I have been a fan and participant in the dreadful misty lands of Ravenloft for over three decades and I can attest that in that time, adventures there have gotten both more terrifying as well as more exciting. As more and more additions are made to these miniature spots of shadow and dread, the supernatural planes become more tangible all the while still being ethereal in nature, such is the Plane of Shadows which, rumor has it, holds these horrible places. Take this book, Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft, for instance. It delves deeper into the Dark Powers that permeate these lands than anything ever has before. And although it holds a title that speaks to Strahd’s Ravenloft, there is so much more here. And better yet, information on how to not only explore these demi-planes, but also how to create your own. Read on brave adventurer, for the information and warnings you receive from Wizards Of The Coast might just save your life!
As with many sourcebooks, this wondrous tome is broken into chapters that are dedicated to different creation methods, be they character, world building, or even a simple scenario or module. The first of these is all about creating the right player character, known as a PC, for this sort of adventure. For not just any creature would stray into the Mists without good reason. So whether you are wanting a hero with a checkered or haunted pass or someone looking to amplify their already dark powers, there are a myriad of ways to go about it. There are sub-classes that create an expertise and several modified or newer skills that are tailored to fighting the preternatural evils inherent to these darker domains. There is even a chart in here with a hundred options that turn normal, mundane items into trinkets to connect the characters to something horrifying. Time for me to break out my badass red steel d100 that my wife bought me for Christmas!
Chapter two might just be my favorite. Sure digging in and building a twisted character with some serious sleepless nights might be fun and all, but this new section allows us to create all that and more. Building a new Domain of Dread starts off with more than a simple character sheet, it means you get to make a Darklord! So whether this is a vampire tyrant or a spooky lich, your decisions not only shape the overall ambiance of the adventure, but you are setting up a non-player character with serious issues. Their Domain makes them near immortal, but it also serves as a jail cell in many ways, for it is their shattered dreams and hopes that create this little slice of hell. So make this fit the theme you want to convey. Not everything has to be over the top. Imagine Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, but with a less king demeanor and still no idea that he is responsible for the situations occurring. Tragic, flawed, and evil, but not even aware of it. There are multitude of plots that you can pick from or randomly have them assigned; or free ball it and make your own.
The third part, and by far the largest, gives the Dungeon Master a bit of background on several dozen Domains that exist already. The degree of detail varies based on popularity and previous adventures, but overall it is a valuable resource to help set the mood for any sudden travels into these realms. There are tables upon tables of adjustments that can alter character perceptions or influence their understanding. The addition of several specific NPCs in this section can help guide the party in a needed direction or help them in a tight spot. Known as Mist Wanderers, these individuals are not altogether beneficial, but neither will they necessarily be detrimental to the survival of the party. As with all things, how they are approached can make all the difference. Remember, these folks have traveled the Mists and continue to do so. They are forces with which to be reckoned.
The fourth section is dedicated to presentation. You need to know your real world players and what might appeal or horrify them. The idea in this sourcebook is to create horror and mystery, but that does not mean it cannot be fun. While reading this, I was thinking you can run it like an issue of Hellblazer with John Constantine or make it a romp, like Scooby-Doo. Either way, the idea is to mix it up a bit from the normal, well…dungeons and dragons. There are some notable lists of things to avoid that I find myself agreeing with wholeheartedly and some concepts that I probably would not implement, but others may find fascinating. It speaks to fear-inducing items and ideas, how to create specific curses that impact player characters, and much, much more. Included is a short adventure to give you an idea of what it all looks like when pulled together.
The final chapter is about the denizens of the Mists, monsters if you will. Most of these are magical in nature, as is the realm of Shadows in which they live. Alterations to these statistics are encouraged to meet the needs of your story and any combat that might occur.
I hate to drop in spoilers, but the loup garou gets a page in here and it has been one of my favorite creatures for such a long time. I mean, it is no Tarrasque, but then what else is? But as to the creatures listed herein, you are by no means restricted form bringing in anything you want, obviously. These are just some that fit the environment better than others.
In essence, this new release gives the DM a great resource of information, but more importantly, shows them what it takes to build a nice, creepy story line and how to insert just enough horror and mystery to keep the players interested and anxious at the same time. I hope you pick this up, and try not to commit any total party kills, since no one really enjoys that. But, as with all things D&D, remember to have fun and order enough pizza for everyone at the table. Thanks for reading and Huzzah!