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A review of WotC D20 books for Ravenloft …

In this column, I will review WotC D20 products, in order to pinpoint what can be salvaged for a Ravenloft DM, as presented or with modifications. I will start with WotC’s products, but soon I could move to other publishers as well. You can buy the WotC products online on their site. Since the Ravenloft line is having a slowdown these days, it might be worthwhile to check the main D&D line for inspiration. For Ravenloft, products, the reviews are found here. The D&D universe is aimed at high fantasy and extravagant magic, so most other non-Ravenloft books need lots of pruning before using them in the Plane of Dread. These opinions are IMHO, and I do not pretend to present the only possibilities, but I sincerely hope to provide interesting ideas. This column will grow with time! If you want your comments on a D20 book to be posted here as well, send them to me at Joel@FraternityOfShadows.com.


Joël Paquin

Year 2008

Keep on the Shadowfell

(WotC, May 2008)


I was quite anxious as to what I will see when I ordered this adventure from Amazon.

Here is what it contains in a nice envelop:

  • Quickstart rules for players + 5 ready to play characters
  • 80-page booklet for the DM that contains DM's quickstart rules and the adventure itself. The adventure takes up about 65 pages.
  • 3 double sided map posters with many maps.

Things I didn't like:

  • The adventure seems a bit... hollow. I was making such adventures when I was 15 years old. It defenitely has and 2nd edition feel to it. It's not bad, but it's not good either. Too much focus in combat from what I have seen and not too much imagination. There are talk encounters with NPCs and there is a nice question and answer format (like in Roots of Evil).
  • The starting rules were less forthcoming than I expected. Following what the WotC has released up to the end of May, you would know more than found in here. Also reading the rules is boring. I believe they could have made them a bit more interesting to read
  • I have seen some things that seem a bit out of place, like the scale for the walled part of the village the adventure takes place. Everything seems too small.
  • The adventure itself seems to force a bit the PCs to take the path, not too much but it is there. Also few out-of-contex possibilities are explored. For example, what happens if the PCs take a prisoner? Well, in the introduction there's advice that the DM should decide by himself.
  • For people unfamiliar with D&D this adventure is complicated. For people with a long history of playing RPGs and reading fantasy, this adventure is simple.

Things I liked:

  • The adventure is nice, long and worth its money. While it could use more out of combat situations it is a good introduction to the 4th edition. Still it would make more sense for WotC to push in the market a mind blowing adventure that would turn people in 4th edition with a very good first impression.
  • The maps! I like using maps and for the money the adventure costs it's a real deal! If you liked 3rd edition's map adventures (like fane of the drow etc), this one includes seven maps instead of four! There are wilderness and interior maps that you could use in home made adventures.
  • While not full or fun to read, the starting rules are good as starting rules and can take the PCs through the adventure. The DM will probably have to juggle against an experienced party since not all is covered, but the 4th editions rules seems simple and solid


I would give this adventure 3.5 out of 5 swords. It's decent with many and nice maps and also includes solid (if a bit lacking) starting rules. I was happy with my purchase.

One of the best books I've bought. 5/5 magic wands!

Year 2000

Players Handbook (Core book, 3.0 or 3.5)

Usefulness for Ravenloft: absolutely unavoidable, as you need these books to play Ravenloft!

Monster Manual (Core book, 3.0 or 3.5)

(WotC, 3.0 - #11552, 2000; or 3.5 # 17755, 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: very highly recommended!)
This book is one of the three Core books of third edition D&D. It contains all the basic monster of D&D and should be owned by any Ravenloft DM.
Following is a list of monsters fitting very well in the Ravenloft gothic setting. IMHO, it represents the consensus among Ravenloft DMs.

As an additional information, a ** indicated that thecreature has been covered by one of the VRG as I write this. This is a goodindication that they should have the highest potential in Ravenloft.

bullet Allip
bullet Assassin Vine
bullet Dire animal (bat, rat and wolf being the most common)
bullet Demon and Devil ** (but they should be very rare IMHO. I often think fiends have been overused in Ravenloft, considering it’s a low magic (and low level) D&D setting)
bullet Doppelganger
bullet Dwarf, elf, halfling and gnome, as PC and NPC
bullet Ghost **
bullet Ghoul **
bullet Golem **
bullet Hag (and Night Hag) **
bullet Lich **
bullet Lycanthrope **
bullet Mind Flayer (mostly limited to one domain, very rarelyencountered)
bullet Mummy **
bullet Owl, Giant
bullet Rakshasa (mostly limited to one domain - very rarelyencountered elsewhere, if ever)
bullet Shadow **
bullet Skeleton **
bullet Spectre **
bullet Swarm (of bat or rat being the most common)
bullet Vampire **
bullet Vampire Spawn **
bullet Wight **
bullet Winter Wolf
bullet Wraith **
bullet Zombie **
bullet Chapter 2: animals (all of it, according to the domainclimate)
bullet Chapter 3: vermin (mostly centipede, wasp, scorpion,spider)

The next list of monsters are somewhat outside on theperipheral of classic ‘gothic-ness’, but with a good background and adaptation,these could be inserted in a RL campaign.

My advice: use each of them only once and do not over usethis list. In Ravenloft, these should be unique!

bullet Animated Objects
bullet Bodak
bullet Carrion Crawler
bullet Dryad (fey)
bullet Gargoyle
bullet Harpy
bullet Hell Hound
bullet Medusa
bullet Mephit
bullet Nightmare
bullet Nymph
bullet Ogre
bullet Orc
bullet Sahuagin (see the Draga Salt-Biter entry in Islands ofTerror)
bullet Satyr
bullet Shadow Mastiff
bullet Shambling Mound
bullet Sprite
bullet Tarrasque (we had to include it in this list, since thatinfamous Black Box reference! OK, I guess most DMs would never use the Tarrasquein Ravenloft – a monster way too fantasy and powerful, but a cult revering itand trying to summon or awaken a Tarrasque on the Core, in some kind ofLovecraftian cult ways, perhaps ...)
bullet Treant
bullet Unicorn

Hero Builders Guidebook

(WotC, #11647, 2000)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average, interesting ideas tobuild a background)

‘Choosing a race and class’ chapters provides interestingdiscussion starts for roleplaying and background for all combination of races(human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc (or calibans), Halfling) and class(let’s say a gnome rogue ? Where does he come from? What are his/her links toher community?, etc.). Nice start, but of course some needs adaptation to RL.

