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.


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.


...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.


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:


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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


5e Freelancer
Alignment isn't a whole different matter. It's just content you personally didn't happen to like, for a variety of reasons which are essentially the same reasons others didn't like content you did like.
Alignment already is practically nonexistent in 5e. Taking out 1-2 words from every stat block is by no means the same thing as me advocating for a Psion class, more Class Feature Variants, or a Customize Your Origin system. Those are mechanical, while alignment only has a handful of mechanics attached to it throughout the whole game.
Most made arguments that the impact additional content they didn't want (like some subclasses, spells, etc.) in the game had on their games was negative because it changed the culture of the game, changed player expectations about how the game worked or should work, change their expectations about what other players might choose to use, expectations about possible NPCs which might use those things, etc..
I don't remember those arguments. They may have been made, but I don't remember partaking in a discussion where those arguments were made (feel free to correct me if you can find an example of someone saying that when I was actively participating in that same discussion. A better example would be of me responding to someone saying that, if you can).

I feel that Alignment has a negative impact on the game, primarily due to its oversimplification of a complicated topic. I feel that it doesn't have a place in most D&D campaigns, barring Planescape because it depends on alignment (I even championed to continue to include alignment in the game in Planescape material). I feel the same way about this that I feel about including the Piety system from Mythic Odysseys of Theros or the Survivor mechanics from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft in other campaigns that don't take place in those settings. Include alignment in Planescape, but not by default outside of it. Include the Piety system in Theros, but not by default outside of it. Include Survivors in Ravenloft, but not by default in other campaign settings.

It's one thing to include Class Feature Variants or Customize Your Origin mechanics in an optional book (TCoE), and another to include alignment in every book that contains deities, racial stats, and/or monster stat blocks. One is systematic, alignment, and another is optional, CFVs/Customize-Your-Origin (or, at least, it Customize Your Origin was supposed to be optional. I never advocated for it to not be optional in 5e).
Most importantly, every time some new ability was introduced in expansion material it pigeon holed that type of ability to requiring that thing. So before a PC or NPC could try that thing with a skill check or tool use or some other ability, but now they would be "stepping on the toes" of that new material and that wouldn't be fair. So new content constrained behaviors for those who didn't choose that content. It reduced the flexibility of players and DMs, and forced them into a more narrow range of behavior, simply because that other content existed.
I never advocated for anything to be pigeonholed in anything else or to take away the power of the DM to allow or disallow whatever content they want in their campaigns. I don't allow the official Kenku at my table, I don't allow Piety in my Eberron campaigns, and I don't allow Order of the Scribes Wizards at any of my campaigns.

I have no idea what you're talking about for the "stepping on the toes of new material" or "skill checks", so I'm going to ignore that as I am certain I had no part in any discussion about that.
Those are the identical reasons you have for wanting alignment out. It's just now the shoe is on the other foot, so suddenly your reasons are "special" relative to their reasons for not wanting additional content which you told them they could simply ignore.
Like I addressed above, alignment is different from Class Feature Variants, Customize Your Origin mechanics, and new subclasses. Any DM that doesn't want mechanics from Tasha's doesn't have to buy that book, but alignment was automatically a part of practically every D&D 5e book before Candlekeep Mysteries. I didn't advocate for the removal of alignment in 5e, I wanted that in a 5.5e/6e, but I'm not particularly upset that the direction shift came early. My reasons for disliking alignment are mainly because it's a pervasive system that was included in every D&D 5e book whether or not I wanted it. I couldn't just not buy the books with alignment included in it, because every book had alignment included. However, the people who don't want to use the content in Tasha's can just not buy/use Tasha's. It's a different situation. There's a difference between pulling out weeds sprinkled throughout a field and making a fence between an area containing all weeds and an area containing the field.
So yeah, pretty hypocritical. You should just ignore alignment like you always did and not worry about content others might like which you are ignoring. It's not like alignment was hurting your games because it existed, right?
Excuse me, but as I said above, I never advocated for this change. My being happy because of it didn't motivate WotC to make it, and I don't work for WotC and personally make this change. Stop attacking me over something I never did or advocated for. Sure, I don't like alignment. I have never hidden my dislike for it. However, I didn't ask for this, and it's not hypocritical for me to embrace a change that I like even if I didn't ask for it. If someone you know gives you ice cream without you asking, you eat the goddam ice cream.

Are we done here, or must I move on from proving that I'm not a D&D-book-burner to not being a Hypocritical Alignment-Destroyer?

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5e Freelancer
I am not making it personal.
Yeah, you are. You're going after me to try to call me a hypocrite. That's the definition of "making it personal".
He's one of the guys for years who has championed "just ignore content you don't like because I like additional content." I am responding to his argument. It's not like what he said to others here, for years, happened in a vacuum.
The "other guys" were advocating to not add something to D&D because they didn't like it, and I was advocating for eventually removing a vestigial "system" from D&D sometime in the future. Big difference. I personally didn't like Dhampir before Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft came out, most likely due to my burning hatred for Twilight, but I never advocated for them to never be added to D&D because I didn't like them. If I had advocated for them to not be added, that would have made me a hypocrite. However, I didn't do that.


That guy, who does that thing.
There are a lot of domains. I can't think of any modules specifically set in Dementlieu, Richemulot, or Forlorn for example.
Castles Forlorn was an adventure box set published in 1993 and focused entirely on the domain of Forlorn, particularly the time-entangled Castle Tristenoira.

I'm not aware of any TSR or SSS published adventures set in Dementlieu or Richemulot, but that doesn't mean a DM couldn't set adventures there -- a number of monster-hunting expeditions described in the Van Richten's Guides, for instance, are set in Dementlieu, including the hunt for the fiend Drigor recounted in Van Richten's Guide to Fiends as well as the discovery of a pair of 'baatezu' in Chateaufaux added to Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium vol. III.



For what it's worth, the Fraternity of Shadows has tons of plot hooks. Even if they're specifically for the older-style domains, probably all can be used for the new edition with a few tweaks.

Also, it allowed PCs to kill creatures without risking their own alignment changing, even if those creatures weren't actually doing anything wrong.
It never actually did that. Using it as a "kill me" flag was just as much an abuse as using it as a "be a jerk" flag. But that both of those abuses not only existed, but where fairly common, is a reason to get rid of it. I never saw that kind of behaviour in Traveller, or Trek, or any of the other RPGs I played that got by just fine without alignment.


No need to be sarcastic..

The situation with modern 5e since Tasha's, is the obvious shirking of responsibility by Wizards of the Coast to call out that Relentless Killer as evil, by offering a wink and a nod to edgy Dungeon Masters to label that creature Lawful Good, since no alignment guidance exists on creature stat blocks nowadays.
Holy mother of unrealistic scenarios, Batman!

Most TTRPGs don't even have alignments and don't have this issue. This is beyond silly.

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