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  • Ravenloft 5th Edition Review

    I just put my hands finally on a copy of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I love this setting as much as I do WoD and CoD.

    And I'm both happy and furious with this book. There's a lot of good things, there's a lot of terrible things. I didn't read everything yet and I'm not reading it in a proper order, but I can't just keep it to myself, so I'll suffer upon those forums my opinions and comments about everything.

    This may come to be quite less coherent at first than my usual writings, so please forgive if I need more than one try to put my thoughts into order.

    Without further ado, I opened the book and dug directly to the Domains section. To hell with everything else, I want to see what they made with the setting itself.

    So, yeah, they thoroughly eliminated the Core. They eliminated the concept of Ravenloft as a cohesive setting. They made every single Domain into an Island in the Mists and erased politics and history.

    Now, I am upset with that, but I also comprehend. Ravenloft is an awesome toolbox for horror and horror-themed adventures, but sometimes the whole shared history gets in the way. But removing is easier for the ST than adding, and while I have my collection of AD&D and 3rd Edition Ravenloft books to make things right, I'm not happy that new readers aren't being even informed that the possibility exists, that this was a more whole setting.

    Oh, overall I must say I'm torn about the art. There are some very good pieces and others very bad. The maps in general are 5 stars, no complaints, except maybe the new design of some Domains. But the characters... well, lets put it this way: Ravenloft always had a more grounded and classic look to it and I do love the style, but most of the art in this book just isn't like that. That's a particular frustration given that I'm actually quite satisfied with 5th edition's art, maybe more than any other, so it's a huge let down.

    Bad beginning, but not the end yet. My next post will be about the Domains and my thoughts on their write-up, both how it's organized and what they did with each one.


    #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs
    #AutismPride
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  • #2
    I really didn't like that they shoved Sithicus into oblivion- it was my favorite Domain, with and without Soth, and it fills like they didn't even tried to give a look to the material about the post-Soth setting, which really annoyed me.

    I mean, there were some cool things about it, and I'm fine with some of the changes, but the way they broke Ravenloft into parts and did some revisions which deviated much from the source material felt like they didn't had much respect to the original material, which I really didn't like. Anyway, interested in hearing about your opinions about the book.


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    • #3
      I liked Van Richten’s overall.

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      • #4
        The reduced emphasis on horror frustrated me greatly.

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        • #5
          As I understand it the domains were largely isolated in 2nd edition and the Core was more of a 3rd edition thing. Am I incorrect?

          Originally posted by Ragged Robin View Post
          The reduced emphasis on horror frustrated me greatly.
          How would you say they de emphasized the horror?

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          • #6
            I always liked the Core. Especially after 3rd ed tried to make it something where it felt like PCs could actually be from there instead of having to come from elsewhere.

            I like a lot of the ideas in the new book, but I suspect it is more likely to be an additional tool for me trying to use 1st ed Pathfinder to make my own Core or Gothic Earth than used as is.


            What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
            Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

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            • #7
              The thing that personally gets me more than anything else is the whole setup of "the majority of people you encounter in the Domains are basically dour soulless programmed constructs" yet at the same time insisting "but you shouldn't really care, now have your characters get up to heroic horror-themed adventure where they risk their lives to save pretty much on average soulless constructs!" It basically emphasizes Ravenloft as not much more than something to use for "Weekend at Strahd's" or the like, instead of being a setting in its own right.

              They took the philosophical concept of a p-zombie, built an entire setting around it, and rolled on from there. And I guess that would be fine if Ravenloft is basically meant for little more in 5e than a relatively brief adventure sequence where your characters are dumped into Ravenloft, do a thing, and then get dumped back onto their world, but the book wants to have it both ways and talk about characters like they can be meaningfully from these domains and like they can be actual valid settings.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by LostLight View Post
                the way they broke Ravenloft into parts and did some revisions which deviated much from the source material felt like they didn't had much respect to the original material
                That's the main bad point in a nutshell: they didn't respect the original material. And respecting the original material isn't bad in itself, but doing it so thoroughly is a disrespect to the players. For new players because it closes avenues, for old players because it disregard their previous investment with the setting.

                It is a huge problem, I have to say. Time and again I read here things that make me feel bad with how they simply disregarded the past and retconned everything without giving two fucks to the reader.

