happy a tool other people appreciated and used is being removed, because it sometimes caused arguments.
The thing that's being argued, however, is that it's a really bad shorthand that may as well not be there considering how inconsistent it's been deployed and described over the game's lifetime.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The people cheering its removal are essentially happy a tool other people appreciated and used is being removed, because it sometimes caused arguments.
The people cheering its removal are happy that a vestigial game element that has long lost any mechanical relevance but still causes arguments and hinders the potential for nuanced portrayal of fictional monsters and groups is finally being let go of. The only argument that seems to be made in its defense is its “a useful shorthand,” and there are plenty of ways to provide a useful shorthand that don’t have the same argument-causing, nuance-killing baggage alignment has.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Right, and when I mentioned that that should be determined in the creature's background, you said "oh no, this is for nameless NPCs only!" Well, by nameless, you said, NPCs you didn't expect the PCs to interact with, which is pretty much the same thing.

Look, that's what I mean by you argued with me. Like somehow I didn't give you an example if you would have done it differently.
I get you would do it differently. I don't care that you would do it differently. You asked for an example of how I have used it and I gave you one. You don't like the example, that's fine. You'd do it differently, that's also fine. It's still an example of how I've used it. Please stop telling me I gave you no examples.


And when I brought up CE shopkeepers and minions of the BBEG, both good examples of nameless NPCs, and asked how alignment would help with them, you ignored the question. (Which does beg the question of, if they're so minor that you never expected the PCs to interact with them, why would they even have an alignment?)

Because I don't need to keep going with you back and forth on individual examples once I had given you one and you basically said, "nuh uh!" to it. What exactly is the point of this to you?

And yes, I've sometimes sprung nameless assassins on my players before who then ended up negotiating with the nameless assassin and trying to convert her to their side (or at least work for them for a fee) and I had to figure out how that particular assassin might react to that unexpected offer, and alignment is one item I can find useful in such a situation.

For instance it might work like this in the moment: if they are lawful, odds are they will answer no because they have a reputation for always completely their contract, or work for a guild that uses that as a rule for their assassins. If they are listed as neutral, they will consider the offer from the PCs if it's worth their while. And if they are listed as chaotic, they will take the offer from the PCs, and then try to kill them anyway at first opportunity. That all might sound trite, but it's one quick method of deciding how this nameless NPC might react in the moment without pausing the game.

And let me tell you, it's often easier for me to figure out how they would react based on alignment than it is to come up with a name off the top of my head which doesn't sound like, "Assassin McStabby." :)
 
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imagineGod

Legend
The people cheering its removal are happy that a vestigial game element that has long lost any mechanical relevance but still causes arguments and hinders the potential for nuanced portrayal of fictional monsters and groups is finally being let go of. The only argument that seems to be made in its defense is its “a useful shorthand,” and there are plenty of ways to provide a useful shorthand that don’t have the same argument-causing, nuance-killing baggage alignment has.
And those happy to destroy the past will soon have no future.

For as you look back at baggage, you will realize none of the best works of fiction require Hit Point attrition. It just does not make for good story telling.

Many games use injuries, that offer more nuance, than Hit Points.

Same goes for HP linked to Class levels. What exactly does a normal non-magic creature 20th Level human fighter have to justify so many more Hit Points than at 1st. Experience, you have skills and feats.

There is just no narrative advantage in HP attrition for a useful game.

And piece by piece 10th Edition D$D is not D&D anymore.
 

Faolyn

Hero
Alignment is a shorthand for behavior; it is not a straight jacket, but a guideline. Many people like having a shorthand for this soft of thing, and don't automatically assume that moral nuance is always a good thing in a game where people get together to throw dice and maybe work off some real life tensions. The people cheering its removal are essentially happy a tool other people appreciated and used is being removed, because it sometimes caused arguments.
Except it's not actually a useful tool. As I said in another post, imagine you have an NPC, like a shopkeeper or a mook, with the Chaotic Evil alignment. What does that actually mean? If the alignment is so vague that there are multiple ways that it can be expressed, then it's useless and can be replaced by a description like "cheats customers" or "will betray for coin."
 

And I think that is an important point for people to take home: you can always play other games. I hardly ever play D&D these days because there are games that do things differently that deal with some of the criticisms people are raising, and do it well. I think rather than change D&D, which has an essence that you can disturb with too many changes to its core, it is often better to seek out other games. Honestly I think the hobby would be much better off if people played less D&D and more of other games (there was a time before d20 where this was quite common)

Many OSR games do not have alignment (or even race in many cases): black hack, knave, maze rats, mörk borg, into the odd, worlds without number, white hack. So yes, play all those games! But also notice that 1) they are all dnd hacks, all of wanting to distill the dnd experience into a minimal, rules-lite form, and none of them felt the need to include alignment; and 2) changing and modifying the game is in fact central to the ethos of dnd.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Some people playing D&D hate almost all its game mechanics: hate character races, classes, alignment, hit points, initiative based turn order.

