Book of Vile Darkness


There have been predictions of the resurgence of the anti-D&D campaigns the religious right pushed so hard back in the 80's, due mainly to the publication of this book. I gamed during that period, while living about 6 miles down the road from CBN University. It wasn't fun, and I don't ever want to have to be so secretive about my hobby again. As of this writing, the many-headed hydra of Swaggart, Falwell, Baker, Reed, Buchannan, et al has yet to arise. What has happened is that Monte Cook and WOTC have provided the players of D&D with a unique sourcebook.

There have been predictions of the resurgence of the anti-D&D campaigns the religious right pushed so hard back in the 80's, due mainly to the publication of this book. I gamed during that period, while living about 6 miles down the road from CBN University. It wasn't fun, and I don't ever want to have to be so secretive about my hobby again. As of this writing, the many-headed hydra of Swaggart, Falwell, Baker, Reed, Buchannan, et al has yet to arise. What has happened is that Monte Cook and WOTC have provided the players of D&D with a unique sourcebook.

WOTC has slapped a "Mature Audience" sticker or warning on pretty much everything remotely associated with this book. I guess I can concede WOTC's need to play C.Y.A. in regards to the book. It's just that except for a couple things such as the feat 'Lichloved' and the 'Nipple Clamp of Exquisite Pain' magic item, I didn't find it all that much shocking. I will admit though, that many people might consider me a nasty, sick, morbid little puppy.

Whatever shock value the book might have, it is an excellent book. Monte Cook has once again come through for the gaming community. I am positive DMs will be referring back to this book as they write their own campaigns for years to come.

Creating believable, three-dimensional evil NPCs has always been a tough job for the DM. Sure, there's always the cleric of an evil god or the necromantic wizard or sorcerer. Unfortunately, these characters end up looking more like negative of the PCs.

As a GM you can always go with the good, old-fashioned Cause Serious Wounds or Animate Undead. VERY scary, honest. The Book of Vile Darkness has spells that actually live up to the concept of evil, and will make that evil NPC something the party fears. Spells like Apocalypse from the Sky, Boneblade, Curse of the Putrid Husk, Shriveling, Eternity of Torture and Heartclutch out-evil anything that can be found in the Player's Handbook.

Monte Cook also takes a page from his d20 Call of Cthulhu spells. Those spells with the corrupt designation cause damage to the caster as well as the target of the spell. In fact, the Shriveling spell is pretty much the same as it is in Call of Cthulhu. Every spell won't be for every game, but they will do a lot to spice up the games in which they fit.

Poisons and drugs are given a more in-depth look in this book. Along with drugs and their effects, is also a discussion and rules for addiction to the drugs. I think this is really what most people were worried about. It seemed as though people were expecting the future of D&D to be peopled with crack whores and pimps. This isn't the case.

A couple of examples of evil races are provided. I really dug the races of the Vashar and Jerren (naturally evil humans and halflings). Unlike a lot of the new races that are provided in various source books, adding either of these races into an existing game wouldn't be difficult for a DM. In fact, adding the odd Vashar and Jerren as minor NPCs would be an excellent way to keep a party on their toes.

Some new prestige classes are provided for the reader. I like these prestige classes for all the same reasons that I like the spells. These prestige classes help craft NPCs of a truly evil and distinct nature. Rather than sending your players up against an evil NPC of X class, send them up against a character that has sold its soul to diabolic or demonic powers. The ur-priests deserve special mention as well. These aren't evil clerics; these are people who hate ALL deities. They steal divine power from all gods in order to power their spells.

A list of feats for those with a black heart are also provided. The feats are pretty cool, and some are even disturbing. The feat Lichloved is just that. The character has spent many nights indulging in the "pleasures of the flesh" with the undead. Icky, to say the least. On the whole though, the feats seem to be included more to flesh out the prestige classes than anything else did. As a DM I plan on keeping these feats on the burner until something happens. I kind of like the idea of awarding a character with the Deformed feat after a really tough battle. Role-playing is the way in which I envision most of these feats being awarded. Rather than throwing the book at a player so they can use it shop like a christmas catalogue, I plan on pulling them out when an in-game reason presents itself.

The monsters included are better than I would have expected. Too often I pick up a book with creatures for a game and end up with either the same old thing, or ridiculous variations of the same old thing. A few new demons and devils are, of course, included but are at least as good as the ones that are in the Monster Manual. The undead creatures in this book are truly vile. These are just the sort of things a DM can pull out to surprise an experienced group of players. The Kythons are a new race I can't wait to start working into my games. They're nothing more than mindless killing machines. A couple new templates are also in the book. These templates allow you to create Corrupted, Corpse and Bone creatures. Another nice way to create some new creatures to suprise those experienced players that have seen it all.

