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Friday, January 29, 2021

Film Noir Concepts in Dungeons & Dragons

I've been working on an adventure for a long time now, meant for low level characters in a city I designed. I wanted to make an adventure that features both the insight skill, and thieves' cant. I want to explore and explain what thieves' cant actually is.

I keep retooling this adventure, peeling stuff out and revamping it. I boiled it down to 3 scenes before coming to the realization that this adventure should be like a film noir, but a D&D version of it. "Arcane Noir"? "Prismatic Noir"?

Film Noir: Then I realized that I didn't really know what film noir was! So I started reading, and I found that nobody really knows what it is. Film noir is a fancy name for a crime movie. With shadows. And detectives. And "femme fatales." I guess the closest modern thing to it would be Sin City.

I decided that I should watch some film noir stuff so that I could understand it and maybe find inspiration for my adventure. I looked up a list of the top 20 film noir movies of all time, and decided to watch them.

This is a sort of "report" on what I learned. First we'll look at the perils of trying to run an investigation/crime adventure in D&D. Then we'll examine the noir tropes I pulled out from the movies that you could use in your game. Then we'll actually discuss the movies and what was good/bad about them.

My Favorite Film Noir: Real quick, I just want to say that if you only watch one film noir, it should be Kiss Me Deadly. Don't read anything about it! Just watch it.

Implementing Film Noir in D&D

Noir stories often involve an investigation, which can be difficult to run in Dungeons & Dragons. Players in D&D tend to either "skip to the end," which isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that it means you may have wasted hours of prep time. They also have a habit of wandering off from the story entirely. 

I had something of a revelation years ago when I ran some classic Shadowrun adventures. Those scenarios are structured differently - they're in scenes. For example, the group starts off in a club. They learn some clues that point to 2-3 different locales. They pick one, and you flip to that locale in the book. That area also has clues/hooks to other areas. 

It's a bit like a choose your own adventure book. Eventually the group winds toward the climax, but the path in which they get there is very flexible. It allows the group a lot of freedom - there's a detailed scenario for almost any choice they make. The DM is less likely to have to try to pull a random (entertaining!) scenario out of nowhere.

Here's a quick example.

The heroes stumble on the scene of a murder. Examining the body, the group finds 3 clues:

  1. The victim has a tattoo made by a prominent tattoo artist.
  2. The victim is wearing garb that indicates they work at a certain tavern.
  3. A witness claims the victim's dying words were about a cleric in a nearby church.

So the group has three leads. They can visit the tattoo artist, the tavern, or the church. Those locales have more clues that lead to more people and places. Along the way, the murderer may try to trip up/rub out the adventurers.

Shadows and Dim Light

Noir plays around a lot with shadows and silhouettes. We should probably be familiar with the rules on light so that we can get the most out of a shadow-y alley.

Dim Light: "The soft light of twilight...." This area is lightly obscured, meaning that creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks.

Darkness: These areas are heavily obscured, meaning that a creature is effectively blinded (auto-fail ability checks involving sight, attack rolls have disadvantage, creatures have advantage to hit you).

Darkvision: In my experience, most characters have darkvision. Remember that "...a creature with darkvision can see in dim light as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light...". 

Also, creatures with darkvision can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. I think describing those scenes as without color can definitely enhance the noir feel.

Hiding: When you take the Hide action, you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check in an attempt to hide. "When a creature can't see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden — both unseen and unheard — when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses."

It's film noir. There will be lots of villains hiding in the shadows trying to stab you in the back.

Divination Spells in an Investigation

Here's the big problem with mysteries in D&D: Divination spells. You have to account for them! If possible, not only should you set it up so that a certain spell doesn't 'ruin' your scenario, but you should set it up that divination spells are almost necessary to move the plot along.

Let's go through some prominent "common" divination spells to see how they could detract or enhance an investigation scenario. We'll focus on spell levels 1-4, as I think that spellcasters that can cast level 5+ spells are probably exceedingly rare in most settlements.

Comprehend Languages: Understand any spoken language you hear. Understand written language you see - but you must be touching the surface on which the words are written. That might be a really cool setup. Maybe something is written high up in a city, or it is written in a holy book that all are forbidden to touch.

Note: "The spell doesn't decode secret messages in a text or glyph..."

Detect Evil and Good: Make sure you read this spell's description. It's false advertising! It doesn't tell you the alignment of a creature. It tells you their type: Aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend, or undead. This actually could be used for a great twist - the group suddenly realizes the person they are talking to is actually a fiend, perhaps a shapeshifted succubus.

