Van Richten’s Guide to Empire of the Ghouls Part 1

Emperor Nicoforus and the ghoul legions

I’ve been a fan of Ravenloft since the original AD&D I6 adventure and the 2nd Edition Realms of Terror boxed set, so I was excited to read Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, the latest D&D book from Wizards of the Coast. 

This series of blog posts offers some ideas on how a DM running Empire of the Ghouls (or another Midgard campaign) can steal things from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft to enhance their game by adding an extra touch of horror.


Character Options

The first chapter of Van Richten’s Guide, Character Creation, includes a host of new PC options, many of which are a good fit for characters in an Empire of the Ghouls campaign.

The book features three types of lineages – a new type of race reflecting a transformation that the character underwent before play begins (or during the game).  One is the dhampir which is also a PC race (and a background) in the Midgard Heroes’ Handbook; the other two are the hexblood and the reborn. 

Hexbloods are fey characters infused with witchcraft and eldritch magics, often through bargains with hags. If playing a character who has made a deal with Baba Yaga appeals, the hexblood is for you!   

Reborn are characters who have died but somehow live on, perhaps as a result of a weird magical or scientific experiment. In Midgard, a reborn might be a scarred survivor of dark research conducted by Baron Fandorin in his underground sanctum of Whispergloom beneath Walker’s Wood. 

The Dark Powers of Ravenloft sometime offer Dark Gifts, sinister bargains with attractive benefits but also dreadful drawbacks which can be selected at the start of a campaign or during the course of their adventures. During the course of Empire of the Ghouls the adventurers will visit many evil temples and other baleful locations. Perhaps a character touching the altar in one of Marena’s shrines or the rune-covered obelisks outside Chernobog’s Midnight Temple will be offered a Dark Gift themed to the relevant god? Or maybe the Moonlit King offers someone a Dark Gift of Living Shadow when the party travels the shadow roads?

The warlock subclass, The Undead, offers a warlock PC the opportunity to make a pact with a powerful undead being. Emperor Nicoforus or the Last King (Empire of the Ghouls, Chapter 5), King Lucan of the Blood Kingdom, or one of the unliving God-Kings of Nuria Natal are all potential options here, although be sure to consider how the character’s pact will fit with the main aim of the campaign – ending the ghoul threat to the surface lands!

Chapter 1 of Van Richten’s Guide also presents a number of background options. New background features like Inheritor, Trauma Survivor and Traveler, and the horror-flavoured tables for Personality, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are nearly all appropriate for creating Empire of the Ghouls characters. 

There is already a Haunted Villager background in the Midgard Heroes’ Handbook which is a great fit for Empire of the Ghouls PCs, but the new Haunted One background in VGtR has a cool table of alternative harrowing events to roll on, as well as details of a monster hunter’s pack, a must for well-prepared characters. A character with the Investigator background could prove useful when dealing with events in Zobeck in Chapter 1 of Empire of the Ghouls

The chapter ends with 100 horror trinkets including a mummified raven claw and a rag doll with two red dots on its neck, many of which are appropriate for an Empire of the Ghouls campaign. You can use this table for the PCs’ starting trinkets, and save the underworld trinkets in the Underworld Players’ Guide for later in the campaign.

I hope you’ve found this post useful; I’ll be covering the other chapters in later articles. If you have any thoughts on how to use Van Richten’s Guide with Empire of the Ghouls or with the Midgard setting, please do share in the comments!


Main image by Craig J Spearing

Published by richgreen01

D&D gamer | Freelance game designer | Writer & publisher – Parsantium: City at the Crossroads

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