I realize a DM can create truly evil NPCs without this book, but how many of us really have that much time these days? This book will help when a DM is trying to create adventures for characters that are too powerful for goblins and orcs but aren't really ready to take on giants and dragons. I also plan on using the book in developing the leaders of various cabals and secret societies. I have a feeling that my urban adventures are going to have whole new flavor for the players.

The Book of Vile Darkness is way better than I had expected. Rather than concentrate on 'naughty bits', the book actually provides gamers with a more realistic way to represent the forces of evil in a campaign. It's a given that blue dragons are evil; there's no reason to go any further. They simply are evil. Evil members other races are harder to quantify and figure out. This book will help give your evil a direction and purpose rather than an entry for alignment.

I would have to disagree with you about the book. While I did not buy it, I had the opportunity to really sit down and read it. I think it is the worst piece of writing in Monte's inventory. It does have a mature label, but hardly any mature concepts. The book goes for more of a gross out factor than real discussions on the nature of evil.

In fact, we have a lot of in-game crunchy rules with very little roleplaying bits added. The book acts more like...see this person has this feat or spell, so therefore they are evil. The spells and feats are really inept and go more towards the gross out, then the mature.

You use lichlove as an example. Yeah, it's disgusting to give the dead some lovin' but I would rather see serious discussions about psychological disorders, mental traits and descriptions about the darker parts of humanity from a historical point of view rather than feats and spells that any adolescent could think up and giggle about.

Just my take on the book. Sorry to disagree.

Actually I fall in between both your positions guys, while I don't entirely share Wooz's enthusiasm, I am not as critical about it as Starfury.

Although Starfury, I think you we're expecting the wrong things from the book. Let me explain.
You said:"I would rather see serious discussions about psychological disorders, mental traits and descriptions about the darker parts of humanity from a historical point of view rather than feats and spells that any adolescent could think up and giggle about."
Well if that is what you wanted, you should buy a book on the history of mental illness, devil-worshio and social deviance.
I found that, although it was done rapidly, the book did indeed explain the evil point of view and its take on what the good consider unwholesome.

The corrupt spell and new devils and demons were great, so was the poison. The other monsters and prestige classes were OK, but the magic items and feats left me unsatisfied.

Still I was taken aback by WoC's decision to go through with the book after all the effort that went into "cleaning up" the hobby's image, at least the art is of better taste than Clan Book Tzimisce's...

I more or less have to agree with Starfury on this one. While there are some useful bits (my roommate snagged the cancer mage for use in his 2e campaign), in general the book reminds me of a horror comic pitched to 13-year-olds. And honestly, the "vile" adventure they ran in Dungeon shortly afterwards was even more over the top. "The villain of this adventure is a vampire... possessed by a demon... who's a Nazi... and has herpes!!!" Sometimes the best villain is the one you can't spot right away because he isn't running a kitten through a blender.
However, I'll admit I may be a little jaded, because prior to BVD's release I had read AEG's Evil, an extremely well-written sourcebook I heartily recommend. It takes the same subject and focuses on subjects most GMs could actually use help with - roleplaying villains and creating distinctive evil NPCs - instead of pus ogres and pain distillers.

Personally, I've always found that the best villains are the ones who AREN'T sick, disgusting, slavering monstrous psychopaths. Giving a villain horrific abilities might work on rare occasions, but eventually, your players are going to get tired of the splatter horror that this book seems to advocate. Personally, I can't see it having enough utility to justify a purchase.

Villians may not need to be sick and disgusting, but I hate to have villians that aren't much more than negative versions of the PCs. Unfortunately, that's what you often get. I'm kind of glad to see the discussion here. While I may not fully agree with what you've been saying, I'm glad that all of this is more about the substance of the book rather than the suppossed nastiness of the book.

RE: Wooz and Yonjuuni's comments.
While I agree that villains need not be disgusting sickos and need to be something other than negatives of the heroes. You seem to forget BoVD is not about villains, it's about VILE DARKNESS which goes beyond pettiness, greed and hunger for power. I thought the title said it pretty well and was better than the Book of PATHOLOGICAL SICKNESS OF THE MIND.

This book needed to describe (albeit not too graphically) the sickness that inhabits some villains.
Also, it delved into the worship of devils and other non-godly beings, which was absent from the core books. While I agree that my campaign doesn't need a pain distiller or puss ogres, I liked most of what I got out of the book (even if I agree that it isn't one of Mister Cook's best work, it still beats Song and Silence for what it adds to the game.)