Detect Poison and Disease: You can sense poison, poisonous creatures (!), and diseases. This might make for an interesting twist. The group suspects that their food is poisoned, but upon casting the spell, they find that the food is fine.. however, the person with them is sick.

Speak with Animals: I love the idea that a witness to a crime is a stray cat. The heroes can interrogate the cat with this spell, and you can do a goofy cat voice.

Augury: This spell only gives the group very vague aid. Their questions about specific courses of action give an answer of "weal" for good results and "woe" for bad results. 

The most interesting thing about this spell to me is the drama in the set-up - you have to "roll dragon bones" and wield "gem inlaid sticks."

Detect Thoughts: This one is big. You can learn surface thoughts of a creature, and you can probe deeper into their mind if they fail a Wisdom save. You have to take this spell into account! If the group is interrogating three suspects, they can use this to find the murderer. 

On the positive side, this spell can be used to quickly narrow things down. The heroes can enter a bar and scan the surface thoughts of people in there, perhaps quickly identifying the individual who has useful information for them.

Locate Object: Another potential 'mystery solver.' Let's say that everyone is looking for a certain box. Cast locate object - if it's within 1,000 feet, you find it. 

Remember this note in the spell description: "This spell can't locate an object if any thickness of lead, even a thin sheet, blocks a direct path between you and the object.

It makes sense that, in a D&D world, that objects of value would be hidden in lead boxes. Although that actually brings a fun wrinkle - could crooks cast locate object to detect lead boxes? This could lead to all sorts of fun shenanigans.

Clairvoyance: You create an invisible sensor that you can see through. This is a great spell for a stake out. The only problem is that it only lasts for up to 10 minutes. But, if the group knows that a meeting between shady individuals is set to go down at midnight, they can set the sensor up and spy on the bad guys, learning all sorts of clues and details.

Arcane Eye: Basically, this is a more powerful version of clairvoyance. It lasts an hour and the eye can be moved around.

Divination: Another very dramatic spell! You ask a god a single question, and you receive a cryptic answer. A booming voice? A whisper? Thunder rumbles? A holy symbol on the wall glows brightly?

Locate Creature: Another potential 'game breaker.' You can locate a creature within 1,000 feet. "This spell can't locate a creature if running water at least 10 feet wide blocks a direct path between you and the creature." So that means that any kidnapping ring would likely set up near a river. 

There is also a note that says that if the victim is polymorphed, the spell doesn't locate them. That said, if the bad guys have a habit of polymorphing their victims into rabbits, and the heroes use this spell to locate creatures of a specific kind (rabbits), then they could crack the case... or blindly stumble onto the lair. "Why are all these rabbits here? And why are they in these cages? And what's the deal with this pile of clothes?"


Poison is a good way for a noir villain to get their job done efficiently. The thing about poison is... it's expensive. The average working person makes about 2 gold per day in D&D. The cheapest poison costs 150 gold! 

Let's look at the cheapest poisons.

(150 gp) Assassin's Blood: Ingested. It just does 6 poison damage, half on a save. But a commoner only has 4 hit points. So if they fail their save, they die.

(150 gp) Truth Serum: Ingested. If you fail your save, you can't knowingly speak a lie for one hour, as if under a zone of truth spell. 

This is another potential plot-hacking item, although it often gets overlooked. It makes sense that the guards in a settlement would use truth serum in an investigation. 

(200 gp) Carrion Crawler Mucus: Contact. Fail your save? You are poisoned and paralyzed! But not for long. You repeat the save each round and once you make it, the effect ends.

(200 gp) Drow Poison: Injury. This is one of those "if you fail your save by a lot, it's bad" poisons. Fail your save: poisoned for 1 hour. Fail by 5+: You're unconscious for one hour!

(200 gp) Serpent Venom: Injury. This one is the commoner killer. It does 10 damage on a failed save, 5 damage on a successful save. The 4 HP commoner is dead no matter what.

Film Noir Plots

Here are the storylines that I was able to pull out of the various movies I watched.

Mystery Box: Mysterious enemies are trying to find a box containing a secret treasure. Possibly a soul, or a devastating living spell.

Treasure Hunters: Eccentric NPCs are all trying to find an object of great value, sabotaging each other and anyone else who gets in their way.

Spousal Murder: A spouse in a tight situation recruits the heroes to murder their partner. This one is all about planning the murder, and whether or not what they were told is even true.

Wayward Children: A father who is in poor health has two attractive adult children that have gotten mixed up with villains. The heroes must extract the kids from the situation without bringing attention to the wealthy father.

Missing Spouse: A spouse has fled their marriage, as their partner is a possessive criminal. The heroes are hired to go and find the spouse.

