Review: Wizards of the Coast – Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (Dungeons & Dragons)

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is an epic fantasy horror campaign sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons, written by the Wizards of the Coast development team and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Dave Pierson

Learn more about Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft here
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The Homebrew DM’s Perception

Disclaimer: By the sole act of opening this book, you acknowledge your complicity in the domain spanning conspiracy that denied me, Azalin Rex, Wizard-King of Darkon, my rightful place as both author of and cover model for what could have been so much more than this doubtful collection of lies and slanders. Fortunately, as I’ve recently found my immortality unburdened by the trivialities of rule. I have endless opportunity to pursue through vengeances for even the pettiest affronts. Please prepare for my coming. I expect to be quartered in the utmost comfort while we personalize your redefinition of the word “horror.”

– Wizards of the Coast, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, 2021

We return to the nightmare realm of Ravenloft in the most recent release from Wizards of the Coast. It’s been five years since the release of Curse of Strahd and this time Wizards has provided us with a guide for DM’s to create their own horror campaign in the setting of your choice – Ravenloft or one of your own creation. So, lets dig up some bodies while avoiding zombies, werewolves, and vampire mind flayers!

Much like the other famous NPC guidebooks, Wizards of the Coast has presented us with another famous NPC from adventures past to introduce us to new flavors for adventure. Although the book does provide some nice flavor for your players to add to their characters, the main substance of the book is truly for us Dungeon Masters. Van Richten’s Guide provides us with close to 40 Domains of Dread, little seeds that can be used to create and expand your own gothic horror campaigns. Each of these domains provides details on the setting, characters, beasts, and adventures awaiting your players. Some of the domains expand on previous campaigns and settings that were loosely connected to Ravenloft from the past and some are brand new. I have to point out that I’m a sucker for Mind Flayers, so to have a domain that is full of vampiric Mind Flayers that live in your players’ memories… give me more please.

There is a treasure trove of material here for DM’s who want to add a little or a lot of horror flavor to their settings, but where I struggle sometimes is incorporating that horror tone. You need players that can buy in and play to the tone you are setting. If your players can’t or won’t buy in to the tone you are setting, then the campaign suffers, and no one is enjoying their time. Chapter 4 does well to assist you in creating a tone that is more about scaring the character and not the player, and that is key.

As I noted, there is some flavor here for your players to build off to help incorporate the gothic horror tone into the game as well. Three new lineages, the Dhampir, Hexblood, and Reborn, provide templates that your players can use to either build new or applied to their existing characters. Combined with a good DM, these lineages can be a fun way to provide new and interesting flavor. I am currently enjoying playing a Reborn Twilight Cleric, and although I thought at first “will this work?”, I was able to leave just enough clues in my backstory for the DM, that he’s been able to keep the surprises coming about my past that is both fun and fulfilling.

One area that I believe they hit a home run with are the Dark Gifts, found within the character creation portion of the book. During character creation or even later, players can choose, or DMs can offer these mysterious Dark Gifts that grant the player’s powerful abilities, however at a cost. Most of the Dark Gifts have crippling effects that happen when a natural one is rolled on an attack, skill, or save, like rolling a d4 to either add (even) or subtract (odd) to your next attack or save. I personally like the Touch of Death and could imagine adding this deadly touch to my monk or even offer it to one of my player’s when on the brink of death.

Overall, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is a hit for both players and DMs alike. If you are looking to incorporate a touch of horror to your own campaign, this book is a must have to add to your repertoire.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft was provided by Wizards of the Coast for the purpose of this review.

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