Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft explores the possibilities of the horror genre in Dungeons & Dragons, but players can take the scary content further.
Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy, tabletop roleplaying game that has taken the gaming community by storm in the past few years. While some players prefer to craft their own stories, Wizards of the Coast has authored many adventures for players to experience without the hassle of homebrew content. One of the most recent additions to the D&D collection is Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, which places a particular emphasis on horror-themed adventures and characters.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft explores an area of Dungeons & Dragons with a lot of untapped potential: horror. Some parties will explore multiple genres for their campaign, exploring different civilizations and venturing into the open sea. For players looking to spice things up for their characters or campaigns with horror themes, settings, or characters, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft offers some helpful tips.
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The first step to crafting a horrific journey into the darker side is figuring out where to start the D&D campaign, and what players should be fearing as they venture forth. Going with the classics of mansions haunted by spirits, or a ghost town whose population vanished can lull players into a sense of familiarity. Becoming the protagonist of a ghost story can be as thrilling as it is terrifying, but switching things up by mixing horror and heroics can enable parties to experience new and unique adventures. Saving a princess from a vampire lord, only to discover that the party has been tricked, can turn a valiant rescue into a desperate horror movie-style escape. Turning a player’s own lust for glory and adventure against them is the perfect tool to lure parties into a nightmare they’ll never forget.
How Dungeons & Dragons Implements Fear As A Mechanic
Players and Dungeon Masters can take a more technical approach to horror and fear thanks to the “Seeds of Fear” character mechanic in Van Richten’s Guide. This system implements fear directly into character creation, requiring players to identify a few phobias or fears that affects their character. Should these fears arise in the campaign, appropriate in-character reactions can reward players with inspiration points. By utilizing fear as a core mechanic of gameplay, players are expecting to be frightened and are therefore drawn into a state of skepticism and alertness. These mindsets can be taken advantage of by DMs looking to subvert expectations and instill some laughs and chaos amidst their horrific adventures. Guiding a party to an abandoned barn with sounds of scrabbling coming from the back room, only to unleash a startled goat upon tense adventurers can be just what DMs need to slip past the defenses of expectant players.
Needless to say, D&D is a cooperative game where both the Dungeon Master and the players work together to forge memorable adventures. When exploring methods to implement horror into a campaign, sometimes the real monster could be a member of the party all along. A cursed warlock, looking to practice spells on their companions to free themselves or a rogue vampire looking to feed on their companions during the night can be just the jumpscare and plot twist that a party needs to get fully immersed. Furthermore, encouraging players to implement horror elements into their characters’ backstories can set the theme of the adventure from the outset. A villager on the run from the haunted corpse of their brother or seeking a cure, and a skeptic denying the mystical nature of evil in D&D despite the proof they’ve witnessed could make a fascinating duo for a fantasy horror adventure.
Every party is different, and while a horror scenario or campaign could be right for some players, it likely isn’t perfect for all. Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft has some content not appropriate for all players. DMs should check with players and establish comfort levels before initiating a horror scenario in an existing campaign, or beginning a new horror campaign from scratch. Crafting the perfect spooky setting, implementing fear mechanics, and encouraging players to craft their own personal horror stories are all methods to be utilized when creating the perfect D&D nightmare.
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