Murdered Acquaintance: The group meets someone and spends an evening with them. This person is murdered just after bidding the group farewell. The heroes are the only suspects - they must solve the crime to prove their innocence.

Non-Murder Murder: A person is murdered in their own home. People investigate.. then it turns out that the person who was murdered was actually on vacation. Who the dead person in their home actually is, is a mystery.

Secret Stash: A villain really wants a certain clock - because there is an item of value (a murder weapon) stashed within it.

Wrong Place: The group ends up traveling with a man who suddenly dies. It turns out that the man is a rich, influential criminal whose death can bring the group great wealth, so obviously they are murder suspects.

Film Noir NPCs

These are some of the more interesting film noir NPCs I stumbled across. 

Unrequited Love: A sidekick who does anything for their boss, and the boss uses them without care.

Pathological Liar: An opportunist who will double cross anyone to achieve their goal, going so far as to impersonate a dead person if they can get away with it.

Evil Blackmailer: An antagonist who blackmails a character, sticking by their side, siphoning every last gold piece they can.

Mysterious Love: A character's ex-partner who mysteriously disappeared suddenly returns, now with a new partner who is seemingly a force for great good.

Black Widow: An amoral villain who marries people and then tricks other people that they seduce into killing the spouse, all for slight financial gain.

Devoted Servant: A butler/maid of a wealthy eccentric, who is in reality a former spouse who still sticks around out of concern for their ex's health and sanity.

Shady Lawyer: A lawyer who seems to be legitimate, but secretly has money problems and is willing to finance a heist. 

One Day From Retirement: A hired goon who just wants one big score so they can go home and rebuild their life.

The Geek: A person who works at a carnival, biting the heads off of chickens, acting crazy. How did they end up here?

Guard on the Take: A crooked cop more than willing to go in on a heist. A burly chess player who is up for committing a small crime to distract from a bigger crime taking place.

Film Noir Reviews

Now let's look at actual movies and see what they are like. I watched most of these movies in chronological order by release date, so that I could get a feel for how film noir evolved over time.

I started with a movie that is apparently not a film noir, just to set the tone for myself. 

Casablanca, 1943

This is a very famous film, but I'd never seen it before. In fact, I'd never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie before.

It's a simple story about a guy who runs into his ex-girlfriend, who is now with somebody else. She left him under mysterious circumstances, and he wants to know why.

Why is this Famous? Once the movie was over, I wondered why the heck it was so popular. I think I figured it out. This movie is about a guy who is quite immature. For most of the movie, he mopes around feeling sorry for himself. He is downright pathetic pining away for her, and when he steals her back (the new boyfriend is a concentration camp survivor, for the love of god), it feels really low. 

So then, you are proud of him when he realizes that she should be with the other guy. He makes a mature, adult decision, and it comes as a genuine surprise.

Holocaust Awareness: I'm not sure where I learned this, but I was under the impression that most people in the 40's were unaware of the holocaust and the nazi concentration camps. I specifically remember seeing some documentary where a holocaust survivor explains that people didn't believe it or want to hear about it.

But in this movie, which was made during World War II, they talk about concentration camps. The new boyfriend is a concentration camp survivor. Heck, he's actually risking being sent back to a camp by the nazis! So I guess people did know.

The Maltese Falcon, 1941 

Now let's get into some film noir. In this story, a trio of unique NPCs are all looking for a treasure - the Maltese Falcon. Detective Sam Spade ends up in the middle of it when one of the NPCs tries to manipulate him into finding it for her.

In the end, the maltese falcon that they do find turns out to be a fake. The NPCs sigh and decide to go back from where they came to try to pick up the trail. The whole thing is very fun, and Kasper Gutman is a delightful NPC.

Double Indemnity, 1944 

This was ranked as the top film noir. I don't think it's the best, but it is good, a very "clean" movie - a well told story.

It's hard to use much of this for D&D, because it involves an insurance scam. A femme fatale seduces an insurance agent, and uses him to figure out how to maximize the profits from her soon-to-be-murdered husband's life insurance.

The femme fatale in this one is legendary. She's so sly, so evil, that she's very hard to forget.

It does amuse me how obsessed the main character is with her sexy ankle bracelet. He had no chance against, her. None at all.

The Big Sleep, 1944

Another Humphrey Bogart film. This one didn't really do much for me. It's about a rich man who has two daughters who've gotten mixed up with some bad guys. It's very convoluted. The dad is a fantastically sympathetic NPC.

