Ravenloft Core Rulebook
Ravenloft Core Rulebook Capsule Review by William B. Haddon on 06/01/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A beautifully done supplement that not only captures the spirit of the Domain of Dread, but brings it fully into the 3e universe.
Product: Ravenloft Core Rulebook
Author: Andrew Cermak, John W. Mangrum and Andrew Wyatt
Page count: 221
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by William B. Haddon on 06/01/02
Genre tags: Horror
Hearing that "White Wolf" was publishing the 3rd edition version of the Ravenloft campaign books, I was particularly interested in what they would do with it. I admit to a slight apprehension that the good old days of Ravenloft were going to have been blended into the angst-filled gothness of the World of Darkness.
Not so. Arthaus and the Kargatane seem to have perfectly captured in this book all the feel and scope of the original Realm of Terror boxed set produced by TSR. Indeed, the rules seem to have been beautifully updated to be consistent with the 3rd Editions Dungeons and Dragons engine. But more about that later.
The Ravenloft Core Rulebook is 221 pages long, with a mostly useful index. Its price, 29.95, although hefty by old standards, seems to be middle of the road for many modern RPG books of this size. The book is hardbound with a somewhat bland cover design by Ron Thompson. The design attempts to fit somewhere between the D&D standard designs and a much starker, black-on-black idea, which doesn't work as well as it could have. The interior art ranges from beautiful to muddy, but is all very much within the mood of the setting. The page layout is two-column with very acceptable font-size and margins. All-in-all you are getting a lot in this book.
Onto the meat. The book starts with all the old standards, the story of Strahd, a timeline of the events and general descriptions of the main concepts behind the Ravenloft world (screwy spells, domains, darklords, etc.) and expands on these with a general description of the various technology levels found throughout the domains (from Savage through Renaissance). Capping it all is a glossary of useful terms.
The Races chapter was some of the best material for me. The races themselves are fully detailed and you really get a sense not only of how the race exists in the Domains of Dread, but how they came to be that way. The artwork here by Talon Dunning is a wonderful accompaniment to the text. Races included are Calibans (deformed humans who fill the Half-Orc niche), Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halflings and Half-Vistani (half-gypsies), whose racial abilities depend on which tribe of full Vistani he/she comes from. Each race is listed with an Outcast Rating which modifies interactions between races and cultures (although, bizarrely, Dwarves have a Base Outcast Modifier instead).
Each of the classes is detailed, with special detail on how special abilities are changed in Ravenloft. This includes allowing Bards to invoke terror, allowing a Druid’s animal companion to fall under dark influences and turning Paladins into giant, glowing targets for undead aggression. The book revisits skills, noting how each might be different, and introducing new Knowledge skills. Only one new skill is added: hypnotism. For feats, the Ravenloft Core Rulebook gives us a number of new ones, although none are overly combat useful, all are exceedingly good at adding to role-playing depth. From Readheaded (which means you are marked by the fey and gain certain Druidic power) to Reincarnated, they all have that bleak darkness that is requisite for a good Ravenloft game.
There is so much more to the book, but I am going a bit long. Ravenloft Core Rulebook also includes the following: A new pantheon of Ravenloft pseudo-religions, new cleric domains, new weapons (like straight-razor!), rules for using farm-instruments as weapons, fear and horror checks, rules for formulating and laying curses (even by PCs), Madness, rules for seduction by the Dark Powers, exhaustive lists of effect changes to spells and items, descriptions of the domains themselves, rules for older, more powerful vampires, mummies and other baddies, lycanthropy, cultural notes on the Vistani and, finally, tips on running a Ravenloft campaign. Whew.
Most of everything in there is useful. But so far I have only gone over the good. As far as the bad goes, it can mostly be boiled down to this: for 29.95 you don’t get enough material to run a Ravenloft campaign. You get little information on the domains that is useful, no information on domain borders or any information on the darklords. The back of the book has an advertisement for Secrets of the Dread Realms, which “includes information on the domains…including details on their lords…and it offers advice on creating campaigns of various scope.”. The Ravenloft Core Rulebook simply isn’t enough. It doesn’t even include Prestige Classes, a staple for most new 3rd Edition publications.
So that’s that. If you are an old time lover of the setting, its well worth it. If you’re looking for something new, it has great ideas, but expect to spend a lot more than 29.95 before you’re ready to play. Even so, I give this book a "Meaty" content rating for the sheer volume of great info provided.