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


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Also, it allowed PCs to kill creatures without risking their own alignment changing, even if those creatures weren't actually doing anything wrong.
In two of my games, a so-called “lawful good” character executed an enemy prisoner who was unarmed, on the reasoning that leaving an evil creature alive led to an overall increase of evil the the world.

I don’t play with alignment any more (when I DM).

Hey, I found @imagineGod ‘s lawful good Relentless Killer!
 

Voadam

Legend
Castles Forlorn was an adventure box set published in 1993 and focused entirely on the domain of Forlorn, particularly the time-entangled Castle Tristenoira.
Yeah I flipped Forlorn and Keening in my head. There are adventures in some domains.

There are also probably a couple in Dungeon magazine that I am not familiar with that could be in other domains.

I'm not aware of any TSR or SSS published adventures set in Dementlieu or Richemulot,
me either, or in Hazlan, or Keening, or a lot of island domains.

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.

Well yeah, you can set your own adventures in the ravenloft D&D adventure setting. :)

We had been discussing existing adventures to conceptually explore the 30 or so current domains in one campaign though.

A number of the old published adventures would not be consistent with the current campaign setting either, like the Cat of Falkovnic from Dungeon involving the former Baron darklord of Verbrek or the Darkon adventures involving Azalin's then active schemes for the Grand Conjunction and pre-Necropolis shenanigans.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
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.
The baatezu in Chateaufaux are a reference to "The Taskmaster's Leash," an adventure from Chilling Tales (affiliate link). Likewise, while not technically an adventure (it's more like an extended adventure hook), "The Cult of Simon Audaire," from Dragon #264, is set in Richemulot.

EDIT: Also, The Beast Within, one of the Adventurer's Guild modules, was set in Dementlieu as well.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Actually, a fair amount of Servants of Darkness (affiliate link) takes place in Keening. In fact, it ends with a face-to-face encounter with Tristessa.
Huh, I got that module, started reading it and didn't really care for the Celtic witch hunting inquisition that much and put it aside before finishing it. I might go back to it to see how they deal with Tristessa.

I am sure there are others I am not aware of too.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
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.
It wasn't an "abuse," that's just a "badwrongfun" kind of response. People LIKED that kind of play. Some still do like that kind of play. Nobody was forcing you to play like that, but there was no rule being broken to play like that and it was not abusing anything about the game to play like that.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Yay, another debate on Alignment! Even when it's gone, the mechanic still ends up doing what it always did, which is cause people to argue over it.

Really, though, do we need it for the Relentless Killer? It pretty much describes what it does in the description.
It's literally TWO CHARACTERS. A "CE" or a "LE" or a "NE" in a stat block. It was a helpful tool to help DMs make on-the-fly decisions about how an NPC might react. The "E" was obvious from "relentless killer" but not the L, N, or C.

DMs never had to follow it, but it had its uses and didn't take up a lot of space. It changed that killer from "The L might mean they belong to an assassins guild and therefore have a set of rules they need to follow on who they can kill, how they can kill them, and what other rules they need to follow while pursuing their target" to "The C might mean they are looking to cause as much chaos as possible in the population, killing everyone in sight, setting fires, little regard for city guard eing called, while in pursuit of their target," etc..

Two littler characters which could serve to carry a heavy load in the toolbasket of experienced DMs working on the fly with an NPC, if the DM wanted to use it. And no harm to anyone if people didn't want to use it.
 

Shadowedeyes

Adventurer
It's literally TWO CHARACTERS. A "CE" or a "LE" or a "NE" in a stat block. It was a helpful tool to help DMs make on-the-fly decisions about how an NPC might react. The "E" was obvious from "relentless killer" but not the L, N, or C.

DMs never had to follow it, but it had its uses and didn't take up a lot of space. It changed that killer from "The L might mean they belong to an assassins guild and therefore have a set of rules they need to follow on who they can kill, how they can kill them, and what other rules they need to follow while pursuing their target" to "The C might mean they are looking to cause as much chaos as possible in the population, killing everyone in sight, setting fires, little regard for city guard eing called, while in pursuit of their target," etc..

Two littler characters which could serve to carry a heavy load in the toolbasket of experienced DMs working on the fly with an NPC, if the DM wanted to use it. And no harm to anyone if people didn't want to use it.
I feel like the alignment discussion is going slightly off topic, but as a tool, alignment had issues. Could WotC tried to fix them? Maybe, sure. But we've had 5 editions of D&D now, and alignment and what it means hasn't been clear in any of them. 3rd edition had Zeus as Chaotic Good, and a Dragon magazine article on how killing drow children wasn't evil, so I feel like I'm being pretty generous when I say that. Frankly, I don't blame WotC for coming to the conclusion that removing alignment is for the best.

I'm not gleeful it was removed or anything, but it was a mess. The writers and editors didn't seem to have a clue what alignment meant, so it's no surprise it was a contentious issue in the fanbase.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I’ll keep alignments in my game, but quite honestly it’s caused arguments since it was included. A lot of it is generally on the player’s side and getting upset about being “limited” in some form or fashion with their play style. I think DM’s like having it as a tool - just like having monster types or spell schools.

Outside of D&D and d20 products, I can’t think of a modern role playing game that does use alignments or a similar morality system.
 

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