Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft

Character creation

settings rpg dnd 5e

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 1 provides new player options, including new races, subclasses, backgrounds, some "dark gifts", and some horror-themed trinkets. It opens with another warning, in case you missed the warning in the introduction, about what it means to play a "horror" game. It reiterates that each gaming group should discuss the implications of bringing horror into the game. Presumably because this is a chapter intended solely for players, there's the expectation that someone could see just this chapter, so I guess the warning bears repetition.


A lineage, at least in this context, is a collection of traits you gain through some experience. The transformative experience may be something that occurred before your character's (in-game) conception, during gestation, at birth, or even during the Ravenloft adventure you're playing. A lineages isn't bound to a specific race, although the traits of your lineage officially replace your racial traits. For instance, you can be a dhampir regardless of whether you're human, dwarven, halfling, gnome, and so on.

The lineages are:


Tainted by a vampire's blood or curse, you're undead with vampire-like abilities and weaknesses. Like the Shadowrun ghoul, this is a great way for players to feel and act like a vampire without being absurdly over-powered.


You've been influenced or cursed by a hag, and you have characteristics and some powers resembling a hag. Lacking a Witch class, this lineage nicely helps you get witch-adjacent in style and abilities. You also get some "hexes" (really they're just the usual spells that you can cast a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus) and the ever present threat of being transformed into an actual hag NPC.


You've been reanimated, resurrected, or reincarnated, possibly through weird science, technology, magic, or some uneasy combination of the three. This one intrigues me less as a racial mod than as a Dungeon Master tool for character death. I've used gods and goddesses, the Infinite Staircase, the Astral Plane, Dustmen, and resurrection spells in exchange for quests to get player characters out of being dead. And now I can't wait for the next character death, so I can just hand the player this lineage. Clean and easy rebirth, and possibly a fun side quest of getting out of the dark domain of Mordent.

Dark gifts

Dark gifts are "non-racial racial traits" or feats, except they're just supernatural gifts granted by some mysterious entity. The book says they're intended as player options, but that Dungeon Masters can also use them as rewards or bargaining chips during an adventure.

I never complain about more options, and these qualify. I love the idea of using these as a currency within the game. I can just feel the scene in which a demon or a hag offers a player character extra power for the low low cost of their immortal soul.


What Pathfinder has in classes, 5e has in subclasses, and that's a testament to 5e's commitment to a stable game system. A class, in 5e as in object-oriented programming languages, is a template for implementation. When you want to play a spellcaster, you can choose between Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard, or Warlock, and each of those classes have a very specific way they interact with magic. The names of the classes are, maybe, deceptive, because really what the classes express are the subroutines you use to gain, expend, and refresh spells.

Should you want to play a Witch, you have to decide, based on the spellcasting classes available, how your Witch interacts with magic. Is your Witch a Sorcerer that's just magical by nature? Or is your Witch a Warlock that gains magic from an external entity? Or a Druid, drawing magic from nature? Or a Wizard, learning magic through experimentation and research? Who knows, maybe your witch is actually a Bard.

I harp on witches a lot because, in my experience, an inordinate number of female players strongly identify with a witch character. I've adapted (not always gracefully) literally every magic user class in 5e to serve as a witch for one player or another. I think it's a real missed opportunity for 5e to be missing a Witch class, and it's too bad that Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft doesn't fix that. However, Ravenloft does have a lot of spooky material, and I think the Bard College of Spirits and the Undead Warlock provide some interesting options for someone cobbling together a Witch class, depending on the flavour of Witch you're aiming for.)


I feel like backgrounds are often forgotten about pretty quickly, but maybe that's OK. Not everything needs to be strongly mechanical, after all, and backgrounds do serve an important role early on when you're still trying to figure out who and what your character is, exactly. If a background serves its purpose during Tier 1 play, and then gets forgotten in favour of Leomund's Tiny Hut and a bagful of magic items, then maybe that's just what backgrounds are for.

In fact, if anything, I wish there were more backgrounds out in the wild. I wish there was a book of 101 backgrounds so no player ever had to use the same background twice. To that end, Ravenloft does have new backgrounds, so the choices are growing. They're spooky and inspiring, and I think they'll be great starting points for players.


I love items. Mundane or magical. There's a d100 table of spooky items, and it's invaluable.

The horror of it all

The first chapter feels a little unfocused in terms of what options it presented, but then again sometimes that's what a chapter needs to be. I guess in an ideal world, this chapter would have been a whole book on its own, with more horror-themed lineages, a few horror-themed subclasses for every class (even the artificer), some horror-themed feats, and several more backgrounds. But it's a chapter, and it's a good one.

The next chapter is about creating domains of dread. As far as I know, I don't want to create a domain of dread, but I'll gladly read a chapter on how it's done.

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