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+

 
Last edited by a moderator:

log in or register to remove this ad

Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Erdric Dragin

Adventurer
What if the PCs do seek out a Darklord? What if the story involves a confrontation with one?

The notion that "If it has stat blocks, the PCs will go to kill it" sounds like an underhanded way of saying,"A lot of Dungeon Masters are crap and don't really know what they're doing, so let's make the game Dummy Proof for DMs so their Players don't (apparently) sabotage the game." (And who's to say it's sabotaging the game if a PC has a life goal of hunting down and defeating a Darklord? Isn't the story what matters?)

I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.

And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Except if I actually want to play and the DM insists on using the newly retconned isolated Domains instead of the classic interconnected setting.
Figuring out whether you and the DM's vision (and the vision of the rest of the group) align is always part of the D&D social dynamic. Frankly, asking how old school the table wants the Ravenloft setting to be is a pretty straightforward question, compared to some of the more nebulous questions about gameplay.
 

What if the PCs do seek out a Darklord? What if the story involves a confrontation with one?

The notion that "If it has stat blocks, the PCs will go to kill it" sounds like an underhanded way of saying,"A lot of Dungeon Masters are crap and don't really know what they're doing, so let's make the game Dummy Proof for DMs so their Players don't (apparently) sabotage the game." (And who's to say it's sabotaging the game if a PC has a life goal of hunting down and defeating a Darklord? Isn't the story what matters?)

I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.

And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
So youre a fan of 5E then?
 
Last edited:

Faolyn

(she/her)
What if the PCs do seek out a Darklord? What if the story involves a confrontation with one?

The notion that "If it has stat blocks, the PCs will go to kill it" sounds like an underhanded way of saying,"A lot of Dungeon Masters are crap and don't really know what they're doing, so let's make the game Dummy Proof for DMs so their Players don't (apparently) sabotage the game." (And who's to say it's sabotaging the game if a PC has a life goal of hunting down and defeating a Darklord? Isn't the story what matters?)
I don't really see how you go from "it has stat blocks, so PCs will try to kill it" to "lots of DMs are crap." I mean, while you can run an RL game where your party's purpose is to go around killing Darklords, sure--but not only do you not have to, there's almost no point if you accept that the Dark Powers (i.e., the DM) are the ones who make the final decision as to whether or not a Darklord is finally dead or not. There's lots of other horror that can be explored without involving the Darklords as enemies.

It seems to me that, if it doesn't have stat blocks, and the DM wants it to, they can easily make them up, either whole-cloth or based on the suggestion in the book. If the DM hasn't done so, and one of the PCs has decided that they're going to suddenly jump up and try to kill the DL (maybe they met at a party or something), then the DM can use the MM suggestion and if the player wins, then the Darklord "dies" only temporarily.

It also seems to me that the designers were forced into a page count that is far smaller than it should have been, and so they opted out of creating a bunch of statblocks for the Darklords, many of whom have never been particularly powerful in the first place.

I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.
Such as?

And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
I've been playing since '90 or '91. Is that Golden Days enough? Am I too old to be allowed to like the new stuff, andto find it better? Or am I still too young to be allowed that privilege?

Stop gatekeeping the hobby. You aren't required to like the new stuff, but at the same time, other people aren't required to like the old stuff.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
What if the PCs do seek out a Darklord? What if the story involves a confrontation with one?

The notion that "If it has stat blocks, the PCs will go to kill it" sounds like an underhanded way of saying,"A lot of Dungeon Masters are crap and don't really know what they're doing, so let's make the game Dummy Proof for DMs so their Players don't (apparently) sabotage the game." (And who's to say it's sabotaging the game if a PC has a life goal of hunting down and defeating a Darklord? Isn't the story what matters?)

I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.

And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.

Seriously? FYI When I play D&D I’m still playing 3.5e but Van Richtens Guide has made me actually consider taking up 5e.

The whole ethos of new Ravenloft seems more to be ‘give DMs the tools and trust them to create their own game’ rather than be spoon fed the canon

I saw one youtube video that discussed the creation of the Bagman - taking a standard Troll and giving it an Oozes amorphous quality, then overlaying it with story as a thief who abandoned his adventure party by hiding in a bag of holding and becoming lost - it was a good example of DMs mashing together a hybrid stat-block to create an interesting story to haunt adventurers
 

There is a mechanical benefit to the Darklords being effectively unstated. It makes them much more flexible in terms of level to encounter. A party that is say 9th level could steamroll many of the old Darklords in terms of stats if run as written. By giving instead a general themes and concepts, yes it is more work for a DM, but in a good way.

Honestly I don't get what is gained by people who clearly resent a given game/edition even commenting. I dont waste everyone's time by complaining on OSR threads.

Do you know what the most legit complaint about this book is? This is the only official one we will be getting. 2nd and 3rd edition Ravenloft has 20+ books EACH worth of material. If you want to run those editions, you are already well served.

