Evil in the Game
"I have heard it said evil is nothing more than good's absence, as if evil was the darkness to good's light. A comforting thought, I imagine, for those seeking redemption, but, I tell you, put such thoughts from your mind. You need only peer into a demon's eyes to know evil is not some vacuum waiting or virtue to come and fill its emptiness. Evil is a force. It is an influence in the cosmos, an agency equal to or perhaps even greater than its antithesis. There are two sides in this eternal struggle, one light and the other dark. You might find evil's works reprehensible, yet to those whose hearts belong to corruption, good deeds are equally deplorable. Understand, there is no redemption, only treason against the side you were born to serve."
—Asmodeus, Lord of the Nine Hells
The capacity for evil lies in every thinking creature, just as vital as the potential to do good. Most creatures are divided. Virtue wars against dark desire, the cosmic struggle between these two forces played out on the smallest stage of one life. Committing what some might think an evil act does not make an individual evil, so long as the individual retains the ability to do good. What constitutes true evil is an inability to recognize good as a preferred state, to perform good deeds, and to fight against the darkness within. This descent into evil can be described as a staining of the soul, revealing the influence of evil in its purest form—vile darkness.
Certain authors of the Book of Vile Darkness claim good and evil were never part of Creation's underpinnings. In the beginning, only the contest between order and chaos existed. Eventually, order brought stability and godly worship to the worlds that the primordials had so crudely fashioned. It wasn't until Tharizdun plucked a shard of darkness from the furthest reaches of the cosmos that evil was born. And in reaction, good was born. Though this unusual thesis pervades the writings of the blasphemous tome, most moralists reject it.
In today's look at the Book of Vile Darkness, we examine what evil themes you might choose to follow in your games, and a sample campaign arc to follow—from the very beginnings of your players' careers all the way to a war to decide the fate of the Nine Hells!
"This world, I fear, has outlived its usefulness."
—Emirikol the Chaotic
Campaigns featuring evil characters typically have darker themes tied to one of the three major expressions of evil: domination, corruption, and annihilation (see Chapter 1).
The following campaign themes can form the bones of new campaigns or be mixed with existing themes to bring out more sinister atmospheres and tones.
A simple campaign theme, conquest is not limited to particular alignments. In a conquest campaign, characters want to seize power and hold it. They might aim for temporal power, waging war across the world to forge a new and dark empire, or they could set their sights higher, venturing into the Astral Sea, the Abyss, or another plane to carve out a realm for themselves.
Characters spend much of their time amassing power, building armies, and waging war against their neighbors. While securing the territory they have claimed, they also quest for weapons and rituals to use against enemies and engage in negotiations to forge alliances with other lands and powers. If the campaign moves into the planes, adventurers could build a vast network in the natural world and use it to fuel strikes into other realms.
Killing a god is no small act, and wicked characters are not the only adventurers who could have a motive for doing so. Evil gods, for example, could be plotting to destroy the world or irrevocably damage it. To give such a campaign a nefarious spin, evil adventurers could target the gods to steal their power or destroy them for kicks rather than trying to foil plots. The gods are among the game's most powerful beings. As such, they are well prepared to handle threats against them.
Characters spend much of their careers fighting off the gods' servants, dealing with dark forces to grow their power, and venturing into the game's most dangerous locations to face off against their chosen foes. At the campaign's end, adventurers might face their enemy alone in his or her dominion, or they could face several gods who have come together to end the threat to their reigns.
Destroy the World
Many campaigns focus on saving the world from a catastrophe. In this campaign, however, adventurers are the agents of its undoing. Characters might be active instruments in the world's demise—turning gods against each other, rousing the primordials, or calling forth an elder evil—or they might be pawns in a mad god's cosmic game to rip Creation apart.
Regardless of their roles, characters face a lonely, hostile world as both good and evil forces attempt to thwart their efforts. If adventurers are active agents of the world's destruction, they might enlist the aid of sinister forces, such as demons or slaads. In contrast, adventuring pawns might be surprised when such creatures come to their aid. In the end, characters die, complete their task, or switch camps to try to stop the cataclysm they've helped set in motion.
Evil Against Evil
This campaign pits evil adventurers against evil opponents. Since evil is inherently destructive, it turns on itself when it can spread no farther. Perhaps evil has already won, and the last lights in the world have been extinguished. Despite being evil, the characters are the world's last hope against annihilation. Alternatively, adventurers might be agents of a dark power or servants of a dark god on a quest to defeat their patron's enemies. In any event, they are anti-heroes, and through their efforts, the world will live or die.
Evil Against Good
Characters represent evil's best hope in triumphing over the light. Perhaps good drove back the darkness in a recent conf lict, and now characters must restore the balance. Or maybe players are running beastly adventurers who are driven to spread mischief and suffering wherever they go until a force rises up to stop them.
At the start of this campaign, characters might hatch foul plots and commit heinous deeds to weaken good's hold. As the evil adventurers gain power, they find more dangerous foes opposing them, ranging from powerful adventuring groups to divine servants. This campaign likely culminates when characters confront a major and dominant force for good and defeat it.
"Were you sent by that bloated, filth-ridden failure, the Lord of Flies? If so, I must tell you—you can do better."
The most effective use of vile darkness elements is to sprinkle them into an existing campaign, so pure evil can magnify an adventure's stakes. Deviant behavior in a combat encounter, a sinister environment, or a lethal disease can all go a long way toward conveying evil in its purest form without seeming over the top. The trick to incorporating vile darkness concepts is to use them to emphasize threats and reinforce major story components. When applied in this way, vile darkness preserves its power and reminds players of what exactly they are fighting.
