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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.


VRG9.jpg

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.

VRG10.jpg

...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.

VRG11.jpg

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

imagineGod

Legend
Even Attributes Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma have list all meaning in the latest D&D sourcebooks.

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
Page 24 Living Shadow Lineage.
Grasping Shadow: your spellcasting ability for this spell is Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (your choice when you gain this Dark Gift).

I would argue I might as well use Strength, because if we can allow all the prior three, why are we discriminating against Strength or Dexterity. After all grasping is a strength or dexterity action.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is very valid to the Alignments argument. A lot of people find them useful shorthand. A lot hate alignment.
You’re ignoring the fact that there are other useful shorthands that could be used, that do the same thing alignment is supposedly useful for just as well if not better.
The vocal anti-alignment crowd kept shouting until alignments got axed in new D&D.
For the record, it hasn’t actually been axed yet. But I’ll grant that it’s on its way out, and probably won’t exist in 6e.
Another vocal group hating the whole races concept is shouting until races get axed They are already heading out.
Races aren’t being axed. The way they’re being presented is changing, and with good reason.
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.
This is slippery slope fallacy. And a bad one, because unlike alignment, classes and HP have advantages that can’t be replicated by less controversial systems. And again I ask, even if some future edition of D&D does get rid of these things, so what?
So remove all these problem elements of D&D so what is left as D&D not just another RPG?
D&D is not just a collection of game mechanics. It’s a brand. Granted, changing the game mechanics too much too fast is bad for the brand; 4e proved that. You know what else is bad for the brand? Not making changes that the majority of the player base is demanding.
 

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 that’s not what’s happening here. WotC removed alignment from its latest product, and various people have come out to say how removing alignment is badwrongfun and detracted from their enjoyment of VRGtR.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Grasping Shadow: your spellcasting ability for this spell is Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (your choice when you gain this Dark Gift).

I would argue I might as well use Strength, because if we can allow all the prior three, why are we discriminating against Strength or Dexterity. After all grasping is a strength or dexterity action.
This straw man makes a very good point. I would probably let him use Strength for it if he was playing in my game.
 

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.
Fair enough. Assuming a GM has an idea of what alignments mean to them (and thus that it is a usable shorthand), what would be an equally or improved system that offers the same benefit in expediency? When I see that a monster is listed in the statblock as "chaotic evil", I know what that means in my understanding of the game and my experience as a GM. Thus, it is useful to me as a shorthand for behavior. Do you have a better, and ideally just as easy to grasp and apply method for doing this? Because I don't want deep nuance in every interaction, and I don't think I'm alone in that.
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Fair enough. Assuming a GM has an idea of what alignments mean to them (and thus that it is a usable shorthand), what would be an equally or improved system that offers the same benefit in expediency? When I see that a monster is listed in the statblock as "chaotic evil", I know what that means in my understanding of the game and my experience as a GM. Thus, it is useful to me as a shorthand for behavior. Do you have a better, and ideally just as easy to grasp and apply method for doing this? Because I don't want deep nuance in every interaction, and I don't think I'm alone in that.
Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are oft-cited examples of more effective behavioral shorthands than alignment. The counter-argument is usually that they are too lengthy to serve that purpose, and I actually agree. They should be a couple of words at most instead of complete sentences. But the concept is solid.
 

But if we are pedantic, we can argue the meaning of dramatic? It seems no better than alignment. How do you agree which action is the right or wrong one? Removing alignment does not magically solve that right and wrong conundrum at play.
It is clearly better: there is a world of words to describe someone, of which “overly dramatic” are two.

Alignment limits you to 5 words (9 phrases). And even within those 5 words, it uses the same word twice to mean two different things!

Very shoddy design.
😃
 

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."
You're doing the same thing to me that you were doing to Mistwell. If I tell you that an aspect of the game is a useful tool for me, you can't just say, "no, it isn't". It may not be useful to you, but your opinion is not objective fact. I've been playing D&D for over 30 years, so I know, for me, what the alignments are and what mean. That makes it a useful tool, again, for me. You have no say in that, and again, I doubt I'm the only one holding that opinion.
 

Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are oft-cited examples of more effective behavioral shorthands than alignment. The counter-argument is usually that they are too lengthy to serve that purpose, and I actually agree. They should be a couple of words at most instead of complete sentences. But the concept is solid.
There could be a more succinct version of those things to use in place of alignment, I agree. But we don't have one. WotC has removed a tool without adding, or even proposing, a replacement. That is a net loss.
 

Voadam

Legend
Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are oft-cited examples of more effective behavioral shorthands than alignment. The counter-argument is usually that they are too lengthy to serve that purpose, and I actually agree. They should be a couple of words at most instead of complete sentences. But the concept is solid.
Another argument against those would be their design for an individual instead of for a general monster entry. I am not sure what an appropriate ideal for dire wolves or owlbears generally would be, for example.
 

imagineGod

Legend
You’re ignoring the fact that there are other useful shorthands that could be used, that do the same thing alignment is supposedly useful for just as well if not better.

For the record, it hasn’t actually been axed yet. But I’ll grant that it’s on its way out, and probably won’t exist in 6e.

Races aren’t being axed. The way they’re being presented is changing, and with good reason.

This is slippery slope fallacy. And a bad one, because unlike alignment, classes and HP have advantages that can’t be replicated by less controversial systems. And again I ask, even if some future edition of D&D does get rid of these things, so what?

D&D is not just a collection of game mechanics. It’s a brand. Granted, changing the game mechanics too much too fast is bad for the brand; 4e proved that. You know what else is bad for the brand? Not making changes that the majority of the player base is demanding.
I showcased how Classes are very bad design that causes arguments and you chose to ignore it since you seem to want to keep classes.

