It takes a special mix of knowledge, prowess, and willpower to stand against the horrors of Ravenloft. Few, if any, are a greater example of this than the vampire hunter, Dr. Rudolph Van Richten.
While many may mistake Van Richten’s age and scholarly demeanor as weakness, for the monsters that he hunts, it is the last mistake they ever make.
With the upcoming release of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, today we are going to explore one of the most interesting figures of the Ravenloft setting.
We’ll look at his history and methodology to answer the question that so many vampires themselves have asked before encountering the good Doctor:
“Who is Rudolph Van Richten?”
This article contains MAJOR spoilers for the Curse of Strahd adventure module. If you haven’t played that adventure yet and don’t want spoilers, don’t read on!
The Tragic Origins of Rudolph Van Richten
Rudolph Van Richten was not born a monster hunter. He was a scholar and medical doctor in his homeland of Darkon.
Marrying his childhood sweetheart, Ingrid, the couple had a son by the name of Erasmus.
An Encounter with the Vistani
Life was good for the Van Richten family until one fateful day when Erasmus, a 14-year old boy at this time, was kidnapped by a band of Vistani.
The Vistani had originally brought a very sick member of their tribe to Dr. Van Richten for treatment. Unfortunately, Rudolph had taken to drinking at this point in his life. As the Vistani continued to insist that Rudolph treat the member of their tribe, Rudolph made an unsuccessful attempt to save his patient’s life.
Drunk and fearing that the Vistani would place a curse on him, he told them to take anything of his in exchange for their loss.
It was only several hours later when Rudolph sobered up that he realized what they took: Erasmus.
Tracking Down the Kidnappers
With the body of the deceased Vistani patient on the back of his horse, Rudolph began chasing after the caravan. As he rode deeper into the woods, he wouldn’t realize that the sun was setting until it was too late.
Once night had fallen, a group of undead attacked the doctor. However, before he could be ripped apart by the creatures, his life was saved by the most unlikely of creatures: a lich.
Taking control of the zombie horde that had surrounded Rudolph, the lich put a magical ward against the undead on the doctor.
What’s more, the lich animated the corpse of the deceased Vistani man that was on the back of Rudolph’s horse. Compelled by the lich’s magic, the Vistani corpse told Rudolph where he could find the rest of the tribe that took his son.
With a growing horde of zombies as his entourage, Dr. Van Richten resumed his pursuit of his son’s kidnappers.
Rudolph would never come to understand the lich’s reasons for saving him on that day. In his journal, he remarks that
“Unfortunately, (I say in hindsight) the plan worked.” – The Journal of Rudolph Van Richten
With his zombie horde in tow, Van Richten found the Vistani encampment.
As he threatened to release the horde on the encampment, the Vistani informed Rudolph that they had already sold Erasmus to a vampire by the name of Baron Metus.
Filled with rage, something in Rudolph snapped and he released the undead horde upon the Vistani encampment. To this day, Rudolph still hears the seer’s final words, a curse upon him, with painful clarity.
By the time Rudolph found his son, it was too late. The boy had been turned into a vampire spawn by Baron Metus. With Erasmus begging his father to end his suffering, Van Richten drove a wooden stake through his son’s heart.
Infuriated by Rudolph’s actions, Baron Metus sought revenge. He would retaliate by tracking down Rudolph’s wife, Ingrid, and slaying her.
With his family and life destroyed, Rudolph Van Richten hunted down Baron Metus and destroyed him.
This was the beginning of what can only be described as an obsessive campaign against monsters. For the rest of his life, Van Richten will never stop hunting monsters. Each monster that he defeats inevitably leads to a new target as he is consumed by the need to avenge his family.
Van Richten, the Monster Hunter
Dr. Van Richten would now dedicate his life to hunting and slaying evil creatures wherever they may lurk.
Ever the scholar, Rudolph would take very detailed notes on his journeys. This would result in the publication of numerous “Van Richten’s Guides” on all manners of horrifying creatures including vampires, lycanthropes, ghosts, witches, and more.
Because of this, Rudolph Van Richten has raised monster hunting to a virtually scientific level. To better stand against evil, he has made it a point to develop a stronger understanding of that evil. With over three decades of monster hunting under his belt now, there is no stronger authority on the matter than Dr. Van Richten.
Even as he is finding himself unable to do things as easily as he could when he was younger, make no mistake: Rudolph Van Richten is a vampire-slaying badass. Even the most horrific of evils will be on guard if they believe they have gained his attention!
