This book kicks off by attempting to define 'evil' - or at least, what most people regard as 'evil.' Naturally, a lot of folks you might define as evil would not apply that label to themselves, although they might be prepared to admit that they are greedy, like to get their own way and such like. It often boils down to politics. If a ruler operates by use of muscle to get what he wants, he may well fall - by the strict guidelines of D&D alignments - into 'evil' somewhere: Chaotic Evil if he operates by grabbing what he wants, or Lawful Evil if he establishes a structure that ensures he stays on top of the heap. Neutral evil cheats, tries to get everyone else to obey the rules while breaking them himself! Moving on from this analysis comes the step over to evil itself; why certain people go that way. Perhaps they see themselves as better, more fitted to rule, than the common herd. Or perhaps its just that if the world is divided into predator and prey, they know they don't want to be prey. And of course there's the question of style. Any fool of a hero can beat up their opposition, but the true evil genius leaves cryptic calling cards and wreaks more artistic vengeances...
The discussion continues with a look at how those deemed 'evil' see themselves, ending with the chilling thought that someone who accepts what they are can do anything that they please... without compunction or qualms. They might be lonely, but they get what they want.
Then comes another chilling concept: heroes make the best villains. Well, fallen ones do anyway. There are many ways in which a former hero can be seduced into evil. They make for great stories, whether or not the hero actually succombs to the blandishments of evil, and this section should provide food for thought for any DM who wants to bring some epic - and perhaps tragic - depth into their campaign. Or it could be that having finally confronted the evil genius they've been fighting for so long, your heroes discover that he once was a hero too. Will they be sorry for him and what he has become, or just take him out as the bad guy he is? Various ways of leading heroes astray are discussed, these should give you some ideas if this is the style of campaign you are looking for.
Then we step away from characters for a while, looking at how a group of players might cope with running an evil party. Things like how they still need to find ways to work together, as inter-party rivalry can easily get out of hand and spill over into the real world and ruin real friendships. From the other side of the DM's screen there are other problems to be faced. Heroes, by and large, are reactive. Give them a villainous plot to foil, monsters to fight or mysteries to unravel, and they're off. Villains are in some ways harder work for the DM. A villain operates by generating his evil schemes... so, the DM for a group of evil characters needs to guide them into creating their plots, then step back and prepare the rest of the world's response to what these villains are trying to do. Moreover, the DM needs to decide whether or not he's prepared to let 'evil' win the day... and whether the players (never mind their characters) are able to withstand being defeated and thwarted in the way the average Bad Guy usually is! It can, of course, lead to a distinctive and enjoyable campaign, or a few one-off adventures from the other side, though.
Next comes a look at the more supernatural side of evil. Some folks are led astray - willingly or otherwise - by too close an association with devils or demons. There's plenty of advice on how both demons and devils view such deals, which should enable the DM to carry off the devilish or demonic side of such a pact to good (if that's the right word) effect! Notes include examples of infernal pacts and the benefits the mortal party to them can gain, in the shape of several infernally-derived feats. There's also a Prestige Class, the Demon Summoner, to play with if you dare. The power the character may gain is easy and immense... but the price is very high. Still, for those who do want to go ahead, the necessary rules for scribing magic circles, researching the infernal beast you wish to summon and the spells themselves are provided.
Once a character (or for that matter NPC, if you want to build one from the bottom up) has decided to be evil, you'll need to decide just what sort of evil he'll practice. To this end, there is a collection of archetypes or concepts, aimed at low-level characters intending on a path of evil. Plenty of food for thought as to how to go about your rotten ways. Many of the rationales behind these archetypes do not necessarily lead to being evil, but here it's assumed that they will drive the character beyond the pale of what is normally regarded as good and decent behaviour. Creating a detailed background is important, unless you merely want a comic-book evil character (OK for a one-off or a non-serious campaign, but lacking in depth for true role-playing enjoyment).
As most fantasy non-human societies - dwarfs, elves, etc. - are presented as clannish, tightly-knit ones; it's a bit harder to see how someone from such a background might turn out evil. There always will be the aberrant ones, who are either cunning enough to hide their evil ways or smart enough to get out of the community before they are noticed and dealt with; while others will have gone to the bad after leaving home. Notes are provided as to likely ways in which members of the common humanoid races might have gone astray.
Next comes a section of new uses for familiar skills - of course some if not all of these ideas can be used by anyone, evil or not. But they might want to think about their motivations carefully, if they are worried about that slippery slope. There are new skills too, such as Bully, which basically takes Intimidation (forcing actions by the threat of violence) one step further to the actual use of violence to get your desired result; and Knowledge: Demonology, should you care to tread that dark path. There are also some new feats, Bribery should come in handy for a start; while Bootlicker and Living Shield will do well for assorted evil minions. There's a rather muddled Off-Handed feat, supposed to enable you to confuse enemies by using your other hand in combat. Now, while most people are right-handed and used to fighting others of the same, left-handers are common enough that a good regime of combat training will have exposed you to dealing with them. This one could have been better developed into some kind of 'weapon-juggler' feat where you are able to switch hands during combat without penalty - now that could be confusing! There are also a few rather nasty spells to round out that evil spellbook, and some more evil prestige classes for evil characters to aim towards.
Section 2: Mercy is for the Weak deals with the design and operation of an evil campaign, and is aimed mainly for the prospective DM. Various concepts are provided to spawn your own ideas for your campaign, and it is stressed that if contemplating an evil campaign, it is particularly important to consult with the players on the nature of the campaign they'd like - rising to power in city streets, mercenaries serving whoever'll pay, court intrigue or whatever - as it's not something that will work well if the players would prefer to be doing something different from what you have planned for them. There are lots of ideas thrown out to make you think, the real joy of this book. Indeed, this section would be useful for anyone planning an evil-oriented game, even if it isn't a fantasy one!
Continuing, there are notes on how to build the ultimate villain NPC - whether to provide opposition in an evil campaign, or as an adversary for more conventional heroes. There's information on such details as the best sort of NPC lackeys and hirelings to provide for your villains, lair construction and even how to create a complete villainous organisation.
To add flavour, there is a detailed group of villains complete with their objectives and minions - the Palm of Zadeh - as well as a sample organisation built around the Blood Archer prestige class. Other organisations are the Sisters of Dust (female necromancers), and a secret society called the Brotherhood of the Shroud. This is a sort of spy agency for hire, consisting solely of magic-using individuals who conduct political mischief, investigations or assassinations for pay. There are notes on creating your own secret societies too, including thoughts on how to involve your players - whether they like it or not! Another secret society called the Shadow Quills is provided as an example; and of course all of these can be woven into your campaign as adversaries or allies.
Just in case you don't have enough ideas yet, a selection of evil scenario seeds are provided to give you a start. Blackmail the local mayor, perhaps. Or give the characters a burning need to be revenged on the local thieves' guild. Artifacts to steal or otherwise acquire... and plenty more. Several NPCs - both good and evil - are provided to populate the adventure ideas, and there are some new monsters and artifacts (complete with their own adventure ideas) and finally a complete evil campaign outline to round things off.
Overall this is a cracking good read and idea generator for any DM, whether he fancies running an evil campaign or just wants to add some zest to the bad guys in a more conventional campaign. It's marred by sloppy proof-reading - many minor spelling and grammatical errors have slipped through - but otherwise is well worth a look.
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