                Now, some people complained that the problem was the book making an effort to be more inclusive. I thoroughly disagree. Undoubtedly the book did made this effort and I find it welcome, and certainly it was rushed and it shows. But it doesn't have to be bad and some pieces do that very well. The problem isn't the effort itself, but the attitude of disregard for the past, and it isn't really tied to the inclusive effort.

                NATURE OF RAVENLOFT

                Many interesting bits here. I like the simpler rules for traveling the Mists, but the table needs serious revisions. Currently you have 20% chance of leaving a domain against 49% of going back and 31% of Mist shenanigans that end up with rolling in the table again. Good idea, bad execution.

                On the other hand, Mist Talismans are simply excellent, how didn't they had this idea before? Simple, elegant, colorful. Brilliant.

                The section on magic was another let down, although without looking at the rest of the book I'm not sure yet how it is or isn't affected by Powers Checks or other such mechanics. But while touching on the matter of Magic's rarity and corruption in Ravenloft at least recognizes the phenomena, the lack of more details on how to use it, and later the lack of examples on those takes in the Domains' write-ups seriously harms the book. The parts on souls and planar magic are on spot.

                For mundane life the write-up is short but mostly on spot. Currency was just unnecessary (same thing as everywhere else), I like the presentation of Language as starting with Common being Common and Domain languages as an optional rule. Although one I'll frequently use, the number of languages and complexity of tracking where they're spoken, while fun for a GM that wants to dwell on this like me, is an unnecessary constraint for most campaigns.

                Religion, on the other hand, was butchered. The complexity of religion in the setting was downplayed to its most simplistic form and Ezra was simplified to the extreme, its history and interplay completely ignored. I'm yet to decide what I think of the lack of mention to the forbiddance of gods in the Domains, so I'll give that taking it off isn't necessarily a bad thing.

                WRITE-UP STRUCTURE

                I like their presentation here. I don't think a more detailed description of any Domain is necessary, their focus on practical information for the GM is all good and well. But again, they should have added a paragraph or side box about where to find more detailed information. On top of that, while they say it doesn't have to be so, the write-ups will really lack ideas on how to use a domain without bringing the Dark Lord as the centerpiece of the adventure.

                They did, though, and that's a plus, made it overall clearer how much the Dark Lord is a presence in the domain even when as background, and how to convey this notion, which is something good. Avoiding giving the Darklord complex stats and just focus on their unique effects was also quite ok.

                Now I'll take a breath before diving in our first Domains. I'll try to make two or three each time, so soon we'll see Barovia, Bluetspur and Borca. Each I have some serious thoughts to share, but the quick spoiler: Barovia has the worst Strahd's art I ever seen (but arguably the best Sergei's), Bluetspur was kind of abandoned in the 3rd edition and this was a far better rendition, the Dark Twins have been heavily altered, with positives and negatives to it.

                Originally posted by omenseer View Post
                As I understand it the domains were largely isolated in 2nd edition and the Core was more of a 3rd edition thing. Am I incorrect?
                Actually you are.

                The Core is the main feature of the setting since the original Black Box campaign setting "Ravenloft: Realm of Terror" from 1990. That remained true for all three subsequent iterations thereafter, the Red Box from 1994, Domains of Dread from 1997 and 3rd Edition Campaign Setting from 2001.

                What was new to 3rd edition, as No One of Consequence said, was the presentation of the Core as somewhere the PCs could hail from, which is a take they kept in place, fortunately.

                Originally posted by Amethyst View Post
                I liked Van Richten’s overall.
                Of course you did, it's Ravenloft!

                Originally posted by No One of Consequence View Post
                I like a lot of the ideas in the new book, but I suspect it is more likely to be an additional tool for me trying to use 1st ed Pathfinder to make my own Core or Gothic Earth than used as is.
                For me, while I do intend to use it for 3.5 and 5th edition, it is also basically a tool box to accompany any of the previous setting books instead of to be used as is.

                Originally posted by MarkK View Post
                The thing that personally gets me more than anything else is the whole setup of "the majority of people you encounter in the Domains are basically dour soulless programmed constructs"
                It's a simpler way they found to cover an old question in the setting.

                Since its inception, it's a fact in Ravenloft the Dark Powers create people. They populate domains with people made from scratch, full with false memories, especially at a domain's first appearance, although sometimes after that.

                Also, those peoples are created with a lack of curiosity that serves well to keep the Status Quo of the Domains despite anything. This is an important aspect, as more willing peoples could unravel the prisons of the Dark Lords, AKA ruin the theme.