“That I have survived countless supernatural assaults is seen as a marvel among my peers; my name is spoken with fear and loathing among my foes.” The Journal of Rudolph Van Richten
After all, his reputation is not for simply fighting evil creatures. With strategic precision and no mercy for the wicked, Van Richten slays evil creatures. He has no interest in a “fair fight” and will do whatever is necessary to guarantee his enemy will not survive the encounter.
Van Richten’s Curse
The tale of Rudolph Van Richten grew even darker when he was cursed by the Vistani seer. He spent many years not knowing the effects of the curse.
Considering the fate of his family, he had initially assumed that their deaths were what the seer spoke of. However, over time, Rudolph eventually became aware of just what the curse entails.
“Live you always among the monsters, and see everyone you love die beneath their claws!”
The curse has made Dr. Van Richten into a Doombringer. He is forced to witness the death of anyone he befriends.
While this has certainly contributed to his survival over the decades he has spent hunting monsters, he also carries the weight of guilt for exposing his allies to his curse and, ultimately, leading them to their deaths.
Because of this, Rudolph is very much a loner. The fewer attachments he has, the less death there will be.
Rudolph Van Richten’s Methodology
Van Richten takes a measured approach when hunting monsters. He is intelligent, experienced, and remarkably resourceful in his methods.
Not only is it just not his style to charge in headfirst at his enemy, such a tactic would surely result in his death. Instead, Van Richten spends time gathering information to plan a swift and decisive attack against whatever foul entity he is hunting.
When the time for action comes, Rudolph is fully prepared and knows exactly what he is up against. He does whatever is necessary to prevent his target from escaping, comes fully equipped with anything that the creature might be vulnerable to, and is sure to strike in the most efficient manner possible.
Particularly as Van Richten is coming to terms with his age, he has had to rely more heavily on a combination of wit and magic. His ability to go toe-to-toe with enemies has started to diminish which makes a well-planned strategy even more important.
Rudolph Van Richten is a scholar and legendary monster hunter. Both of these traits should absolutely show through in his personality.
Portraying him with the common “old man” character tropes would honestly do his character an incredibly massive disservice. By that, I mean the clichés that would see him as being scatterbrained, preachy (“back in my day…”), and just all-around crotchety.
He certainly has very strong reason to be set in his ways, however. After all, nobody knows monster hunting as well as Rudolph Van Richten. He would certainly be open to new information, but it’s a safe bet that anything he has learned or written down is 100% accurate.
Additionally, few people have such an intimate understanding of tragedy as Rudolph. There should certainly be a grim seriousness to anything he says or does.
In my games, Van Richten is well-spoken and kind. He has impeccable manners that seem like relics from a bygone age.
However, he is gravely serious when and if he is discussing his affairs. He speaks of horrible things that he has witnessed or expects to happen with a very “matter of fact” attitude.
While the outward aspect of his personality is that of a gentleman and scholar, the monster hunting aspect of his character creates a tense and dour undercurrent just beneath the surface.
After all, Rudolph is character entirely shaped by the conflict between good and unspeakable evils.
Rudolph Van Richten in
Curse of Strahd
Disguised as the carnie, Rictavio, Rudolph is gathering information on Strahd and Castle Ravenloft. He knows that he can’t take Strahd head-on, so he plans to slay Strahd while he hibernates in his coffin.
In the meantime, he is also working to eliminate as many of Strahd’s spies as possible. This particularly extends to a large number of Vistani who act as eyes and ears for the vampire.
Additionally, Van Richten is attempting to learn more about a society of wereravens known as the Keepers of the Feather. He knows that the Keepers of the Feather oppose Strahd and hopes to learn about them without exposing them to the vampire’s wrath.
Because Rudolph prefers to operate solo to avoid his curse resulting in the deaths of others, he will not directly aid the party. He might, however, share information with them or subtly manipulate them into furthering his own plan to defeat Strahd.
Rudolph will be incredibly cautious in his dealings. In all of his monster hunts, this is the most dangerous. He has worked hard to build his cover as Rictavio and cannot afford for Strahd to know who and where he is.
There are numerous ways that Van Richten may play in your
On the other hand, he may ally with them while attempting to keep his distance and manipulate the situation so that they get an opening to defeat Strahd.
Of all of the NPCs in
Conclusion: Who Is Rudolph Van Richten?
So there you have it!
Rudolph Van Richten is an incredibly interesting and deep character. I love the heavy reference to Abraham Van Helsing, but I’m glad that Rudolph also sets himself apart from just being a carbon copy of Van Helsing.
The guy is a certified badass and I’m so glad that he’s getting some title credits in 5e with his own book. I’ve yet to check out the Monster Hunter Compendiums that were released with his namesake back in the day, so I may have to cave and pick one up one of these days.
Rudolph’s latest appearance is in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft which you can order on Amazon by clicking here.