[ The following excerpts are from the Book of Vile Darkness. An invaluable tome for those running or playing in an evil campaign. Well worth picking up if what you find below interests you, for we've only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. ]
“Evil” is a word that is probably overused. In the context of the game the word should be reserved for the dark force of destruction and death that tempts souls to wrongdoing and perverts wholesomeness and purity at every turn. Evil is vile, corrupt, and irredeemably dark. It is not naughty or ill-tempered or misunderstood. It is black-hearted, selfish, cruel, bloodthirsty, and malevolent.
There are two recommended ways to deal with the concept of evil in your campaign: the objective approach and the relative approach. This second option is a variant approach and should be used with some caution.
- The Objective Approach
This is the straightforward approach taken in the D&D game, and it is the one stressed in this book as well. From this frame of reference, evil can be judged objectively. The evil nature of a creature, act, or item isn’t relative to the person observing it; it just is evil or it isn’t. This clear-cut definition allows spells such as holy smite to work. Conversely, an objective definition of evil exists because the detect evil spell works. Want to know what’s evil? Don’t study a philosophy book, just watch who gets hurt when the cleric casts holy smite. Those creatures are evil. The things they do, generally speaking, are evil acts. If your character still isn’t certain, he can summon a celestial creature or cast a commune spell and simply ask, “Is this evil?” The higher powers are right there, ready to communicate.
The Player’s Handbook says, “ ‘Evil’ implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualm if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master.”
This objective approach to evil works well for fantasy roleplaying games. Evil is a thing that a hero can point at and know he must fight. An objective concept of evil allows players (and their characters) to avoid most ethical or moral quandaries, particularly the kinds that can derail a game session. If you run an adventure about fighting gnolls, you don’t normally want the entire session consumed by a philosophical debate about whether killing gnolls is a good thing or a bad thing.
- The Relative Approach (Variant)
A second approach considers evil to be a relative concept that is wholly dependent on the attitude of the observer. This is not the approach of most D&D games; rather, it resembles how many people see the real world. Using this variant outlook changes a game dramatically—at least as far as “evil” is concerned. In the relative approach, evil is not something that your character can point a finger at; it’s relative to each individual. While it’s possible for a number of creatures (an entire culture, for example) to have a similar view on what is good and what is evil, another group might have a different or even opposite view. Of course, conflicting views can also occur if your D&D game uses the objective approach, but in that case, one group can simply prove that its views are right.
In a world where evil is relative, a deity might put forth tenets describing what is right and wrong, or good and evil. But another god might have different, even contradictory dogma. A paladin of one deity might talk about the evil, godless heathens across the mountains and eventually go to war with them. If she does, she may find herself battling paladins of a different god and a different culture who look upon the crusading paladin as an evil infidel.
If you decide that this is the approach you want, you have some game-related decisions to make. For instance, in a world where evil is relative, how does a detect evil spell work? When two paladins of opposing views meet on the field of battle, can they use their smite abilities against each other? The easiest and best option in this case is to do away with spells such as detect evil because they have no real meaning. Take away the good and evil descriptors from spells (so that any character can cast any of those spells), and disregard any holy or unholy damage a weapon deals. Having to know or determine the outlook of a character casting detect evil is cumbersome and unwieldy, and it leads to confusion and arguments over who should be affected by the paladin’s holy sword or the cleric’s holy smite.
Of course, even if you take an objective approach in your game, evil people might not always call themselves evil. They would be wrong or simply lying to do so, but they might still deny their evil nature. Even the most deranged mass murderer might be able to justify his actions to himself in the name of his beliefs, his deity, or some skewed vision of what is best for the world.
A killer might slay any children he deems weak or unfit to reach adulthood. Another might kill children he believes will grow up and become evil themselves. Perhaps such a killer once had a prophetic dream telling him that evil was growing among the children of the town.
On a larger scale, an evil priest might believe that to better serve his dark god, he needs to destroy an entire village and sacrifice all the residents. Is that evil? Yes. Does the priest see it as evil? No, he sees it as a demonstration of his unending devotion and an aspect of his faith. Or perhaps he does see it as evil and doesn’t care.
A dictator might order the elimination of an entire race of good creatures because she believes them to be evil. She might seek to dominate the world and bring its people under her unyielding fist. But such a despot could also believe that she is a good person and that the world will be better off with her guidance. This attitude makes her no less a villain.
Intent and Context
So, does the objective definition of evil imply that intent plays no part in determining what is good and what isn’t? Only to a degree.
