Ravenloft: Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Cost: $9.99(Originally $10.95)
Page Count: 99
Release Date: 11/19/2013 (Originally 1991)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com
Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires is not only my favorite supplement for Ravenloft, but it just might be my favorite for all of Second Edition AD&D. More importantly, it’s easily the single best release about vampires in the history of Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, It’s hard to think of a release for any other system that matches up to the sheer quality of this one, and that includes White Wolf’s Vampire games. It’s the magnum opus of the late, great Nigel D. Finley, and considering he was the mastermind behind such products as The Tome of Magic, Draconomicon, Shadowrun Second Edition, Tir Tairngire, and multiple releases for games I love like Vampire: The Masquerade, Chill and Earthdawn, that should tell you just how amazing this release is. It’s something all Second Edition AD&D fans should own, and honestly, if you use vampires in your tabletop game at all, for whatever reason, you should own this too. Now, if you need concrete, specific reasons as to why you should purchase this, read on. Otherwise, just go purchase it now.
There are fourteen chapters to Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires. Each one of them is more narrative and descriptive rather than filled with stat blocks and mechanics. This is for the best, as AD&D and Ravenloft in particular already had tons of mechanics for vampires, but the problem was most Dungeon Masters were just using them as generic monsters to fill dungeons with. The disgust from seeing DMs use vampires inappropriately or as cannon fodder is what caused Ravenloft to be born in the first place, and Findley definitely uses this book to ensure readers can get inside the heads of the most iconic of undead. How they think, what drives them, how they differ from mortals now that the subside on the life force of the living. So on and so forth. It really is a must read for anyone even remotely thinking of using a vampire, especially in a high fantasy setting.
Chapter One is “Introduction,” and it is a narrative by the character Rudolph Van Richten, explaining why he is writing this book (yes, the entire thing is in character rather than third person, and it works beautifully), along with background information on why he hunts monsters. Chapter Two is “The Background of Vampirism,” and it tells the possible origins of vampires, the general genetic makeup of this type of undead and a bit on different racial variations, like dwarven or elven vampires. Chapter Three is your first chapter that is devoted to stats and mechanics. “Vampiric Powers” starts on with in-game narrative about the most common powers vampires have in AD&D. The ability to Spider Climb or assume Gaseous Form at will, hypnotism, shapeshifting into animals and the like. It also introduced Salient Abilities, which are powers unique to a specific vampire. This idea helps a vampire from becoming generic and also lets you customize a creature to throw players off while also making your vampire a memorable antagonist. After this narrative, you are given a ton of charts and stat blocks to help you customize your vampire. You get to see how a vampire’s stats improve with age, and a list of eighteen salient abilities that range from being able to charm while in Gaseous From to draining four levels with each successful hit. Yikes to all.
Chapter Four is “Creating New Vampires,” and it’s mostly self-explanatory. It gives multiple ways a vampire can be created rather than just the old “killed by a vampire drinking your blood” motif. Chapter Five is “Vampire Weaknesses,” and this too is rudimentary. Findley gives us a list of common AD&D vampiric weaknesses, like running water, holy symbols and sunlight, but also expands this to possible other weaknesses for unique vamps, ranging from classic folklore issues (such as having to count poppy seeds) to mirrors keeping a vampire at bay as well, instead of just refusing to show their reflection. Chapter Six gives us “Destroying the Vampire,” and this is basically a continuation of the previous chapter.
Chapter Seven is entitled “Magic and Vampires,” and it covers multiple spell groups from AD&D, like Illusion/Phantasm, Enchantment/Charm, Necromancy and so on, listing how spells may have different than intended effects on vampires. It also talks a bit about vampires wielding magic items, but not much. Chapter Eight, “Life-Blood: Vampiric Feeding Habits,” talks about ways vampires feed, how much blood they need versus how much they WANT, and also why they must do it. It also talks about alternatives to blood (again, to make a vampire unique) and also what the victim feels when being drained. Chapter Nine, “The Sleep of the Dead,” talks about what passes for slumber amongst vampires. Why they must do it, whether or not they need to sleep in a coffin or have their tomb lined with native soil. Things like that. You also get mechanics for a sleep deprived vampire, which is neat. Chapter Ten, “Hibernation,” continues this discussion by going into details about long sleeps, or what V:TM called Torpor. This chapter helps to explain how vampires can survive many centuries as well as gives you a way in which they can be especially vulnerable at the same time.
Chapter Eleven is by far the most interesting chapter in the guide. It is called “Relationships Between Vampires,” and it talks about not just how a vampire embraces another, but also the relationship that forms between those two vampires afterwards. There is the common master-slave vampire dynamic, but this chapter also gives you a new way for a vampire to create an equal, such as a vampire mate (as well as how to engage in a vampire based divorce). Of course, not all vampire relationships are positive ones, so this chapter discusses how to run combat BETWEEN vampires and how age comes into effect. Perhaps most interesting is that the chapter does delve into homosexuality amongst the undead, but very briefly and as a side note. Still, that was pretty progressive for 1991 and especially for AD&D at the time.
Chapter Twelve is “The Mind of the Vampire,” and it discusses the psychology of being undead. Why does a vampire do what it does or think what it thinks? How does immortality change one? The chapter also talks about why vampires are generally listed as Chaotic Evil by AD&D alignment terms. It also discusses how a vampire can indeed hold its original alignment for a while, but why Van Richten believes they all eventually turn to Chaotic Evil. Mainly this is due to a long life and a growing detachment from mortals and the way they think. It also discusses the ego and arrogance of a vampire and also what to do with an insane one.
Chapter Thirteen is “The Façade,” and it talks about how vampires may pose as a human or mortal in a local area, and how they are eventually discovered by some foolish or nosy person. It also discusses WHY a vampire might want to have a public life. Finally, Chapter Fourteen is “Retained Skills,” and it talks about what abilities, spells, powers and the like a vampire can retain if they had class levels before being embraced. More importantly, it also tells how they can level up! Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? The chapter also ends with a warning to not make vampire PCs and why. This is also the note the book ends on, and it’s a very smart one indeed.
All in all, Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires is one of the best supplements for AD&D Second Edition ever written, and it’s certainly the crown jewel of all Ravenloft supplements. I know I’ve said this multiple times throughout this review, but if you’re thinking of running a vampire against your PCs, regardless of system, you should really have this book on hand to use. This is a must have for almost any gamer. It’s truly a joy to have this publicly available for purchase again.