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Book of Vile Darkness Review
| Drugs, torture, sacrifice, sadism, and depravity: the Book of Vile Darkness, by Monte Cook, is definitely not for the weak of heart. In fact, it's the only D&D book I've ever seen with a warning sticker on the cover. Definitely not for children. Nor is this tome meant for players. In fact, the first section of the introduction, a warning to DMs, is entitled, "Hide This Book!" |
That said up front, it is fair to claim that this d20 supplement is well thought out, useful, and as inherently vile as the name suggests. Within you will find statistics for the denizens of the underworld, all sorts of new rules, and a good collection of narrative tips that will enhance the villains of any game. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Point is, the Book of Vile Darkness is worth every penny of the cover price ($32.95) unless, of course, you are satisfied with an average and often mediocre evil of the core rules.
Overall, the book is very attractive. The cover art is similar to that of the core rules -being a graphical representation of a fantasy tome- but it is fittingly more sinister. Inside, the layout is precisely the same as all the original books: monochrome sketches grace the cover plates of each chapter, color renderings intermittently communicate the overall feel of darkness, tables are easy to read, and headings are easy to find. The art is one of this publication's high points. The level of quality here shows that a lot of care was taken in selecting the images. Personal favorites include the Pits of Io-Rach (pg. 22), an evil dwarf wielding Angelkiller (pg. 112), and the Cauldron of Zombie Spewing (pg. 118).
Chapter 1, The Nature of Evil, is a very informative read. Though it is light on rules, this section defines evil well. In this regard, it is a great guide to monitoring the alignments of good characters. The chapter covers the motivations that drive normal people to the dark side as well as some insight into the life and times of the creatures spawned there. It covers -in detail- six vile gods and two new NPC races. The tips for creating villains are useful, even if the example villains are too specialized for most campaigns.
A bevy of useful topics are covered in Chapter 2, Variant Rules. The high points are rules for demonic possession and the benefits of sacrifice. There are some weaker sections. By way of example, the list of new diseases gets downright goofy. The last two pages of the chapter are a vital discourse on the effects of lingering evil.
Chapter 3, Evil Equipment, is short and sweet. The major points of focus are torture devices, addictive drugs, and new poisons. There is also a disgusting table providing the prices of new spell components like humanoid body parts, liquid pain, and even souls. Let me break it to you easy, you're soul isn't worth as much as you were hoping, but you can probably get 20,000 severed fingers for it.
Chapter 4, Feats, is pretty basic and often redundant. A large percentage of it is dedicated to metamagic for spell-like abilities. There is a cool new tree, Willing Deformity, that gives game bonuses based on scarification and self-abuse. The chapter also includes an inventive new damage descriptor, Vile.
Chapter 5, Prestige Classes, is an incredible source for major villains. My favorites are the Cancer Mage and the Vermin Lord but all eighteen of the classes are interesting, if a bit overpowered. Whatever you do, don't let your players see this section!
At forty-five pages, Chapter 6, Evil Magic, is the longest. It includes new spells, magic items, and artifacts. The spell section goes a long way towards fixing the way evil clerics got the short end of the stick in the PHB, with lots of interesting additions and seven new domains. Assassins and Blackguards are treated to expanded lists. Arcane casters will benefit greatly but druids only get a few lame additions. Evil bards? They get nothing.
The section on magic gear is mostly weaponry and wondrous items. Many of these devices are bland and predictable but there are some really good ones as well, like an arrow that passes harmlessly through anyone with an evil alignment. The artifacts carry the same predictable feel as the rest of the items but they are far more detailed. What I was really hoping for was a big section on cursed items but -to my dismay- the topic has been overlooked.
Chapter 7, Lords of Evil, is probably the most useless section. It's long too. Sure, it's interesting to read about super-powerful demon princes and their like but, unless your campaign is well into the epic levels, the lords will only be useful to you as background color. That said, they could have narrowed this part down to a few paragraphs of plot, expanded the magic chapter, and then published the Book of Epic Darkness separately.
The final chapter, Evil Monsters, contains realistic encounters for lower level parties with a CR span from 1 to 10. Included are six demons (five are Tanar'ri), two devils (both Baatezu), and four other monsters, one of which has six subtypes. There are new templates for Bone, Corpse, and Corrupt creatures. All of these additions will compliment adventures based on the lower planes or undead but most are unnecessary additions to the MM for other types of campaigns. There's also a little appendix about dealing with evil PCs that is useful but, in my opinion, could have been expounded on.
Overall, the Book of Vile Darkness is internally consistent, well produced, and worthwhile. It's so accurate to the d20 rules that you'd swear it's a core book. Just be careful to use these rules in moderation or your villains might become too tough. This is -in essence- a splat book for DMs. Though some of the contents are horribly unoriginal, I would say that the whole thing is mildly inventive and stereotypic components are mostly quality d20 adaptations of well known evil themes.
So, without further ado, let's go to the scorecards
- Originality: 2 of 5 (statistics for predictable themes).
- Consistency: 5 of 5 (full of self-reference and cool combos).
- Accuracy: 4 of 5 (follows d20 if a bit overpowered).
- Quality: 4 of 5 (quality layout and art).
- Value: 5 of 5 ($32.95 / 191 pages = $.17 per page, more than half of which are useful).
- Average Score: 4 out of 5.