Hot off the Wizards of the Coast press is a brand new sourcebook that I’ve been eyeing for a while. As a DM currently running (and loving) Curse of Strahd, this book may come a little too late, but from what I have seen so far it is way more than just “Strahd and Barovia.” Much more.
The cover notably has the quintessential vampire himself, along with Van Richten and Esmerelda (who nearly died herself in my current campaign at the fists of a grumpy golem in the Amber Temple). So while the sourcebook certainly does help one flesh out Barovia, it is much more as it fleshes the Domains of Dread as a whole, which incorporates other demiplanes and darklords other than Barovia and Strahd, including (but not limited to):
Bluetspur and the God-Brain, Darkon and the Inheritors, Mordent and Wilfred Godefroy, G’henna, The Nightmare Lands, Sea of Sorrows and more. It’s a book for DMs and players, but mostly DMs, which is nice because the majority of 5e books geared toward players don’t interest me.
Some of the new rules include:
Seeds of Fear
Aside from supernatural sources of dread and monsters who strike terror in their victims, fear is subjective and often quite personal. A battle-hardened warrior and a reclusive scholar might not deal with frightful circumstances in the same way. During character creation, a player can choose up to two Seeds of Fear to represent things their character finds truly frightening. The Seeds of Fear table offers some examples. These can change over time as characters grow, overcome old fears, and discover new uncertainties. Work with players to determine when their Seeds of Fear might change.
A character never has more than three Seeds of Fear; if you gain a new seed and already have three, choose which of your old fears is replaced by the new one.
An overwhelming foe or horrid monster doesn’t need magic or some supernatural ability to strike fear into the most stalwart adventurers. During any frightful encounter, you can call on a character to make a saving throw to resist being scared. The character must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened until the end of their next turn.
Any of the following circumstances might be reasons to have one or more characters make saving throws to resist being frightened:
- The character experiences one of their Seeds of Fear.
- An enemy is immune to the character’s attacks or spells.
- An enemy demonstrates it can deal enough damage to reduce a character to 0 hit points in one blow.
- A creature is alien or monstrous in ways the character never could have imagined.
- An object undermines a character’s understanding of reality.
Charging headlong into terrifying situations is the stock in trade for adventurers. Among the Domains of Dread, though, periods of respite between harrowing experiences can be rare. Even the hardiest adventurers find themselves worn down over time, their performance suffering as they struggle to cope with the dread and despair.
Various circumstances might cause a character stress. Stress can be tracked numerically as a Stress Score, increasing in trying situations and decreasing with care. At your discretion, a character’s Stress Score might increase by 1 when one of the following situations occurs:
- A tense, dramatic moment, especially one involving one of a character’s Seeds of Fear
- Every 24 hours the character goes without finishing a long rest
- Witnessing the death of a loved one
- A nightmare or darkest fear made real
- Shattering the character’s fundamental understanding of reality
- Witnessing a person transform into a horrid or unnatural creature
When a character makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, they must apply their current Stress Score as a penalty to the roll.
Now, of course these rules are all optional and are ultimately meant to invoke a sense of dread that pervade the various domains. In my current Curse of Strahd campaign, fear and dread ALREADY pervades the campaign pretty darn well, so I’m probably not going to jump in and make it any harder (except in maybe some exceptional circumstances). The players long ago learned that in Ravenloft you have to pick your fights, and running and hiding is a very viable solution to things you can’t beat to death with heavy weapons and harsh words.
This is not a comprehensive review of the Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft but just a quick heads up and nod to its existence. After I’ve had more time to read and absorb the material I will probably add a more in-depth analysis.
Until then, keep gaming!