Furthermore, as far as villains are concerned, one should not forget that they don't need to be Evil to be efficient and stimulating opponents for the heroes. Vigilantes, revolutionaries, fanatics and you average misguided fool can all make great villains who aren't necessarily evil, heck, some of 'em don't even need to have lotsa powers, they just need to be influential.

But hey, each person plays his/her way right.

I think I get what you're saying Sam and I can kind of agree with it. I was simply hoping to find ways to improve my villians and wasn't expecting a whole lot from it. Monte Cook is a great writer, and I loved his Cthulhu d20 conversion (see review on this site. (shameless plug)). This wasn't the best we could have seen on the subject, but I really don't think it was the worst that could have been done either. On the subject of mental illness, does anyone have a spare copy of Chaosium's sourcebook for psychiatric care through history? I find myself really wishing I had picked it up almost ten years ago. It had nice little descriptions and drawings of all of the "therapeutical" equipment once used.

For those interested in the history of mental illness and its treatment read: "History of Psychology" by David Horsenthal, McGraw-Hill Publishing.

Really nice, has very little pictures for your games, but covers the history bit quite nicely. It was required reading for my degree, I still have a copy.

*shrugs* I guess I just don't see the need for Vile Darkness, then. Virtually every villain I've seen who's villainy is defined by him being a sick bastard has been unimpressive to me. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

Well I think it was one of the best books for evil characters out there. Despite how you few people labelled it "sick" or "grusome", I beleive truly evil characters have some of these traits. And this book truly helped flesh it out.

I liked BoVD because it gave me ideas to run with in a campaign. When I bought it, the store owner asked me how I felt about it. I told him I wasn't 12 anymore, and neither were my players. While younger, the subjects in BoVD just didn't come up, so they weren't used (except in an explotative manner). Now that I'm older, I don't hesitate to use things from BoVD because my gaming group is more open-minded and willing to accept that "bad things" go beyond the main antagonist killing some people. I don't feel that the subject matter is immature, it's how you (the GM) and the players handle it.

As far as psychology goes, reading up on psychology books is helpful for good OR evil characters and npcs. There are all sorts of ways you can flesh out the game with an understanding of the human mind.

I find BoVD to be vile, sick, and disgusting....I like it! Never before have I seen such a richly detailed book written before. I have a particular fondness for the Demonologist. This is one of Monte Cook's greatest books written, and I give it five stars. While I don't own it yet, I read it everytime I go to the bookstore. Tell Monte Cook that this is greatest book ever.

Thanks for listening,
Josh Perrin, age 16

As long as the players don't buy this book to find new character ideas...

I think Josh's age says it all in that post.

A bit condescending aren't we Yonjuuni?

Yup! ^_^ But he DID just prove the point that many have been making.

The subject of devil-worship and demonology are quintessential to any serious element of evil in a game. Without a spiritual axis, no moral system can stabilize into something solid. I have numerous arguements with people on the existance of God, and I invariably come back to the point that they cannot define morality without a defined frame of reference. In a world without God or devils, there is no possible way to define any action as moral or immoral.
Demons and devils make excellent foes for characters, as they have numerous powers and abilities to challenge even the toughest adventurer. And there's nothing evil that goes down with them being aware of it, if not the cause of it.

on the matter of the subject of this book being to vile or dark, I think that to reject it on those concepts is a bit too extreme. What you have here is a great book, full of material that IS taken the extreme, but, you don't have to go that far. It has plenty of ideas that can be distilled to something that fits your taste most, if not all, of Monte Cook's wonderful books (the Books of Eldritch Magic are some of my favorite), they are mearly a map, showing you where you can go. If LA to New York sounds too far, stop in Chicago ;) And as too having villians who arent flagrantly evil, I've always foudn it best to have villians who don't show you their evil side untill you piss them off... then they melt one of the parties hirelings into a putrid pile of rot and disease. Just my two cents!

P.S. The Legacy of Kain and Blood Omen serious of games are EXCELLENT sources for villains and evil. Some of the most dynamice foes I have ever encountered.

I have to say this book has helped me quite a bit. I'm actually running a campaign that has the heroes fighting their way through the 9 layers of Hell, attempting to take out the Archdevils. Before getting this volume I had no idea how to go about it -even get started- but with it I figured out how to make some twisted, posessed, or otherwise devil-connected 'regular villains' to begin the mission.

It's kind of like the Manual to the Planes - there for when you need it, or to add some flavor to an adventure. And in that I think it succedes.