It is followed by ‘Creating your personal history’, a guideon developing background information about your character’s life before becomingan adventurer: type of home, type of family (social position, ethics,reputation, ancestors, etc.), instruction, life events (childhood and youthevents), and current relationships (parents, friends, etc.). The book suggestsrolling it randomly through tables, but I suggest browsing in the tables insteadfor ideas, in order to make something more suited to you.

The end lists many names possibilities for characters, apossible addition to the Gaz’s suggested lists.

Sword and Fist – A guidebook to fighters and monks

(WotC, #11829, 2000)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: low, unless you have a fighteror monk PC and you are looking for tricks of the trade) Numerous new feats – very combat-oriented, as it was to beexpected. Not that useful for RL.

New prestige class – the most interesting for RL are:Devoted Defender (a personal guardian, very interesting idea here for NPCprotecting a darklord (Nostalia or other?)), Drunken masters (for monks),Duelist (interesting option for high cultural domains), Master of Chains (a fewacolytes to François de Pénible?), Master Samurai and Ninja of the Crescent Moon(for oriental domains flavor), Ravager (a sort of dangerous berserker lookingfor chaos, pain and death. A fiendish darklord could have a few of these asshock troops, or simply to spread terror through the land of neighbors … On thisidea, read also the ‘Ravagers’ organization on p 50).

A list of combat tricks follows the book, with new itemsfor combat. The end of the book provides sample plans for variousdefense places, such as a Lighthouse Keep, a dwarven or gnomish defense, etc.

Monsters of Faerun

(WotC, #11832, 2000)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average)

While mostly a book of high-fantasy monsters, some can beinserted into a Ravenloft campaign, with appropriate background changes. Theabilities list of these monsters should also be carefully reviewed to make surethey are not too powerful and are in accord with the Ravenloft limitations.

Those are:

bullet Banedead (Undead, CR 3) – created from fanaticalworshippers of evil deity. A good way to recycle cool but defeated villains.
bullet Baneguard (Undead, CR 2) – skeletons as skilled warriorsand guardians of a place
bullet Bat, Bonebat (Undead familiar and messenger, CR 2); NightHunter (giant bat, CR 1), Sinister (a LN intelligent bat, looking like a MantaRay. CR 3. Could be an interesting temporary adventure companion, guide, or hintprovider? ).
bullet Chitine (Monstrous Humanoid, spider-like, CR 1), somewhathigh-fantasy but creepy. Originally created by drows, evil fleshcrafters from RLcould create Chitine? A possible variant of the RL broken ones.
bullet Crawling Claw (Construct, CR 1/3), the Adams family‘Thing’-like creature
bullet Darktree (Plant, CR 7), an evil treant-like creature
bullet Doppelganger, Greater (Shapechanger, CR 12, quite tough),absorbs it’s victim’s knowledge
bullet Dread Warrior (Undead, CR 3), fighters turned undeadquickly by wizards of Thay, so they keep some of their former intelligence andfighting skills.
bullet Green Warder (Plant, CR 4), while closer to a fey to me asthey are humanoid. Guardian of forests.
bullet Meazel (Monstrous Humanoid, CR 4), to update Salizarr from2nd ed. MCII
bullet Spectral Panthers (Magical Beast, CR 4), for Valachan ?
bullet Spider, Hairy (Vermin, CR 1/2); Sword Spider
bullet Unicorn, Black (Magical Beast, CR 3), evil beasts
bullet Template – Curst (for humanoid trapped by a curse that willnot let them die)
bullet Template – Ghost (and variant powers from the MM ghostentry)
bullet Template – Lich (and variant powers from the MM lich entry)
bullet Template – Lich, good
bullet Template – Lycanthrope, werebat (Monette!), werecrocodile,wereshark
bullet Template – Revenant, the undead wanting to avenge its death

Year 2001

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting

(WotC, #11836, 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: very low, as FR is generallyseen as the antithesis of the type of game that is the Plane of Dread )

Prestige class: Shadow adept (p. 52) – a possible variantfor the RL Fraternity of Shadows.

New spells(p. 66+): Claws of Darkness (turn one hand to ashadowy claw), Cloak of Dark Power (protect the subject from the light of thesun), Flensing (strip the flesh from a victim. Power Check I guess)

New monster: Dracolich (p. 310; Undead dragon, as aone-shot option for higher level campaigns). Template – Shade (p. 314; Possibleuse with Fey or the Plane of Shadows)

Trivia: The current remains of Castle Spulzeer (from the2nd edition FR-RL crossover adventure of the same name) are discussed in the 3EForgotten Realms campaign setting book, ‘Running the Realms’ chapter, in the‘Known dungeons of faerun’ section (page 293).

Defenders of the Faith - A guidebook for clerics and paladins

(WotC, #11840, 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average. QtR # 3 had an articleby Mark Graydon converting the most interesting parts of this book to Ravenloft)

Ch. 1, ‘Playing an effective cleric’ is a good intro toroleplaying clerics and the tricks of the clerical trade. Idem for Paladinsfollows.

Ch 2, ‘Churches and organizations’ describes variousreligious organization and hierarchies. Useful to develop any church. On page40, the House of Death is an interesting organization of morticians turningundead hunter by night.

Ch 3 is about prestige classes. We have enough already forRL, so I won’t comment these PRCs :) OK, OK, some could make interesting NPCs –Divine Oracle, Master of Shrouds (evil spellcaster who magically seizesincorporeal undead and sets them to do their bidding).