The one thing that sticks out to me in this movie is Lauren Bacall.  I have never, ever seen anyone with a more intense stare. I feel like she could kill somebody just by looking at them.

Laura, 1944

The twist in this one is great. A body is found in Laura's apartment. Must be Laura right? Halfway through the movie, Laura shows up at her home - she's been on vacation. So who is the dead girl in her apartment? Was someone trying to kill Laura but killed the other woman accidentally?

I really like the main character, and I am fascinated with the idea of the cop falling in love with the dead woman. It does feel a little cheap/convenient that she turns out to be alive.

This is a really well done movie. Laura herself is really special. Gene Tierney was beyond perfect in the role.

Also, how weird is it to see Vincent Price without his little mustache?

Detour, 1945

There is one reason to see this movie: Ann Savage. Her character is the most intense and evil woman ever to exist on the screen. She clamps down on this poor sap and forces him to do all sorts of awful stuff. It's unreal how tough and vicious she is.

Out of the Past, 1947

This is the first Robert Mitchum movie I have ever seen. Now that I have, so many old references and caricatures suddenly make sense. He's a sleepy-eyed fellow, very cool and calm.

This story jumps all over the place. It's about a woman trying to get away from her jealous criminal husband. At least, that's how it appears.

She turns out to be a bad guy, too. Very twisty story, was pretty good.

Nightmare Alley, 1947

Why do we live in a world where Tyrone Power isn't a huge star? This dude blew me away. I genuinely do not understand why he isn't a legend. He's like a better-looking George Clooney with a booming voice. He totally carries this weird, weird movie.

Tyrone plays a carny who wants to hit it big. He's not a good dude, and he uses people to put himself in the position to become a star of sorts.

He literally does that sleazy gimmick where he pretends he can talk to the dead relatives of grieving wealthy people. The movie even spells out the process of "cold reading." People knew it was a scam in the 40's! How is it still something that con artists get away with today?!

Eventually, he encounters a woman who is even lower than he is - a therapist who records all of her rich clients conversations, and uses the information for criminal means. She screws Tyrone out of a vast sum of money, and he ends up back at the carnival where he started - this time as "the geek," the guy who bites the head off of chickens. 

Well... he was going to be the geek, until the movie cops out of it.

Sunset Boulevard, 1950

What a great movie. There's nothing like it. I'm not sure how much of it translates to D&D, though.

This is about Norma Desmond, a delusional former movie star who is not well mentally. I was shocked to see the movie tackle the concept of suicidal ideation. Again, not something I'd put in a D&D adventure.

Norma takes in the main character, a struggling screen writer, who becomes her "pet", more or less. The main character ends up falling in love with someone else, and the whole story unravels. 

Money Problems: One thing that I really liked was the fact that, in the beginning, the main character has severe money problems. He is literally hiding from people who want to re-possess his car. It is very relevant to life right now, and I'd like to see more movies and stories that portray what it is like to be in debt or poor. 

I feel like we live in a society where so many people are secretly ashamed that they're barely getting by or unable to save any money, and I'd like to see it discussed out in the open more often.

The butler character is really great. He was married to Norma! He's still here at her side because he wants to keep her from killing herself. It's a very unique story.

The Asphalt Jungle, 1950

The Asphalt Jungle is a movie about a crime, from beginning to end. The planning, the execution, the aftermath. 

The main character is a goon played by Sterling Hayden. At first, I found him to be ridiculous. He's way too nice for the role, and I didn't buy his tough guy act. But as the movie rolls on, I ended up rooting for him.

The architect of the heist is this old german fellow who just got out of prison. He's very sympathetic and I definitely felt sad for him by the end.

Marilyn Monroe: Marilyn Monroe is in this movie, just for a few quick scenes. Honestly, she's not good in this at all. But I can't help but notice that in all the film noir movies after this one, you can see a change in the women. They all look and talk like Marilyn Monroe.

I was also struck by the woman who is really into Sterling, but he's not into her. I feel like we don't see that in movies very often. She was such a sad character - a great NPC for a D&D campaign. It's one thing to deal with a lawful evil villain. But what do you do about the nice person who is in love with them?

In a Lonely Place, 1951

Another Bogart flick, this one is about a screen writer who ends up as the prime suspect in the murder of a woman he'd just met. There's something about Bogart's characters - full of self pity, very whiny. I don't really understand why this guy was such a star.

This film is OK. It's a mystery with an ironic ending.

The Killing, 1956

I wasn't aware that Stanley Kubrick made movies this long ago! The soundtrack nearly ruined this one for me, with all the horns and marching, but there's some fun stuff in here. It's basically the Asphalt Jungle again, but this time they're robbing a race track.

