Though Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft includes info on more than 30 Domains of Dread, the real terror is the one you’ll make on your own.
In Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, you’ll find details on Domains of Dread that are host to whole campaigns’ worth of epic villains, from cursed werewolves, to ancient kings, mummified forever, to fallen generals who seek to redeem the lives they lost in a fallen zombie plague. However, none of these villains is as powerful as the villain you’ll surely come up with–and with the rules laid out in Van Richten’s Guide for coming up with your own Domain of Dread and corresponding Darklord, the only limit is your imagination.
Even if you’re not looking to specifically create your own Darklord, say you’re just getting ready for another big campaign, or you’re just wanting to plot a memorable one-shot adventure, this is still some of the best advice for creating a memorable villain in any D&D book. Because it’s not just about building a stat block (though that’s an art all its own), it’s about finding what makes your villain work for the players. The first thing you’ll find is how the villain relates to the Heroes and how they might interact–because without heroes, there’s no dark mirror to hold up to the players.
And so the first thing you’ll find is a list of guidelines for how the players might provoke the Darklord. Because it’s about making sure that you have a two-way street here, with players finding reasons to cross the Darklord and the Darklord wanting something from the players, even if it’s just to eliminate a weakness.
But Darklords aren’t just a foil for the adventurers. They are ancient. They are the land. And that’s not just pretty speak from Strahd, that’s a symbolic representation of the Darklord’s tenuous relationship with the Domain of Dread. So you’re encouraged to think about what happened when the Darklord is brought down. Do they return? Can they escape (as Azalin has)?
You also need to think about what the Darklord is like, and this is a handy guide for creating their personality and history and making them distinct. If you want a lead in on your villain, these are important questions to answer, and savvy players and DMs will note that these same questions are useful for making interesting player characters too.
Finally, you should think about how the Darklord is tormented by their Domain of Dread. Once you have this, you can consult Van Richten’s Guide’s list of Darklord Shadows and Torments which give you what you need to make a domain that feels as distinctive and flavorful as a Barovia or Falkovnia or one of the dozens of other domains you’ll find in Ravenloft.
The Mists beckon. What villain will you create?