Explore the darker side of the realms in Champions of Ruin, a Forgotten Realms campaign supplement! With new races, feats, spells, magic items, and prestige classes, Champions of Ruin is sure to please players who seek to have their PCs to turn to villainy and Dungeon Masters alike. Also, details for evil organizations, places, and NPCs can help the DM flesh out his or her campaign. Finally, DMs have resources to help them run games that include PCs of a more vile nature. Learn more about this supplement by reading the Introduction excerpt, discover evil nodes in the Evil Places excerpt, and then get a glimpse at some of the advice the book has for running an evil game. For more excerpts from this book, check out both the April 2005 and May 2005 Previews (coming soon).
Encounters with Evil
So you want to run an evil campaign? Your players are determined to take the fight to the Harpers for a change, and you're going to give them what they want. There are many things to consider before doing so, however, such as the style of your campaign, the depths of evil you and your players are prepared to act out or encounter, and how the characters will interact within the party and with the world at large. The following section contains advice for DMs, including advice on how to present evil in your campaign, how to keep a party of evil characters together, and the different goals and methods an evil party might use that would not be part of a normal campaign.
The Tone of Your Game
How evil is the game going to be? This is a question that should be answered by the entire gaming group, since it's possible to cross boundaries that will make the game unpleasant for one or more players. Even the DM might find that some of the themes explored or specific actions taken by the characters will diminish his enjoyment of the game. The first consideration of any new campaign should be the enjoyment of all involved.
The best thing to do is to sit down with all the players and discuss the level of evil in the campaign, how far the characters will be allowed to go, and even specific actions or situations you might or might not allow. In Book of Vile Darkness, the following acts are considered evil: lying, cheating, theft, betrayal, murder, vengeance, worshiping evil gods and demons, creating and consorting with undead, casting evil spells, damning or harming souls, consorting with fiends, creating evil creatures, using others for personal gain, greed, bullying innocents, bringing despair, and tempting others. Certainly many of those acts are present in a standard campaign, and even good characters could be driven toward them from time to time. But the repeated, deliberate use of many of these is the hallmark of an evil character. They are often the evil character's first choice rather than his last resort, because committing an evil act can be easier and faster than acting in a moral way.
You and your players should discuss which of these acts are likely to be present in the campaign, and how obvious they will be. Some players are comfortable with acts such as drug use, outright murder, and fetishes as long as they are presented "offstage"; that is, they happen out of the game session but affect it in some way. Others do not mind the presentation of such acts in character or in the game. It is very important to determine these limits before the campaign begins.
Another consideration is the frequency of evil in your game. If you present too much of it, it can become bland and have less of an impact on the players. After all, if every villain has strange fetish powers and vile, fiendish cohorts, then they become as common as orc chieftains and pickpocketing rogues in standard games. You want to be able to strike the right balance between presenting vile acts and situations and allowing the players to experience the regular world so that they will have some context for the truly vile things they witness. Again, this is a consideration that should take into account each player's viewpoint and desires.
What the Players Want
Players might want to play an evil campaign for a number of reasons. Some might feel constrained in their actions by playing good or neutral characters, or they might want a change of pace from their normal heroic deeds. It can be fun to turn the tables on the heroes of the setting, to perhaps put a crimp in the Harpers' plans or help a tribe of orcs smash caravans en route from Silverymoon to Sundabar. Scheming to dominate Faerûn has always been a part of the game -- but it's time to stop letting the villains have all the fun!
There are some warning signs and pitfalls you should try to avoid when running an evil campaign. Players might see this as an opportunity to backstab their fellow players, stealing their treasure and generally making their lives miserable. Unless agreed to beforehand, the presence of one or more players with this in mind can be disruptive and ruin the fun for everyone else. It's important to strike a balance between the naturally self-serving nature of evil characters and the goals of the party within the campaign. Evil works with evil all the time without falling apart due to internal conflicts, and the characters can still act selfishly without endangering the party or committing treachery against the other characters.
Players who want to play evil characters in order to act out or experiment with their darker curiosities can also be disruptive to the group. This ties in with the overall tone of your game, so all of the players involved should have agreed beforehand to limit character behaviors and player interactions to a level acceptable to all involved.