Consider the paladin Zophas. When climbing to the top of a hill of loose rocks to get away from some owlbears, he triggers a rockslide that buries the owlbears and continues down the hill, crushing a hut full of commoners. Is Zophas an evil murderer who must suddenly lose his lawful good alignment? No, although Zophas might still feel guilt and responsibility. He might attempt to right the inadvertent wrong as best he can.
But what if Zophas’s friend Shurrin said, “Don’t climb up there, Zophas! You might start a rockslide that will crush the hut!” Zophas goes anyway. Now is it evil? Probably. Zophas was either carelessly endangering the commoners or so overconfident of his climbing prowess that he acted out of hubris. At this point, Zophas isn’t exactly a murderer, but he should probably lose his paladin abilities until he receives an atonement spell or otherwise makes amends.
If Zophas can clearly see the danger of the rockslide but climbs up anyway because he wants to get away from the owlbears, that’s clearly evil. In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act. Sacrificing yourself for the good of others is a good act. It’s a high standard, but that’s the way it is.
The foregoing text defines three levels of intent: accidental acts, reckless or negligent acts, and intentionally evil misdeeds. Sometimes, however, those categories are insufficient to determine evil intent. You are free to judge an act in the context of other actions.
A maniac puts poison in a town’s water supply, believing (wrongly) that all of the people in the town are demons. Is that evil? Yes. A glabrezu convinces a good character that the townsfolk are all fiends that must be destroyed, so the character pours poison into the town’s water supply. Is that evil? Probably not—at least, not in the context of the rest of the character’s actions and the circumstances involved. Still, good characters shouldn’t commit even remotely questionable acts on a large scale unless they’re absolutely sure there’s no other way to succeed. It’s rarely a good idea to destroy a town of evil people, because there might be at least a few good people in the town as well.
But let’s make it even more complicated. Another character witnesses the good character about to put poison in the town’s drinking water. Is it evil for the witness to kill the poisoning character in order to stop him? No. Again, the intent isn’t evil, and the context makes such an act preferable to the alternative. Standing by while a mass murder occurs—the other choice the witness has—is far more evil than preventing the poisoning.
Even with the most black-and-white, objective approach to good and evil, gray areas will always exist. Consider this example: A terrible disease has come to the village of Varro, and the cure lies in the heartwood of the sacred trees of the Varrowood. The villagers go into the wood to get the cure. The druids of the Varrowood believe that the trees are holy and should not be violated. They try to stop the villagers. Is either side truly evil in this scenario? Probably not.
Not all conflicts are based on good versus evil. It is possible for two good nations to go to war. It is likely that two evil nations will go to war. Is it evil for your character to kill a good character if your character’s kingdom is at war with his? That’s certainly a gray area. Characters who are extremely strict in their moral outlook should examine the reasons behind the war very closely. In general, quarter should be given and accepted. Such a character should cause no more damage and inflict no more harm than is necessary. If possible, he or she should find a different way to resolve the conflict.
Examining the actions of the malevolent not only helps define what evil is, but it also gives an insight into the schemes of a villain. What follows is more than a list that defines evil as opposed to good. Read over the following sections to get ideas for villainous plots, schemes, motivations, and personalities.
Misdirection, tricks, and manipulation are tools of the trade for most villains. With such tools, they can lead enemies into traps, both physical and otherwise. A well-told, well-placed lie can redirect a whole army, change the opinion of an entire city’s populace, or simply make an adventurer open the wrong door in a dungeon.
Some liars are compulsive; that is, they have a psychological need to lie. Others delight in fooling people. If a villain can get a foe to believe a lie, he has shown himself (at least in his own mind) to be superior to that foe.
Intelligent villains often concentrate on gaining ranks in Bluff to facilitate their lies. Of course, being liars themselves alerts them to the fact that others probably lie just as much as they do. Thus, they often have a high Sense Motive modifier as well.
Lying is not necessarily an evil act, though it is a tool that can easily be used for evil ends. Lying is so easy to use for evil purposes that most knightly codes and the creeds of many good religions forbid it altogether.
Cheating is breaking the rules for personal gain. When evil villains cheat, it’s not just at games. They create contracts with clauses that they can manipulate to trick others. Villains manipulate officials so that evildoers are set free instead of going to prison. They rig their enemies’ equipment so that it breaks or does not function properly. Cheaters may threaten the lives of a councilman’s family to make him vote for their plan. They may use spells and poison to ensure that a particular gladiator dies in the arena so that they can earn a profit by wagering on the survivor.
