Van Richten’s Guide to Fiends (1995)

I think a lot of folks might question the need for Van Richten’s Guide to Fiends (1995). Ravenloft’s status as a sort of prison/paradise for individuals of great evil is undercut somewhat by the presence of fiends (made additionally more complicated by the fact that the Mists make it difficult to summon fiends and there is no guarantee they can be dismissed once they arrive). And that’s all fair. But this book does some interesting things nonetheless.

First, as with all the guides, this one is written as an in-universe book, representing the field research of van Richten. Unlike the other guides, with fiends van Richten admits his knowledge is imperfect and often highly theoretical. A well versed DM can easily spot when van Richten is wrong, but the side effect is that van Richten’s theories are often more intriguing than the D&D reality. He is unaware of the fiendish races and, instead sees them as singular, unique entities (which, as much as I love D&D fiends, is way more in line with occult horror and common sense). This is used to good effect in the profiles of several known fiends residing in Ravenloft.

Another interesting thing the book describes is how fiends in Ravenloft subtly warp reality, twisting the dark land even darker thanks to their presence. These effects are presented as an interplay between the evil of the fiends and the unique make up of the demiplane, but I don’t see why devils and demons couldn’t stain the prime material, or any other place they haunt.

Fond of the loose stylings of Scott Burdick, who mostly appeared on the occasional cover of Dungeon and Dragon magazine. This one seems uniquely Ravenloft in tone while still throwing some Planescape vibes, which I appreciate. I love Stephen Fabian’s fiends, even thought they look doofy more than sinister. Speaking of, anyone have a clue what that bagpipe looking thing is on the floor in front of that bugged-out scholar’s desk?

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