Ghosts, ghouls, fiends, and horror-lovers of all kinds, rejoice!
The famous monster hunter Dr. Rudolph Van Richten has opened up his journal to give us a wonderfully detailed look at all of the terrors within the Ravenloft setting.
This is the 5e release that I’ve been holding my breath for and – let me tell you – it does not disappoint!
Are you ready to get spooky?
Then read on as we dive into all of the dark details of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft in this review for the latest sourcebook to hit D&D 5e!
What is Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft?
Few things stir excitement in the hearts of veteran D&D players quite like the Ravenloft setting.
What can be said of this setting? In a word, it’s simply iconic.
Now, as Ravenloft makes it official appearance in 5e, players of all ages can experience the terror of the Demiplane of Dread.
Not only does Van Richten’s Guide provide a huge amount of terrifying experiences for new players, but it also reimagines many classic Domains of Dread to provide chills and frights for those who might have once found themselves trapped within the mists in years past.
With 39 of these Domains for adventurers to wander into (willingly or otherwise) and a ton of information for creating your own twisted worlds, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft provides everything you need to run the perfect horror game at your table.
You’ll also want to check out my ultimate guide to running horror games in D&D. It goes deeper into the elements that you NEED to evoke horror and really get into your players’ heads.
Domains of Dread
Nearly half of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is filled with the wonderfully creative and infinitely terrifying Domains of Dread.
Each Domain feels unique and includes all of the information that you need to run an adventure within it. By giving you the tools and information that you need about each Domain of Dread, you’re able to create the experience that is perfect for your group.
Whether you’re looking for a one-shot or a year-plus of terror in any of these domains, you have everything that you could need to build a compelling adventure.
Be mindful that this means that these domains aren’t laid out like a typical adventure module. While most of these sections give several ideas for adventures that can take place within the respective domain, you are given total freedom to build the adventure yourself.
In fact, the Dark Lords who rule each Domain don’t even have stat blocks. You’re able to build them in whatever way works best for your group based on the information provided about them.
Some will like this approach and others will hate it. (Personally, I think it does a lot in making the book into a true campaign resource.)
Fortunately for the latter, there is a wonderful haunted house adventure for characters level 1 through 3 within this book.
Fans of the superb Curse of Strahd adventure will recognize the first Domain of Dread within Van Richten’s guide, the tormented valley of Barovia.
Other domains range from cosmic horror in Bluetspur, a zombie apocalypse in Falkovnia, the twisted fairytale decadence of Dementlieu, and more.
If you would like to a full breakdown or ranking of the Domains of Dread within Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, let me know in the comments!
Backgrounds and Lineages
It’s only appropriate that Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft would also include tons of new macabre options for making horror-themed characters.
Several new backgrounds are available for characters to use. You might be a medium with the ability to channel spirits, a survivor of some traumatic experience, or an investigator who is willing to brave any terror in pursuit of some elusive truth.
Whether you willingly brave the mists of Ravenloft or have found yourself trapped within them by coincidence, the backgrounds in Van Richten’s Guide will help you create the perfect character for your horror game.
Though if you want to get a bit… darker… the good Doctor Van Richten has you covered!
Three new lineages are available for players. These are the vampiric Dhampir, the cursed Hexblood, and the death-defying Reborn.
While a character may have once been of some other race, they are no longer an elf, human, or whatever they once were.
This new lineage replaces their previous traits as they become something born of the mists of Ravenloft. While they gain some incredible new abilities, what was the cost?
Did they undergo this change willingly or are they yet another soul denied rest within the Domains of Dread?
The choice is yours…
It wouldn’t be a new sourcebook without at least a couple of new subclass options!
What this book lacks in quantity for subclass options, it makes up for with quality. Bards and Warlocks are sure to be very happy with their new College and Pact options!
The College of Spirits might just have become my new favorite Bard subclass. It has some powerful support capabilities and endlessly roleplaying opportunities that will be perfect for any horror game.
Similarly, the new Warlock Pact of the Undead gives us an undead option that is thematically interesting and mechanically useful. (I’ll be honest, it’s SO MUCH BETTER than the thematically similar Pact of the Undying from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.)
If the idea of becoming a lich sounds like your kind of reward, this is right up your alley!
Both of these subclasses are much-welcome additions to the list of available options for their respective classes!
Just like with the new lineages in this book, Dark Gifts are an opportunity for the story and the characters’ actions within it to have clear effects on the character themselves.
One of my favorite things about the Mythic Odysseys of Theros sourcebook was the Supernatural Gifts options. These represented powerful boons given to heroes by the Gods of Theros.
The Dark Gifts in Van Richten’s Guide are a decidedly grimmer version of these boons. Characters may find themselves attracting the attention of powerful dark entities who are willing to make a deal. They offer powerful new abilities in exchange for a favor or some act of service.
