One of the biggest challenges when playing Dungeons & Dragons, or any other role-playing game for that matter, is what to do when a player character dies.
Does the party immediately rush off to the nearest temple to magically revive them, or does the player roll up a new character and press on? Perhaps the Dungeon Master (DM) wants to help orchestrate something more complex. The next campaign book from Wizards of the Coast, titled Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, promises plenty of interesting solutions to the inconvenience of death. You can even take a few of them for a test drive before the book comes out.
Van Richten’s Guide will introduce a new type of character template to D&D, called lineages. According to the book’s lead designer, Wes Schneider, lineages can be used in character creation, and as a hedge against character death — especially in the worlds of Ravenloft. Just adopt them in place of a player character’s race, then move on with the game.
The first of these three lineages is called dhampir, which you can think of as a kind of demi-vampire. From the playtest materials:
Poised between the worlds of the living and the dead, dhampirs retain their grip on life yet are endlessly tested by vicious hungers. [...] With unique insights into the nature of the undead, many dhampirs turn to the lives of adventurers and monster hunters. Their reasons are often deeply personal. Some seek danger, imagining monsters as personifications of their own hungers. Others pursue revenge against whatever turned them into a dhampir. And still others embrace the solitude of the hunt, striving to distance themselves from those who’d tempt their hunger.
As currently implemented, a dhampir character might crave blood, flesh, or even psychic energy from their victims. Other options include more “esoteric humors” or even dreams, all of which can be interesting role-playing hooks. Two more lineages from this playtest will appear in Van Richten’s Guide, including the Hexblood (a creature associated with hags) and the Reborn (a variety of zombie-like undead).
Like traditional races in D&D, lineages include more than affects to impact role-playing. They also include boons. Dhampirs can see in the dark, have the ability to climb on walls and ceilings, as well as a “vampiric bite” that can deal damage and help to regain hit points. Hexbloods can disguise themselves with ease. The reborn are, perhaps unsurprisingly, very difficult to kill a second time. You can download the playtest packet, titled Unearthed Arcana: Gothic Lineages, at the Wizards of the Coast website.
Bear in mind that these are merely a near-final draft of the rules that will appear in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft when it gets released on May 19. There’s a whole series of Unearthed Arcana supplements that Wizards has used in the past to test new rules. That process is a continuation of the wide-ranging playtests that led to the release of 5th edition, where more than 120,000 players helped refine the current iteration of the game before launch.
Lineages also represent a more foundational change for the original role-playing game, and an iteration on how the game was originally conceived in the 1970s.
In 2020, Wizards was criticized by its community for how it deals with issues of cultural sensitivity, especially with the concept of race. Lineages build on the rules published in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which also had a section dealing with race. According to Gothic Lineages, Tasha’s Cauldron and Van Richten’s Guide will help to inform a new path forward for D&D, one where race is no longer tied to concepts like ability scores, known languages, alignment, “or any other trait that is purely cultural.”
“Racial traits henceforth reflect only the physical or magical realities of being a player character who’s a member of a particular lineage,” states Gothic Lineages. That means features like the dragonborn’s breath weapon or a forest gnomes’ innate magical abilities will remain.
“Such traits don’t include cultural characteristics,” the document continues, “like language or training with a weapon or a tool, and the traits also don’t include an alignment suggestion, since alignment is a choice for each individual, not a characteristic shared by a lineage.”
We’ll know more about the final version of the dhampir, hexblood, and reborn lineages when Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft launches in the spring.