Being an exploration of evil as a concept, the book opens with a stern warning that, while the authors are opposed to censorship, they feel that the work is for adults only, as they are mature enough to decide whether or not they wish to read (or indeed use in their games) the material within. It's an excellent appeal to reader discretion that anyone wishing to touch on questionable material of whatever nature would do well to consult.
Venturing onwards, the first section looks at the true nature of 'evil.' It is not something defined by any religion, although most have tried, they argue: but something deep and dark which is hard to explain but instantly recognisable. An absence of humanity, of decency, of compassion, repulsive and depraved... and defined not by the act but by the intent behind the act. (An argument familiar to lawyers debating mens rea and actus rea - summed up in that an accidental death cannot be murder, for example, you have to intend harm to your victim to murder him, whatever you might have done to him.) Ultimately, you don't want to understand true evil, because the only way to do so is to embrace it.
The discussion then moves on to how to play evil characters effectively, starting from the assumption that most role-players are normal, decent people. Evil characters come in many forms: scheming masterminds and brutal monsters, dedicated pursuers of power and dreamers who have been seduced into the paths of evil... and some ideas of the sorts of campaign themes that would suit such characters is also given. Service to an even greater evil is an obvious one, with all the opportunities for advancement and betrayal that affords. They may even have the chance to become evil powers - even deities - themselves. Plenty here to give ideas for those who want to tread this path.
However, it is important to know when to stop, both as the DM or as a player... or indeed as a group. It's a game and needs to remain within the confines of the alternate reality, but even there, limits need to be imposed. Most people have read something or seen something in a film that is just too much... and you need to know when to put the book down or leave the cinema. Likewise here.
While some people may wish for a game that is straight evil, with evil characters doing evil things (and it's quite fun to do in a game things you know you'd never even contemplate doing in the real world), others may be more intrigued by one in which a slide into evil is a possibility, or even a terrifying inevitability. Exposure to evil beings can be another route to take, while visits to other planes may carry risks to more than your hide! The very presence of evil in an area can have adverse affects, which astute characters may notice and puzzle over: again fertile seeds for adventure whether the characters seek out the root evil to embrace or to defeat it. While there is a lot which is valuable to those planning a game in which evil features large, this section is a bit of a muddle of rules effects and ideas, moving from large concept to detail in an incoherent manner. There is, however, an excellent segment on the visible manifestations of evil: how the landscape and all therein can be subtly affected by its presence.
Next, a new race - if that is what it is - is presented: the Seed. Born of a human mother by the intervention of a potent evil being, a Seed looks albino and is under the control of the being which 'fathered' it, often hearing voices that give directions. Then comes a character class, the Channel, which is a character who is open to the spiritual forces of the cosmos and the direction of the powers that be... and often taken advantage of by those which are evil in nature. (And it's here, on page 30, that we finally find out why some words appear in grey - they are words referred to in the Player's Handbook!) Another character class, the Hunter, also appears: this one is one who draws power from the dead for evil, and hunts down humanoids to slay for this purpose. A prestige class called the Festering Lord is a natural-born leader, while the Method Massacre is an even more unpleasant serial killer than the Hunter and the Channel of the Beast (I think that's the name of the prestige class from the text, part of the title image seems to be missing) has embraced his dark side completely. The Puppeteer is a master of faceless manipulation, with spell-casting abilities focused on controlling others. All thse class options are interesting, but presentation is a bit confused.
Next comes some new skills. Some will be useful whether you are evil or not - such as Chant (an advanced meditation technique that can enhance concentration and even healing), Misdirection or Streetwise - while Torture definitely falls into the evil bracket. These are followed by some new feats, which are really only of use to those of an evil persuasion. There are some chilling ideas here, which can be used to good effect by evil characters or even better, by evil NPCs against good characters. There are also some spells which will serve well in populating evil spell books, the sort which really need to be chained up in the 'Restricted' section of the library; and a handful of new items.
Next comes a description of a new kind of being, the Unnatural. Formed of what's left over after the powers of creation have finished making the normal world, it is a unique thing of pure evil, balanced by its mirror image of good, the Perfected. Like matter and anti-matter, it's best that they never meet. Each species has both an Unnatural and a Perfected - one being the quintessance of what that species might be, and the other... well, a depraved version. Then there are Deceivers, the Deep Weirds, the Dreamscape of the Penumbra and more - strange mind-bending creatures you don't want to meet in the broad light of day, never mind a dark alley on the blackest night. There are also some templates which can be used to pervert existing creatures, if that takes your fancy.
And that's it. A fascinating, sometimes disturbing look at incorporating real evil into your game, with a mix of theoretical discussion as to what that means along with some excellent concrete examples of ways in which to do it. While a good proof-read and a bit of dispassionate editing and organisation would help, this work is worth a look if you want an edge to your game that goes beyond the conventional 'good vs. evil' approach and brings evil to life in your characters' lives.
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Reviewed: 29 September 2007