The mists beckon, they say. Ravenloft, the gothic horror-inspired setting first conceived 1993 for AD&D, continues to be one of the most popular of all of the many examples released by TSR or Wizards over the years. This has not changed in Fifth Edition, where Curse of Strahd continues to be the most popular campaign module released. After re-releasing that adventure in a snazzy new box, Wizards has decided to delve deeper into Strahd’s realm in their new book: Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft.
Ravenloft was created in 1983 by Tracy and Laura Hickman (the same minds behind another popular setting, Dragonlance) as a way to blend gothic horror with Dungeons & Dragons. Its villain (and inarguable star) was Strahd von Zarovich, who has gone on to become one of D&D’s most iconic characters. Since it’s release, the setting has endured thanks to the flexibility and applicability of the setting; one filled with werewolves, zombies, creepy fortune tellers, and the rest of the trappings of classic horror movies. It’s had over fifty modules, books, and splatbooks released by both TSR and Wizards of the Coast, many of them “written” by a vampire hunter named Van Richten.
An obvious play on Abraham Van Helsing (nothing in Ravenloft is subtle), Van Richten has had his name attached to many guides in the past like Van Richten’s Guide to Ghosts, Van Richten’s Guide To The Shadow Fey, and starred in his own adventure Bleak House: The Death of Rudolph Van Richten. His most recent appearence was in, naturally, Curse of Strahd, where he disguised himself as a half elf bard named Rictavio.
The correspondence of Rudolph Van Richten and other heroes of Ravenloft, like Ezmerelda d’Avenir and the Weathermay-Foxgrove Twins, introduce a new generation of monster hunters to the Lands of the Mists. Some of the Domains of Dread might feel eerily familiar to fans such as Lamordia, which explores the horror of experimentation on creating undead beings from deceased body parts by Dr. Viktra Mordenheim. Other horrors include the surreal, fairytale masquerades of Dementlieu; treachery in the war-torn rain forests of Kalakeri; and the endless zombie hordes of Falkovnia. Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft includes rules and advice for DMs to create custom domains and Darklords by portraying established horror tropes or whatever special new blend of terror they can imagine.
Players can create more terrifying characters with Dark Gifts that provide roleplaying ties to the Domains of Dread by bestowing benefits that may have a deadly cost. With Van Richten’s Guide, players can also roll up a dhampir who’s been created by a vampire, a hexblood descended from a hag, or a reborn who’s been brought back from the dead. Two new subclasses further flesh out the options with the College of Spirits for bards and the Undead pact for warlocks, as well as new backgrounds to explore and trinkets to collect.
Set for release on May 18, 2021, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft can be pre-ordered on Amazon, DnD Beyond, or at your FLGS, where you can get a spooky alternate cover by Scott M. Fischer.
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