DOMAINS OF DREAD
h, Domains of Dread. Once, I was skeptical of its potential value as a replacement for the excellent "red box" RAVENLOFT Campaign Setting. Now, it's my most valuable resource as a RAVENLOFT DM.
What's the difference between DoD and past campaign settings? The good news is that almost everything that's worked in the past has been retained. Everything you've come to expect from RAVENLOFT is here, including domain descriptions, curses, power checks, fear, horror, madness, and spell, item and psionic alterations. The other good news is that there's a ton of new material. Although the red box seemed like it was primarily meant to introduce changes to the Demiplane itself, DoD brings truly original material to the setting.
The largest change is a new emphasis on RAVENLOFT player characters. The first few chapters of the AD&D Player's Guide are reproduced in altered form in the Appendix. The focus is primarily on native RAVENLOFT characters. Every domain's description includes a paragraph or two about native PC's, who typically receive a benefit and/or penalty based on their homeland. There's even a new race—the half-Vistani—and four new character classes: the avenger, anchorite, arcanist and gypsy. There are also changes to the Demiplane itself, and minor refinements to the whole setting, such as cultural levels and scaling of darklord power. The whole book is very densely packed with information, without many large illustrations, but this is actually a great boon. Considering the detail contained therein, DoD is only moderately sized.
Of course, DoD is far from flawless. My main complaint is that it's a somewhat disorienting product for those who have never experienced RAVENLOFT before. I don't quite know why, but the black and red boxes seemed to ease the newcomer into the setting more delicately. Thus, DoD comes off as more appropriate for experienced Ravenloft DM's. There was one glaring omission: the "capsule Van Richten Guides" in the red box were invaluable for the DM who doesn't have the money to spring for the real thing. Telling the DM to make every vampire unique isn't the same as giving him the mechanics to do it. Furthermore, the emphasis on PC's makes it especially annoying that the book is a mosaic of DM and player information. If my players wanted to learn about their home domain, I had to write up a customized information sheet for them. This prompts my suggestion for a future product: a Player's Guide to RAVENLOFT!
Overall, though, DoD is a downright treasure and a wonderful new direction for the campaign setting. I give it my highest rating.