Hate to break it to the gatekeepers. The walls have already fallen. The vast majority of DnD players are under 30. People younger than the time I have been playing are taking the ball and running with it. I love it. More players is better than less.

Find your fun and play that.
 

TwiceBorn2

Adventurer
Here are well articulated but far from glowing reviews of the book:




My favourite Ravenloft material was the stuff published by White Wolf/Arthaus for 3.5.

I do have everything published for the line from AD&D 1e all the way through 5e except for VRGttM... so I'll reserve my comments for the time being.
 
Last edited:

people aren't required to like the old stuff.
I agree some of the older stuff was terrible. Today I was looking for a short adventure to run for our group of level 3 PCs through. I figured Id get some ideas, that didnt work out too well. I know 2E and 5E are worlds apart when scaling adventures but regardless I picked the 2E (might've even been 1E), "Bride of Mordenheim" from I think book of lairs or Chilling Tales. After reading halfway through the first page and it says and I'm paraphrasing, "...if the party doesn't do "x" the adventure is over before it even begins". Thats some top-notch stellar golden age adventure design right there that I cant wait to revisit. Needless to say I stopped reading after that. I rolled on the random tables under the body horror section of VRGtR and even though its random and still requires me to give it some thought to put it together into a cohesive session, its better than the alternative I was considering.
 

dave2008

Legend
The notion that "If it has stat blocks, the PCs will go to kill it" sounds like an underhanded way of saying,"A lot of Dungeon Masters are crap and don't really know what they're doing, so let's make the game Dummy Proof for DMs so their Players don't (apparently) sabotage the game." (And who's to say it's sabotaging the game if a PC has a life goal of hunting down and defeating a Darklord? Isn't the story what matters?)
That idea started with the 1e Deities and Demigods. Gary thought gods with 400 HP would appear so out reach as to discourage people from trying to kill gods. It had the opposite effect.
I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.
No idea what your talking about.
And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
Speak for yourself. I started playing in the 80s and my idea of "real" D&D lore is what is printed in the 1e MM, MM2 and Deities & Demigods. However, I've never cared for Ravenloft and this is the first Ravenloft / Domians of Dread product I have purchased. You don't have to be newb to enjoy new things.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
What if the PCs do seek out a Darklord? What if the story involves a confrontation with one?
Does a confrontation with a Darklord require trying to fight/kill them? Remember, a major part of Ravenloft is that the Dark Powers have control over who lives and who dies when it comes to the Darklords of Ravenloft. A confrontation can be entirely social interaction, and turning to combat is discouraged not because the designers of the book were lazy or some nonsense like that, but because they wanted to give the DM guidance on how to deal with it and personalize it to their own campaign instead of saying "here are the official stats, players must be X-level high to fight X-Darklord". The book at least gives guidance for stats of the darklords, which, IMO, takes more work than just creating a new official stat block.
I'm completely stupified when I think about the game designer's circular logic with some of their decisions. They should learn to embrace the supposed "flaws" of earlier editions and realize not all of them were bumblingly haphazard writing. Some of what is being technically called "trash" was actually just diamonds in the rough.
Changes to something don't mean that the previous thing was bad, and they don't mean that you have to like the changes or even use them. Maybe they were trying to turn some of the "diamonds in the rough" into actual diamonds? In order to change a "diamond in the rough" into an actual diamond, one has to change certain parts of that "diamond in the rough", ne?
And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular.
I have absolutely no idea what this is even saying or how it is relevant.
Those of us from the Golden Days of the game
Checks stats on how many people are playing D&D ever since 5e started
Oh, right. Now is the "Golden Age of D&D". Not anytime in the past.
are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes
Yes you will. However, complaining about something doesn't mean that it's "unnecessary or blatantly terrible". By no means am I saying that 5e is perfect, but the vast majority of the changes were for the better. There's a reason 5e is the most popular edition in D&D history. It's mostly due to the simplification of needlessly complex rules, and being more user-friendly than previous editions.
while the newbs and casuals to the game
Raises hand
I have been playing D&D for just over 4 and a half years now. I guess that makes me count as a "newb" in comparison to most of the active posters here, but I'm definitely not "casual to the game" and don't know anyone that I have introduced to D&D that enjoy it that are (which are 6 of my cousins, 6 of my friends ) "casuals to the game". Everyone that I have introduced to the game has either been "eh, it's not my thing/takes too long" or "I love this, this is now my favorite hobby". I have seen no in-between. Granted, this is my anecdotal evidence, but it certainly trumps your assertion that is completely unsupported by any evidence.
(of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s)
Yes, they do care about the younger generation more, because unfortunately, people die, and older people die more quickly than younger people. This is like complaining that no young kids listen to 70's music anymore. Duh. That's how the world works.
will give these products amazingly grand reviews
Is it just me, or does this make absolutely no sense? Because the consumers of the products (which are the average 5e players that buy these books) won't be the ones making these reviews. These reviews are someone's job, not most players', especially not the "newbs and casuals to the game".
and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before,
Actually, before I bought Eberron: Rising from the Last War, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Mythic Odysseys of Theros, Guildmaster's Guide to Ravenloft, and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, I did research on what the settings were like in whatever other platform/edition they were a part of before. I know many people who do the same. I've even done research into Spelljammer (which I have a campaign in), Dark Sun, Planescape, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance, despite them not having any official 5e books.