Ch 4: Some interesting spells could be found in Ravenloft:

bullet Beastmask (Disguises the target so that an animal orbeast will believe the creature is a natural or dire animal)
bullet Brambles (for Forlorn druids perhaps: small magicalthorns or spikes protrude from the surface of a wooden weapon, such as a club, greatclub, etc.)
bullet Curse of Lycanthropy (cause temporary lycanthropy in ahumanoid by touch attack. Effect of this spell broken by remove curse orsimilar. This spell can make PCs freak out in RL!)
bullet Maddening Scream (Cause the subject to scream, gibber,and leap about as though completely mad)
bullet Plague of Rats (Summon a swarm of dire rats to attacksall other creatures within a 20 foot, causing damage and spreading filth fever)

Tome and Blood - A guidebook for Wizards and Sorcerers

(WotC, #11845, July 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average)

Ch 1 – Arcane Lore. Discussion on familiars and WizardsOrders. Not really applicable to RL.

Ch 2 – feats. Mostly combat-oriented or metamagic. Againnot really applicable to RL.

Ch 3 – PrCs. Mostly designed for fantasy settings...However: Candle Caster could make an interesting NPC, with the VRA candles.Elemental Savant could make an interesting evil RL NPC, if the class is adaptedto RL elementals. Mindbenders could make interesting PRCs for d’Honaire or theBrain.

Two classes are interesting for RL villains: Pale Master (amage taking powers from undead), and True Necromancer (the classic ‘first, Ikill you’ evil necromancer)

Ch 4 – Tools of the Trade. Very interesting alchemicalitems, like disappearing ink, glowpowder, healing salve, scentbreaker powder,etc. A good complement to the VRA’s items. Follows a discussion on creation ofmagic items costs.

Ch 5 – spells. Discussion on spell research. Someinteresting new necromantic spells: Choke (a pair of hand strangle your target),Command Undead, Corpse Candle (interesting and creepy detection device),Disguise Undead.

Magic of Faerun

(WotC, #11964, August 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: quite low)

A few interesting spells to enhance a powerful villain:

bullet Death Armor (surround yourself with negative energy)
bullet Another version of Disguise Undead (from Tome and Blood)
bullet Ghostharp
bullet Haunting Tune (cause deep depression)
bullet Infestation of maggots (on a target, quite creepy)
bullet Reveille (ask a dead person what caused its death)
bullet The weird Revenance spell (you make a slain ally to comeback to life for one round per level, and resume fighting ?)
bullet Shroud of Undeath (undead think you are one of them)
bullet Skeletal guards
bullet Summon Undead I, II, III, IV and V
bullet Undead Lieutenant (empower one undead to command others).
bullet Many of these would need power checks by the way.
bullet Magic item: Oil of Animate Dead
bullet Appendix: Spectral mage template – for mage dead andbrought back as ghost, willingly or not.

However, the ‘A Druid’s Grove’ web enhancement is a goodread for any DM looking to enhance his Forlorn experience. You can get it here.

Manual of the Plane

(WotC, #11850, September 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: very low. While this bookinspired my Plane of Shadow article (USS 03), it is of no interest in Ravenloft,as the Plane of Dread is a self enclosed bubble, without real links to otherplanes)

Trivia: When the MoP came out, John W Mangrum pointed to apossible Ravenloft reference in the Demiplane discussion part of the book, onpage 18: ‘a small empire of the undead sealed off generations ago’.

Appendix – the shadow template can be used to createinteresting shadow-type monsters, with or without conjunction with theRavenloft Plane of Shadows article (USS 03).

Appendix: Region of dreams could represent a discussionstart for the Nightmare Lands mechanics in third edition.

Enemy and allies

(WotC, #11852, October 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: low, except perhaps chapter one)

Chapter 1 – Crime. Has various criminal activitiesexplained (thug, pickpocket, burglar, slaver, assassin, etc.) with one NPCexample for each. This material is great and any RL DM looking to insert one ofthese activities in his/her game should check it first for ideas and tactics.

While high fantasy, the Mind Flayer assassin would be agreat villain’s tool (the Brain’s most trusted assassin?).

Chapter 2 – Religion. Details various religious (orrevolving around a church) NPCs. Most are high fantasy gods worshipers, andbecause of that, of low interest to RL.

Chapter 3 – Mages. High fantasy stuff. While interestingread, not really useable in RL.

Chapter 4 – the law. Various fantasy law enforcers.

Chapter 5 – Adventurers. Most are unusable as they wouldlook ridiculous in RL.

Oriental adventures

(WotC, #12015, October 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: limited to a few orientaldomains)

Generally of very limited usefulness because of the very specialized Orientalsetting, this book could however be used by the DM wishing to really immerse theplayers in an oriental context, bringing the player in an environment totallyalien from what they know (buildings, culture, oriental names pronunciation, theclans, etc.).

The oriental domains of I'Cath, RokushimaTaiyoo mainly, but also Sri Raji perhaps could benefit from this book. However, the trap is to keep a gothic-like atmosphere inthese domains, as they are primarily Ravenloft domains, and secondarily fantasyOriental domains. To add too many fantasy details could make it less interestingin a Ravenloft campaign (the Oriental basic classes or races, for example).Also, the feats are also mainly for combat. Be careful not to add anything thatcontradicts Ravenloft rules.

Some PrC could be interesting in RL - Shapeshifters (ifadapted with RLish shapes, like ghosts instead of spirits, etc.), Ninja ofcourse, Shadow Scout, Singh Rager (other type of shapeshifter, could be alycanthropic Order), Witch Hunter being quite cool (powered down of course). Themartial arts can surprise PCs! There are interesting spells in a Ravenloftcontext (Ancestral Vengeance, Ghost Light, Know the Shadows, the Lesser Spiritspells, are the ones that struck me).

New monsters: Bajang (an evil fey), the cool Bog Hag (wearstheir victim’s skin!), Buso Tigbanua (ghoul family undead), Dokufu (shapechangerthat implants eggs in humans. An Alien-like adventure, anyone ?), Gaki (undeadspirits), oriental ghosts, Hebi-no-Onna (option to the RL version), Hoppingvampires, Pennaggolan (yep, the gutsy undead), Yuki-on-na (an Oriental Icequeen).

The WE, Mahasarpa, is good read too for Asian domains.

