Posted by : David Guyll December 09, 2011

"Bound in human flesh and inked in blood, this ancient Sumerian text contained bizarre burial rites, funerary incantations and demon resurrection passages. It was never meant for the world of the living."

While that would be a pretty rad product, that is the description for another book. I'm here to talk about the Books of Vile Darkness. For $30 you get almost 130 pages divided into two books--one for DMs and the other for players--and a double-sided map, packaged in a sleeve featuring some sweet Wayne Reynolds art featuring Kyuss (or maybe just a run of the mill worm that walks).

This product is not for everyone, especially groups with players that like to use evil alignments as an excuse to be douchebags. You know the type; "I only kicked your unconcious body into the pit of lava because it is what my character would do!" (Which actually happened in a 2nd Edition game.) Even so DMs will get a lot of nice, crunchy content to throw at their players, along with lots of advice on making "vile" encounters and villains. Oh yeah, cursed items. More specifically, the kind you cannot use Arcana to fix.

So if you are a DM I would pick it up even if you are not interested in running an evil campaign (the player's book accounts for about a fourth of the package). If you only play I wouldn't, as there is just not enough for you that you couldn't just get out of DDI.

For Players
While the player's Book(let) of Vile Darkness barely peaks the 30 page mark, it contains a lot of useful flavor and crunch content on playing the bad guys: some considerations for running an evil game and ideas on how to keep the party tied together, villainous archetypes, themes, feats, paragon paths, and an epic destiny to top it off.

The advice is pretty sound; don't steal from, maim, or murder each other, make sure everyone is on the same page, and try not to use an evil alignment as an excuse to just go apeshit and be a complete asshole (I am looking at you, Chaotic Neutral). They also replicate the section on role-playing from the Player's Handbook, just modified for evil, and break up some of the ideas based on power source (including an evil primal spirit and some brief information on tailoring psionic content for a more sinister angle).

My favorite theme is infernal slave. While I like the infernal pact, your boon does not have to be arcane power; material wealth or other good fortune are all fair game for a Faustian bargain (and any race and class can benefit from it). Of course being able to use hellfire is a nice bonus. Two of the features act like double-edged swords, benefiting you but also potentially harming you, which is nice.

I am also a fan of the vermin lord which makes a re-appearance as a paragon path for evil druids. You start out by being able to deal automatic damage and shield allies when you spend an action point, represented by swarms of insects bursting from your body, gain scaling poison resistance, and unleash a torrent of maggots that cause each target to grant combat advantage and impose vulnerability 5 to everything for a turn.
I dug the level 12 daily, which lets everyone communicate telepathically, prevent enemies from gaining combat advantage by flanking, and let you use your move actions to move them instead.

Divine characters will be happy with the new Divine Devotion and Divinity feats; Asmodeus's Fiery Command causes an ally to gain scaling temp hps if they hit a target, or take damage as well as damaging each adjacent creature if they fail, while Disciple of Darkness grants you a massive Stealth bonus as well as causing you to become invisible if you use a second wind when in dim light or darkness.

For the Dungeon Master
The DM's book is three times as meaty and features advice for creating "evil" adventures and encounters, example ideas, campaign arcs, new monsters and monster themes, organizations, magic items (including cursed and sinister items), and an even an adventure tied into the movie.

The infamous NPC dialogue featured in each section ranges from campy to good, and I can actually envision Robert going up to each of them with a clipboard and pencil, grilling them with questions about the nature of evil.

Robert: "So Azalin, what can you tell me about curses?"
Azalin: "Do not speak to me of curses!"
Robert: "..."
Azalin: "Just...look, look, I'm sorry. It's just that, man, I have seen some shit."

Chapter 1: Evil Unearthed
A very short chapter, you get a product overview, lots of dialogue from Vecna (including his origins and upbringing), an in-depth description of the book of vile darkness, and the facets of evil in D&D.

Chapter 2: Evil Campaigns
As with the player's booklet, the advice on evil campaigns is helpful for ensuring a party that slays well with each other regardless of alignment. I like that in addition to suggesting having a patron keep them in line, it points out that they are still playing a cooperative game. There is also the notion of a common enemy and positive connections like love and friendship, which evil people can still have.

The section on evil adventuring gives you some ideas for running evil adventures--like ambushing a caravan or performing an evil ritual--in addition to a sidebar on running a reverse dungeon (which was an actual D&D product an edition or two ago). A section on campaign themes gives you some ideas of the bigger picture, such as the tried and true deicide and/or destroying the world, and there are even a couple campaign arc examples in case you needed some more to work with.

Chapter 3: Vile Encounters
This chapter opens up with guidelines on making encounters more, well...vile. The main factors that stood out to me were to ensure that there were consequences extending beyond the encounter (such as a demon going on a rampage if they failed to stop it) and using a combination of the new terrain features, traps, and curses. I guess some of the other stuff could work to, like making sure that the players know where the undead minions came from (slaughtered village), or get to see sacrifices being executed to power a fell ritual.

Chapter 4: Villains & Monsters
This chapter opens up strongly with an extended look at villain construction; concept, scope, archetype, motivation, etc. Advice that has been seen before, but good for newer DMs or those that want it packaged in a current source. There is also a lot of monster themes like Moilian Dead, and some new monsters like hordelings (a level 11 elite swarm that can spawn level 11 minions once per round when it gets hit).

Chapter 5: Dark Rewards
This chapter comes in two flavors: cursed and sinister. Unlike the items in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, the bad parts of these items cannot be removed. In fact you cannot remove them either without slamming them with Disenchant Item, Remove Affliction, or something similar. For example, a cursed weapon acts normal until you hit someone, after which you take a -2 to attack rolls if you attack anyone but the original target until it dies or the encounter ends. Sinister items sometimes have good or bad effects, or just do "siiiinister" things. Bracers of suffering reduce your hit points by 5, but give you a bonus on saves against charms, stun, daze, and dominate, while a girdle of skulls lets you summon skeletal warriors.

Chapter 6: The Vile Tome
A paragon-tier, four-encounter romp that features the book. Since it is an adventure I'll go into this more in another review.

{ 5 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Very cool.

    I liked the 3rd Ed BoVD and my players in my wrapping-up 3e game are close to finding a copy. I hope I can run out and grab this one for some ideas.

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  2. The main purpose of this is to give advice on the players being the bad guy, give DMs some ideas on making better villains, "vile" encounters, monster stuff, and cursed items, so depending on how close you are it might be a bit late in the game for it. Mostly I think you could get some ideas for monsters and potentially curses, though if you have time to introduce another bad guy you might get some more mileage out of it.

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  3. I am... ambivalent about this book in theory (I've not seen this version). I remember people supporting the idea of the Book of Vile Darkness back in 3E and being down on the Book of Erotic Fantasy, which always seemed to me like a ringing endorsement for the SAW film franchise and condemnation of the Red Shoe Diaries. Torture and degradation are good, orgasms are bad. I can generate enough evil for the games in which I participate, I will have to research the 4E BoVD more before I decide to buy a copy.

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  4. I didn't see anything even remotely approaching all the sexual content from the 3rd Edition iteration. For reasons I have already said, you will get more out of it if you are a DM then as a player.

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  5. For what it's worth, Grumpy Celt, I think the reason people were okay with BoVD and down on BoEF was quality. BoVD had some, BoEF... didn't, really. It was a relatively poor product overall.

    That aside, I can see why 'torture okay, orgasms bad'. Consider your normal gaming group, and how creepy the whole orgasm thing could be.

    Go ahead. I'll wait. You'll get over the mental damage eventually.

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