Ravenloft Player’s Hand Book
Authors: Original work by: Andrew Cermak, John W. Mangrum, Andrew Wyatt; with additional work from Andre Bates, Jackie Cassada, Nicky Rea, Aaron Voss
David "Jester" Gibson
This book is not new, it is the Ravenloft Campaign Setting redux. Not simply another campaign setting, but the almost the exact same book with the majority being a word-for-word reprint. As per the license with Wizards of the Coast White Wold/Arthaus was required to republish certain books such as the Campaign Setting and the monster book. For those new to Ravenloft or Third Edition this book contains all the information needed to start running a game including all modified rules, classes, spells, and items along with a description of the Core. Not included are descriptions of Darklords or their stats, these are found in Secrets of the Dread Realms or the approriate Gazetteers.
Personally I think the greatest flaw in the book is the fact they didn’t take advantage of the reprint to fix all the complaints people had with the Campaign setting. Such as:
The inclusion of the monsters, added because the VanRichten Guides were for players as much as DMs. But the Van Richten Guides only had a small amount of hard game info and this was relegated to the DM-only section. Monster updates should have been in the DMG…
The inclusion of player un-friendly information, such as the nature of the demiplane (ie the existance of the Dark Powers and Darklords). This should have been relegated to a DM section at the back, perhaps in the running-the-game chapter.
The non-inclusion of information from other sources. Like the spells, feats, and PrC from the Gazetteers.
In short: Is the Player’s Handbook worth the money? Yes. IF you do not already have the Ravenloft Campaign Setting or your CS needs replacing. There is nothing in the CS that is not in the PHB, and the PHB does have more. Albeit some questionable in quality, there is still more. And the updated monster rules, PrC, and the like are quite helpful in the game saving the DMs valuable time converting and updating the rules.
Rating: 3 out of 5
A word to word 3.5 reprint of the Ravenloft Third edition book (see that review), the Ravenloft Players Handbook contains some highly controversial new rules:
The Magic Rating system (p 26-31). I don't get it. First, it seems complicated to use, and anyway the rationale behind it escapes me … In a MR 0 domain, people believe in science instead of magic, so spells takes three times the normal time to learn, study and cast, because "the lack of belief in magic espoused by the land's inhabitant" ? Since when in D&D does the populace belief has a link to magic's effectiveness where they live ? An option I will not use.
The new 'weakness' section for the core classes (p 48-52). Fighting classes (fighters, rangers, rogues and monks) have to make a Powers Check for advancing to a new level, because of the violent way of that class in combat. I feel it goes against what the powers checks are intended for - a warning to PC committing evil actions knowingly, so they unjustly punish player. An option I will never use for PCs, but perhaps for NPCs, to simulate the appeal of darkness on these while they got to the level they are.
The wizard's 'weakness' is to have a power check for learning a new spell of evocation, enchantment and evocation (*lol* at power check for learning 'Tenser's floating disk' as someone pointed out). Same comment - an option I will not use. Players playing a wizards should make a power check for their evil acts, not for learning tools of his class, even necromantic. I will mock the NRA by using one of their false statement in our world, but true in the D&D logic - guns do not kill, evil people do. It's not the spell you have in your spellbook, it's what you do with it.
The new weakness for druids is even stranger: within a 20-mile radius of a sinkhole of evil, there is a chance that the land is tainted and incite a druid to commit evil actions (and then make a powers check - making a powers check for being 'compelled' to do evil ?). It doesn't work with the small Forlorn domain and Castle Tristenoira's heavy sinkhole of evil … Anyway, after two failed check, his/her alignment turns to evil ? Please! And the % of this happening seem quite high anyway …
The updated Witch-hunter (from SotDR) prestige class is now the more generic 'Monster Hunter'. These are specialty classes that focus on one specific group of creatures (either beasts, or demons, ghosts, corporeal undead, or witch/hags). Well made.
There are a few new spells (p 117-120) - mostly 3e conversions from 2nd edition DoDread, IIRC.
The book is of course great, as it is a 3.5 reprint of the Ravenloft Third Edition book, but the new optional rules are odd to say the least.
I have read the Ravenloft PHB for the 3.5 edition and I liked it. However, I wouldn't spend the money on it, since I have the Ravenloft Campaign Setting and this book is almost the same. I'm tempted to buy it, but it isn't my top priority since I want to buy the guide to Shadow fey and the Gaz 4.
On the new OPTIONAL rules, the drawbacks for the classes seem unfair to me, so I won't use them. I wouldn't penalize a wizard if he learned a devastating evocation spell like fireball and only use it to fight mummies. If a wizard kills innoncents with a fireball I'll call for a powers check, but that's another story. A fighter that hacks the horrors of the night (and Ravenloft has many such horrors) to protect his fellow men isn't the target of dark powers. If he becomes carried on by vengeance or hate and commits an evil act, then I'll call for power checks.
I found the Realm Magical Rating Rules FASCINATING. I'll use them in all my campaigns, Ravenloft or not. Many thanks to the author that put them there. If I'm intrigued to buy the book is to reward the authors for this rule as much as I can. I play Ravenloft as a land where the beliefs of the people have the power to shape reality somewhat (that's why curses are important), and that should reflect on magic as well. My only grip is that many domains have very high RMRs. Ravenloft shouldn't be so rich in magic IMC. Most domains should have generic RMRs between 2 - 3 and only small places to have RMRs of 4 or 5. The whole Darkon is RMR 4 - 5! Not to mention Dementlieu.
On the new spells, it is convenient to have them there and the generic monster hunter seems better than the witch hunter. I don't like the very specialized prestige classes
All in all 4 out of 5 blood drops.
The Ravenloft PHB was my first proper introduction to the world of Ravenloft. I read though the entire thing in one weekend and I enjoyed it. The book gave me a good feel of the setting, which is probably the most important thing a Ravenloft book can do.
Overall though, I enjoyed the book and it did what I wanted it to do. Out of 5 severed fingers, I'd give it a good 3 and a half.
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