Song and silence - A Guidebook to Bards and Rogues

(WotC, #11857, December 2001)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average to good use)

Chapter 1 – PrCs. The first one of the book is the DreadPirate. Even if they are called ‘dread’, they are not that dreadful. A goodstart to design RL pirates nonetheless. Outlaw of the Crimson Road can be a nicestart to designing bandits and Spymaster is much more interesting then the ‘spy’issue of Dragon mag. The Thief-Acrobat could give some villains an edge.Vigilante bend on revenge and Virtuoso can make interesting NPC. Others are lessinteresting for RL (Dungeon Delver, Fang of Lolth, Royal Explorer, Temple Raiderof Olidammara)

Chapter 2 is on skills and feats. It starts with aninteresting discussion on poison, for your favourite ermordenung. A usefuldiscussion on traps follows. It ends with new feats that are more interestingthen many found in RL books. Most are not too much powered.

Chapter 3 – Bards and Rogue Equipment. This chapter startswith bard tools, a very good read on musical instruments. A box on ‘undeadbards’ is quite cool and can generate many ideas. Follows is a list of thievesitems, some quite well thought.

Chapter 4 is on organisations – thieves and assassinsguild, spy network, smugglers, etc. It is of limited interest in RL. However,the bardic organisations can generate good ideas for your campaign when bardsare involved.

Chapter 5 – you and the world around you, is a gooddiscussion on role playing rogues and bards.

Chapter 6 – new spells for assassins and bards. Nice ideasbut nothing to write your undead grandmother in Darkon.

The WE of this book, a bardic adventure “The Hand of theHighwayman”, can be adapted to Ravenloft (Kartakass).

Year 2002

Master of the wild - A Guidebook to Barbarians, Druids and Rangers

(WotC, #88164, February 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: interesting ideas here and thereto surprise your players and enhance a Forlorn experience – see the Blighter PrCin chapter 5)

Chapter 1 discusses the advantages of playing a barbarian(mostly useless class in Ravenloft. Rage is not a good way to deal with gothichorrors), druid (explaining more on the Wild Shape ability – very interesting),or ranger (introducing the Urban Ranger option. “The urban ranger is the king ofthe streets, capable of tracking a foe through a marketplace or across a castleparapet”. Quite interesting character)

Chapter 2 starts with Handle Animal skill discussion. It isfollowed by new feats, but all are related to nature.

Chapter 3 presents new items – new weapons (of whichblowguns and nagaika – whips with glass studded in it) and new magical items(arrow of cure light wounds? Gives a cure instead of damage. Effective on undead!).It continues on Infusions (druidic divine spells stored in a special treatedherb – interesting option on druidic alchemistry)

Chapter 4 is a discussion on animal companions. Of course,in Ravenloft animal companions are not always as trusty as in other settings. Italso includes statistics for new dire animals (Dire Toad, Dire Hawk, Dire Snake,Dire Horse, Dire Elk, Dire Elephant

Chapter 5 - PrCs: Animal Lord (odd sort of druidic wildshape ability, bonding with an animal type ex: wolf, dolphin, etc.), Bane ofInfidels (xenophobic caster who increase its power by sacrificing humanoids hethinks are infidels. Possibly interesting class for Inquisitionwarriors-clerics), the Blighter (druids disconnected from nature, now seeking todestroy it. Cool powers such as speak with dead animals and undead wild shape,animate dead animals, etc. Very interesting potential Ravenloftish villainshere!), Foe Hunter (pursuing endlessly his dedicated enemy, ever saw thatsomewhere?), Tamer of Beasts (Willard, anyone? Or for a Richemulot wererat? Or aValachan panther tamer?) and other prestige classes.

Chapter 6 is for new divine spells. Some have horrorpotential:

bullet Darkseed (Slow-kills plants)
bullet Fire Eyes (You see through natural fire, smoke, and fog)
bullet Scarecrow (Animal becomes shaken)
bullet Creeping Cold (Deals progressive damage from cold – Jezraoption?)
bullet Decomposition (Wounded creatures suffer 1 extra hp/round)
bullet Countermoon (Stops lycanthropic shapechanging for 12 hours)
bullet Blight (Deals ld6/level to a plant creature, or blights a100-ft . spread)
bullet Miasma (Gas cloud suffocates target)
bullet Kiss of Death (Creates reusable poison, delivered by touchattack)
bullet Contagious Touch (Infects one touched creature/round withchosen disease).

This book too has a WE called ‘A Druid’s Grove’. Well madeand informative.

Deities and Demigods

(WotC, #88165, April 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: not really)

Chapter 1: among other things, a discussion on cults, andon the reasons why to pray a god

Chapter 2: how to make a god and discussion on god-likeabilities

Chapter 3 to : portraits of various gods and pantheons. Notreally useful for Ravenloft, unless you want to DM a secret cult to an eviloutside deity (Hel? Toldoth?). A few maps here and there could be of interest.

The Pharaonic pantheon could help enrich a campaign in theAmber Wastes (Osiris, Set, etc. and Sobek (a croc god) for the Wildlands). It isfollowed by monsters: Minions of Set, and a greater Mummy template.

A few spells in appendix: Armor of Blackness, Blacklight,Touch of Madness, Undeath to Death

Faiths and Pantheons (Forgotten Realms)

(WotC, #88643, May 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: none, unless you want to read alittle more on Lathander, the Morning Lord)

Other FR take on some Pharaonic gods (Thoth, Nephtys,Osiris, Set, Sobek)

There is a chapter on places of worship, with maps anddetails. Could be used to start a cult or church map.

Stronghold Builders guidebook

(WotC, #88166, May 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: more or less. This is highfantasy, high magic material, so it needs to be toned down a lot for Ravenloft.However, many ideas to spice up a villain’s place – traps, room description,etc.)

Chapter 1: Building a stronghold. Discussion on siteselection, choice of material, architects, work force, etc.

Chapter 2: Stronghold components. All imaginable type ofrooms, with maps, details and cost of construction. All types of wall (mundaneor magic), locks, doors, windows, portals, spells enhancement, ideas for traps(mundane or magical).

