D&D’s new Ravenloft book swaps outdated tropes for a high-fantasy approach

Wizards of the Coast is restarting the numerous worlds of Ravenloft, a traditional setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Due out on May 18, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft consists of more than 30 brand-new Domains of Fear, each with its own darklord for groups to check out together. Lead designer Wes Schneider informed Polygon that the objective was to move beyond the acquired tropes that have actually afflicted the Ravenloft setting in the past, while likewise permitting gamers to engage with the product from a variety of various point of views.

The Ravenloft setting was born in 1983 with the publication of Ravenloft, an experience for the very first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons composed by Tracy and Laura Hickman. It utilized timeless vampire stories to excellent result, tracing the tale of the valley of Barovia, menstruation count Strahd von Zarovich, and his mission for the never-ceasing soul of his fixation, Tatyana. For many years, it has actually been slammed as acquired — and for strengthening damaging stereotypes through its representation of the Vistani, an in-fiction analogue for the Roma individuals.

Nevertheless, the experience has actually shown to be hugely popular. That’s since it has a strong protagonist in Strahd, a conflicted bad guy permanently tortured for his misbehaviours. It generated numerous extra modules, every one occurring in a various Domain of Fear. Among those domains is called Har’Akir, and it’s a setting that in the past has actually leveraged troublesome Orientalist tropes to inform its tales.

“One of the things that was really interesting about the domain is that past versions of it — and we see this a lot in RPGs — is treating a part of history as a adventure setting,” Schneider informed Polygon. “Definitely the older versions of Har’Akir were very ‘Hey, you saw Boris Karloff’s The Mummy? Here, run that as an adventure.’ We’ve seen that before, and we wanted to do something that felt different and we wanted to do something that feels uniquely D&D.”

[Warning: This story will spoil some of the secrets found in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, as well as the modern version of Ravenloft, a 5th edition D&D campaign titled Curse of Strahd.]

Part of the option was to turn Har’Akir’s sinister darklord, Anhktepot, into something aside from an English star covered in numerous lawns of material pretending to be an Egyptian.

“I think you’ll even see from the image that we have of Anhktepot that this is not Boris Karloff,” Schneider stated. “This is a much more magical looking character who we are hoping feels like a character, that it feels like a mummy that comes from a D&D setting, that comes from a high fantasy setting — not necessarily from the history of Egypt.”

Part of that imaginative procedure needed generating an outdoors author called K. Tempest Bradford, whose work in Clockwork Cairo: Steampunk Tales of Egypt functioned as motivation for Wizards of the Coast.

“She’s a fantastic novelist,” Schneider stated, “and she was a fantastic resource on this who brought a ton of experience, a ton of history, just a ton of creativity to be, like, ‘Alright, we want to take this initial conceptual historical idea, but then let’s make it fantasy. Let’s make it horror, let’s make it D&D.’”

The authors at Wizards likewise worked to provide the citizens of Har’Akir more firm. This time they’re not merely part of the setting.

“Whether it’s the Boris Karloff version [of The Mummy], or the Brendan Fraser one, there’s the story of outsiders coming in and having adventures in this other culture,” Schneider stated. “This time around […] we provide you all of the elements needed to be somebody from Har’Akir, and to have this world be your world. This isn’t necessarily a story about going into tombs and grave robbing and pillaging somebody else’s past. This can very easily be [a story about] your home. [Your character] can imagine a world where there are not these horrors, and it’s up to you to make them better. That’s a quite different proposition from what you see in many of these classic horror stories, but also nonetheless terrifying because now what’s happening is within your own home.”

Van Richten’s Guide likewise utilizes the concept of “nightmare logic” to more range itself from the genuine Egypt, and to make the world of Har’Akir appear something totally various.

“Why is there a Domain that is a desert that is riddled with these ancient, inexplicable haunted monuments and ruined pyramids?” Schneider stated. “How does a Domain like that exist? How does it make sense? To an extent it doesn’t, and it’s going to be the players that come and explore that, who are some of the only people that realize that the entirety of the domain is, to an extent, gaslighting them.”

Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is a 256-page book — the exact same size as a lot of modern-day D&D supplements like Curse of Strahd. The more than 30 Domains of Fear will, at a lot of, get simply 5 or 6 pages committed to them. That indicates DMs will require to do a great deal of imaginative work along with their gamers to expand their projects. Schneider stated that his group has actually likewise operated in another, more sophisticated story for enthusiastic DMs thinking about taking things to the next level.

“Maybe Tatyana’s soul is in Har’Akir and is actually Anktepot’s soul,” Schneider stated. “Or maybe Anktepot’s soul is in Barovia and is tied up with Tatyana. There’s an interesting potential link here for, ‘Hey, do you want to tell a story where maybe you’ve got two different darklords vying for the same lost spirit?’ Just one of these fun little links that, as you start putting these domains together, some really creepy narratives potentially come out of them.”

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.