Cheating can take many forms. For example, a cheater might trick two enemies into fighting each other, or fool an enemy’s lover into betraying his or her loved one. A cheater might challenge an opponent to a rigged contest or a fight that is rigged, or simply make an agreement that he or she has no intention of upholding.
Any child can tell you that stealing is wrong. Villains, however, often see theft as the best way to acquire what they want. Evil people pay only for things they cannot take.
An evil character needs a reason not to steal. Fear of being caught is the most common deterrent, but sometimes a villain elects not to steal an item because he or she doesn’t want to incur the wrath of its owner. For example, a drow cleric might pay a rogue for a magic item. The cleric isn’t averse to stealing from the rogue, but she pays for the item so that the rogue will continue working for her.
A betrayal is often nothing more than an elaborate lie, but its implications are greater. Such an act involves earning someone’s trust and then using that trust against him or her. Common acts of betrayal include learning and then revealing secrets, or using trust to get close to one’s enemies for an attack or theft.
Betrayal does not have to be intentional—or at least it does not have to start intentionally. Sometimes a character can be tempted into betraying someone whose trust he or she earned legitimately. Children can betray their parents, a lover can betray a lover, and a friend can betray a friend. However, it can also be more complex than that: A king can betray his people, a husband can betray his wife’s family, and a human can betray his entire race. Virtually any sort of link between two creatures can eventually become the foundation for betrayal.
Killing is one of the most horrible acts that a creature can commit. Murder is the killing of an intelligent creature for a nefarious purpose: theft, personal gain, perverse pleasure, or the like.
The heroes who go into the green dragon’s woodland lair to slay it are not murderers. In a fantasy world based on an objective definition of evil, killing an evil creature to stop it from doing further harm is not an evil act. Even killing an evil creature for personal gain is not exactly evil (although it’s not a good act), because it still stops the creature’s predations on the innocent. Such a justification, however, works only for the slaying of creatures of consummate, irredeemable evil, such as chromatic dragons.
Evil beings delight in murder. It is the ultimate expression of their power and their willingness to commit any sort of heinous act. It shows that they are either powerful enough or detached enough to do anything they wish.
To particularly evil creatures, especially those with very alien outlooks, murder is itself a desirable goal. Some such creatures hate life and despise all that lives. They relish either death or undeath and thus seek to quench life wherever possible. Such creatures are usually (but not always) undead themselves.
Revenge is a powerful force. An act of vengeance does not have to be evil, but the evil mindset usually redefines the concept as “revenge at any price.” Vengeance without limits can quickly lead to all sorts of evil acts.
For example, suppose someone steals a magic ring from a kuo-toa wizard. The wizard breaks into a duergar fortress to use a crystal ball to locate the thief. The kuo-toa teleports to the thief’s location—a busy tavern—and begins hurling lightning bolts into the crowd. The thief gets away and uses a nondetection spell to keep such a close call from happening again. Undaunted, the wizard magically adopts an inconspicuous form and begins to track down the thief’s family members, torturing them for information regarding his whereabouts. Such a scenario depicts the evil side of revenge.
Forgiveness and mercy are not traits that most evil creatures possess. Vengeance for wrongs committed against them—or even for perceived wrongs—is the only appropriate response.
- Worshiping Evil Gods and Demons
Priests who revere dark powers are as evil as the beings they serve. In the name of Vecna, Erythnul, or Lolth, these foul emissaries make living sacrifices, conduct malevolent rites, and put schemes in motion to aid their patrons. Sometimes, the activities of evil cultists are straightforward: kidnapping victims for sacrifice, stealing money to fund their temples, or simply following a dogma that requires murder, rape, or activities even more foul. Other times, their machinations are far subtler than such overt crimes.
For example, an archdevil such as Belial might begin a scheme by instructing his followers in a town (through dreams, visions, and commune spells) to drive off families with healthy children of a particular age. In twenty years, when such children would have been adults in their prime, Belial intends to unleash a powerful cornugon to steal a valuable artifact from the local church. With few able-bodied adults available to stop the theft, the cornugon is more likely to succeed.
Evil temples are sometimes secret places hidden within unsuspecting communities. Beneath an old barn, in a warehouse, or simply in a back room of someone’s home—an evil temple can be anywhere. Larger, more permanent shrines to malevolence are usually situated farther away from civilization—at least, far away from good-aligned communities. Such an evil church may be a towering structure of stone covered with macabre reliefs and filled with terrible statuary, standing alone in the wilderness. Other evil temples may be surrounded by towns or cities populated by foul creatures.