The entities might come to a character who is on the brink of death and willing to bargain for their life. On the other hand, they might visit the player in the dead of night to tempt them with an offer.
The entity might seek to inhabit the character as a type of symbiotic force who hopes to travel undetected to the character’s home plane. They could offer a chance at redemption for a Paladin who has broken their oath or a new muse for a Bard who is struggling to find inspiration.
What price are you willing to pay for power?
Guidance for Running Your Own Horror Games
If you’re looking to running a horror campaign in your 5e game, there is a treasure trove of information within Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft that you are sure to want to reference.
First things first, there’s an overview of 10 horror genres to help you understand how these stories are told. Knowing what kind of monsters, villains, and types of plots within the genre that your story falls into is vital to creating an engaging horror experience for your table.
This pairs well with the guidelines for creating your own Domain of Dread, Dark Lords, and terrifying monsters. Because this sourcebook gives you a full toolbox to create your own terrifying adventures, you have plenty of room to mix and match to create something uniquely terrifying for your group.
There’s also an entire chapter dedicated to helping DMs understand just what goes into running a horror game. This advice ranges from things like setting the expectations and maintaining the right atmosphere to enhancing your descriptions and pacing the story.
Within that chapter is also an in-depth section that discusses the importance of boundaries and how to run a fun horror game that will spook players without creating situations that poke at real-life traumas.
After all, it’s perfectly possible to spook players in a way that’s still fun for everyone!
Is Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Worth Buying?
So now that we’ve covered what you can expect to find in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, let’s get down to the big question: is this a book that is worth buying?
As with my other reviews, I’ll be rating this book based on three criteria: Usefulness, Quality, and Value for the price.
Because star ratings don’t tell you anything useful, the final verdict will be one of: “Buy It Now!”, “Get It on Sale!”, or “Pass!”
For anyone interested in running a horror game in 5e, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is filled with useful information!
As one would expect from a Ravenloft sourcebook, it has everything that you could need to really build a horror campaign that is perfect for your group.
I’ve seen a lot of people who are upset at the lack of stat blocks for Dark Lords and the fact that each Domain of Dread doesn’t have a full written adventure.
Personally, I feel that being shown the tools used to craft these stories and the inspiration behind them is more useful.
As a DM, you want to always be looking for ways to improve your ability to build worlds that your players will enjoy. While a lot can be learned from running pre-written adventures, the horror genre is such a personal thing that it’s more useful to have a toolbox than trying to take a “one size fits all” approach!
Expectations for this book were very high and Wizards of the Coast did not disappoint!
It’s genuinely impressive how much care went into crafting every aspect of this sourcebook. The attention to detail shines through and creates something truly special.
This especially shows with the artwork. Every piece in this book is haunting and magnificent.
Each Dark Lord and Domain of Dread feels unique in their design. I particularly liked the maps that are included for most of the Domains.
I’ve been pretty critical of WotC’s quality control with their last several releases. Thankfully, things seem to have improved! Both of my copies of Van Richten’s Guide were in great shape and the other copies I’ve seen at my local game stores are also well-bound and sturdy.
Last but not least, we’re looking at the Value of this release. In other words, what kind of “bang for the buck” can you expect?
In my opinion, no 5e release since the incredible Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has brought this much value to the table.
That said, I will fully admit that there is a pretty big “if” to that statement.
If you’re looking for a collection of “plug and play” type resources, you’ll likely be a bit underwhelmed. However, if you’re looking for a huge toolkit that includes everything you could possibly need or want to create incredible horror stories that are perfectly tailored to your group, you’ll be blown away.
With some other books, I’ll use them once or twice for inspiration or reference then put them back on the shelf to gather dust. With how much is included in Van Richten’s Guide (and my/my groups’ love of horror games), I do not see that ever happening.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft earns a solid “Buy It Now!” rating from me.
With how much I was anticipating the official release of Ravenloft for 5e, I have to be honest: I was worried that my expectations might be too high!
But WotC has truly outdone themselves with this release.
If this is a sign of things to come, I think they may have finally found the recipe for what makes a perfect sourcebook release!
You can click here to check the latest price on Amazon or pick up a copy from your local game store!
Conclusion – Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Few genres rely on having a strong grasp on a wide variety of tools like horror does. Because of that, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is exactly what 5e has needed.
What part of this book do you like most or are most excited for?
Let’s talk in the comments!
In the meantime, if you’d like to read about this book’s “author”, you can read this article to learn all about who Dr. Rudolph Van Richten is. (Hint: he’s one of the coolest and most tragic characters in all of D&D lore!)
Want to stay up to date with all of the latest from Tabletop Joab? Subscribe to the newsletter below!
Until next time!