Even better, Sterling Hayden's in this one! He looks so much older, and he's a much better actor.

There's a scene or two where he leaves the sack of money somewhere vulnerable, and it makes my skin crawl. You can probably guess the ending of this movie as it rolls along.

Asphalt Jungle and The Killing are a "crime doesn't pay" one-two punch. I'd definitely like to see more "heist" style adventures in D&D.

Kiss Me Deadly, 1955

OK. I have a lot to say about this one. If there is one movie you watch on this list, it should be Kiss Me Deadly. I hate to spoil this film for you, but I'm going to have to. If you have any interest in this at all, please stop reading and go watch it.

In Kiss Me Deadly, a scummy private investigator gets in the middle of a case where everyone is looking for a mysterious box. Almost nobody knows what is in the box, they just know that it has great value. 

Film Noir Roast: I get the feeling that the people who made this movie did so to satirize or ridicule the genre, or at least to mock the source material (a novel by Mickey Spillane). 

The main character, Mike Hammer, is a piece of garbage. The movie actually starts with him encountering a damsel in distress - and he's mad about it! He's pissed off that she's wasting his time.

Mike Hammer is dumb. He uses people. He genuinely enjoys hurting others. He doesn't come close to solving the mystery. He treats the woman who loves him like trash. He pimps her out! Uses her to entrap guys into cheating on their wives.

Women throw themselves at him in a manner so unrealistic that it has to be a joke. The filmmakers appear to be roasting the whole idea of the "alpha male."

The Investigation: The movie rolls along, and the plot is sort of impossible to follow. Names and NPCs are flying left and right, and as things progress we're not really sure why the person Mike is talking to is relevant. 

We watch as Mike get nastier and nastier. He slaps the taste out of an old man's mouth. He crushes the fingers of another old man. He destroys valuable property of a third old man!

Having watched a bunch of these noir movies at this point, I figured that this story would play out like the Maltese Falcon. Everyone must be looking for jewels, or money. Something typical and crime-y.

The Box: But then Mike Hammer finds the box. He opens it just a little bit, and a bright light shoots out of it, burning his arm.

I had to stop and watch the scene a few times. What was that? What is going on in this movie?

It reminded me of Pulp Fiction, and the mysterious glowing briefcase. I assume that this is where Tarantino got that idea from.

In Pulp Fiction, people say that the briefcase contains the soul of crime boss Marcellus Wallace. Weird, but OK, whatever. That story idea actually works in D&D - it works in a big way.

But this movie isn't that nice. We're not saving somebody's soul in Kiss Me Deadly. You know what's in the mysterious box? Nuclear material!

The Meanest Movie Ever: At the end of this film, a woman fully opens the box and she is burned alive in a scene that must have been very shocking for the time. She screams on and on as the house she's in burns to the ground, to the utter surprise of Mike Hammer, who of course is totally clueless about what is going on.

That is how the movie ends - a woman is engulfed in flames and dies, screaming. 

Kiss Me Deadly is one of the meanest movies I have ever seen. It is a movie that hates itself. 

I ended up watching it again, and I actually got a lot more out of it the second time. This really is a great movie. Sure, it's unpleasant, but there's just so much to it and the shocking twist comes out of absolutely nowhere. 

On the second viewing, you see clues you missed the first time. It all adds up. Who are the bad guys chasing the box? Communists! We were in a Cold War, after all.

Nothing Mike Hammer does really matters, because the world is going to destroy itself out of sheer stupidity. Absolutely crazy.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

D&D Unearthed Arcana: Gothic Lineages

by April Prime

There is a new D&D playtest document out, and I thought it would be fun to go through it and check out the lore.

Trying to guess what new D&D books will be coming out is a source of joy for me. I'm almost always wrong, but it's fun to try to envision the future of the game.

No Sourcebooks? I keep expecting sourcebooks, like in previous editions. Ones I assumed we'd have gotten by now:

  • Manual of the Planes
  • Draconomicon
  • Undead Sourcebook (like Open Grave, Libris Mortis, etc.)

But instead, we get:

  • A mega-adventure that also acts as a source book (Dragon Heist detailed Waterdeep, Rime of the Frostmaiden detailed Icewind Dale, etc.)
  • Monster books with lore.
  • Player's books with new spells.
  • Licensed settings (Critical Role, Magic: The Gathering, Acq Inc)

It Works: The way they do things really weirds me out. It's so jumbled and disorganized. But! From what I can tell, it works! It is my understanding that, in the past, adventures just didn't sell very well. By making an adventure also serve as a sourcebook containing new monsters, items, and spells, there's enough stuff in there to convince most fans that it is a must-buy.