- Animating the Dead or Creating Undead
Unliving corpses—corrupt mockeries of life and purity—are inherently evil. Creating them is one of the most heinous crimes against the world that a character can commit. Even if they are commanded to do something good, undead invariably bring negative energy into the world, which makes it a darker and more evil place.
Many communities keep their graveyards behind high walls or even post guards to keep grave robbers out. Grave-robbing is often a lucrative practice, since necromancers pay good coin for raw materials. Of course, battlefields are also popular places for grave-robbers—or for necromancers themselves—to seek corpses.
- Casting Evil Spells
Evil spells may create undead, inflict undue suffering, harm another’s soul, or produce any of a slew of similar effects.
Sometimes, a nonevil spellcaster can get away with casting a few evil spells, as long as he or she does not do so for an evil purpose. But the path of evil magic leads quickly to corruption and destruction. Spells with corruption costs (see Corrupt Magic in Chapter 6) are so evil that they take a physical and spiritual toll on the caster.
- Damning or Harming Souls
While harming one’s enemies physically is not inherently villainous, harming their souls is always evil. Only the foulest of villains could actually want to cause pain to another creature’s eternal aspect. Creatures without corrupt hearts simply dispatch their foes quickly, believing that sending a villain off to the justice of the afterlife is punishment enough. But evil beings like to capture foes and torture them to death, and some even prefer to torture the souls of their foes, never granting them the release of death. Worse still, some evil beings use their foul magic to destroy an opponent’s soul, ending his or her existence altogether.
- Consorting with Fiends
If characters can be judged by the company they keep, then those who deal with fiends—demons and devils—are surely evil beings themselves. Fiends are the ultimate expression of evil given animate form—literally evil incarnate. Destroying a fiend is always a good act. Allowing a fiend to exist, let alone summoning one or helping one, is clearly evil.
Occasionally, a spellcaster may summon a fiendish creature to accomplish some task. Such an act is evil, but not terribly so. However, some characters, particularly those who worship demons or devils or see them as valuable allies, may work with (or for) fiends to further their own ends. Worse still, some mortals sell their souls to fiends in order to gain more power or support. Although dealing with fiends or selling souls is risky at best, the lust for power is a temptation too strong for some to resist. But fiends have great power, infinite life spans, and a delight for double-crossing others, so it’s not surprising that most characters who ask for a fiend’s aid end up on the wrong end of the deals they make.
- Creating Evil Creatures
Some villains are not content with simply consorting with, summoning, or controlling evil creatures. They feel the need to go one step further and actually create such creatures with foul experiments or evil magic.
Evil warlords sometimes create legions of horrible monsters (or have their underlings do so) and lead them into battle against the forces of good. Demons, devils, and other foul creatures guard their fortresses. The desire to create is strong, and so is the desire to have a large number of easily controllable minions. Both creation and control demonstrate power, and power-mad villains are all too common.
Another way to create evil creatures is to allow the monsters themselves to remake fallen foes in their own images. For example, a bodak’s victims rise the next day as new bodaks, and a werewolf can spread its evil by infecting others with lycanthropy. Characters who foster such processes are often interested in spreading evil for evil’s sake. Such evildoers love the chaos, death, and suffering that such monsters bring.
- Using Others for Personal Gain
Whether it’s sacrificing a victim on an evil god’s altar to gain a boon, or simply stealing from a friend, using others for one’s own purposes is a hallmark of villainy. A villain routinely puts others in harm’s way to save his or her own neck—better that others die, surely.
The utter selfishness of an evil character rarely leaves room for empathy. He is so consumed with his own goals and desires that he can think of no reason not to succeed at the expense of others. At best, other creatures are cattle to be used, preyed upon, or led. At worst, they are gnats to be ignored or obstacles to be bypassed.
Greed is so simple a motivation that it hardly seems worth mentioning. Yet it drives villains perhaps more than any other factor. Greed is tied into most of the types of evil behavior mentioned here. Ambition taken too far—particularly advancement at the expense of others—can manifest itself as greed. Lust for wealth, power, or prestige can lead to jealousy, theft, murder, betrayal, and a host of other evils.
- Bullying and Cowing Innocents
Bullying is simply a symptom of an obsession with power. A villain who has power over another likes to brandish that power to prove her own might, both to herself and to others. Such brutes feel that power has no worth if others do not know about it.
