Tabletop Review: Ravenloft: Forbidden Lore (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)

Ravenloft: Forbidden Lore (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Page Count: 288
Cost: $9.99 (Originally $25)
Release Date: 03/11/2014 (Originally 1992)
Get it Here: DNDClassics.com

I’m really glad to see Forbidden Lore up on DNDclassics.com, as I wasn’t sure how they were going to pull this off. You see, the original Forbidden Lore boxed set from 1992 had items that wouldn’t necessarily work in a PDF format. You had an entire deck of Tarroka Cards (Ravenloft tarot cards) and a set of special dice for Romani inspired games. Obviously, these wouldn’t be included in their original form for a PDF version of the set. For those that want the original physical version, you can still pick it up on Ebay or Amazon for around forty bucks. However, for only ten dollars, DNDclassics is offering this electronic version, complete with print and play versions of the Tarroka cards, a shrunk down map, and the core five booklets that make up Forbidden Lore. Now, print and play is always buyer beware to me, because a lot of people think these products are a lot easier to pull off than they really are. If you’re new to the concept, know that you’re going to need a lot of ink, a printer that can handle card stock paper, to be very handy with scissors and have a lot of patience. Even then, your end product probably won’t be as good as the original set that came with Forbidden Lore back in 1992. If this sounds at all daunting to you, you might be better off getting one of the physical copies, as the cost for the print and play products in addition to this PDF purchase might set you back more than the price tag you will find from third party sellers.

So what is in Forbidden Lore? Well, it is primarily five 32-page booklets that further flesh out the Dark Domain. Let’s take a look at each book in alphabetical order.

Cryptic Allegiances: the Secret Societies of Ravenloft. This book covers six secret societies from across the Dark Domain, along with a two page introduction on what secret societies are. The Dark Delvers are a Lovecraft inspired group searching for something called the Hated Mother, which they believe is the source of creation. The Kargat are the secret police of the lich Azalin, which is made up of werewolves, vampires and other creatures of the night. In turn, they have a secret society of regular mortals called the Kargatane, who are essentially dupes seeking immortality without the price tag of undeath. The Ildi’thaan seek the Thirteen Texts of Thaan, which they believe will wrest control of Bluetspur from the hideous alien grasp of the Mind Flayers. The texts are also supposed to be able to unlock powerful psionic powers in anyone who reads them. The Ata-Bestaal are mortals who want to become animals, for they believe is it a simpler and purer way of life, free from the horrors Man inflicts upon itself. Unfortunately, these are not some happy druid fans, but people who think becoming a mongrelman from G’Henna or being inflicted with lycanthropy is a good thing. Suckers. Next up we have Adam’s Children, which is completely comprised of flesh golems seeking to become a race unto themselves, like dwarves or elves. Finally, we have the Keepers of the Black Feather, which number 150 strong. Their goal – to destroy Strahd Von Zarovich himself. This group is the only good aligned secret society in the collection, and it consists of mortals and wereravens.

Dark Recesses: Peering into the Depths of Madness. This is kind of a catch-all book. You have some errata and clarification for The Complete Psionics Handbook, which is an odd thing to find here. From there, you have a look at psionics in Ravenloft, along with some power changes that occur when a psionicist enters the Dark Domain. This is about half the book. Next up is a look at Madness Checks, which is a longer lasting (permanent) addition to the Fear and Horror checks. This is basically a D&D version of Call of Cthulhu‘s sanity rolls. You also get a look at sanitariums in Ravenloft and other ways madness can be cured. Finally, this book contains an appendix for Dark Sun characters and races from Athas. This is worth reading if you plan on bringing a Thri-Kreen or Half-Giant into Ravenloft. It also points out a Defiler is essentially doomed to constant Powers Checks and Templars lose their abilities entirely unless pledged to a domain lord. Eek. You’re also given a new domain pulled from Athas to help Dark Sun characters adapt to Ravenloft.

Nova Arcanum: The Necromancies of Strahd Von Zarovich. This book is a collection of new spells, magical items and the like for Ravenloft. Although it’s supposedly a tome by Strahd, there are Priesty/Clerical bits in here as well. The book also gives Ravenloft adaptations for spells from The Tome of Magic, along with its own twists on mage variants like Wild Mages, Elementalists, and so on.

Oaths of Evil: An Account of the Roads to Darkness. This book is an in-depth and detailed look at curses in Ravenloft along with a wide array of cursed objects. All of this was covered in the multiple versions of the core Ravenloft product, but this book is for the DMs that really want to focus on this concept.

The Waking Dream: Harbingers, Portents and Omens of the Vistani. This book simply talks about how to use the Tarokka deck, what each card means and so on. It also includes rules for the Dlkesha dice that are not included with the PDF version of this collection. You can print off the “stickers” though, although it takes a lot of work to make these work in a PDF format. At least you now have an unlimited supply, unlike with the boxed set, where there was no way to get extras. This book is really interesting, but only a fraction of players ever really used the Tarokka deck, as you really had to tailor an adventure around it rather than just let it come into play by happenstance.

So there you go – a quick overview of the five books in Forbidden Lore. To be honest, unless you are a Ravenloft completionist like myself, this isn’t a “must have” set by any means. Nova Arcanum is the only one DMs across the board will make use out of. Everything else is pretty niche and will only appeal to a slice of Ravenloft gamers, and even less will actually make use of them. The whole package is a pretty good deal for ten bucks though, and it’s one I can recommend to longtime fans of the campaign setting, if not to everyone. It’s great to see this once again available to all gamers, but I do wish there was a Print on Demand version for the Tarokka Deck for gamers that aren’t very good with the print and play option.

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