Their strategy has made D&D an epic success, so I guess they should just do what they do.

Books I Wish to See: If I had my way, I'd like to see a lot of different things:

  • A Planescape Setting Book: Detailing Sigil and the factions, all that stuff.
  • A mega-adventure focused on Vecna.
  • A Baba Yaga Book: Either a mega adventure that goes beyond just a remake of the Dancing Hut adventure, or a lore book that gives us more info on Baba Yaga, her allies, and her schemes.
  • A Rod of Seven Parts Mega-Adventure.
  • A series (?) of books that detail the planes.
  • A book full of magic items and lore: Like Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium.
  • An adventure or sourcebook that takes the story of the Abyss forward - Grazzt/Tasha, maybe Demogorong getting de-throned/split into two separate beings, something like that.
  • Spelljammer Stuff: I know most people don't care about this, so I'm happy if they just keep sprinkling Spelljammer things in each book.

Unearthed Arcana: This new document details "Gothic Lineages." Three new racial options:

  • Dhampir: A vampire-type race.
  • Hexblood: A race created by hags.
  • Reborn: An undead race.


I think I wrote about these creatures in my Guide to Vampires. Maybe I'm thinking of vrylokas, who had red hair, red eyes, and bright white skin.

We get a chart of suggested "hungers" that the character might suffer from, which include blood, cerebral spine fluid (!), and "...a color from one's appearance."

Origins: Then we get a list of possible origins, my favorites being:

"Your pact with a predatory deity, fiend, fey, or spirit causes you to share their hunger."

Strahd obviously is a fun choice for this one. Yeenoghu could work. The Lich-Queen of the githyanki would work - she needs souls, I think. In fact, almost all liches need souls for their phylacteries, right?

"You survived being attacked by a vampire but you were forever changed."

That's the Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman's Mina Harker right there. I loved the first two volumes of that series.

"You loved an immortal and were willing to be transformed into a vampire to join them, but tragedy interrupted the transformation."

Wow, I really like this one! In fact, I like all of them.

Vampiric Bite: It's a melee attack. "When you are missing half or more of your hit points, you have advantage on attack rolls you make with this bite."

It has a special effect that you can activate a few times per day: You can use the bite to regain hit points or gain a bonus on your next attack roll/ability check.

Seems fun! Very simple. I really like how 5e is able to keep things concise.


I think in 2e or 3e, there was something similar to this known as "The Witchborn."

"Some who enter into bargains with hags gain their deepest wishes but eventually find themselves transformed."

Eldercross: All hexblood have an eldercross, s crown that serves as a visible mark of the bargain between a hag and a hexblood, a debt owed, or a change to come.

Become a Hag: "Hags can undertake a ritual to irreversibly transform a hexblood they created into a new hag..." Once a hexblood becomes a hag, they become an NPC under the DM's control.

This is very cool. I think in earlier editions, a hag would eat a person and then give birth to them in hag form. This hexblood version of had creation is a bit more palatable.

Origins: My two favorites:

  1. "A coven of hags lost one of their members. You were created to replace the lost hag."
  2. "You made a deal with a hag, but they twisted your words and transformed you."

Some of the origins are a little out there. It seems like the Hexblood is a pretty concrete concept - it's a creature made by a hag, that is set to become a hag in due time.

Magic Token: You can use this to maintain telepathic contact with an ally within 10 miles. You can even see and hear through it.

Hags Are Fun
: I have a half-finished Guide to Hags sitting on my computer. I can't get over my compulsion to try to find every hag from every D&D product, even though I know that's an insane task, because hags appear so frequently (especially in Dungeon magazine). In 5e alone there's got to be, what, ten new hags?

I do love the idea of a known hag creating a hexblood. You can connect your character to a really cool NPC, like:

  • Baba Yaga
  • Baba Lysaga (Strahd's "mother" from Curse of Strahd)
  • The Sewn Sisters from Tomb of Annihilation

If a had is creating you to ultimately be a friend and companion, but you reject them... all sorts of fun stuff can come from that. Maybe the hag ultimately becomes the group's patron? Maybe the hag makes another hexblood that hunts you down for betraying her?

What if the hexblood just doesn't ever want to actually become a hag?

This is such a great concept. Love it!


I think this is similar to the "revenant" character race in 4th edition. You're undead!

"Some reborn exhibit the scars of fatal fates, their ashen flesh, missing limbs, or bloodless veins making it clear that they’ve been touched by death."

This remind me of the Nameless One from Planescape: Torment.