So, yeah. I'm very much not "purely ignorant of what it was before", and neither are my players or friends that play D&D at other tables. We're well aware, and we tend to prefer what it is like now, not what it was before.
and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
Not just absolute BS, but also absolutely unfounded and unwarranted.
 
Last edited:

Kurotowa

Legend
The Mourning Rail and the Horseman's Bridge both serve similar functions.
One of the two character ideas I've got shortlisted for any future Ravenloft campaign is an Undead Pact Warlock who committed dark betrayals to pay the Headless Rider's toll for passage across his bridge and out of Falkovnia. Afterwards the Rider would be a mostly distant Patron, with the Warlock's power already bought and paid for, but his bridge might still turn up in dire moments to offer passage for the right price.

You could probably premise an entire campaign where the party has been pressed into service of the Headless Rider to help him collect a set of McGuffins. Each adventure starts with them walking off his bridge into a different Domain, or even one of the realms beyond. It'd be like Ravenloft Stargate.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Do you know what the most legit complaint about this book is? This is the only official one we will be getting. 2nd and 3rd edition Ravenloft has 20+ books EACH worth of material. If you want to run those editions, you are already well served.
Sadly, you're almost certainly right. They haven't really put out a second official book for any setting so far, except possibly the Realms. And they will likely continue that trend and assume that fans will take up the slack on DMsguild.

Fortunately, for Ravenloft at least, it's not that hard to convert old material to 5e. There's relatively few rules for this setting that haven't been addressed.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
And the 5th Edition game as a whole is just as circular. Those of us from the Golden Days of the game are going to gripe at many of the unnecessary and blatantly terrible changes while the newbs and casuals to the game (of which is the only business the company cares about, they don't care about the rest of us from the 70s-early 2000s) will give these products amazingly grand reviews and find it such a great addition to the game with the pure ignorance of what it was before, and if you educate these same people, then they'll come to realization of how utterly watered down the game truly is.
Um, I hate to break it to you, but I'm 47 and have been playing since '86. I've played BECMI, AD&D 1e, AD&D 2e, D&D 3e, and D&D 3.5. I've played/DMed in Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, and countless homebrew settings. I have/had setting material for all of these, plus Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Kara-Tur, and the Known World/Mystara. You do not speak for me. I think 5e is the best version of D&D yet (it has its flaws, but I'd still rather play and DM it than any other edition). I also think the new Ravenloft book is in many way superior to the 2e boxed sets. You do not speak for me.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Sadly, you're almost certainly right. They haven't really put out a second official book for any setting so far, except possibly the Realms. And they will likely continue that trend and assume that fans will take up the slack on DMsguild.

Fortunately, for Ravenloft at least, it's not that hard to convert old material to 5e. There's relatively few rules for this setting that haven't been addressed.
DMs Guild already has conversions of almost everything as-is. I'd expect the remaining gaps to get filled in soon. Between this book and PDFs, pretty much every version of Ravenloft is available for play now.
 



Mercador

Adventurer
Yes, it's an entertaining read, particularly if you have familiarity with the earlier versions of the setting.
Not really, never been an horror fan. But it gets so much praise, I'm curious. I would love a good Forgotten Realms lore book though but I guess it's overdone by now.
 

Not really, never been an horror fan. But it gets so much praise, I'm curious. I would love a good Forgotten Realms lore book though but I guess it's overdone by now.
I stopped reading FR novels and RPG books almost 20 years ago and even then the metaplot was so detailed it was hard to keep track of. I can only imagine what its like now?
 

Mercador

Adventurer
I stopped reading FR novels and RPG books almost 20 years ago and even then the metaplot was so detailed it was hard to keep track of. I can only imagine what its like now?
No idea, the last FR novel I read was The Cleric Quintet so I'm quite behind as well. But I purchased the FR Boxed Set of the 2nd, I'm just nostalgic of that period. Funny that at that time, I had all the time of the world to read that kind of content but not the money to purchase it. Almost 30 years later, I purchase tons of books but never read them.

I would like to have the time to sink in all those 5ed content but even when I do have free time, I don't. Not too sure why though...
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
As someone that buys books only for fluff (as I don't play these days), would you recommend it nonetheless?
Theres not much in the way of solid lore in the book, its very much a toolkit giving a whole lot of suggestions, hints and questions for players and DMs use in creating their own adventures with Horror elements.

I can see why the Fraternity of Shadows crew might be upset that the old lore in the Domains is largely ignored in favour of a build-your-own kitset.

However as a kit set it is a great tool that pushes DnD to the narratavist end of the spectrum and relies heavily on Dms and Players pulling in their own ideas to create the adventure .
 

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top