Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires (1991)

Vampires, appropriately enough, are the first entry in the series of eight AD&D Second Edition Van Richten’s Guides. Within, you’ll find a plethora of details about the undead terrors – their habits, powers and weaknesses – compiled by Ravenloft’s Van Helsing pastiche, Dr. Rudolf van Richten.

Monster ecologies – deep dives into their behavior and their place in their environment – had been a regular feature in Dragon Magazine since the 80s. This is one of the first moves by TSR to take that approach to full size game accessories (the first, if I recall correctly, is the Draconomicon from 1990, and the trend arguable reaches its apex with the Elminster’s Ecologies box set four years later).

Guide to Vampires is meaty, presenting tons of material, all written in in-universe style by Van Richten. Unfortunately, the book makes no clear sectioning of material intended for the player or the DM. The result is that a casual reader ends up being exposed to lots of mechanical data about vampires that spoils the mystique somewhat. Even if that means the guide is essentially a DM-only book, it does provide a huge helping hand in running D&D vampires as impressive foes worthy of their real world legacy, something that was no small task previously.

The bedrock of the book, as with all other Ravenloft books I enjoy, is Stephen Fabian’s art. He has some competition this time from cover artist Den Beauvais (of the excellent Dragon Magazine chess covers I posted several months ago). I love the idea of the vampire’s cloak as batlike membrane – this is one of my favorite RPG vampire images, even if he looks like a cross between Mr. Sinister and Spawn.

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