Although the archetypal bully is a strong and powerful thug, other kinds of bullies exist as well. Sometimes a bully uses magical might rather than physical prowess to cow those around her. Sometimes the power is political in nature. The ten-year-old princess who forces bards to sing songs of her beauty or else face the wrath of her tyrannical mother (the queen) is indeed a bully.
- Bringing Despair
Evil creatures often enjoy spreading pain and misery to others. Some do this because breaking the spirits of others makes them feel superior; others sow despair for the sheer joy it provides them.
Sometimes encouraging misery runs counter to other evil goals. For example, a blackguard interested in bringing despair might leave his enemies alive but wounded, defeated, and broken (and maybe even cursed or magically corrupted). However, refusing to finish off one’s foes isn’t always the wisest course of action, because the blackguard’s enemies might heal themselves and oppose him again, with a vengeance.
Similarly, a misery-loving fiend might tell a captured foe his plans before he kills her, just to revel in his victim’s despair. Such a creature wants its enemies to realize how utterly defeated they are.
A villain with a love of misery may attempt to break his foes, either instead of or before killing them. Straightforward techniques such as torture can break an enemy, and so can more elaborate schemes, such as destroying the good aspects of an enemy’s life, one by one. If the villain’s foe delights in the beauty of an ancient forest, the evildoer might command fire elementals to burn it down. If the foe has a lover, the villain could capture and torture the loved one—or turn him or her against the foe. The villain might also frame the foe for others’ crimes, spread lies about him, destroy his home, or infect him with a disease. A crafty, despair-loving villain makes it unusual for the foe’s loved ones to speak his name except as a curse.
Despair-loving creatures delight in spells such as bestow curse, contagion, and sorrow. Such villains love using any magical effect that does more than simply kill their foes because they consider death too pleasant an end.
- Tempting Others
Temping good individuals to do wrong is an evil act. Plots with this goal are largely the purview of demons and devils that seek to corrupt mortals in order to taint their souls. The products of a tempter’s work are larvae, the physical manifestations of evil souls on the Lower Planes (see Chapter 7). Larvae are valuable to fiends; in fact, they are a form of currency in their own right. Some demons and devils, particularly erinyes, succubi, and glabrezu, spend almost all their time corrupting mortals with offers of sex, power, magic, or other pleasures.
When evil mortals tempt other mortals, often the temptation comes in the form of a bribe to get others to do what the villain wants. For example, a wealthy man might convince a woman to kill her father in return for a vast sum of money. Unlike a demon, the wealthy man doesn’t care about corrupting the woman’s soul; he just wants the father dead. Still other mortal evildoers might tempt someone to commit an evil act for the sheer pleasure of spreading temptation.
- Fetishes and Addictions
Many slaves to darkness are consumed by addictions and perverted tastes. Unsavory sexual behavior, drug addiction, sadism, and masochism are just some of the horrible traits common to the evil and perverse.
Cannibals are creatures that eat others of their own kind. In the broader sense, cannibals may be defined as creatures that eat other intelligent creatures for whatever perverted pleasure they gain from it. Many creatures do this—dragons eat humans and other intelligent creatures all the time—but usually they gain no more pleasure (and definitely less sustenance) from a human than they do from a cow.
Cannibals gain pleasure, and in some cases power (see the absorb mind and absorb strength spells in Chapter 6), from eating others. Often cannibals consume foes that they have defeated in battle, but sometimes they simply murder their meals.
Diseases, many of which involve mental disorders, may be transmitted through cannibalism. Eating particularly foul creatures, such as trolls or fiends, can be very dangerous (see the blue guts disease in Chapter 2).
Masochists are rarely at full hit points because they continually inflict wounds upon themselves. A masochist gets pleasure from feeling pain and sometimes can’t tell the two sensations apart. Masochists wear jewelry and devices that dig into their flesh with hooks and clamps, they flagellate themselves with whips and barbed wires, and they cut at their own bodies with knives and razors. When encountered, a masochist has typically lost 1d3¥10% of his total hit points to self-inflicted wounds.
A masochist gains a +4 circumstance bonus on saving throws against pain effects (such as a symbol of pain). Furthermore, if he takes damage equal to his character level in a round, he gains a +1 circumstance bonus on attack and damage rolls, skill checks, and saving throws for the next round. Masochists often grin with a sickening glee when struck in combat, and they make noises of ecstasy even as they suffer terrible wounds.