Chapter 3: Strongholds in the campaign. Building itadventure hooks, running a stronghold, protecting it, assaulting a stronghold

Chapter 4: Example Strongholds. With maps and details. Highfantasy keeps for most. The “Cheap keep” could be a good map for Ravenloft.

Book of Challenges

(WotC, #88168, June 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: nasty ideas, but since dungeoncrawls are not often used in Ravenloft, this book is not really useful in theplane of Dread)

This book is about traps and puzzles. Most are interestingbut one DM should not use them too often, as most good DM knows. Of course,fantasy monsters should be switched to Ravenloft monsters, and magic should betoned down.

There is a note on fighting in cramped quarters (pp. 10)and “playing monster smarter then you” on pp. 68.

bullet “Watery grave” (EL5) is a sea hag’s lair.
bullet “All of the treasures, none of the trap” (EL 6) is quitewicked J
bullet “An object lesson” (EL 7) is using many animated objects.

Epic Level Handbook

(WotC, #88169, July 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: none)

Let’s be serious. Epic Level is for hack n slashing a Tarrasque, theDemogorgon or Vecna. Most Ravenloft darklords would be diced to small pieces infront of an epic character PC. No use at all in Ravenloft, IMHO, but I know of an onlinecampaign where epic goes well. The book includes stats for demilich.

Silver Marches (Forgotten Realms)

(WotC, #88567, July 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: useless)

Book exploring the northern part of FR. Perhaps while we wait for theGazetteer covering Vorostokov, but otherwise mostly useless in Ravenloft –chapter one and two mainly. Discussion on natural hazards of wild mountainouscold areas starting on pp. 48 (avalanche and landslide, cold weather, floods,forest fire, fog, getting lost, mountain travel, quicksand and bogs, rain, snow,fleet , hail, lightning, sandstorm).

Monster Manual II

(WotC, #88268, Sept 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: mostly high level monsters, soit should be used with parsimony! I guess it was released to support the EpicLevel book?)

bullet Ash Rats (CR1, annoying pest rats that dwells in flames)
bullet Banshee (CR 17 (!), but not the Ravenloft type. It’s a 169hp monster. They have interesting powers, but they seem like a cross between abanshee and an evil nature fey. Odd)
bullet Boggle (CR3, a second ed monster made to 3e. think Golum –sneaky humanoid that likes to steal)
bullet Bone naga (CR 11, an evil undead naga. Highly intelligent,poisonous and telepathic monster. Aberration that could be used once, not unlikean aboleth)
bullet Catoblepas (CR 6, ok, not Ravenloftish, but cool uglymonster)
bullet Chains golem (CR 5, created by kytons. Good potential forgothic monster)
bullet Corpse gatherer (CR 19 (!), ridiculous gargantuan animatedgraveyard, 195 hp. Subtle as an elephant in a cramped pottery store)
bullet Crimson Death (CR 11, a blood drinking spirit undead, livesin marsh and loves fog)
bullet Deathbringer (CR 17. see Corpse Gatherer. Leader of undeadarmies)
bullet Effigy (CR 17, spirit that steals body, but its hatredmakes it flaming after some time)
bullet Famine Spirit (CR 19, another ridiculously strong (200+ hp)undead. However, scale it down and it can be an interesting ghoul lord or ghoulsubtype. The closest thing to the Glutton of G’Henna perhaps)
bullet Fihyr (CR 3, a weird aberration monster, feading on fear.Could be used once too*)
bullet Golem – stained glass (CR 5)
bullet Grave crawler (CR 16, a 162 hp slug-like undead, turningflesh to stone. Sure! Gimme a case!!)
bullet Ixitxachitl (CR 3, for the vampiric type. Even if avampiric ixixatxikxatichitichtictl (sp?) was featured in CotNV, I’m not reallysure it fits…)
bullet Jahi (CR 16, weird tiny undead snake-like spirit, feedingoff the charisma of thos it dominates into doing “hedonistic” activities. Oddbut could be the start of an adventure in the sophisticated, decadent domains)
bullet Legendary animals (CR 6-10, animals of great powers. Ideasfor the wildlands?)
bullet Meenlock (CR 3, horrible humanoids that were once humans orhalfling)
bullet Moonrat (CR ¼, interesting critter: those are ordinary ratsthat get intelligent and dangerous under moon light – they get organized, makeplans, etc. Oh? You suspected wererats? Think again!)
bullet Raggamoffyn (!) (CR 1-3, weird construct that animates whena magic object is thrown in the refuse with other ordinary objects. Odd but coolidea, IMHO)
bullet Spawn of Kyuss (CR 5, the 2e monster from Greyhawk,multiplying by its worm infecting its victims. Yuck)
bullet Yugoloth (for our fav’ dog headed demon. CR 17. Perhapsideas here to modify the Gaz I entry)
bullet Template: Death Knight
bullet Template: Half-golem (yep…). For those interested, one ofthe two web enhancements of this book develops more on the half-golem idea.
bullet Template: Spellstitched (undead infused with spell castingabilities. Interesting idea to suit a chosen minion)

* When I say “can be used once” or rarely, I mean these aremonsters usually far from the typical fare of Ravenloft monsters. They are notgothic monsters, but have a great horror potential. For a typical Ravenloftcampaign, I’d recommend the use of aberration type monster very rarely.

Book of vile darkness

(WotC, #88161, October 2002)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: good option book)

The D&D book released with much fanfare and anticipations.Since it is often quite touchy, the book is an option for more mature D&Dplayers (and some images are racy). This book is about dark deeds, not thatawfully vile by the way IMHO.

Chapter one - Defining evil: This section is really greaton defining evil and evil acts, as it can help define a background for avillain. Follows is a section on fetishes and addictions(cannibalism, masochism, self-mutilation, sadism, psychopathy, necrophilia andbestiality). The chapters end with a “Creating Villains” text, which isgreat to enrich a villain background. In the example villains, one is the DreadEmperor (a dreadful blackguard-like that chains children to his plate) The chapter sets the tone by discussing topics that weregenerally avoided by TSR/WotC, like rape, drugs, sexual fetishes, etc. It isquite courageous as D&D before that always fought against a bad image in thepress and the public in general. I think it is a good idea that D&D assumes itself andfinally explores an optional fantasy evil facet in details.