                What to make out of this? In the greater D&D cosmology, souls are a factual thing, and for the Dark Powers Free Will is an important thing. Evil is only truly damning if chosen of your own accord, and so is Good.

                Not that I especially like this soulless setup, but I do not interpret it as them being dull or just constructs, but as a lack of some fundamental spark that could drive them to other choices - and an easy way to avoid trickier questions about from where those people came from.

                Basically they're people, they have feelings, goals, hopes, rights. But as soulless they are also "standard", they lack drive to enact actual changes to their lives and tend to conform to local stereotypes.


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                • #9
                  I once saw the suggested idea that all of the original inhabitants of Ravenloft could be souls sentenced to some sort of Purgatory-like punishment/crucible. I wish I could remember where though. Never been entirely sure how I feel about the idea either. 🤔


                  What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                  Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

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                  • #10
                    5th edition Ravenloft was okay, but I was thoroughly disappointed that they shattered the setting. I ran a Ravenloft game about 4 years ago using the 5th edition ruleset and the 3rd edition setting (the players were part of a mercenary company that sold their services to various Dark Lords, which served as an excuse for traveling around the world). If I were to run another Ravenloft game I would absolutely stick with the 2nd/3rd edition setting with Ravenloft as a collection of domains all linked together by the Mist.

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                    • #11
                      A friend of mine has made a supplement for vampires that was put out on the Dungeon Master's Guild back in September. If it appeals to you, purchase a copy. He pretty much did what WOTC refused to do...

                      https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product...gy-of-Vampires

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                      • #12
                        Apropos to nothing, I keep coming back to the idea that I really want to run Ravenloft (or something very close to it) in what I call The Era of Tricorn Hats, ie the equivalent of around the time of the Seven Years War to the French Revolution/British Regency era (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Frankenstein, etc.). This is probably why I keep wanting to use Pathfinder, as it has things like Investigator, Swashbuckler, Alchemist, and Mesmorist as already made classes.


                        What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                        Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

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                        • #13
                          For me, one of the coolest thing about Ravenloft is how incredibly diverse the Dark Domains are. You have domains populated by literal cavemen who eek by in caves and fight dinosaurs. And then you have a domain like Lamordia which is modeled off of a mixture of post-Gothic Germany and Victorian England. Or you have Odiare, which is a 16th century Italian city from literal Earth. And of course it's rather easy to make a new Domain to have whatever you want in it.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by No One of Consequence View Post
                            I once saw the suggested idea that all of the original inhabitants of Ravenloft could be souls sentenced to some sort of Purgatory-like punishment/crucible. I wish I could remember where though. Never been entirely sure how I feel about the idea either. 🤔
                            Ideas like that always floated about. They could had just kept silent about the matter, and that would keep the mystery, but wouldn't quell the question. One way or another this has always been a thorny aspect of the setting, coming to terms on how the Mists have so much power over the population while keeping Free Will intact.

                            Originally posted by Gangrel44 View Post
                            He pretty much did what WOTC refused to do...

                            https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product...gy-of-Vampires
                            I'll maybe take a look later.

                            Before I begin, one thing I think I forget, commenting on the new rules for Closing the Borders. They're reasonable, but should have been done more customizable. Doesn't have to be fancy, the Ability used for the save should depend on the Domain and it could have one or two optional effects on par with causing 1d6 damage.

                            BAROVIA

                            Initial presentation pretty standard. I must say: I like that they don't dwell too much on descriptions of the land since they have a very good map for it. That means conveying information efficiently. What draws my attention, though, is that they state that "many" residents believe Strahd to be a vampire. This not only departs from the original description, I think it is a bad decision.

                            Not to say that Strahd being a vampire should be a big reveal. I mean, even if your players know nothing about him, he's pretty obvious and in fact in the OG setting this was common knowledge outside Barovia.

                            But the local ignorance wasn't just a joke, but a subtle yet effective storytelling device. It shows Strahd isn't defined by being a vampire, but is a vampire as a development of being who he is. It reminds the players that, for the Barovians, Strahd is first and foremost their lord. The land belongs to him, depends on his governance, pays him tribute. And yet this quite mundane figure is called as a Devil. He doesn't need supernatural powers or proclivities to be extremely evil.

                            Another problem is the general abandonment of old names, with many established characters from before being changed for new ones for no reason at all. Same everything, just new names, usually variations on the name of the villages themselves.