Like masochists, self-mutilators are fascinated by harming themselves. But the pain isn’t important to a self-mutilator; it’s the alteration and destruction of his own flesh that fascinates him. Such characters turn the destruction of their own bodies into a twisted sort of art, so they are often covered in patterned scars. Sometimes this ritual scarification is part of a religious ritual, but it’s just as often self-inflicted for no other reason than a character’s own sick and twisted desires.
Not all self-mutilators are motivated by masochism or art. Some insert useful mundane or magic items into their flesh. Tiny objects such as keys can be hidden not only in body cavities, but also under the skin, thrust into self-inflicted wounds. In some cases, a subdermal pouch forms when such a wound heals around an object. Tattooing can further disguise the scars of such insertions.
A self-mutilator always has 1d3–1x10% fewer hit points than his or her normal maximum when encountered. Like a masochist, a self-mutilator gains a +4 circumstance bonus on any saving throw against pain effects.
Finally, a self-mutilator can choose to reduce his or her hit point total by 10 points permanently to cover his or her body in scabs and scars. This process toughens the flesh, granting the character a +1 natural armor bonus.
Sadists love to inflict pain. Generally, they hate suffering pain themselves, but a few are sadomasochists, who enjoy both giving and receiving pain. Foes gain a +1 circumstance bonus on Intimidate checks when they threaten a sadist with physical harm, unless the sadist is also a masochist.
If a sadist inflicts damage equal to her character level in a round, she gains a +1 circumstance bonus on attack and damage rolls, skill checks, and saving throws for the next round. A sadist laughs and licks the spray of blood across her face whenever she inflicts a grievous wound.
Technically, a psychopath is anyone with a severe mental disorder resulting in any egocentric and antisocial behavior. For the purpose of the D&D game, however, a psychopath is someone who derives pleasure from—and in fact can become addicted to—killing. Such psychopaths slay for the sheer joy of it and to experience the power-mad rush that accompanies the taking of another’s life. Psychopaths who enjoy watching their victims beg for mercy are often sadists, and this type enjoys inflicting pain before killing a victim. The type of psychopath who simply enjoys the feeling of ending a life is interested only in death, and cries of mercy or pain only annoy him.
Yet another type of psychopath is worth mentioning: the rapist. This deplorable villain uses forced intercourse as a means to attain power over others. Rapists can be either gender, but almost all are male. A rapist is likely to take his foes captive, particularly those of the gender he is attracted to (although this is not necessarily the case, because rape is about dominance and power, not true sexual attraction).
Among the foulest of fetishes, necrophilia is the enjoyment of sex with the dead (or in some cases the undead). Necrophiliacs are often members of a death cult, servants of an undead deity such as Vecna, or followers of a demon lord such as Orcus. Necrophiliacs may have sex with corpses as part of a religious rite, as a sign of fealty to a higher power, or simply for their own pleasure. Particularly vile individuals violate the bodies of their defeated and slain enemies to give themselves a feeling of power and superiority.
An individual who has the terrible fetish of bestiality desires sex with creatures of a type, shape, or intellect vastly different from his or her own. Sometimes bestiality stems from a desire to have power over a creature of limited intelligence, but more often this perversion is caused by a deviance in attraction. Shapechangers are the most common culprits, although for some reason evil dragons occasionally find themselves attracted to various creatures other than their own kind. Thus, dragons often learn spells or acquire magic items that allow them to take different shapes. Fiends are willing to seduce or rape virtually any creature—practices that result in all manner of horrid half-fiends.
- Alcoholism/Drug Addiction
An individual addicted to the use of a particular substance is prone to erratic, violent, and sometimes self-destructive behavior. Some addicted people reach a point at which they need the substance to function normally, so they sell off their material possessions (and in some cases their family members) to get the drugs they crave.
Drug addictions function much like diseases, as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. See Chapter 3 of the Book of Vile Darkness for specific drug and addiction rules.
If you understand evil, you can create villains with appropriate personalities and motives. The following examples detail some villains whose activities reflect the aspects of evil described above.
Page Last Updated April 17th, 2005
- The Boorish Thug
Perhaps the simplest sort of villain is the crude, selfish oaf who just takes what he wants. His desires rarely go beyond simple wealth or privilege, although he might crave something as significant as respect.
Driven by basic needs and desires, this villain does not employ subtle or sophisticated methods. He is straightforward, and the only weapon he employs is brute force. If he has assistance or allies, they are likely to be just like him, since companions who are not like him cannot long tolerate his presence.