Chapter two – variant rules: A great chapter exploringPossession (variant ways to DM possession, and how to “use” a possessedcharacter), Sacrifices (rewards to the priest making sacrifices), Curses (veryinfluenced by Ravenloft – dying curses, family curses, etc.), Diseases (some arevery nasty and awful!), Other ideas around evilness (Dark Speech, Pain, Hivemind,Vile damage, evil weather (a rain of frogs? Hey, a great RL idea J ) Many Ravenloft hooks in this chapter, to tailor your nextvillain.

Chapter three – evil equipment: It starts with torturedevices (ever wondered what is the damage of an Iron Maiden?), executionequipment (hanging rope damage, for ex.), new traps for armor and equipment andalchemical horrors. The chapter continues with drugs. What makes this book veryoriginal is that none of the proposed drugs are copied from our real world. Theyare high fantasy drugs, with no parallel at all with real drugs. So I think thebook avoided criticism here by making it great and innovative. I could see wellthe vistani manufacturing some of these to addicted clients. Or used in a plothook where the PCs should try a drug to have a vision on a specific problem. Then the chapter continues with poison, and evil spellsmaterial components.

Chapter four – feats: For evil NPCs, perhaps. That part isa little weak, IMHO.

Chapter five – PrCs: OK, starting with this chapter, we areleaving the Ravenloft possibilities. The PrCs presented are mostly orientedtoward demons and fiends.Some good ideas includes the Cancer mage (a wizardspreading diseases), the Lifedrinker (a PrC for vampires!), Vermin Lord, Warriorof darkness.

Chapter six – evil spells and items: The largest chapter inthe book. Often gory, high fantasy, or touching demonic magic. I don’t see manywith potential for Ravenloft. The evil items are also high fantasy and mostlygory.

Chapter seven – Lords of Evil: Demons stat. This chapter isoften quite vile J

Chapter eight – evil monsters: Very oriented toward demonsand devils. The chapter provides stats for Eye of Fear and Flame and for Vilewights (for those who played too much with the black arts). Some templatesfollows: Bone Creature and Corpse Creature (to create intelligent skeletons andzombies) and Corrupted Creatures (ex: corrupted wolf).

Year 2003

Savage Species

(WotC, # 88158, February 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: about none. The book is aboutfantasy monster PCs. The book has great fantasy ideas, but, in a Ravenloftcontext, it is very odd, to say the least, … Some interesting ideas here andthere, like how to play a monster like a flesh golem, it can give ideas)

Arms and Equipment

(WotC, # 88159, March 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: average. Good ideas to enrich aNPC description)

Chapter one – weapons and armors. Some OK ideas for evilNPCs – whip-dagger, stump knife, claw bracers, etc. And follows a discussion onweapons according to our Earth culture – it can be used to complement the listof things available according to the Cultural Level.

Chapter two – adventuring gears. Nice ideas for NPC or PCadventuring supplies. Very good addition to the list in the PHB or the RL3ebook.

The “special and superior items” section containsalchemical items, but they should be rare in RL. A RL DM should prune this list(candle of focusing, and candle of resting, ghostoil (makes a weaponincorporeal), gravebane (repulsive to undead) are good additions).

The list of poisons is a page long: it’s a must for poisonreference.

Chapter three – vehicles. Everything you always wanted toknow with D&D vehicles – naval, air borne or on ground. Basic stats and ways todrive them for each.

Anybody building a zeppelin in Falkovnia?

Chapter four – hirelings and creatures. Discussion onguilds and cost to hire a craft specialist. Buying spell casting? Mercenaries?Exotic mounts? Less useful in RL.

Chapter five – magic items. Long list of mostly highlypowerful magical items, except a few that caught my attention: arrow of eyes(see through an eye on an arrow), bolts of voice (put an annoying voice insidethe target), claws of the leopard (grants animal abilities), mace of unlife(evil item).

Chapter six – special magical items. Ways to createintelligent magical items, including cursed magical items and artefacts. Highfantasy.

Races of Faerun (Forgotten realms)

(WotC, # 88578, March 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: not really. It’s mainly a bookon subrace of dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs and orcs, Halfling,humans, plane-touched and minor races (high fantasy monster, not found in RL).To be noticed, the elf part includes dark elves (drow elf), and the human partMulans and Rashemis – for an eventual Hazlan expansion)

Fiend Folio

(WotC, # 88661, April 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: more or less. This book ismostly about strange aberrations and outsiders)

bullet Bhut (CR 9, corpse stealing undead)
bullet Caryatid Column (CR 6, the pilar changing to construct)
bullet Chwidencha (CR 9, monster from the abyss, but creepy spidercreature that could be adapted to RL)
bullet Crypt Thing (CR 3, the undead from 1e Fiend Folio thatloves to teleport defilers)
bullet Huecuva (CR 7, another 1e FF update. Huecuvas are undeadcreated from clerics that failed their vows. It is a template)
bullet Hullathoin (a CR 15 lizard-like monster, creating undeadminions to protect it. That it an undead eludes me, it’s more like an aberrationto me)
bullet Iron Cobra (CR 2, snake construct,
bullet Jackalwere (CR 2)
bullet Kelpie (CR 10, aquatic fey, chaotic evil)
bullet Necrophidius (CR 2, another snake like construct. This oneis undead looking)
bullet Shadow Asp (CR 1)
bullet Swarm (CR various, according to creature. Good ones arePlague Ant, Locust Swarms, Scarab Beetle, Viper, Wasp)
bullet Sword Wraith (CR 7, undead of mercenaries
bullet Wendigo (CR 6, evil cold fey template, chaotic evil)
bullet Wicker Man (CR 11, construct mad of small branches
bullet Yellow musk creeper (CR 4, a plant creatingplant-controlled zombies, with template to create the zombies)
bullet Appendix two is about grafts and symbionts. For the nextnecromancer in town, select some undead grafts. The symbionts are things thatattach to their host and gives them benefits and try influencing the host.