The following campaign arcs can serve as the basis for vile campaigns. Rather than provide a blow-by-blow account of what happens, each entry includes a broad description of events that should occur at each tier. Use these arcs as frames on which to construct your own adventures.
War for Hell
For all his fawning and servile promises, the archdevil Baalzebul has chaffed under Asmodeus's curse. Of course, he earned it for his part in sparking the Reckoning of Hell, wherein the archdevil led an uprising against Asmodeus. If not for the traitor Geryon, Baalzebul might have ousted the supreme ruler of the Nine Hells. Instead, he remains bound in a slug-like form.
Having spent ages amassing power and brokering alliances with demon lords, the Lord of Flies stands ready to reclaim his mantle and continue the work he began so long ago.
Heroic Tier: As Above, So Below
This campaign begins with a murder. Characters are called to investigate because the victim was an influential figure (for example, a noble, a merchant, a priest, or a wizard). More murders follow the first. In each case, the target was an influential person. Through their efforts, adventurers discover the victims were secret followers of Asmodeus and the Six-Fingered Hand, a vicious cult dedicated to the demon lord Graz'zt, is responsible for the slayings.
Shortly after characters defeat a Hand faction, more cultists surface, and they release fearsome demons that rampage across the countryside. After defeating these threats, adventurers discover Graz'zt's devotees are conspiring to cleanse the land of Asmodeus's influence. With some nasty plot probable, characters dig deeper between adventures and discover a connection between the Six-Fingered Hand and a diabolist named Ruel.
Tracking down Ruel is not an easy task. Adventurers eventually discover he haunts a crumbling castle. Fighting their way through monsters and hazards, adventurers strike at the castle and confront Ruel in a terrible battle. Just as Ruel dies, he cries out to the Lord of Flies, begging to be saved. This utterance reveals an archdevil might be involved and hints at troubles brewing in the Nine Hells.
Paragon Tier: Drawn into Darkness
Characters' efforts have not gone unnoticed. Glasya, sensing her father's peril, sees an opportunity for her own advancement. The archdevil dispatches her aspect in the guise of Ashari, a priestess of Ioun, to recruit the adventurers. Ashari claims her goddess fears unrest is churning in the Nine Hells. She asks characters to travel to Sigil to investigate and report back by using a magic item she provides. Ashari recommends adventurers speak with Shemeshka the Marauder, a dangerous but well-connected raavasta (Manual of the Planes, page 136) almost certain to have the information she needs.
On reaching Sigil, characters discover Shemeshka isn't easy to find, but trouble sure is. They wind up embroiled in escapades and side treks that divert them whenever they draw too near the elusive fiend. During their adventures in Sigil and beyond, characters learn demonic hordes are mustering for war in the Abyss, Graz'zt might be responsible, and the archdevil Bel has laid siege to the infernal city of Dis.
The situation turns darker when adventurers finally locate Shemeshka, who reveals a plot to unseat Asmodeus. If it succeeds, even the planes could be ripped asunder. The raavasta explains that Asmodeus alone can control the darkness contained in his ruby scepter. And if the relic falls into the wrong hands, it could reignite the Dawn War. Finally, Shemeshka reveals—with proper compensation, of course—Geryon is moving to murder Glasya and claim her realm. Such an act would weaken the lord of Nessus enough that his enemies might succeed in ousting him.
The paragon tier concludes when adventurers race to the Nine Hells to save Glasya from Geryon's attack. Characters must infiltrate the Nine Hells, battle countless devils, and reach the archdevil's palace, where Geryon and his yugoloth thugs trap them. Just as adventurers defeat Geryon, word reaches them that demons have invaded Avernus.
Epic Tier: Battle for Baator
War in the Nine Hells dominates the epic tier, and adventurers must decide whether to choose sides. When the epic tier begins, Graz'zt and lesser demon lords crush the Dark Eight (a covenant of pit fiends) and shatter Bel's armies from behind. Dispater rallies his defenders for a time. But as weakened as they are from Bel's siege, the outcome appears hopeless.
Regardless of whether Glasya was killed, Baalzebul successfully pins her death on Levistus, an easy task since the archdevil Levistus ages past slew Bensozia, Asmodeus's consort. In a rage, Asmodeus commands Mephistopheles to destroy Levistus and orders Baalzebul and Mammon to shore up Dis's defenses.
Meanwhile, Belial reveals secret ways into the city to allow the demonic host to spill inside. Thus, Dis falls before aid can arrive. When Baalzebul arrives, he, Belial, and Graz'zt join forces, coercing Mammon into accompanying them, as they march against the lord of the Nine Hells.
Adventurers are not idle while these plots hatch. They have several potential patrons: Glasya, Asmodeus, or Baalzebul. Depending on with whom they ally, adventurers find themselves drawn into the plot. They might fight to conquer or save Dis, stall the demonic hordes on their descent into the Nine Hells' bowels, or reveal Baalzebul's hand in all the treachery.
The ideal outcome sees adventurers uniting Levistus and Mephistopheles (rulers of the Nine Hell's most frigid layers) to throw back the upstarts and thus restore order to the Nine Hells. However, if characters make too many missteps, Asmodeus could be deposed and a new power could rise in his place. The consequences for such an event are left to you to decide.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll).