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


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!
It feels like there are alignment cosmologies where that would be the right play (like some Gygaxian ones). If being "evil" is embracing evil, and alignment is set up to be really hard to change, why is the evil human or orc much different than the demon, devil, or evil aberration?

The obvious thing is to not play in a game with straight-jacket alignments

But then you get things like in the real world where there have been plenty of those enslaving others, killing people for heresy, and committing genocide who would think they were lawful good.

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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.

So, after alignment is gone, and someone proposes adding an alignment system for more variety in play...

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
5E already has a replacement set of stats that better explain personalities: Ideals/Bonds/Flaws and, now, in Ravenloft campaigns, Fears. While they're imperfect, they much better simulate real personalities than trying to split hairs on whether someone is Neutral or Lawful Neutral because they pay their taxes.

I still think the best personality system in RPGs was the oWoD's nature/demeanor system, which actually has a basis in psychology.


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..
Since the Relentless Killer is pretty much designed to be either a serial killer or a slasher movie-style killer, the only real choice you need to make is between "Kill everyone it comes across" or "Kill only certain people, such as people who are outside at midnight*, or groups of partying teenagers". And that is up to the DM because that's part of the plot.

(* i.e., the Midnight Slasher)

But if you stuck an alignment up there, you lose that choice--because if all Relentless Killers are CE, so you'd have to make changes, possibly even a new statblock, to have a Relentless Killer who is LE and kills by a strict set of rules.

Now, Relentless Killers are fiends, which in D&D terms means that they're pretty much made out of creature-shaped capital-E Evil. But by bringing back those "two characters" you would also be making all elves Good and all orcs Evil.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
At this point, alignment mostly serves to tell us what sorts of spells certain types of unusual creatures are affected by. It might be better for them to stop calling it "alignment" entirely and make the spell be, say, "Protection from Fiends/Celestials/Undead" (or preferably something more succinct and punchy, or name it after a spellcasting NPC).

Alignment has never been a good tool for modeling behavior, as the memes where Batman fits in all nine spots on an alignment grid nicely underscore.

It feels like there are alignment cosmologies where that would be the right play (like some Gygaxian ones). If being "evil" is embracing evil, and alignment is set up to be really hard to change, why is the evil human or orc much different than the demon, devil, or evil aberration?
And that is ONE (of several) problems with alignment. Each player has a different conception of what alignment means, to the point that one good-faith player could conclude that cultists are basically like demons (and therefore killing them even when they are defenseless is not an issue) with everyone else being horrified at what they consider is an Evil act.

Which is why I disagree with @Mistwell ‘s “it’s only two letters”. It’s only two letters if you don’t bother to explain what Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral (Law-axis), Neutral (Good-axis), Good or Evil actually mean, but if you don’t, you just get even more pointless arguing.

Which brings us back to the Relentless Killer. Describing the creature as a hateful, revenge-obsessed relentless killer means that specifying that it is Evil is unnecessary, and there is really no benefit to limiting revenge-obsessed killers in Ravenloft to the Chaotic (or Neutral or even Lawful) alignments.

Let us even assume that Character Class Levels are years of experience in a profession and Hit Points are health and well being. Has anyone in real life trained in the cleric profession sudden gained more health with more years of study and life experiences so that a Level 5 cleric has more than double the health of a level 1? "Or has an injured fighter with only 1 HP just as health in combat as a non-" injured 10 HP fighter?

Other games do not use this system, because if you are looking at real life for examples, D&D does not make sense. So removing alignment just makes the DM's job harder on the fly (glancing up a stat block), yet still does not bring D&D any closer to real life simulation.
But remove all responsibility from wizard in expressing moral judgement over any ingame creature and so avoiding any rant by so called sensible readers.
And to be honest, leave the DM free to create a more complex narrative. Because in real life good and evil are viewpoint. And twisting the judgment and create complex situations is good storytelling that leads to fun and immersion

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