D&D’s Guide to Ravenloft: Magical Disaster Horrors Await Players

A massive sand worm roars in fury in art from Dungeons & Dragons' Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.

Look, they just want to ask you a question.
Image: Robin Olausson/Wizards of the Coast

Its almost time to descend onto the dread demi-plane of Ravenloft and its many realms when Dungeons & Dragons releases its latest sourcebook, Van Richtens Guide to Ravenloft. Theres so much more to the horrors of Ravenloft than what our dear friend Strahd is up to though. io9 has a sneak peek inside just one of those new spooky lands and spoke to senior D&D game designer Wes Schneider to find out more.

The new sourcebook lets players venture beyond Strahd Von Zarovichs lands in the iconic realm of Baroviaalready well-mined in Fifth Editions Curse of Strahdand into over 30 other domains of dread in the plane of Ravenloft. Each offers gamers a different twist on horror themes and genres, from the masquerade of Dementlieu to Viktra Mordheims ice golem horrors in Lamordiabut if youre looking for something a little more spellbinding, io9 is excited to give you a first look at Hazlan, a land of disaster and unflinching wizardry might. Check out Guide to Ravenlofts set up for Hazlan below, as well as some incredible, giant-sized art for the realm by Robin Olausson!


Domain Doomed by Magic

Darklord: Hazlik

Genres: Dark fantasy and disaster horror

Hallmarks: Amoral spellcasters, magic-ravaged environment, magical experiements, wild magic

Mist Talismans: Eye of Hazlik amulet, gremishka foot, scrap from a red robe

In Hazlan, magic is authority, justification for any excess, andfor those without itthe specter of inevitable doom. This domain is less a nation than a vast magical laboratory, whose wizard overlord Hazlik views every being as either an apprentice or a test subject. He conscripts those he acknowledges as lesser wizards into performing elaborate magical experiments, twisting the fabric of magic and reality until it frays. These experiments endlessly scar a domain drained of vitality, tortured by magical disasters, and overrun with abominations. The greatest wounds affect the invisible flows of magic underpinning the land, turning it erratic and dangerous.


Image: Robin Olausson/Wizards of the Coast

Wizards, sorcerers, and spellcasters of all sorts beware, if your party ventures forth into Hazlan! To learn more about the inspirations behind Hazliks dread domain and Guide to Ravenlofts approach to horror roleplay, io9 asked senior D&D game designer Wes Schneider a few questions over email. Check out the full interview below!

James Whitbrook, io9: What can you tell us about the ideation process for Hazlan?

Wes Schneider: Hazlans a great example of a Ravenloft domain where the technology behind its horror concept has improved since its origin. At its root, Hazlan is a creepy magocracy ruled by Hazlik, a petty wizard overlord. But since the 90s, our collective imaginations have expanded on what an evil magic dystopia might look like. If nothing else, the number of dystopian future and post-apocalyptic horror films have exploded since then. D&D also has the wonderful plot trope of a wizard did it. Who made this dungeon? Why are fiends invading? Where did owlbears come from? A wizard did it. At its heart, Hazlan is a merging of these concepts. Hosts of unrivaled, amoral wizard-tyrants did it. Did what? Everything.

Hazlan is a domain where anything wizards could do theyve done to the extreme, and theyre still doing it, all in the name of magical discovery and with the effects scarring the realms people and land. This makes it the domain for all manner of weird monsters, amoral experiments, magical contagions, unnatural weather, collapsing reality, meteor showers, mutations, disasters, and so much more. Writer Jessica Ross worked with the team on this domain and brought some delightfully depraved ideas about evil wizardly schemes and domain-wide disasters to the table. This variety all came together with Jared Blandos fantastically bizarre map to make Hazlan one of the most vibrant and varied of the Domains of Dread.

io9: Theres dozens and dozens of dread realms in Ravenloft. What was the pitching process like to sort out the details beyond the realms already previously covered in past D&D sources?

Schneider: Fear changes over time. The horror front of mind in the 80s and 90s is not the same fair were seeing in frightening films and fiction today. Rather than focusing on the same terror of decades past, we wanted to make room for a broader sweep of horror. The Domains of Dread have endless room, especially for all thats come before, but we also wanted to explore what D&D horror looks like when it pits characters against endless zombie hordes, environmental disasters, folk horror threats, and other terrors popularized in recent years. In some cases, existing domains made natural settings for these concepts, but other concepts begged for their own entirely new domains.

io9: When youre coming up with the short-and-sharp setup for realms like this, what other tools will Ravenloft give to players and dungeon masters to flesh out settings that get this bite-sized treatment?

Schneider: Van Richtens Guide to Ravenloft has a whole chapter on creating your own domains and Darklords. With some of the shorter domains in the book, we send readers off on a certain path, but where it leads is theirs to discover. With the varied discussions on creating horror adventures themed around specific genres and hundreds of related ideas for story elements, DMs will find a wealth of details to help them flesh out existing domains or their own creations.

io9: Youve previously spoken about Ravenloft including tools for players to moderate and run consensually agreed upon material at the table. Can you tell us a little more about how those rules align with Ravenlofts horror storytelling, and WOTCs approach to expanding on session zero guides like this in future material?

Schneider: In large part, its as simple as not making someone sit through a movie they dont want to see. If theres a type of horror film I dont like, I wont go see it. Or, if I missed the trailer and a film takes a turn Im not interested in, I can walk out. Im entirely in control of most of my horror media experiences. (Power buttons are a heck of a power trip.) Things get a little trickier when your horror experience is a group of collaborating players, when there is no trailer, and when the story has the potential to unfold in any possible way. So players dont feel stranded in unexpected or uncomfortable situations, we provide a framework for groups to discuss horror and be upfront about what they do and dont want to see in a game. Moreover, we talk about how to adjust those expectations once a campaigns gotten startedeven midgame if needs be. In the best scenarios, groups wont need these options, but if an adventure does take an unexpected turn, we want to make sure players can quickly adjust and get right back to the game.

Van Richtens Guide to Ravenloft is in stores tomorrow, May 18.

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