D&D’s new Guide to Ravenloft is the best Dungeons & Dragons book in a generation

Dungeons & Dragons is going through an extraordinary renewal in appeal, sustained in no little part by our desperate requirement for human interaction throughout these attempting times. The huge maker that is Wizards of the Coast has actually been churning away for several years now on the video game’s fifth edition, releasing popular scripted projects that groups can get and play from start to complete. It’s next book, nevertheless, is rather various.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft gets here on Might 18, and it has the possible to supercharge this role-playing pastime like never ever previously. Inside this 256-page volume are almost 40 various settings for intricate horror-themed projects. It seems like getting several brand-new eminence Netflix series at one time. In truth, it’s challenging to overemphasize simply how thick Van Richten’s Guide really is.

In some way job lead Wesley Schneider likewise handled to pack in a wide range of brand-new choices for character development, a variety of smart allies, 32 vicious brand-new beasts, and all the mild assistance your group requires to run a suspenseful project of your own developing securely at the table. Van Richten’s Guide is by far the most feature-rich D&D book of this generation, and I can’t wait to see what fans do with it.

Initially, a little background: The traditional Ravenloft experience was very first released in 1983. That slim, 32-page experience stars a charming vampire called Strahd von Zarovich. The module showed to be exceptionally popular, generating a whole series of horror-themed experiences loosely linked by a semi-sentient mist and a fantastical cosmology. Van Richten’s Guide transforms a few of those settings, and likewise includes brand-new ones along the method.

A page from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft showing character options for creating a Tepestani character.

Each of the primary Domains of Fear pointed out in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft consists of a sidebar on developing a character from that world. It’s a quote to offer the non-player characters in these worlds a type of firm that has actually not been managed in previous settings.
Picture: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Each “Domain of Dread” exists not as a completely included project, however as the seed of a dark and spectacular experience. Strahd’s land of Barovia is here, naturally, with its popular vampire traipsing the halls of his fatal castle. However there’s likewise Bluetspur, a world of cosmic scary occupied by sinister mind flayers that will make your heroes question their own memories. There’s the feudal land of Borca, dripping with poison and intrigue, its population trapped and harried by not one but two fiendish villains. There’s the Carnival, a domain that itself wanders the mists, populated by wild performers and a powerful, living sword; the broken land of Darkon, whose central castle is frozen mid-explosion, its disparate rooms desperately trying to reassemble the whole in mid-air; there’s even a haunted train, itself its own distinct setting, plunging through them all.

My personal favorite is the land of Falkovnia, where the villain Vladeska Drakov fights an unending battle against an endless horde of zombies. Once a brilliant military commander, Drakov’s ruthless efficiency and relentless perfectionism has turned her into a tyrant. Rather than retreat and save the lives of citizens and soldiers alike, every day she rebuilds the barricades that keep death at bay. Those same walls keep her trapped within.

Each one of the settings included in this book could be the beginning of a years-long campaign. All they need are player-made characters to get them started, and Van Richten’s Guide has plenty of new tools to help players find their way.

A vanity shot of the cover of the book, featuring Strahd in the background.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

The alternate cover, only available at your friendly local game store, features a subtle metallic finish along the edges.

Take the book’s new lineages, which include the vampiric Dhampir, the mystical Hexblood, and the semi-undead Reborn. At first glance lineages function similar to races, as templates that players can build a character around. But they can likewise be applied to existing characters after they’ve been built, sort of like how a punch card covers up some sections of the page below it. Some elements of your character will show through that punch card, while others will be obscured with new abilities. That leaves what was previously visible on the page to serve as background — distant memories that your character can only dimly recall.

The same goes for the Dark Gifts found in Van Richten’s Guide. Players can choose a Dark Gift at the outset, a mystical flaw that also grants them powerful abilities. Alternately, patient DMs can lay in wait, picking the perfect moment to offer a particular Dark Gift as a devilish bargain. “Time stops while a character is on the brink of death,” one section reads. “A mysterious voice offers to save the character’s life, but only if they accept its Dark Gift.” Will you choose to save your character’s life, only to be forever be cursed with a shadow you no longer control?

Alongside these kinds of damning in-game consequences comes plenty of talk about consent. Van Richten’s Guide includes an entire chapter on the concept, and fully brings concepts like the X-Card into modern D&D, even including creator John Stavropoulos among its authors. In it’s own way, Van Richten’s Guide has a mantra: Horror role-play is about scaring the characters, not the players, and every precaution should be taken to make sure that remains the case throughout.

There’s plenty more to talk about in this book, however I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it also comes with all the tools groups need to make their own Domain of Dread — with its own terrifying villain — from scratch. Those who enjoy rolling up new characters they’ll never actually play will enjoy scratching that same itch by rolling up their own domains. The book also includes a new adventure, called the House of Lament, that will take characters from first to third level. It serves as an excellent way to warm up a new gaming group — and new DMs — for the epic storytelling to come.

Be warned, however, that one element of a traditional D&D book is absent this time around. Of all the marquee bad guys listed in the book, none of them have a stat block. Not even Strahd, whose stats already exist in Curse of Strahd, had his copied into Van Richten’s Guide. It’s explained away early in the book, whose authors say that a Domain’s bad guy doesn’t always have to be the big bad itching for a fight. Having run a fight versus Strahd and other monsters of his ilk in many game systems many times, I agree with Wizard’s bold design decision. There’s more to D&D than combat, and this omission will help to steer players toward more elaborate role-play and world building, and relieve the tension of having to maximize their own stats and magical powers to win the day.

A yougn man in a wheelchair fires a pistol, his sword-swinging friend defending him from animated puppets.

Detective Alanik Ray and Arthur Sedgwick, long an in-fiction analog to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, have been re-imagined for the new D&D pantheon.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Ultimately, it’s the little touches that really make Van Richten’s Guide special. I admire how the hand-written letters in the prologue form a single, cohesive narrative that frames its non-player characters — Ez D’Avenir, the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins, Alanik Ray, and Arthur Sedgewick — as a loving, found family of adventurers kept apart by time and space. I love how the book’s pages are printed to look like careworn bleached parchment. There’s even a Spirit Board in the appendices, a themed Ouija board that will allow players to run their own seances. The creators have shown an attention to detail and a devotion to craft that has actually been building throughout this run of D&D’s 5th edition.

I simply can’t say enough about Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. Coming on the heels of the essential Candlekeep Mysteries, it’s further evidence that Wizards of the Coast is firing on all cylinders.

You can discover the book online at retailers like Amazon, or at your friendly local game store where the special alternate cover shown above is offered in limited quantities.

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft was reviewed with a final retail version provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has actually affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can discover extra info about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.