Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft

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I picked up Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft and have been reading it cover to cover. This is my review of the book, chapter by chapter. Chapter 3 covers over 30 domains, so I'm posting about it as I work my way through the different domains.

Falkovnia is a military dictatorship under absolute martial law. In previous editions, its dictator was Vlad Drakov, a sadist who demanded to witness an impaling every evening along with his meal. He tried invading bordering domains with his mercenary force, the Talons. He was fiercely xenophobic and hunted down any non-humans in his domain. Definitely a darklord you wanted to defeat.

In the 5e version of Falkovnia, Vlad never existed and has been replaced by Vladeska Drakov. Valdeska is mostly a genderswapped Vlad: a mercenary who got too powerful and became a dictator, ruling the citizens of the region without compassion, sympathy, or mercy. Any crime is punishable by impalement, and any citizen not in the military serves the military.

Zombie invasion

This book's Falkovnia borrows a subplot from Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (the 3e version of Curse of Strahd). It's a common subplot for horror and it would have been disappointing if this book didn't feature it at least once. Falkovnia is actively, persistently, relentless, being overrun by zombies.

Conditions are bad. Lekar is the only city left standing, or at least that's what this section seems to assert initially. Later, other villages and towns are mentioned in a plot table, but I think it's generally safe to assume that Lekar alone is civilized. But it's only a matter of time before Lekar, too, falls.

The plot

As I've come to realise, this book assumes your gaming group is going to have one adventure (give or take) in each domain. The one plot for Falkovnia is the seige of Lekar. The final 2 pages of this section detail exactly how to play it, with tables to generate encounters, major events, and so on. There are new zombie stat blocks in the bestiary.

Interestingly, as the book points out, this is the one domain where the player characters and the darklord are ostensibly on the same side of the conflict. It's the living against the undead, so whether players like Vladeska Drakov or not, they're in this together. I like that idea. To a player new to Ravenloft, Vladeska probably would make a good initial impression. She probably comes across as a brave general fighting against impossible odds. Sure, she's firm, even harsh sometimes, but then again look at what she's up against.

One wonders how the players will react when, after they've destroyed the zombies, Vladeska Drakov continues to oppress and abuse the people of the domain. Unlike most darklords, Vladeska doesn't have the ability to close the borders of her domain, so they could just leave well enough alone, or they could take up a new battle to defeat her.

Like Dementlieu, I think the 5e version of Falkovnia is an improvement on the previous version. There's not much about Falkovnia that sets it apart from the other domains, so having it serve as zombieland gives it a god reason to exist, and you probably only really need to visit once, whether it's to take down all the zombies or whether to go in for a quick extraction mission.

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