Although many Dungeon Masters create their own settings for their Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, D&D is home to various immersive and fleshed-out locations for adventurers to explore. Many of these settings have received their own books filled with extensive information regarding a given world. One such expansion, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, provides Dungeon Masters with a deep well of information for running a campaign within the Domains of Dread of Ravenloft, the setting of the iconic campaign module, Curse of Strahd.
However, rather than functioning as a campaign module in the vein of Curse of Strahd, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft puts much more of the control in the hands of the DM, utilizing a significantly more fluid structure. Despite this, there is no better D&D book for helping to run a horror-focused campaign than Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. So today, we're going to examine this supplement and see how it can be used to help run and develop your next chilling horror campaign.
Establish Your Horror Genre
Early within Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, the book showcases an incredible fundamental understanding of the genre of horror at large as well as its various subgenres. As the various subgenres of horror each lend themselves to completely different experiences, one group may gravitate towards one while that same subgenre may not satisfy the horror another group is looking for. Luckily, subgenres such as Body Horror, Cosmic Horror, Dark Fantasy, Folk Horror, Ghost Stories, and Gothic Horror are explored in great depth while other subgenres such as Disaster Horror and Psychological Horror are touched upon.
What Domain Is Right For Your Campaign?
Rather than being structured as a singular reality, Ravenloft is a world made up of several distinct and unique demi-planes known as Domains of Dread. Each Domain of Dread is characterized by its own horror aesthetics and theme, functioning as the home of a deeply evil individual known as a Dark Lord. While Curse of Strahd takes place within the Gothic horror-inspired Borovia, Domain of Dread to the vampire, Strahd Von Zarovich. Domains of Dread come in a wide variety of forms, ranging from the Frankenstein-inspired Lamordia to Falkovnia, a land constantly in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
Many of the domains detailed within the Guide to Ravenloft provide a sizable amount of information to the inner workings of that domain, its Dark Lord, the types of creatures that can be found there, and even several proposed adventure plot hooks. Figuring out which domain or domains would be right for your campaign is a perfect place to start when using Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft to shape a campaign. The guide even provides tips for creating your own Domains of Dread based on the types of horror a DM is looking to utilize.
Create Or Choose A Darklord
Easily one of the most underrated aspects of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft can be found within the tools it gives players to make their own Dark Lords. While the Dark Lords detailed in each Domain of Dread are incredible potential villains for a campaign, the book features great suggestions for Dark Lord traits with each of the previously mentioned horror subgenre sections providing suggestions for characteristics for a villainous Dark Lord based on a given subgenre. Even out of the context of a horror campaign, this offers stellar building blocks for creating a villain for a campaign.
As the central monster or villain is often quite integral within the genre of horror, establishing which of the Dark Lords in the book you plan to use in your campaign or if you'll be creating a dark lord of your own is an integral step.
Rather than featuring full-fledged adventures and dungeons, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is home to a myriad of short adventure hooks that a GM can use for short and long horror adventures alike. While there are a multitude of potential suggestions for plot hooks for players to pursue in each of the previously mentioned subgenre sections, perfectly suited for domains of a GM's creation or even in a horror campaign set outside of Ravenloft. each of the more fleshed-out Domains of Dread features several adventure hooks of their own.
This means that if a GM wants to set a longer-form campaign within a single Domain of Dread, they have access to several directions to take a party through a given domain, allowing for several of these proposed adventure hooks to be used across a given campaign.
Determining the scope of a campaign is paramount when running any campaign, but is especially important when utilizing Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. It's important to be aware of the length a GM aims to have a horror-based campaign last as well as the level that members of a party would be within said campaign. As Domains of Dread feature quite varying threats and horrors, while one domain may be well-suited for a lower-level party, others could still be quite scary for a group of high-level adventurers.
Additionally, when creating a campaign within the realm of Ravenloft, a GM should know if they want their campaign to take place within a solitary domain of dread, using one or more of a domain's specific adventure hooks, or if a party may travel through the mists of Ravenloft, experiencing the differing horrors of the domains.
Feel Free To Make Adjustments
When DMing a campaign using Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, nothing is set in stone, leaving a significant degree of freedom in the hands of the Dungeon Master. Althoug the book is filled to the brim with countless great adventure hooks, it leaves the details and twists up to the DM, allowing for tons of creative freedom. This flexibility means a DM can augment as much as they want from Van Richten's Guide, making adjustments that they think would help to add to the horror or better serve their specific campaign plans.
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