So why play D$D when so many Indie RPGs are free from all this baggage?
 

I think Van Richten’s Guide was absolutely designed to appeal to both old school fans and new school ones, and I have heard from old school fans and new school fans who enjoy it. I’ve also heard from folks who don’t, just as I heard from folks who didn’t enjoy 5e. No product is going to please everyone, this time you just happen to be among the folks this one doesn’t please.
I’m generally not a big fan of horror, but the reviews and posts have me excited to purchase this once I finish reading Candlekeep mysteries.
 




Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
And those happy to destroy the past will soon have no future.

For as you look back at baggage, you will realize none of the best works of fiction require Hit Point attrition. It just does not make for good story telling.

Many games use injuries, that offer more nuance, than Hit Points.

Same goes for HP linked to Class levels. What exactly does a normal non-magic creature 20th Level human fighter have to justify so many more Hit Points than at 1st. Experience, you have skills and feats.

There is just no narrative advantage in HP attrition for a useful game.

And piece by piece 10th Edition D$D is not D&D anymore.
1. This is a non-sequitur. It has no meaningful relation to the arguments for or against hit points.
2. While hit points do have disadvantages compared to other harm systems, it also has advantages. This is not the case with alignment compared to other “useful shorthands” for monster/NPX behavior.
3. Even if some future edition of D&D does end up getting rid of Hit Points, so what?

EDIT: Holy crap, that $ in place of the & isn’t a typo, is it?! You’re intentionally avoiding calling 5e “D&D” and simultaneously implying it’s a cash grab! 🤣🤣🤣
 


Many OSR games do not have alignment (or even race in many cases): black hack, knave, maze rats, mörk borg, into the odd, worlds without number, white hack. So yes, play all those games! But also notice that 1) they are all dnd hacks, all of wanting to distill the dnd experience into a minimal, rules-lite form, and none of them felt the need to include alignment; and 2) changing and modifying the game is in fact central to the ethos of dnd.

Sure. One of the appeals of the OSR is you can basically make D&D but without the things in D&D that annoy you, and with the things you think it ought to have. I love that about the OSR. But that doesn't mean that D&D itself ought to emulate the games in the OSR that have stripped out something which could be deemed essential. Yes changing the game, hacking it is part of what people have always done. But the core game, put out by the company that currently holds the IP, needs to cleave enough to its essence, that it doesn't fragment the player base the way 4E did. My caution here is to say, people seem to have forgotten just how fragmented things were in the wake of 4E. The point is D&D can't take its player base for granted, because if they make an edition that forty percent of people thing isn't D&D enough, those people all now have plenty of alternatives they can go to.
 

imagineGod

Legend
1. This is a non-sequitur. It has no meaningful relation to the arguments for or against hit points.
2. While hit points do have disadvantages compared to other harm systems, it also has advantages. This is not the case with alignment compared to other “useful shorthands” for monster/NPX behavior.
3. Even if some future edition of D&D does end up getting rid of Hit Points, so what?
This is very valid to the Alignments argument. A lot of people find them useful shorthand. A lot hate alignment.

The vocal anti-alignment crowd kept shouting until alignments got axed in new D&D.

Another vocal group hating the whole races concept is shouting until races get axed They are already heading out.

Next many hate Classes. Other RPGs are classless because Classes like alignments are restrictive. A Fighter or Cleric is not nuanced. You get better Roleplay in classless RPGs. So I guess get rid of Classes to stop the arguments that no, your Fighter cannot cast spells, and your Wizard must be crippled with low Hit Die to balance spell power.

Then obviously, like I said Hit Points attrition is one reason kill-it-until-dead is so D&D. That is a negative excessive force of pummeling to death mechanic because a 1 HP enemy is as deadly as a 20 HP, no injuries affect it.

So remove all these problem elements of D&D so what is left as D&D not just another RPG?
 

Except it's not actually a useful tool. As I said in another post, imagine you have an NPC, like a shopkeeper or a mook, with the Chaotic Evil alignment. What does that actually mean? If the alignment is so vague that there are multiple ways that it can be expressed, then it's useless and can be replaced by a description like "cheats customers" or "will betray for coin."

It tells me he is willing to break the law, possibly even willing to harm people, if it advances his interests (or even if he just feels like it). Chaotic evil is much more intense in my mind than 'will betray for coin'. A chaotic evil person might lock you in their cellar and torture you, or they might murder you in the night and take your money and magic items. It is certainly broad. You tend to read alignment in the context of what description you have of the character. Maybe it isn't useful for you. That is fair. But plenty of people find it useful
 


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