Ever since the second edition of Dungeons & Dragons, one of the most fascinating settings in the entire game has been Ravenloft. What was originally an adventure about an attack on a vampire’s castle became a sprawling gothic landscape filled with every imaginable horror movie villain and no way out. Now, the fifth edition welcomes us back with Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. The rulebook is more than just a guide to a setting—it is a toolkit for crafting horror games of every subgenre and the worlds to go with them.
Ravenloft is the name for a series of demiplanes, all devoted to different forms of dread and fright, and surrounded by impenetrable mist. Shadowy figures known as the Dark Powers have collected the wickedest people they can find across many worlds and trapped them in domains where they seem to have everything they want. But, it is twisted into a curse so that they can never be happy or satisfied. Maybe the Dark Powers are trying to keep these villains imprisoned to keep them from destroying their own worlds, maybe they’re assembling an army of heartless soldiers for their own ends, or maybe it’s all a form of sadistic entertainment. Whatever the case, they don’t seem to mind that plenty of innocent people are trapped within the inescapable mists of Ravenloft.
Villains and victims aren’t the only people in Ravenloft, of course. There are also heroes, all the more valuable for their rarity.
Many of the characters and domains from the second edition have carried over into the new edition, most notably Strahd von Zarovich (who of course already has his own campaign, The Curse of Strahd) and his homeland of Barovia. Many of those old characters have gone through significant changes, however- several male villains are now female, and lots of lackluster backstories have been fleshed out into true nightmares. There are new villains as well, and references to those who have escaped (Vecna, specifically, who was a prisoner of the mists before breaking out to vex further settings and heroes.) There are evil clockworks, villages of children and puppets, monster trains from Eberron, and more bizarre and haunting concepts than I can list here!
The real change to the new Ravenloft book, however, is the way the rules themselves are structured. Taking inspiration from indie RPGs such as Sine Nomine, the rulebook is full of tables with random events, characters, and details to uniquely customize or create any adventure. There are guides to different subgenres of horror such as folk horror and slasher horror in addition to the classic gothic horror parts of the setting. While in second and third editions Darklords (the villains of any of the cursed demiplanes) were untouchable figures in the background, here the dungeon master is encouraged to create their own, use them liberally, and even let the player characters fight them...if they think they can survive.
The mists are rising. Will you venture within?
By: Mira G.
Title Photo: Cover Art For Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft Limited Edition Copyright WOTC 2021