Breaking—D&D’s ‘Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft’ Announced

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Yesterday (2/22/21), Wizards of the Coast released a teaser video featuring a spirit board which spelled out the message “The mist beckons.” For fans of the Curse of Strahd Dungeons and Dragons campaign, these words will be familiar. For everyone else, let us dispel the mystery and reveal what messages the spirit board didn’t spell out. The next release for Dungeons and Dragons 5e is: Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, which expands on the horror-based Domains of Dread which make up the countless worlds of Ravenloft, including Barovia.

The full art for the cover front and back. Image: Wizards of the Coast, original art by Anna Podedworna

Quick Look: What’s in it?

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft includes tools for Dungeon Masters for world-building, monster stat blocks, and 30 Domains of Dread with their own stories, villains, monsters, etc. The Guide also includes player options like backgrounds and sub-classes, and new customization options such as Dark Gifts and the new Lineage mechanic, which is being introduced as a way to have playable vampires and hags.

As with many other D&D supplements, there are many artists and authors included in the work. In this book, notable horror authors help bring the 30+ Domains of Dread to life. Cassandra Khaw, author of Nothing But Blackened Teeth, is joined by Molly Ostertag, author of The Witch Boy, and K Tempest Bradford, author of The Copper Scarab, along with a host of other creators you might already know. Each writer tackles their own part of the horror genre, bringing unique perspectives and reimaginings to the classic tropes we have come to know and love. As part of our preview of this product, Wizards gave us an example of one reimagining: Falkovnia features a zombie apocalypse trope, in which the heroes are forced to evaluate the practicalities of their morals in the face of imminent danger, but instead of being set in a mall, the players find themselves defending a custom fantasy setting, trying to survive the onslaught with only the tools (and NPCs) on hand.

What’s in it for Dungeon Masters?

Dungeon masters have a lot of material to chew on with this supplement. Over 30 Domains of Dread are provided, each with its own small adventure, setting, villains, mysteries, and horror trope. There are also tools like the Spirit Board, which can be used with players similar to the Tarokka deck from Curse of Strahd. There are also monsters, NPCs, and pages and pages of advice on running your own horror campaign. Many of these tools will go well with those introduced in Candlekeep Mysteries, since so many good horror stories feature a dose of mystery.

There Be Spoilers In Here:

Horror Guidelines

Several parts of the book will teach you everything you need to know in order to run a horror setting. Whether you’re new to horror and your players are asking for it, or you’re a horror-ible DM ready to force your darkest fantasies on your player, these tools will help you make the game fun and engaging for everyone.

Most notably, there will be a section for talking to your players in Session 0 about things like the X-Card, trigger warnings, boundaries, and establishing clear lines of communication. This is vital in a horror campaign, because sometimes a DM (or other players) can trigger one or more players with graphic descriptions of a scene, attack, or aftermath. In a horror setting, things can be gross/gory, macabre/dark, or downright horrific (corpses of innocents, torture scenes, murder, etc.). You never want to push through a player’s pain. Sure, make them squirm a little! That makes it feel real. But you don’t want to push it to the point where a player doesn’t feel safe or welcome at the table, because that kills the group cohesion and fun for everyone. Speaking from experience, it’s no fun to have a player sobbing at the table because of your detailed descriptions of an upsetting scene, when you could have said “corpses of people of all ages” and moved on without losing any immersion.

The House of Lament

This is the included stand-alone adventure, which is 20 pages of Ravenloft’s most haunted houses. Players can conduct seances, make mistakes, try to escape, and much more. This promises to be a fun adventure if you’re looking for something open-ended and fun.

Dread Domains

With over 30 Dread Domains, we didn’t have a chance to learn about them all. Thankfully, we were able to learn a bit about a few of these domains.

  • Barovia: The Domain which is home to Count Strahd von Zarovich and is featured in Curse of Strahd. More info on this Domain is provided, along with story elements for bringing players back to Barovia after the events of CoS, including options to bring back Ezmerelda and Tatiana! There’s no need to be familiar with Curse of Strahd to use this content, but we do suggest you check it out, because there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular D&D supplements out there.
  • Lamordia: This Domain is inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and features flesh golems, mad scientists, science gone wrong, and the ultimate need to decide whether the creator of the golem Elise is the victim or the villain.
  • Valachan: This Domain features a hostile rainforest, and players must survive the hunt of Akuna and her displacer beasts in a Hunger Games-type survival match.

Dark Lords

Each of the stories features a prominent powerful being called a Dark Lord, who rules the relevant Domain of Dread. Sometimes, your players will need to escape the Dark Lord, sometimes they will need to defeat them, and other times, interference from the party could mean the destruction of the population who already live in fear of the Dark Lord(s). Alternatively, if your party’s warlock took the new Undead Patron, they Dark Lord might be their patron or their representative, and meddling in that plane could have dire consequences for that character, or even the entire party.

Vistani

DMs will also find material on the Vistani, a people united only by their ability to travel through the mists, and who have become a very diverse collection of people. There are sections on their different cultures, prominent members of their societies, and more to help the DM bring these people to life.

Keepers of the Feather

The Keepers of the Feather make a return from Curse of Strahd, and you get to learn more about this secretive society in order to bring them to life for your players.

Monsters Galore!

We don’t have an exact count at this time, but Wes Schneider (the lead designer for this project) told us there would be “dozens and dozens” of new stat blocks, along with new options for presenting existing monsters in a horror setting. If you ever wondered “How do goblins fit in with a horror theme?” then you’re barking up the right tree with the bestiary section of this supplement.

Image from the Dark Gifts section of the supplement. Image: Wizards of the Coast, original art by Paul Scott Canavan

For Players

Players will find two new subclasses with horror themes, along with some backgrounds and other customization options like Lineages.

There Be Spoilers In Here:

Bard College of Spirits

The Bards of the College of Spirits are masters of bringing the essence of a story to life. Whether the story is a literal story, like a saga, oral tradition, or myth, or a figurative story like the images on a Tarokka deck, these Bards bring forth the characters of the story to aid them in their adventures.

Warlock Undead Patron

Warlocks who make their pact with a powerful undead creature will gain access to new powers and spells. There’s always a twist, though! Powerful Undead creatures such as liches, Dark Lords, and vampires tend to want to become more powerful. This often puts them in the path of adventurers, and you may be forced to forsake your patron for the greater good, or the reverse.

Lineages

A new feature for this edition is the Lineage feature. With Lineages, players can adopt new traits, like vampirism. These traits will overwrite/replace your racial benefits, and give you access to new traits and powers. These Lineages are called Damphir (aka vampire) and Hexblood (aka hag), and are gained by crossing paths with one of those creatures and falling prey to their curse(s). Do not expect Lineages to come easy or be cured quickly if you change your mind. While your DM might allow you to find a cure, it may not be accessible or affordable for you as a player.

Dark Gifts

Dark Gifts are a new trait which allow you to customize your character further. Falling somewhere between feat, curse, and boon, these gifts are granted by powerful forces and often come with a drawback. We don’t know the official names of the Dark Gifts yet, but it sounds like being Haunted will give you spooky advantages, while coming with the drawback of being, well, haunted.

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TL;DR:

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is a 256-page hardcover book packed full of new features to make your horror games more immersive and enjoyable. Whether you discovered Ravenloft in 1990, or found it 30 years later when you joined a friend’s Curse of Strahd adventure, you’re sure to find lots of features to love. There are even features for players and DMs who aren’t interested in horror specifically, including monsters, character options, and making a great game happen at the table. It will be available May 18th, 2021, featuring a cover by Anna Podedworna, with an alternate art cover by Schott M. Fischer only available through game stores.

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