Unapproachable East (Forgotten realms)

(WotC, # 17665, May 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: for Hazlan aficionados only)

Chapter one: new races for FR: Star Elves (extraplanarelves), Gnoll, and other fantasy races. One of them is interesting: Hagspawns.

Chapter two: Prestige Classes. Of the fantasy list, somehave horror potential: Black Flame Zealots (assassins), Runescarred Berserkers(weird barbarians with magic sigils on them. For spicing up the Forlorn goblins? Vorostokov?), Talontar Blightlord (evil priest dealing with poison,corruption, disease, and undead), Thayan Slaver (for Hazlan, perhaps),

Chapter three: Regions and feats. Forget this chapter forRavenloft.

Chapter four: Magic and spells.

bullet Animate Dread Warrior (a Dread Warrior is a dead skilledwarrior brought back to serve)
bullet Nybor’s Gentle Reminder, and Nybor’s Stern Reproof (tocontrol slaves – Hazlan)

Chapter five: magic item. High fantasy, one of them beingthe Thayan Bombard (Hazlik should have one!)

Chapter six: monsters of the East.

bullet Blightspawned (CR9, corrupted treant)
bullet Dread Warrior (CR2, undead warrior)
bullet Hag – bheur (CR9, a cold dwelling hag), shrieking hag(CR10), hagspawn (template)
bullet Juju zombie (template, thougher zombie, that still has someintelligence)

Chapter seven and later focuse on developing the ForgottenRealm (Adventuring in the East), eight (Aglarond), nine (the great Dale), ten (Rashemen),twelve (Thesk), and thirteen: the Border Areas

Chapter eleven describes Thay. An Hazlan maniac couldread this to enrich the already great stuff of Gazetteer One (or to make a listof Thay things that annoy Hazlik)


(WotC, # 88566, June 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: interesting options) Chapter one: Setting basics. The most interesting part fora Ravenloft DM. Ghostwalk is an interesting D&D option.
In this setting, the city of Manifest is located near the entrance tothe Land of the Dead, where all dead people go when they die. However, some canstay in the city of Manifest if they want. They are dead, ghost-like beings,staying for a while on the side of the livings.

They are not monstrous manual ghost, but players in anotherstate. While you are a ghost, you gain level in eidolon (formerlyfighting classes) or eidoloncer (formerly spell casters). When you have morelevels in these classes compared to the classes you had when you were living,you succumb to the Calling and are sucked to the Land of the Dead.

For Ravenloft, it could be an option for some PCs (or NPCs):they stay around for a time as ghost, until their quest is finished, or they arebrought back to life. Or perhaps a domain could have Ghostwalk traits? A domainwhere the dead stays around for a moment? A new domain or Mordent, perhaps? Mixit with real monstrous manual ghosts and one would need discernment to interactwith corporeal NPCs...

Some of the Ghosts Traits can be used in Ravenloft for“regular” ghosts, as they can give ideas to enrich a description, background orghost habits. An interesting discussion on possession and ghost powers follows. A long list of new feats are cool for ghosts (Agony Touch –drain ability, Control Visage – shape changer, Corpse Malevolence – possess acorpse and haunt it; etc.). Many of these feats can make interesting abilitiesfor monstrous manual ghosts. Some magic items could be used in Ravenloft (those weaponshaving an effect on incorporeal beings, etc.). They should be rare, of course.

New spells are also presented:

bullet Bonerattle (affect anything with bones)
bullet Detect ghost (good idea, but it should be rare and shorterthen 1 minute / level)
bullet Disguise Undead (shape changing on undead)
bullet Dispel possession (force a possessor to exit the possessedbody)
bullet General of Undeath (more hit dice are controlled)
bullet Ghost Companion (a new state for you familiar?)
bullet Ghost Touch Armor (against incorporeal beings)
bullet Ghost venom (poison against incorporeal)
bullet Incorporeal Disharmonics (bards music against incorporeal)
bullet Nightmare Lullaby (put your target in a surreal state,thinking he is in a nightmare)
bullet Pleasant Visage (disguise the apparent wound of a ghostappearance)
bullet Protection from possession
bullet Shroud of Undeath (you pass as an undead among other undead)
bullet Undeath to death (snuff unlife out of undead)
bullet Wall of ectoplasm (a wall against incorporeal)

Magic items: Bonecrusher arrows (undead bane), Mace ofUndead Prowess (raise the level for rebuking or commanding undead), but most arevery high fantasy.

Chapter two(The City of Manifest – the city got its namebecause dead people souls can “manifest” their presence and interact with thelivings), three (Ghostwalk Campaign), four (Countries) and six (adventures) canbe useful to design an eventual ghostwalk domain. Some parts can be turned togothic with adaptation (the entrance to the Land of the Dead, Mortician Guild,etc.). Ghostwalk is however very high fantasy material (lots of dwarven magic,dungeon crawls, yuan-ti and many fantasy monsters, magic sewers, etc.)

Chapter five: Monsters

bullet Bonesinger (template for undead evil bards)
bullet Dread Ram (CR 3 monstrosity. Cool drawing, by the way)
bullet Ghost template (for Ghostwalk ghost beings)
bullet Mumia (template, a variant of mummy)
bullet Necroplasm (CR3, ooze-like undead)
bullet Spectral Steed (CR3 undead horses, cool drawing too. Thebite level drain effect is cheesy but it could be replaced by something elsemore fitting to RL)
bullet Undead Martyr (CR 2 animated corpse/spirit that stillprotects someone it protected in life)
bullet WE: new monsters
bullet Blood ghoul (template for humans temporarily altered toghoul-like beings by drinking vampire blood. They serve the vampire)

After this date, all books are 3.5

Dragonlance Campaign Setting

(WotC, # 86990, August 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: not really, unless you want todiscuss Lord Soth’s past realm)

The book contains the PrCs Knight of Solamnia (Lord Soth’sformer Knight Order, Chapter two), Death Knight template (chapter seven, but itis Lord Ausric Krell that is used to illustrate the template), Takhisis godlyportrait (chapter nine)

A few mentions of Soth are made in the book:

bullet On page 158, in the Nightlund area description:
bullet On page 203, in the DL time line:
bullet On page 212, Soth’s song accompanies the Death Knighttemplate:

Web enhancement: just a note that a very detailed color mapof the setting has been released as a web enhancement. It’s an 8 page map thatneeds to be scotched together. Nice idea, isn’t it?