Trendan Resh (NE male human Ftr2/Rog4) is a criminal who has lived all his life in the big city. Since his youth, Trendan has run a small gang of other young toughs. None of them seek gainful employment—they would rather waylay visitors to the city or steal from the drunks in the alleyways behind Tavern Row. Trendan is cowardly, lazy, and crude. He isn’t even particularly skilled at fighting, but he knows how to crack people on the back of the head with a club when they aren’t looking.
- The Tyrant
The classic power-mad villain craves domination over all that he sees—lands, people, and magic. He can be a ruler, a would-be ruler, or a loner who desires physical domination more than political power.
A tyrant villain might be a powerful cleric leading legions of fanatic soldiers or a scheming crime lord who runs all manner of illegal operations in the heart of a city. Other tyrants include the petty megalomaniac ruler who wishes to expand her holdings and isn’t afraid to tax her people to death to do so, and the bookish wizard who studies alone, cloistered in a library for years, so that he can learn the spells that will let him take over the world.
The tyrant generally uses minions to accomplish what he wants. He believes that he is superior to others and thus should not have to sully himself with minor deeds. He orders paid mercenaries around and manipulates others with magic. Some tyrants create their own minions, ranging from constructs to slaves to blackmail victims coerced into working for him. A tyrant’s schemes are usually fairly sophisticated, although not all tyrants are smart. Sometimes a tyrant is nothing more than a power-hungry simpleton, dangerous only because he was born into a position of favor.
Ystan the Graylord (CE male dwarf Wiz15) seeks to take over the area around Mount Exalt through the use of his undead minions. However, he does not yet possess the might to animate an army large enough to assault the walled city of Kachel alone, so he has spent years questing for a magic artifact that can dominate the wills of others. With undead and mentally enslaved soldiers, Ystan can launch his assault. Thus begins Ystan’s dream of a vast and terrible empire.
- The Scheming Liar
The slippery weasel, the cunning thief, the silver-tongued rogue—these villains present different dangers than brutes and psychopaths do, but they are dangerous foes nonetheless. These enemies are far more likely to slip a dagger in someone’s ribs while he sleeps than fight him face to face. Or better yet, thinks the schemer, she’ll just frame someone for murder and let the authorities hang him in the public square. Such diabolic malefactors spin a web of deceit wherever they go. Schemers know just what to say and who to say it to in order to get what they want.
Scheming liars can be political manipulators who use others to accomplish their goals. They do not go against the laws and rules; they make laws and rules work for them, bending and twisting the words as needed. They don’t truly respect the law, but they want to avoid the appearance of breaking it. Such villains are difficult to defeat, and it’s even harder to prove that they are villains in the first place.
Narma Glitterhome (CE female gnome Wiz8) serves as a butler to Lord Feddin Spritestar, a powerful and influential gnome. What most people do not realize is that Narma has the lord’s ear and frequently gives him advice about the rulership of his demesne. But Lord Spritestar does not know that Narma is manipulating him into a war against the nearby kobold tribes of Bloodwall.
Narma is an illusionist who frequently travels to Bloodwall in the guise of a male kobold to manipulate the council of chieftains there. If war breaks out, Narma is poised to assume a third identity: the long-lost gnome queen Halli Guttenstone, who will save the gnomes from the kobolds and become ruler of the land.
- The Psychopath
Some villains focus on the act of evil itself, rather than on the goals an evil act helps them reach. They revel in killing, inflicting pain, and spreading misery. The motives and methods of psychopaths vary greatly. Some creatures are born psychopathic—lamias, destrachans, orcs, beholders, and black dragons, for example. These monsters are evil through and through, and they delight in death and misery. Their love of killing for its own sake makes them far more dangerous than monsters that simply kill to eat, such as the ankheg or the remorhaz.
Human, elf, dwarf, halfling, and gnome psychopaths are no less varied. Some are clean and efficient at what they do. They sneak up on their victims quietly and make sure that when they are finished, no evidence ties the murderer to the murder. Other psychopaths are far more blatant and direct. They do not care who knows of their activities, and they relish their victims’ fear of death almost as much as they enjoy the pain and the killing itself. Often, such psychopaths have positions of power that keep anyone from easily putting a stop to their terrible activities.