Resting: Reborn don't sleep. They sit and dwell on the past.

Faded Memories: Many of them can't remember their past. Sometimes they have a vision of a past event that hits them out of nowhere. Example:

"A memory brings with it the voice of someone once close to you. How do they advise you?"

This is so Nameless-One-y. You shuld probably get a mimir to start with, too.

Origins: We get a list of possible origins:

"Stitches bind your body’s mismatched pieces, and your memories come from multiple different lives."

That's a crazy one! Basically, Vasilka from Curse of Strahd - a flesh golem.

"After clawing free from your grave, you realized you have no memories except for a single name."

Love this, gives me Kill Bill vol. 2 vibes (I really like the middle hour of that movie).

"You were a necromancer’s undead servant for years. One day, your consciousness returned."

OK! These are all great. I don't want to just cut and paste them all.. this is a fantastic list.

Deathless: You have advantage on death saves, you can finish a long rest in 4 hours, no eat/drink/breathe, etc.

These are all tremendous ideas! 

What I really like is how it seems like the designers start with a cool idea, and then build around it. They don't limit themselves to converting what appeared in earlier editions, they just go with whatever is the most fun.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Best 5e Dungeons & Dragons Monsters Not in the Monster Manual

by Titus Lunter

While working on a conversion of an old adventure, I started looking through Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes to study some different types of monster mechanics. In A Paladin in Hell, there's these little hell worms that burrow into the characters, and I was trying to figure out how to do that within the 5e framework. It turns out that the Spawn of Kyuss has the rules that I was looking for.

That got me looking through Mordenkainen's again. I started to think about my favorite 5e monsters. I thought it might be fun to list them and explain why I like them the best.

Often, a product comes out and there is stuff in it I love, but I forget about them when the next book comes out. I hate the idea of some of these creatures being forgotten or lost. 

These are my favorite 5e monsters that are not in the Monster Manual, presented in alphabetical order.

(Curse of Strahd) Barovian Witch

by Chris Seaman

My absolute favorite low level monster in 5e is right here - the Barovian witch. The art is beyond perfect. I mean... look at it. I love how the cat is in the foreground and is slightly more vivid. I love the witch's face, hat... everything.

My one issue with D&D "witches" is that I get a bit confused about what exactly the difference is between witches and hags. Does a witch become a hag? In this book, it explains that witches make pacts with Strahd and the Dark Powers in exchange for magic and longevity. It seems like the line is a bit fuzzy.

These Barovian witches are low level spellcasters, so there's not too many spells that you'll need to remember. They've got invisibility and Tasha's hideous laughter, which is formidable for low level heroes to deal with. Really, I just love pairing them with a flying broom, dropping ranged attacks on the adventurers.

A... coven? Band? of witches seems like a really fun ongoing group antagonist for a low level campaign.

(Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden) Brain in a Jar

by David Rene Christensen

"Through an eldritch ritual combining alchemy, necromancy, and grim surgical precision, the brain of a mortal being (willing or unwilling) is encased in a glass jar..."

It can mind blast, it can cast piles of spells, it can sense the presence of creatures within 300 feet. This one also makes for a great villain.

These things just make me smile. Fun bad guys! Whose brain is it? What does it want? Does it order around a bunch of flunkies? Does it want a new body?

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Cadaver Collector

Giant constructs that wander battlefields, cadaver collectors collect the dead by impaling them on their spikes. They "lumber aimlessly across the blasted plains of Acheron." I wish we could get more details, as Acheron is one of my favorite planes. Where do they bring the bodies? Who made them?

They can summon the spirits of the cadavers (1d6 specters), but honestly I don't really care so much about this monster when it comes to combat - I just think they are really cool. The heroes come upon a battlefield littered with dead bodies, and there is this lonely thing scooping up dead bodies and bringing them... where? To me, a cadaver collector is most fun as a potential ally, or the sad minion of a villain. Maybe its only friends are the birds who pick at the corpses on its back.

(Volo's Guide to Monsters) Cranium Rats

Cranium rats! Rats with exposed brains that share a hivemind. This one borders on the ridiculous, but it's done so well (especially in older Planecape products) that they are made great. There is a scene in Planescape Torment where the main character meets with a hive in Undersigil, and all you see is a dark hole in a wall filled with pairs of red eyes. These creatures are scary when amassed in large numbers.

Mind flayer colonies use cranium rats as spies and have the ability to transmit their thoughts back to the elder brain. Swarms can cast spells, including command and dominate monster.