I go with Daves remark on without spirituality, morals are pretty mixed up. Slaying a creature with valor maybe the same as slaughtering it without mercy. The only grip on whats right and wrong is on its appearance, and we know how deceiving that can be. I never really started a campaign before, but i always had this idea about a group of heros going to save a relic sword from being destroyed by a group of deranged clerics, aftwerwards finding that the sword was makeshift from the fang of a cursed god; the dead clerics holymen bent on sending it to where it came from. I'ts good shock therapy, showing them they were on the side of evil the whole time

I have to go with the people who dislike this book. The villian types provided by it are far too overt, and they don't really leave any room for RPing etc...they're just EVIL, SICK, NASTY, BAD people who NOT evil, sick, nasty, bad heroes will hate, hunt, and slay. Great. Big deal. Besides, there's nothing in here that hasn't been covered by other publications before, or that can't be easily engineered by a skilled DM. This book...just shouldn't have been published...after all, how often is a DM going to need the exact stats for "nipple clamps of extreme pain" or whatever they call them?

hmmm I'm stuck in the middle really. I suppose there's some useful stuff in it but it kind of feels like Comic overexagerated evil (image of villain telling the posse "yeah I'm dead evil me! Me I'm really evil!") - but that could just be because I prefer "call of Cthulhu" to D&D any day.

Incidentally Yonjuuni I find that remark you made pretty offensive. I'm 18 and I feel that maturity has little to do with age.

Hmmm. I've done research ino "possession" devil worship, psychological diseases and what not. FOr non game purposes incidently.

My conclusion is that the stuff contained in the BVD has nothing at all to do with any of that, and was never meant to. The book is really there just to make your players groan a couple of times. myplayers have always been to jaded to be bothered by any of the silliness here.

I do like the book, however, I think it's a great resource, not something you should base a campaign off of, but certainly useful.

It provides excellent opportunities for those PCs that want to branch out into darksides of their personality. And I love the evil human race. It's about time they standardized dark humans. I mean really, i was feeling left out.

I don't understand what the big deal is. It's a bit of a laugh. End of story. It's not disgusting or demonic or anything, it's just a laugh. I really liked the book, as it is unlike any other D&D book I own. I think it's proper bo'.

:: In a world without God or devils, there is no possible
::way to define any action as moral or immoral.

So, Confuzianism, Taoism, Humanism and the good old Golden Rule don't count?

Sorry, Dave, but that sentence just total utter nonsense. Although that sentiment *does* come up again and again.... usually by people who for ideological reasons wish to believe that religion and religiosity are desperately needed, or we'd all end as miserable heathens who don't know right from wrong and start eating our children, don't yer know... Nothing defines morality better than religious bigots crusading to scour a Holy Land[tm] from the Heathens[tm], I guess, ahaha.

Worse, in a fantasy world where dozens of deities, churches, cults and genesis myths exists, how will you *ever* define moral and immoral? Good and Evil? Can we claim that i.e. torture is always an evil deed? Uh, unless the brave plucky hero is torturing the vile mindflayer for information, yes/no/who cares?

In a world with gods and devils, there is no possible way to define any action as moral or immoral, because everyone thinks he's in the right.

And, Yonjuuni, perhaps I'm mental or am I missing the joke, but when I first read Josh Perrin's comment, I thought it was clearly meant as a parody.

Now, now. One should be very careful about labeling someone else's philosophical argument as nonsense. Before you drop the hammer, you should realize that Dave is not the first to believe that morality is beholden to relativity (read Lord of the Flies). If morality is the practice of acting in accordance with principles of conduct, then realize principles are defined by their respective extremes. Follow? You see... One could replace Dave's "God and Devil" with "good and evil," "light and dark," or even "stripes and polka dots." The point is creating a spectrum of reference.

You've made the classic mistake of assuming that one who acts immorally is inherently evil and vice versa. Defining moral and immoral is simple, especially in a world with gods and devils. It is not impossible, as you so eloquently claim, because morality and immorality are defined quantities. Needless to say, defining "right" and "wrong" is, in stark contrast, excessively difficult. Can we claim that torture is always an evil deed? The answer is, as always, dependent upon your point of reference. Therefore, ideology expressly *IS* pertinent to the issue. Principles are based on fundamental doctrines or beliefs. Religion and philosophy overlap drastically, making Dave's statement of more value than "utter nonsense". Taken in context, Dave is saying, "without defining polar extremes, we have no way of measuring [good and evil]." (Dave does make the identical mistake of misusing the term morality) It would be best to leave your criticism at "there was a better way of communicating what you meant." Besides, even Confucius believed Heaven mandated his earthly responsibilities.

The BoVD is a tool, which can be used to help the GM define the polar extremes of right and wrong in one's campaign. It is nothing more than that. It is up to the players to decide (not a book's decision) if they act morally.

