Featuring work from authors like Cassandra Khaw, Molly Ostertag, and K. Tempest Bradford, Van Richten’s Guide is set for a May 2021 release. It focuses on the various Domains of Dread – perhaps better known to some D&D veterans as the Demiplane of Dread – featured in past editions of the game, from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Realm of Terror to the hugely popular 2016 Fifth Edition adventure Curse of Strahd.
The guide won’t simply be Curse of Strahd 1.5, however – you can check out last year’s ReVamped edition for that – VRGtR will provide options for a variety of horrific adventures and settings. “We understand that Curse of Strahd came out many years ago,” says Wes Schneider, senior D&D designer and lead on Van Richten’s Guide. “It’s been very popular, a lot of folks have played it already. So we wanted to make sure that if you played Curse of Strahd or other adventures in Ravenloft, that Van Richten’s Guide isn’t just like, ‘Oh, well, I did that.’”
From classic monsters like werewolves and mummies to adaptations of eastern folk tales or fantastical takes on more modern horror themes, Van Richten’s Guide will cover a wide variety of terror tropes to throw at your adventurers. The “Demiplane of Dread”, as it was known, contains a variety of isolated realms – or “domains” – each one ruled over by a Darklord, a sort of “lead” monster or character based on the particular horror theme that forms the basis of each domain. Consider it like a more terrifying version of the various sections of Disney World – but instead of Tomorrowland or Galaxy’s Edge, you’re trapped in Frankenstein World or on Werewolf Island.
“Just like how the original Ravenloft adventure then spread out into an entire campaign setting back in the ’90s, we’re doing very much the same thing,” Schneider said. “We’re starting with the core of Curse of Strahd and then expanding out from there into other Domains of Dread and beyond just Gothic horror. We’ll also be seeing cosmic horror, ghost stories, dark fantasies, psychological horror – all of these different things, depending on what your favorite flavor of nightmare might be.”
These aren’t just reprintings of AD&D worlds with 5e mechanics, of course. While many domains have been refreshed, some have been entirely reimagined to stretch the Ravenloft domains outside the realm of “classical Gothic horror”. The domain of Falkovnia, for example, was another domain featuring a vampire Darklord – a need already fulfilled by Barovia’s Strahd Von Zarovich – so Scheinder and the team pivoted the realm to focus on a more modern horror theme: the zombie apocalypse.
“Ravenloft had never had that before, just because that’s not really a Gothic horror trope,” Schneider says. “Now, we have this entire domain that’s constantly crumbling under the weight of these endless zombie invasions. And the new Darklord, Vladeska Drakov, is this terrible character but is also the domain’s last hope to survive against this even more overwhelming supernatural disaster.”
He says finding the right intersection between both new and old horror themes and the D&D experience has been a big part of the book’s design process. “If you look at the Zombie in the Monster Manual, even a first-level party is gonna be like, ‘Oh, zombie… huh,’” he says with an air of fake boredom. “But what happens when there are more zombies than there are fireballs? And how does that affect an entire society, and then how does that affect the characters?”
“The book deals a lot with the idea that any horror story across any piece of media is – whether it’s a movie, or it’s a book, or it’s a tabletop RPG – in general, at its core, a story about a haunting,” says Amanda Hamon, another Senior Designer at D&D and one of the authors of Van Richten’s Guide. “What scares the character? What has happened to the character? What are the characters’ hangups, and the bad things that have happened to them? And [how] to bring them forward into the narrative?”
To help players lean into the horror atmosphere, the Guide will also introduce new character options, including a set of new lineages – building off the options introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – as well as two new subclasses. The lineages, which players may recognize from the recently published Unearthed Arcana, include the Dhampir, Hexblood, and Reborn, which feature traits born of vampires, hags, or undead creatures, respectively.
The subclasses included in VRGtR are the College of Spirits Bard, who can contact otherworldly spirits through gaming sets and trinkets like a medium, and the Undead Patron Warlock, granting characters power from beyond the grave. Also included are a collection of new Dark Gifts, similar to those found in Curse of Strahd, which can provide horror-themed bonuses and/or roleplay options to players and their characters.
“One of the things that differentiate a horror game from just a normal tabletop RPG high-fantasy game,” Hamon says, “is the really intense role-playing in the atmospheric environment that you’re playing in. And I’m just really excited that [the Dark Gifts are] able to build in some of these mechanical ways of supporting that so that it’s not just describing a thing or kind of being superficial. It really feels baked into the game, and I feel like that’s an important piece of this book as well.”
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is set to release on May 18, 2021. It will feature cover art by Anna Podedworna, with an alternate cover by Scott M. Fischer available at local game stores. For more D&D on IGN, check out our guide to playing Dungeons & Dragons online or check out our unboxing of the latest Beadle & Grimm platinum edition with Mattew Lillard himself!