The next campaign book for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is titled Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and it’s due out on May 18. The 256-page volume details 30 new and reimagined realms from the Ravenloft multiverse, packaged as micro-settings for your next campaign. Each realm comes complete with its own unique villain for players to fight against, plus heroes new and old to fight alongside.
Fans of the popular Curse of Strahd campaign will know Ravenloft as the lair of the vampire Strahd von Zharovich, but it’s also the name of an expansive campaign setting published throughout the 1990s. Van Richten’s Guide will detail the many realms scattered through the mists outside of Strahd’s valley of Barovia, and even include guidance for creating your own realm of terror. There are plenty of extra options for creating characters tied to those realms, plus an all new 20-page adventure called The House of Lament.
“I’m a huge fan of all things horror,” said Wes Schneider, senior game designer at Wizards of the Coast and lead designer of Van Richten’s Guide, “so it was an absolute thrill to frame this book around bringing frightening elements like mummy lords, cosmic terrors, and urban legends to more D&D tables.”
Much like the upcoming Candlekeep Mysteries, the book will have multiple authors. Among them is Wizards’ new senior designer Amanda Hamon (formerly of Kobold Press), Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth), Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), and K. Tempest Bradford (The Copper Scarab).
During a press preview event, Wizards’ Schneider and Hamon were both on hand to tease a few of the 30 realms on offer. They include Barovia, of course, where the original Curse of Strahd campaign takes place, but also many more.
Dementlieu, ruled by the cruel Saidra díHonaire, is a twisted take on the fairy tale genre. Lamordia is home to Dr. Viktra Mordenheim, who chases her escaped flesh golem, Elise, across the land. Falkovnia has a new ruler named Vladeska Drakov and has been reimagined as a realm on the brink of a zombie apocalypse. There’s Kalakeri, which draws its inspiration from Indian folklore and mythology, where darklords Ramya, Arijani, and Reeva each vie for control. The last realm teased is called Valachan, where the darklord Chakuna relentlessly hunts down player characters for sport.
Players will have more than just magical items and powerful spells at their disposal. Scattered throughout the mists will be other powerful non-player characters to aid them in their journeys. They include Curse of Strahd’s Esmerelda d’Avenir, the powerful Weathermay-Foxgrove twins, and traveling detective Alanik Ray.
The book will also include a lengthy section on setting safe boundaries to keep everyone comfortable at the table.
“A horror role-playing game is much more personal and is much longer [than a film or a television show]. It also doesn’t have an off switch,” Schneider said during the preview event. “So if somebody does get uncomfortable at the table, if it turns out that the whole story is about secretly the worst thing that ever happened in your life, what do you do with that? How do you avoid getting into that situation, how do you get out of it, and how do you make sure that your entire game group is being supportive of those things?”
Van Richten’s Guide will also include new options for players called Dark Gifts, which are traits that can help connect player characters with the setting and its themes. There’s two new subclasses to experiment with. They include the College of Spirits, which allows players build a Bard that can alter reality by telling scary stories. Meanwhile, Warlocks can choose to derive their powers from a powerful Undead Patron — perhaps complicating the story by choosing the villain in control of the realm where their particular campaign is set.
The book will also include three new potential character lineages: Dhampir, Hexblood, and Reborn. All three were the subject of a recent Unearthed Arcana playtest packet. Schneider said that while they function mechanically as races, they can also be something that a character transitions into over the course of an adventure.
“If [...] you run into experiences with vampires or with hags,” Schneider said, “and it makes sense to take the story in a direction that fundamentally changes the foundation of your character, these lineages give you the opportunity to explore that.”
Cultural sensitivities loom large over tabletop gaming at the moment, and role-playing games in particular. Last year, publisher Wizards of the Coast apologized for racist stereotypes in its modern materials, vowing to do better in the future. Content warnings now appear on its back catalog, much of which is available digitally. That includes 1997’s Domains of Dread, published by TSR, which Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft most closely resembles.
“Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time,” notes the Domains of Dread content warning on DriveThruRPG.com. “These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”
To avoid repeating past mistakes, Wizards said it worked closely with cultural consultants on Van Richten’s Guide. Most importantly, Wizards stressed that this campaign book was created with all ages in mind.
“We understand that many folks these days play with their kids, play with younger players,” Schneider said. “Horror doesn’t need to mean an R-rated movie. It doesn’t mean for adults only. You don’t need to bring your parents with you to see this D&D experience. Horror can be cartoons like Scooby Doo or like the old Ghostbusters cartoon. Those sort of things have horror elements to them while also being action stories, adventure stories, mystery stories, suspenseful stories. It doesn’t need to be all gory and visceral.”
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is now up for pre-order on Amazon, via D&D Beyond, and on Roll20. An alternate cover, featuring Esmerlda d’Avenir and a special metallic finish, will be available from local game stores.
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