Book Review: The Book Of Vile Darkness

The Book Of Vile Darkness (Dungeons & Dragons), by Robert J. Schwalb

This particular book is an interesting one because it reveals something that is not commonly known when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons (and indeed a great deal of roleplaying in general), and that is the way that fantasy roleplaying tends to assume that characters one is playing happen to be good.  This particular book and its advice works against that and struggles to demonstrate a contrary approach by addressing the problems that can result from having for one’s protagonist be committed to evil in some fashion.  After all, a party member committed to evil while the rest of the party is committed to what they view as good is going to create some genuine problems within the party, as the evil party member will have to do a great deal of deception in their attempts to build trust while sabotaging the long-term goals of the party.  It is probably easier for evil characters to exist in one-off campaigns where they serve to set up future villains in later quests or alliances of convenience between those who fancy themselves as good and those who see themselves as evil who happen to have the same enemies, like Allied cooperation in World War II.

As a 4th edition book, this particular volume is not quite as enjoyable as it would otherwise be.  This book is a short one at a bit more than 100 pages and is divided into two sections.  The vast majority of this section is for the dungeon master to figure out how to deal with an evil character within the scope of a particular campaign or a much longer series of campaigns.  The author begins with evil unearthed in the game (1) and then moves on to evil campaigns, including adventurers and adventuring as well as themes and arcs (2).  This leads into the question of how one creates vile encounters as well as curses and diseases and traps and hazards (3), before a large part of the book deals with villains and monsters and how they can be compellingly created (4), even to the extent of vile organizations.  This part of the book ends with a look at dark rewards (5) including cursed items and the vile time background (6).  The second part of the book contains thirty pages of material for players, including how one creates and plays evil characters, various themes to use that lead one into evil, as well as evil paragon paths, destinies, and feats.

While this book is a bit of a disappointment because the 4th edition wasn’t very good compared to other editions of D&D, this book still brings up some interesting aspects to roleplaying if one wants to deal with evil characters.  It must be remembered that not all who consider themselves to be good actually are good, and there are a great many ways that people can think that they are doing well while doing evil (which accounts for a huge amount of the conduct in role playing games as well as real life), but it is remarkable and somewhat refreshing, in a cynical way, when people openly admit to supporting evil and seek to find ways of making that compelling and consistent.  I must admit that I have no particular interest in playing evil characters myself, but as someone who has thought it necessary to understand evil and to recognize it wherever it happened to be, this book does a good job at showing how a gamemaster who is willing and able to address the attraction of evil can do so in a compelling and entertaining way as part of a scenario, even where the rules themselves are not as good as they could be in other D&D editions.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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