Book of Exalted Deeds

(WotC, # 88026, October 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: great material to inspirecareers of goodness)

Chapter one – The Nature of Good. The chapter starts with a discussion on goodness – whatmakes a character choose good actions? What are his choices when violence is theonly solution? It is followed by good archetypes: the righteous crusader,The Fated Champion, The Benevolent Healer, The Holy Teacher, The Peasant Hero,The Redeemed Villain, and a discussion on exalted traits for each various D&Dclass. After is a few ideas for campaign orientation.

Chapter two– Variant Rules. The chapter discussesinteresting goodness topics, like exorcism, heroic sacrifice and martyrdom,mercy and prisoners (an often difficult question), Tithes and religiousofferings, etc.

One great part is about voluntary poverty, and benefits ofpoverty. This has a great potential for Ravenloft characters.

Chapter three– Exalted Equipments: sanctified weapons,non-lethal weapons, ravages (strange substances that damages evil character,like a poison), relics (interesting items, not too powerful. I wonder howeverhow to adapt these items to Ravenloft as there are very few saints…)

Chapter four – Feats. Most of the feats could be used by Ravenloft PCs or NPCs (ex: Non-Lethal substitution – change lethal damage of aspell to non-lethal)

Sacred vows and the ones that are linked to it are goodRavenloft choices: vow of abstinence, vow of chastity, vow of non-violence (forTara Kolyana), of obedience, of peace, of poverty, of purity.

Some are very powerful for Ravenloft however and should betones down (ex: Exalted Turning – deal 3d6 damage to turned undead? Toopowerful)

Chapter five– Prestige Classes.

Odd fantasy classes, mostly related to good angels-likepowers, in opposite to the demon-oriented PrC of the Book of Vile Darkness. Someare interesting for NPCs:

bullet Apostle of Peace (interesting PrC, with pacifying touch andcensure fiends ability)
bullet Risen Martyr (you come back after an horrible death tofinish a task or follow a cause. You’re not undead, just back ;) )
bullet Swanmay (females sworn to protect the nature against evil)

Chapter six– Magic. Most spells are high fantasy and verypowerful, ex: Last Judgement (reciting a list of the target’s deed, you calldown the judgement of the heavens upon it), Unheartly Beauty (one people lookingat you get a save or die), or 40d6 damaging spells…

A few have potential in Ravenloft IMHO: Ease Pain, Glory ofthe Martyr (make a bond with another person: you get the damage that personreceive), Moment of Clarity (get a second save against mind affecting spells),Rain of Roses (that scratches evil flesh only), Remove addictions, SilveredClaws (make you silver claws, druid 1).

It is followed by fantasy magic items (redeemed unholysword?). Some items could suit well a Ravenloft paragon of good, like Eia Pax orothers – enfeebling or paralysing weapons, for example.

Chapter seven – Celestial Paragons. New celestials. Goodread, well made and designed for most, but useless in Ravenloft.

Chapter eight – Monsters.

Mostly about new celestials or good creatures from thePlanescape setting (eladrin, archon, etc).

bullet New type: Deathless (those dead that are still good and notundead. It’s a cross between a good undead and living creatures. Very Odd),exemples: Crypt warden (protect tombs), Sacred Watcher (died while protectingsomeone)
bullet Aleax (the creature punishing you by being a double of youthat you have to fight)
bullet Saint (a warrior with celestials powers)
bullet Sanctified creature (an evil creature turned good, ex: reddragon)
bullet Swarm – odd stuff like apocalypse frogs, locusts,deathraven, sunfly

Underdark (Forgotten realms)

(WotC, # 88581, October 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: not at all, it is highly fantasyand only applicable to FR: drows, kuo-tua and underdark stuff. There areillithids, but on the fantasy side, and none at all horror)

A PrC, the Vermin Keeper could make an interesting villain,if we see his effects long before meeting him. A few monster are interesting: All-consuming Hunger (an oddmass of body parts), stats for an illithid Elder Brain, Giant Maggot, IneffableHorror (a Cthulhu-like horror), an illithilich (p. 136)


(WotC, # 17668, November 2003)

(Usefulness for Ravenloft: no use, since there are nearlyno dragons in Ravenloft. However, it is a good book …)

Really, if you have too, some monster: dracolich, ghostdragon, golems made of dragon parts, dragon skeleton, vampiric dragons, zombiedragons.

There are stats on shadow dragon, by the way.

Year 2005

The Spell Compendium

(WotC, #885987200, December 2005)


One of the best books I've bought. 5/5 magic wands!

Tons of spells. Some are very useful and should have been implemented the PHB IMO, some are ingenious and just a few are over the edge (meaning are too strong).

A few examples:

  1. 1st level cleric spells:
    give attack roll bonus,
    give deflection,
    give attack and damage bonus,
    give magical bonus to weapons,
    but they don't give a bonus to all saves, resistance is just a +1 for once. Conviction spell fixes that hole.
  2. Cleric gets some good curses, and a few spells that he can use in combat in a cleric way, meaning they aren't as dramatic or powerful as fireball or lighting bolt but they make use of the cleric's higher attack roll, like ice-axe.
  3. Wizards get a bunch of spells that do... almost anything. Attack spells, defending spells, protective spells, and general usef/make-your-life-easier tools.
  4. You can use the information in this book and PHB (and I would suggest Eldrich might also) and make a wizard that specializes in whatever you want and not lacking for spells. I mean more specialization than necromancer, evocer etc.
    I mean a spellcaster specialized in: Curses or fire spells or spells that alter things or spells about undead etc and not be (heavily) penalized.
    You can even have a spellcasted that has no school other than divination and be useful in battle. :-)
    That said, don't expect that diviner be as useful in battle as a generalist mage, but he isn't useless.


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