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If you’re like me and not particularly well-versed in D&D lore, you may think that Ravenloft and Barovia are interchangeable. Thankfully the good Doctor Van Richten is here to set the record straight.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft provides detailed overviews of over a dozen different Domains of Dread, of which Barovia is only one of many horror-themed regions, as well as tips for running horror campaigns, new character options, and a low-level mini-adventure in a classic haunted manor.
The following is included in the Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Roll20 bundle ($49.95):
- Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Compendium
- 5 chapters of information on the Domains of Ravenloft, and horror-themed character options, monsters, traps, and DM tips.
- 3 new races/lineages
- 2 new backgrounds
- 2 new subclasses (Bard and Warlock)
- 8 Dark Gifts
- “The House of Lament” adventure
- 1 10-ft grid map w/ Dynamic Lightning (for subscribers)
- Interactive Séance map
- Player Art Pack w/ 24 tokens
- 14 non-gridded regional maps
- Over 130 NPCs with statblocks, token art, and handouts (~30 new monsters).
- Over 30 named NPCs with token art.
- 15 magic item handouts.
- Supplemental Handouts from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
- Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Compendium
Like any sourcebook, the content in Van Richten’s is geared toward DM’s looking to expand their awareness of the Domains of Dread, but it also does a fantastic job offering advice and tips for handling the horror genre.
In Roll20, all of the new compendium information is organized in the Journal when making a new game using the module, and exists as a separate folder than the included adventure, “The House of Lament.” It’ s a much better way of digesting the information than sifting through the Compendium.
Chapter 4 is all about running horror games, and using tools like curses and haunted traps, while chapter 2 helpfully defines different horror subgenres (such as body horror, cosmic horror, and ghost stories) and provides the information for creating your own Domain and Darklord.
The biggest and most exciting chapter is Chapter 3, which details 17 (!) Domains of Dread. Barovia, the vampire Strahd’s Gothic Horror demesne from Curse of Strahd, is only one of many different domains, each with their own themes, geography, history, and villains.
There’s the Lovecraftian realm of Bluetspur, filled with alien landscapes and mind flayers ruled by a God-Brain. Falkovnia is ruled by the iron-fisted military, who keep the people subjugated while desperately warding off the monthly zombie apocalypse invasion. And Lamordia, a steampunk land of science ruled by Dr. Mordenheim, a classic sociopathic mad scientist.
Escape the faux-perfect dreamworld city of I’Cath, race through the hunted jungles of Valachan with your fellow contestants, and navigate the razor-thin aristocratic whims of Saidra, a dark and twisted version of the Cinderella story.
There are some truly wonderful ideas and fantastic world-building within these Domains. My only complaint is that many of them feel a bit same-y when it comes to Gothic Horror. Maybe it’s because Curse of Strahd has been around for years in 5e and still quite popular, but the themes of corrupted nobility in a vaguely eastern European setting overlap in a third of the Domains, making them a bit less interesting than say, pyramids, deserts, and mummies (Har’Akir) or a twisted carnival (literally, “The Carnival”).
The first chapter adds new character options for players, though don’t expect a slew of new subclasses — this is still mostly a DM-focused sourcebook. The new lineages, like the half-vampire Dhampir, are a great way create darker-themed characters, and I particularly love the story-telling powers of the Bard College of Spirits.
“The House of Lament” is the included adventure, but it’s significantly bigger than other sourcebook adventures (such as “Forgotten Relics” from Eberron: Rising from the Last War). It starts at level 1, but player characters will level up to three during the course of their stay in the spooky haunted manor.
This is not the forgettable level 1 introductory adventure I was expecting. It’s a multi-session adventure that happens to take place entirely within a single house. But the haunted manor is huge, encompassing three stories and a basement for over 30 rooms!
When the party arrives they meet one of several different investigator teams, including Van Richten, who can help the party engage in a series of séances to converse with the spirits of the house. The house includes multiple storylines and warring spirits that the DM can choose from, and each séance leads to a new quest chain, such as finding different items or slaying different creatures. The Roll20 module includes an interactive séance map that DMs and players can mess around with, adding to the immersion.
The adventure also makes great use of new monsters added in Van Richten’s, which are further detailed in Chapter 5, such as the flying Death’s Heads, soul-swapping Carrionettes, and the supremely creepy Boneless. The story reaches a wonderful crescendo at the end, with the house going into full-on Shining as different rooms gain new haunted features as they awaken.
The one bad news about the adventure — the actual grid map sucks. While I don’t mind that all the floors are on a single map, the 10-ft scale makes for tiny tokens, and the art style is bare-bones and lacks color. It looks terrible on Roll20, but hopefully talented artists can help provide better versions.
Despite a few flaws, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is one of the more impressive 5e sourcebooks I’ve seen, with a wealth of information and world-building on playing horror in D&D. And because the Domains can be dropped into any campaign (or more appropriately, the players are dropped into them), it’s also far more useful and relevant than the likes of Eberron or Ravnica. This is an easy recommendation for horror fans and newcomers wanting to inject some dark themes into D&D.
- New lineages and subclasses are fantastic additions.
- Dark Gifts are unique starting traits, granting new abilities and negative features that make rolling a 1 that much more exciting.
- Excellent tips and world-building tools for horror-themed campaigns.
- 17 domains of dread, each with their own rich history, geography, darklords, and adventure seeds.
- “The House of Lament” is a multi-session mini-adventure drawing upon classic haunted house tropes, and offering a nice blend of exploration, combat, and role-playing.
- Interactive séance board for the House of Lament adventure.
- None of the Darklords are given unique statblocks, or even modified or enhanced statblocks.
- Many of the domains have overlapping themes of Gothic Horror and the perversion and corruption of nobility and aristocracy.
- Black and white, 10-ft scale graph map for the “The House of Lament adventure.”
The Verdict: With helpful tips, detailed dread domains, and a legitimately great low-level adventure, Van Richten’s Guide to rAvenloft is the definitive 5e sourcebook for running horror-themed campaigns
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