                            Mostly the locations have been ported from Curse of Strahd rather than from previous editions of the setting. This was expected, but unfortunate. Just as in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, what works in the closed adventure module does not works so well in a broader setting. For Krezk it meant replacing the Sanctuary of the First Light with the Abbey of St Markovia. The former, a seat for a religious movement markedly Barovian. The later, a fast reference to the old Domain of Markovia, based on similar themes to the Abbey (Dr. Moreau) and background of the 1996's module Neither Man Nor Beast.

                            Vallaki was completely changed. Although I don't find the plot hook bad, it severely lacks versatility and potential compared to its previous description and on top makes little sense: how's it that a town so well positioned is the "isolated" one? The village of Barovia is par of the course, and the Amber Temple is the crux of a plot I don't like and don't see relevant outside that one adventure.

                            Ravenloft the Setting is a very different beast from Ravenloft the adventure. That has been true since the dawn of the setting. The land of Barovia must lend itself to much more possibilities of exploration here, and keeping to the colorful but shallow plot lines from CoS wasn't the best idea. That spot with the Amber Temple could have been used for a number of other curios.

                            Strahd's write-up is good, save for the aforementioned plot with the Amber Temple. He somewhat lacks the hint of madness that completed his figure so well, but not completely and the text is pretty good. That art, though, oh, my goodness, that's painfully awful! I literally must make an effort to stay in the page of that damned thing.

                            The rest of it is about adventures in Barovia and Tatyana. It focus too much on using Strahd as the game's villain and Tatyana as a foil against him, this is already covered by CoS. The bits about using any or both of them in less direct ways are very good, but could have used more space, it should also have more options related to other Barovian villains.

                            BLUETSPUR

                            Now we have a positively good change. And a change of pace, as definitely I have to be less thorough on my examination.

                            After the original 1992's module Thoughts of Darkness, few to no Ravenloft book managed to do much with Bluetspur. It is maybe one of the best uses of Illithids in D&D, doing what Illithids should do. The problem is how to put more on it than Illithids being Illithids.

                            I dare to say this is one of the best tries, maybe the best. It conveys quickly the feel of the place, its dangers, and ways of using it. Indeed I dare to say that the advice and rules on intruding Bluetspur in other places is the best on how to use it outside the original module I ever saw, quite opposite to what they did in Barovia.

                            The God-Brain has also been a thorn in the setting, as nothing seemed to justify this Elder Brain becoming a Darklord and others not. There is a net book semi-official theory from the 3rd edition authors about it being a mix of minds with a human Psion as the dominant one and the true Darklord, but I think this write-up here work far better.

                            Since I did so much on Barovia this time, I'll stop for now, managed two domains. Next time Borca and my pros and cons for the new take on the Dark Twins; Carnival and my absolute rage against what they did to one of my favorites; and if time lets me, Darkon and why it's actually a now classic batch of Azalin's shenanigans.


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                            #AutismPride
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                            • #15
                              On the subject of soulless people- the thing I didn't like is how they actually spelled it out. Like, I mean, I still remember how dumbfounded I was when I read Knight of the Black Rose where a whole Domain was created around Lord Soth, people included. From where did they came from? Are they real or not? Can the Dark Powers create people out of nothing? This was just so weird and interesting to think about which left a lasting impression on me for years. By spelling "oh, those people are just soulless fictions created from the shadowstuff of the Shadowfell" (because they have also decided to officially stuck Ravenloft in the Shadowfell because of, well, reasons?), it both removes that weirdness and mystery which I found so intriguing and, in a way, creates a very uncomfortable situation- because if everything, including Ravenloft's people, are nothing but props meant for the Darklords to keep the show going, then it is ok that the Darklords will torture them, as they exist only to be tormented and to torment the Darklords in their hellish prison. It also makes it ok to discard whole Domains into the oblivion once the Dark Powers are done with the Darklord, because, well, they served their purpose and are not relevant anymore. I mean, sure, soulless people are just people- but when they were created to suffer and it is their whole purpose, it takes something, and could, in a way, justify that it is ok for the Darklord to do as they wish, because it keeps them in their prison and those people only exist as an extension of their own twisted desires.

                              So yeah, I really don't like it. I don't remember if it was mention in Van Richten, but the concept of soulless people took a lot from the setting without giving much in return, imo


                              Check my STV content, Or My Homebrew

                              "And all our knowledge is, Ourselves to know"- An Essay on Man

                              I now blog in here

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