Early editions having been saddled by m any arguments at the table why a Wizard like Gandalf was prevented from using Swords staying only in the Wizard Class brought that whole mess of multi-class Characters. Then in 3rd Edition you even had those Prestige Classes to allow Sword Mage. Same problem happened for armor wearing arcane spell casters., suffering a penalty but clerics got to cast spells without that penalty.

Cut it any which way, D&D Classes and Level was just bad design. But it is what makes D&D different from the plethora of RPGs that do not use classes nor penalize Arcane vs Divine spellcasters. In fact the whole premise separating Arcane vs Divine spellpower is shoddy at best.

So all those are just as bad in terms of design if we chose to get that pedantic than Alignment.

See alignment never killed anybody.
Being crippled with low Hit Points because you chose the WIzard class in a game all about Hit Point attrition has killed characters. In earlier editions where a magic user with 1d4 Hit Dice could have 1 HP only at 1st level was basically a "dead man walking" since any damage automatically does at least 1 poitn of damage on any dice, even a d4.

So if those who hate the legacy of D&D alignment are truly honest and not hypocrites, they will see so many D&D classic games mechanics are very broken compared to the many Indie game systems that have already abandoned that sort of play.

So when is D&D no longer D&D? That Ship of Theseus is very apt an analogy here.
 

Faolyn

Hero
Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are oft-cited examples of more effective behavioral shorthands than alignment. The counter-argument is usually that they are too lengthy to serve that purpose, and I actually agree. They should be a couple of words at most instead of complete sentences. But the concept is solid.
Cypher System creatures have a Motivation line. Some motivations: "Proactive self-defense." "Hungers for flesh." "Curiosity." "Reproduction." "Inexplicable" "Observe the dead or soon-to-be-dead." One short and generally useful, if simplistic, information.
 

Cypher System creatures have a Motivation line. Some motivations: "Proactive self-defense." "Hungers for flesh." "Curiosity." "Reproduction." "Inexplicable" "Observe the dead or soon-to-be-dead." One short and generally useful, if simplistic, information.
That's shorter and clearer, although less nuanced than the oWoD nature/demeanor system. Which just goes to show there's a bunch of choices out there.
 



imagineGod

Legend
It is clearly better: there is a world of words to describe someone, of which “overly dramatic” are two.

Alignment limits you to 5 words (9 phrases). And even within those 5 words, it uses the same word twice to mean two different things!

Very shoddy design.
😃
I doubt even Monte Cook did better with his revolutionary Cypher System. The three phrase economy was not perfect, and the only reason you do not see as many arguments over it is because for all the money Monte Cook makes on Kickstarter, Cypher is still such a niche game, that now Monte Cook converts many Cypher projects into 5th Edition D&D.

For example here is that supposedly revolutionary character concept:
A brash (the adjective) explorer (the noun) who abides in stone (the verb).

From a Cypher System rules generator. What the hell does that even mean? And here you thought alignment was so bad in D&D it needed axing.
 

Shadowedeyes

Explorer
I showcased how Classes are very bad design that causes arguments and you chose to ignore it since you seem to want to keep classes.

Early editions having been saddled by m any arguments at the table why a Wizard like Gandalf was prevented from using Swords staying only in the Wizard Class brought that whole mess of multi-class Characters. Then in 3rd Edition you even had those Prestige Classes to allow Sword Mage. Same problem happened for armor wearing arcane spell casters., suffering a penalty but clerics got to cast spells without that penalty.

Cut it any which way, D&D Classes and Level was just bad design. But it is what makes D&D different from the plethora of RPGs that do not use classes nor penalize Arcane vs Divine spellcasters. In fact the whole premise separating Arcane vs Divine spellpower is shoddy at best.

So all those are just as bad in terms of design if we chose to get that pedantic than Alignment.

See alignment never killed anybody.
Being crippled with low Hit Points because you chose the WIzard class in a game all about Hit Point attrition has killed characters. In earlier editions where a magic user with 1d4 Hit Dice could have 1 HP only at 1st level was basically a "dead man walking" since any damage automatically does at least 1 poitn of damage on any dice, even a d4.

So if those who hate the legacy of D&D alignment are truly honest and not hypocrites, they will see so many D&D classic games mechanics are very broken compared to the many Indie game systems that have already abandoned that sort of play.

So when is D&D no longer D&D? That Ship of Theseus is very apt an analogy here.
I dunno, ImagineGod. When is D&D no longer D&D? Is it alignment? Did it happen when THAC0 was dropped? Maybe it was when we abandoned gender maximums, Race as Class, or, I know, when we went past having more classes than Fighting Man and Magic User?

If you want to argue the usefulness of alignment, convince me why it is useful, not that it's some sort of iconic element of D&D that has to be there because it always been there.
 

imagineGod

Legend
Yaeahh, I see that we've gone to removing alignment will destroy the soul of D&D. I suppose we should should quickly bring back THACO too.
To Hit Armor Class Zero was replaced with Ascending AC Class.

What have you replaced the alignment system with in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.

I see an entry for "Relentless Killer" but no quick overview in the stat block if that is a lawfully good paladin in training.

And speaking of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, maybe it has made the argument to overhall the whole spellcasting Attribute restriction in D&D, if Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma are interchangeable why have all three, since spells in VRGtR can use any, so why regardless.

Notice that in the Free League Year Zero Engine Games, there are only 4 Attributes, since it seems 6 is just too many as we are finding out more and more with D&D spellcasting overlaps.

So, when is D&D no longer D&D, what classic D&D-isms will be axed that will make still D&D standout from those other RPGs that already axed the many things certain people here hate about D&D?
 

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