Van Richten's Arsenal
Authors: Andrew Cermak, John W. Mangrum, Ryan Naylor, Chris Nichols, Andrew Wyatt
Summary of content: The book present tools to help the adventurers against the night creatures.
Chapter One: Stake and silver
(mundane tools and devices)
The cover says 'volume 1'. We want volume 2! And 3! And 4! VRA is a bottomless pit of useful information, that is of use for DMs and Players alike.
Chapter One: Stake and silver- mundane tools and devices. Great ideas here! Mostly new weapons and improvements on normal weapons, the section also expands explosives (yikes! There's a flamethrower!) and on an adventurer's backpack furnishing: beeswax to seal a place from gaseous vampires, Herbal candles (infused with garlic or wolfsbane ? wow!). The section ends with medical supplies (I always thought it was odd to rely on medical supplies in a word where clerics could cure you, but for the ordinary people in the highest cultural level domains, it is useful).
Chapter Two: Faith and Fury- new arcane and divine spell. Great ideas there again. See the complete list of spells in the Mausoleum section of this site. They are all quite innovative and useful: Dark Sentinels (a flock of raven look for the nearest undead and follow it around - great adventure ideas with it), Immerse Mind (see the dying moment of a corpse), Danse Macabre (remember the Dance of the Dead dance ?), I can't name them all, there all well designed.
Chapter Three: Instruments of power- new magic items. They are well made and not over powerful (I wish the Forged of Darkess followed these advice), like the Coffin of Eternal Rest (where one would sleep eternally, undisturbed). Each are generating tons of adventure ideas.
Chapter Four: Bottled Lightning- alchemical devices and feats. The most surprising section of the book for me, as it expands alchemy in a great way, and tailored for Ravenloft. The feats are quite cool, and each of them can become a great plot device, or help PCs (corporeal purgative, regenerating salve, etc.).
Chapter Five: Perilous Pursuit- new feats and prestige classes. Well thought, useful and not overpowered (I wish CoD would have followed these guidelines!). The best IMHO: Anchorite of the Mists, Avenger, Crypt Raider, Guardian Seeker, Hallowed Witch, Knight of the Shadow, well, they're all good!
Chapter Six: Tricks and Tactics - how to plan investigation and battles. Good advices here again.
The DM's Appendixprovides good NPC stat sheet and there detailed background (of which Gennifer and Laurie Weathermay-Foxgrove). All have an amazing 'dread possibility' to help color these NPC, and again tons of adventure ideas in it.
Highly recommended, and I think it can be very useful in any D&D settings. 5 on 5.
"Van Richten's" Arsenal begins, fittingly enough, with a background to the man himself. Very helpful for those new to Ravenloft. Whether or not the book should bare his name is a different matter, but not one that affects the quality of this book.
The book is a great help to both player and game master. To the player, it offers variety, with the PrCs seemingly well balanced (a rare thing in D&D, from what I've seen). Thus, I think GMs would be more willing to let their players use them, I know I will be. The weapons and the modifications are interesting and I will certainly be using some of them as a GM and I know my players will be (the blunderbuss looks like it will go down well).
One slight distraction in the PrC section is the fact that the pictures of the PrC don't always match the text description of the PrC being described (the Crypt Raider being female in the text, then the picture is of a male). I realise this may have been intentional and there was nothing to suggest the picture had to be of the person in the text, but still, I found it incongruous.
The spells are certainly fitting with the setting, some of which I had imagined prior to reading the book and began thinking up rules for, thank goodness the book had done the hard work for me. The tactics are also fitting for the setting. I hope my players take good notice of said tactics, as it will certainly open a lot of doors on the role-play front.
The GMs appendix, Allies Against The Night, will probably be my least used section of the book. Unless I've intentionally placed the players against an "impossible" foe, I tend to keep the players alone and without assistance. The players also prefer not to have an NPC helper accompanying them, especially one of great skill. Maybe I've misunderstood the use of this appendix, but that's the only use I can think of for them.
This is one of my favourite D&D books that I have ever obtained. As such, I think a strong 4 severed fingers out of 5 would be appropriate.
Summary: The Weathermay Sisters detail various NPCs, equipment, and methods of hunting monsters.
Van Ritchen's Arsenal is a work that starts once more the story of a Herbolist shop in Mordentshire that is devoted to the destruction of the undead. Basically, it follows Jennifer and Laurie's quest to contact their "uncle's" contacts to take over the family business of fighting the undead.
I recall a certain Kargatane who shall remain nameless (his initials are JM) strongly endorsed the Twins role as the heirs of Doctor Van Ritchen. They're certainly bubbly and lovable but I'm really sure after multiple readings that they're systemic of the "New Ravenloft"'s problem with Mood.
Aside from the possibility that one is a werewolf, that never affects their lives in any meaningful way, the twins have no tragedy about them or misery that is born from the setting. They react to the idea of hunting monsters with the same chipper attitude of Nancy Drew. If one were to retitle it "Linda Danvers and Barbara Gordon: Vampire Hunters" then it would not seem terribly out of place.
Doctor Van Ritchen was a scholar who had suffered deeply for his role as a vampire hunter and you knew he got his kills with buckets of blood. The dismissal of the twins as heroines by most of their readers is actually justified though since they really haven't faced that much shadow in their lifetimes. I may be harping on an element too much but since they're the narrators, their idle gossip is infecting most of the damn pages. Alanik Ray, S (which would have been a rapidly different tomed book than Doctor van Ritchen's but more in tune with his style), or George Weathermay would have been better narrators.
The rest of the book is exceptionally well done though and the information on Alchemy left my mouth wetted for more. The whole portrayal of it finally got Alchemists to have a halfway decent reputation and its ties to Pardion helped invigorate the setting. Information on things like the Dance of the Dead, explosives, and the magic items section are all well done. We finally get some stats on some old favorites too with the Fraternity of the Darkness gaining a powerful new member (and of course, the only one to take the two kids seriously).
The meat of the book was the Templates though, the Vampire the Masquerade like sections that are a welcome addition here. Anchorite of the Mists, Avenger, Crypt Raider, Guardian Seeker, Hallowed Witch, Knight of the Shadow, well, they're all good. All splendidly done.
3.5 out of 5 blood drops with nearly 4 if not for the irritation of the Weathermay Girls, attractive as they may be.
This is by far the best book published in the 3E Ravenloft line. It updates some of the old rules from the Van Richten Guides, while presenting tons of new information. There are ten prestige classes, which include old favourites like the Knight of the Shadows, and Pistoleer, and new classes like the Stygian Attendant and Alchemical Philosopher. Speaking of alchemy, there is entire chapter devoted to it, from the "mundane" (like eye drops that give you low-light vision) to the bizarre, like the ability to grow a golem in a vat. The chapter includes a new template, the Alchemical Child. There are new weapons, new spells, and new magic items. There is a chapter on advice for budding monster hunters. Finally, stats are included for the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins (who aren't quite so identical anymore), plus the other contributors, including George Weathermay.
There are dozens of adventure ideas for DMs in here. Maybe the PCs want to join the Circle, or perhaps one of their mentors is secretly an Alchemical Philosopher hoping to use them as guinea pigs! This book is useful for players and DMs alike. DMs, tell your players to buy their own copies, since you will need it so much! Highly recommended!
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