Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (VRGtR) for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons is Wizards of the Coasts May 2021 source book. The book is both an offering and homage to the genre of horror. It offers material for both Players and Dungeons Masters along with contents for those who just like reading fantasy tomes and neither want (or can’t) Play or Dungeon Master at all (well get to this in a moment).
Originally Ravenloft was just the name of the ancestral castle home of the Vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich the principal villain of the 5th edition Curse of Strahd Campaign setting. But the word Ravenloft is so memorable that it became the name that the creators of the original adventure (Tracy and Laura Hickman’s) friends referred to this adventure that the Hickman’s ran every Halloween, was the name of the adventure when officially published as the module I6- Ravenloft, before being expanded as the Ravenloft campaign setting for the 2nd edition of the game.
VRGtR does two things. It firstly aggregates a large varied and diverse setting into a single book and presents with less mechanics (notably few stat blocks for NPCs), and is the first 5th edition book that harks back to the business model that ultimately resulted in the financial collapse of TSR – being the book that is hook-line-and sinker focused towards lonely fun and not for use at the gaming table.
What’s this lonely fun? Avid blogger DMDave writes about lonely fun in this article and speaks in depth about lonely fun and its contribution to the financial fall of TSR in Tabletop Babble Podcast episode 133. At its core a lonely fun is a role-playing product book or product that isn’t primarily designed to be played but read and re-read between gaming sessions, provoking thought and being fantasied by the reader – alone. Lonely fun is an entertainment product for one.
Even Mike Shea (also know as Sly Flourish) who normally only uses DnD Beyond stated in his podcast that he thought this was so interesting that he was actually going to buy a physical copy and lie down on this couch to read it. Let me tell you that Mike won’t be the only one – its a great book for one, and the need to read might just be the unspoken Domain of Dread created by the Wizards of the Coasts marketing Department.
Lets hope the Marketing Department of Wizards of the Coasts doesn’t repeat the mistakes of TSR and produce so much lonely fun products that it over saturates the market and they go bankrupt having amassed piles of product they can’t sell. Quality, not quantity has been a defining feature for 5th edition business smarts and lets hope the marketing team realises that a cockatrice that can petrify people into gold statues is only flesh and blood on inside and doesn’t decide to cut it open in an effort to get it all the gold at once.
Now…back to the book:
For Players: The book contains a small amount of material for players. New lineages (races) – comprising of partial vampires – dhampirs, the Hexblood which is essentially a being forged from a deal or constituted from an event, reborn souls – life after death possibly after being assembled like Frankenstein.
Players are also offered Dark Gifts, which is much like a feat but comes with a chance for an in game sting in the tail (curse) along with new backgrounds and two new subclass options – College of Spirits for Bards, and The Undead for Warlock. These too are aligned to the horror genre.
For Dungeon Masters: The book offers much, much more but ultimately…. its just a framework for thinking about the types of horror and how to create this feeling in your game. The writers have very much provided you with the equivalent of a box that you have to fill yourself with your own sand. It is however a carefully crafted box.
There are other reviews that can provide you with a detailed breakdown of the components of the book but unless you are a Player that just wants to see the Player material the decision on whether to purchase VRGtR comes down too:
- Do I want to create my own horror adventures using a well crafted and well explained mini-world that I will enjoy fleshing out myself?, or
- Do I just love reading about fantastic worlds and places between game sessions and thinking and fantasize about what could be?
If you answered Yes to either of these then is definitely a purchase for you its a very well written book full of great gaming tips, locations, mini-adventure to help you understand how to run a horror adventure, and a few choice monsters to add to your game.
And certainly many fond hours of lonely fun – but best not read it on your own in the dark!