Reynod (NE male human vampire Rog6/Asn4) is the henchman of a powerful criminal overlord. Most of the crime lord’s other henchmen expect a bonus when they eliminate one of the syndicate’s enemies. After all, killing is a dangerous and dirty business. Not so with Reynod, who delights in killing. In fact, the crime lord worries about what might happen if he didn’t give Reynod someone to kill every so often. Reynod loves the use of knives; he owns a collection of them that numbers more than three hundred. He is sneaky, subtle, and sly. Reynod’s victims rarely know what is coming because he is so efficient at shadowing, then approaching his prey. Not even Reynod’s criminal employer knows that he is actually a vampire.
- The Sophisticate
A villain can be a horrible murderer or a lying cheat and yet still retain a veneer of sophistication. This type of villain can be a foppish rogue without a conscience or a dispassionate overlord who enjoys a sampling of fine elven wines while watching the execution of prisoners.
Sophisticated villains are sometimes the evildoers that no one suspects. Only a thorough investigation can prove their terrible deeds. Urbane villains are able to convince most people that they are noble, civilized individuals. In other cases, these villains are known for what they truly are, but they still believe themselves to be cultured and sophisticated, and they conduct themselves accordingly—even as they commit atrocities.
Duchess Winsone D’Artreda (LE female human Ari13) rules over a vast, wooded realm. All know her as a beautiful, well-mannered, and sophisticated woman. Unknown to most, however, she is also a sadist and a cold-blooded killer. She has a secret set of chambers in the dungeons below her castle where she keeps her victims. Winsone has a strange code of honor: She preys only upon the lower class or upon intelligent nonhumanoid creatures. Her secret hunters make raids upon outlying villages or scour the woods for pixies, dryads, and even the occasional centaur.
- The Misguided Fool
Some villains do not even know that they are villains. Deluded through insanity, religious belief, or just stupidity, they commit horrible acts and never realize what it is that they do. A foolish villain might suspect that his acts and thoughts are tainted, but he’s too apathetic to try to uncover the truth. Blindly committing evil acts because it is just easier that way, the misguided fool can easily become a truly sinister villain over time, continuing his evil deeds while his own perceptions veer ever farther from reality.
A young king introduced to evil by his malevolent vizier, the fanatic demon worshiper seeking sacrificial victims for his god, and the radical racial purist are all examples of the misguided fool.
Nerence Unger (NE male human Exp5) is the leader of a school for young boys. Every few months, two men come to Nerence’s office and give him a large bag of gold. At the same time, one of the boys—one whom Nerence has recently put on record as a troublemaker—disappears. Nerence says nothing. He just counts his gold. He tells himself that he did not do anything wrong.
- The Monster
The monster villain craves killing, lives in filth, and seeks to destroy everything that he encounters. More depraved than psychopaths or sadists, this creature is beyond redemption. This villain is practically a demon or a devil in his own right. He drinks the blood of his enemies and allows it to run down his chin and over his chest. No act is too distasteful for him.
Like many evil warlords, Agrattanath (LE male hobgoblin Bbn9) kills his foes with impunity. But what Agrattanath really enjoys is killing the children of his dead foes slowly and then feasting on their quivering hearts. When he goes into battle, he leads troops into combat with what appears to be bravery but is actually blood lust. Even Agrattanath’s own tribe is afraid of him, for it is clear that he would just as willingly kill them and devour their children’s hearts if he did not have enemies to kill.
- The Unexpected Villain
Sometimes, evil doesn’t show up where your players expect it. A trusted servant can abuse his position to steal and gather secrets for blackmail. A cleric of Pelor might actually be a werewolf. The drug-addicted farmer’s wife will do anything to feed her addiction—even kill. The respected healer in town is in the pay of the local slavers’ ring. The unexpected villain usually also belongs to one of the other villainous categories.
Sometimes the villain is obviously evil, but there is more to him than first appears. A mind flayer might be possessed by a devil, for example, or an evil wizard could really be a polymorphed dragon.
Once every six hundred years, an elf child is born with supernatural talent and intelligence. Known as the shadowchild, this being has the mind of a dispassionate killer and many special powers. To all outward appearances, however, the shadowchild is a normal elf child.
In the elf village of Daerthane, young Taetra Featherfall (CE female elf half-fiend) seems like all the other children scampering about the village and the surrounding woods. She is not. She is the shadowchild, and the disappearances near Daerthane of late are because of her, not the nearby clutch of owlbears currently being tracked by the village’s rangers. Taetra is extremely careful when she abducts and sacrifices other children. She has no desire to expose herself before she is old enough to reveal her true nature.
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