Well I've read Exalted Deeds too now and I find it to be the better book of the two.
While I've never had a hard time playing interesting evil PC's and NPC's I've had a hard time playing the realy Good ones (as in opposite of evil not bad).
The book raises nice ethical questions and draws some lines on 'necessary evils' etc. A nice read and a good player and DM tool, better than BoVD (in my humble opinion).

I agree with Sam here. It IS harder to play good guys than bad guys, because, if you look at it in the glaring light of day, good guys tend to be dull.

Who wants to be decent, benevolent and upstanding, when you can pillage, rape, murder AND get all the best line? My case rests.

I also agree. I think the toughest task comes when gaming authority figures who are WEAKER (lower level) than the PCs in your game. You really have to use your wits to make the most of their position and rank without being tyrannical and aggressive. I often run into this situation because I intend for the PCs to be the heroic focus of the game, not some goodhearted UBER-knight. In general, I'll create good aligned magistrates and officials with a high (almost exceedingly so) charisma and/or wisdom, to justify their leadership. This minimizes PCs from thinking "if this guy/dame is their leader, why the hell is he/she hiring us?" Instead, the usual word at the table is "I can see why people trust this person, but it's obvious they our need help." Then the game rolls from there.

i DO like this book i wouldnt give it 5 stars mabye 4 i think its harder to make a evil or dark char because of the lack of background and motavition this book can help with a lot of those questions for me at last and i feel as a good change of pace that every now and then thats the players should get to be evil and make the gm worry about saving the day but again why would then again we are back to WHY are the palyers after a goal that would harm the world as a whole it makes for a fun game to break the cycle of saving the day day in and day out

I realize this page hasn't been commented on for about six years, and I am playing one of the new editions of DnD (Pathfinder rules, ftw). But in the 3.0 player's handbook, it very clearly states how evil was intended to be in the general DnD campaign. It was never intended to be some deep philosophical question on whether or not it is right to kill a creature because it is seen as 'evil.' Demons, devils, and fiends are meant to be 'evil' in the archetypal sense of the word: villains bordering on cartoonishness simply for how over-the-top sick and twisted they are. That is the kind of evil this book is about. Essentially, the name DOES say it all: Vile Darkness. For those looking to make a bigger, badder baddie.

For those of you interested in a more grey morality backdrop, I would recommend the Unearthed Arcana sourcebook. Not only does it include rules for corruption, insanity, and lots of 'alternative systems,' it has a whole section on mental disorders and how they can be included/RPed in a campaign. I personally loved using an insane wizard who was convinced that opening a portal to the Abyss would allow him to revive his dead wife (revivals were disallowed in this setting), only to find that a succubus and balor had tricked him through illusion and enchantment. It combines a misguided character with the concept of 'vile' villainy.

I also understand that this hasnt been commented on for a while. At one point in my life i played the typical LG paladin the NG cleric and that CG warrior. But ever since my Paladin went Black Guard and a follower of Cyrek. I always play Evil characters good characters are no fun. I believe whatever way you go Chaotic or Lawful. A good villian is based on how completely Insane his actions are if he is chaotic or how clever his plans are his he is lawful. I personally prefer the Chaotic way. When i started reading on the Demon Princes and the Arch-Devils and their cults I thought that was awesome. When i found out about these additional classes I was wondering what they actually did if someone can post info on these classes it would be appreceated or if u can connect me to another source it will also be aprrecieated.

Back on time when BoVD was released, I took a look on it and while I liked it, my feelings were that the book was unfinished. Then some years latter were released two tomes which complete the job: Exemplars of Evil and Elder Evils. The first time I used the three books to run a campaign (plus a bit of Heroes of Horror), my players were facing a world full of despair and truly dark powers, not only were beating those old sick, nasty bastards and their demonic cult, but struggling against Evil as a real cosmic power --as (poorly) described in the core rulebooks--.

Then, in the next camapign, my players and I agreed in being the PCs the "bad guys". It was so much fun for everyone, and then the players realized that it is NOT necesary being the classical Whatever-Good character to be a hero. Even a Chaotic Evil orc brute has the potential to do the most exalted deeds with the proper ROLEPLAYING; and for the psychological part of those evil heros, well the brute barbarian with an axe smashes heads "because it's fun", while the LE Knight can be at the same time a serious badass warrior as can be a methodical a la Machiavelli scheemer. Examples are by plenty, the core thing in this is roleplaying wich, hell, it's the essence of DnD. The other things mainly are not much more than munchkin-size mechanical use of rules and nerdish, useless affairs. It is a GAME, not a psychological study, and the game is about telling a story, so your tale shall be the one that fits most for you DM and your players tastes.