Ravenloft Archetypes: Nightmares of Barovia is a supplement by Jeremy Forbing for players and Dungeon Masters who have their games set in the Ravenloft campaign setting. It contains new archetypes for several character classes, a selection of new races and spells, and a number of new monsters that the DM can employ against the characters.
It’s hard writing good rules material. It’s even harder writing the rules in the technical manner they require. This supplement isn’t perfect in either aspect, but the writing is pretty good; especially for a product that is most likely self-edited.
Before we proceed further into the review, I must declare one of my major prejudices: I dislike intensely any use of Lovecraftian horror (such as the Far Realm) in the Ravenloft setting, which I prefer to keep as a Gothic Horror setting. So, keep that in mind as you proceed forward. Jeremy has mixed the two, and I’m a little unhappy about that!
The new class archetypes are as follows:
- Barbarian – Path of the Sea Reaver. A Viking of Ravenloft. This primal path begins with giving the character additional seafaring and mobility skills, moves on to allowing it to resist psychic damage and things that make the character frightened, and at higher levels it gains the ability to frighten people and take advantage of their frightened state. It tends towards being a powerful path, with a couple of rules oddities.
- Bard – College of Secrets. The idea of a character who builds up information networks and takes advantage of them is a good one, as is someone who can take advantage of the psychological vulnerabilities of their opponents. Both together? The two sit together uneasily, and the flavour text doesn’t really quite work. You’d be better described as an enforcer and interrogator for a secret society, who also has access to the secrets discovered by that society; the concept needs more refining. The college makes little sense in Barovia, but perhaps would work in another domain.
- Fighter – Slayer. I’m going to guess this path is inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The execution displays some interesting abilities and mechanics, and some questionable ones. Spending a superiority die to detect supernatural foes within 30 feet is a very poor ability. The abilities that define you in terms of a hated enemy and your ability to inspire and protect your friends are much better realised.
- Paladin – Oath of Blood. This oath is interesting and well realised; representing a paladin who has been cursed to become a vampire and is struggling to control themselves. The mechanics give them a number of powerful options, but with some drawbacks. Personally, I’d not allow someone to use it in Curse of Strahd, but it might find a home in another Ravenloft adventure.
- Ranger – Stalker. This is a take on the Urban Investigator archetype, and duplicates many of the information-gathering abilities from the College of Secrets. The unique details of the class are interesting, although I think the capstone ability – an ability to take down a single target you’ve been tracking – doesn’t mesh well with the abilities gained earlier, which seem to be aimed more at groups.
- Rogue – Antiquarian. There is a great mismatch between the name of the path and what it actually entails. Did you think “Antiquarian” meant “Specialist in a Signature Weapon”? No, neither did I. The path actually allows you to play an Indiana Jones character with all the tricks he can pull off with a whip, with a few other combat abilities thrown in. It does that nicely.
- Warlock – Dark Powers Patron. The idea of having a character directly connected to the Dark Powers of the Domains of Dread throws up all sorts of warning signals for me. I don’t think Ravenloft works well when you’re playing an evil character.
- Wizard – School of Alienism. Another conceptual mismatch due to Lovecraft. This class is complicated and fascinating. I’d prefer to reskin it in the Gothic Horror tradition, as a lot of the abilities would work in that framework. As with the Warlock, I’d be happier if it were an NPC class rather than a PC one.
The new racial subtypes are:
- Crag Dwarf – a subrace of dwarves that haven’t been able to flee the terror, and so they are now paranoid and quick to anger. The mechanics for this are a mess. All of the abilities are much weaker than they should be, and are fiddly besides. Avoid being surprised by making a saving throw against the DC of the roll used to surprise you? What on earth does that mean? (Mechanically, surprise is not a consequence of a roll against you. It’s the consequence of you not noticing any of the enemy… which might not require a roll). Using your reaction to reroll a failed saving throw against fear? We already have a way of handling that: you gain advantage on saves vs being frightened. Halflings have it, and it’s called “Brave”. (Don’t multiply mechanics needlessly; it makes learning the rules a lot harder).
- Vistani – a subrace of humans with minor magical abilities, who are slightly important to Barovia and the setting in general. This implementation doesn’t thrill me, and again we have some strange mechanics. (Use your reaction to gain advantage on Wisdom saving throws against being charmed or frightened.)
- Dusk Elf – not strictly speaking a new subrace of elves, for Dusk Elves use the mechanics of other subraces. Instead this is a different take on elven personalities. It is nicely handled.
Further definition to the races is given through a collection of three feats; two linked specifically to the Dusk Elf and Vistani, the third could be taken by any high-dexterity character trained in Stealth. The feats are inventive, but as a DM I’d be very wary of Shadow Sentinel, which allows you to cause your space to become heavily obscured every time you take the Dodge action.
The player material concludes with a collection of eight spells. The spells are a mixed bag, with some mechanics that are entirely too complicated for their own good. Blood curse, a cantrip, is a good example of this. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw or until your next turn, it has disadvantage on Wisdom checks (not saving throws or attacks) and takes 1d4+3 extra necrotic damage if it is damaged by an attack, but this ends the spell. So I guess the disadvantage ends? And why 1d4+3 rather than 2d4? (Spell damages are typically just dice without additions, save for when you use your spellcasting ability modifier).
Reaver’s Curse, a cantrip that allows you to drain the life force of enemies and gain temporary hit points – and is more effective against beasts – is a lot cleaner in its execution.
The product concludes with a selection of ten monsters. The Deep Cultist is Lovecraftian, as is the Pseudonatural template. I’m not sure what to make of the template. It’s a really nice idea, but some of the abilities are rather marginal, and the statistic modifications seem more in tune with 3E design precepts than with how 5E does things.
Much better are the variant vampires, with abilities themed towards their original race – halfling, elf and dwarf are covered here. The Barovian Scarecrow is also a nice monster, although I’m not sure if it has the proper challenge rating.
I have mixed feelings about this supplement. It has some very good material, but there are also mismatches between concept and realisation, and some of the mechanics would work better if simplified. Personally, I think it’s worth picking up just for the abilities of the halfling vampire.