I used cranium rats as an NPC ally in my Planescape campaign and the players really liked them. I think putting cranium rats as intelligent vermin "infesting" the home town of your characters adds a lot. They're just a lot of fun, and there is so much that the players can do with them.

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Eidolon

So basically, they took that statue thing from the cover of the 1e DMG and made a monster out of it. Well, sort of. An eidolon is a divine spirit, a ghostly spirit that has the power to merge with a statue pertaining to their deity and animate it. The book gives us stats for both the actual eidolon spirit, and the "sacred statue" it inhabits.

This was just a really fun thing to put in a 5e book. You could recreate the scene from the 1e PH cover. Or, this being D&D, set it up and then watch your players do something with it that you never expected.

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Hellfire Engine

by Christopher Burdett

I really loved the 3rd edition version of the Hellfire Engine - a titanic construct made of hell metal that rampaged through Blood War battlefields. If you had told me that, in 5th edition, they were going to change it into to a vehicle, I don't think I would have been happy.

But the art and the stat block sold me. I love this thing. It looks really cool and it has some great weapons on it: The bonemelt sprayer! A thunder cannon! Are you going to survive getting hit by the bonemelt sprayer?! Of course not! It melts your bones.

It pains me to think that most groups haven't encountered one of these things in a D&D campaign.

(Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden) Living Demiplane 

I think that all of the living spells in this book are fantastic. Living Bigby's Hand really stands out, but to me, the living demiplane is a masterpiece.

The stat block is long and wall of text-y, but the ideas in it are exciting enough to pull me through.

It appears as a "...shadowy rectangle, 5 feet wide and 10 feet high, which creeps along flat, solid surfaces and groans softly when it moves." It can suck you into a small extradimensional space and you are stuck there until you figure a way out.

There's a billion things you can do with this. I love the idea that the heroes need something stashed in a living demiplane - they just have to find it. Or! The group's base is a living demiplane.

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Marut

There is a lot to like about the 5e marut. I love the art. I like the idea. I love that it has lore linked to Primus and Sigil, and I really appreciate that they re-designed a monster that I thought looked goofy in older editions.

Maruts enforce contracts forged in the Hall of Concordance in Sigil, an embassy of pure law. Contracts with maruts are chiseled onto a sheet of gold and affixed to their chest. They are linked to Primus and the modrons, another plus.

They can shoot out blasts of radiant energy, and can actually teleport creatures to the Hall of Concordance. This is especially interesting to me, because in certain 2e Planescape books, it says that one can't teleport in or out of Sigil - the only way in and out is through the city's portals. That became confusing over time, and I think some adventures contradicted that idea. I think it is better to go ahead and say you can use magic to come and go from Sigil.

I think what I love the most about this monster is the design. It looks a bit like a modron with the eyes, the little wings, and the armor plating, but it's still its own thing. It's perfect!

(Volo's Guide to Monsters) Mindwitness

What happens when an illithid tadpole is implanted into a beholder? It becomes a mindwitness!

Merging a beholder with a mind flayer is a great idea, and I think the art is just perfect.

In addition to being a deadly monster for lower level groups to face, they act as a telepathic hub for mind flayers, who can "group chat" with 7 other illithids via the mindwitness.

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Ogre Howdah

by Chris Seaman
I think this might be my absolute favorite 5e monster. It's an ogre with a fort on its back! There are goblins in there, shooting arrows. What an awesome monster for a low level band of heroes (it is a CR 2). It's just a simple, fun idea, really creative.

(Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes) Merrenoloth


This one was tricky. It was sometimes referred to as the "Styx Oarsman" in previous editions. It is a yugoloth, which is the weird no-demon/not-devil neutral evil fiend group. Their role is really cool - they sail ships on the River Styx.

I've always thought merrenoloths were a unique, fun creature, but the art was very hit or miss. In 5e, I think they totally nailed the art. It looks great. Somehow the artist used almost exclusively shades of brown, but still made it interesting and badass in its own way.

(Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus) Reaper of Bhaal

I really like all of the humanoid/NPC villain statblocks in this adventure. They are able to get across the point of a monster without giving it a million powers. This particular bad guy has two abilities that stick out:

  • Aura of Murder: Creatures within 5 feet gain vulnerability to piercing damage.
  • Shroud Self: It can turn invisible until the start of its next turn as an action (becoming visible if it attacks/casts a spell/etc).

These are stat blocks you can easily transpose, to use for your own purposes. This one is good for any type of assassin you might need in your game.

The idea of an aura that gives vulnerability to an enemy really makes it feel like a threat.

(Ghosts of Saltmarsh) Skeletal Alchemist

by Leesha Hannigan

An undead entity that toils in a dark laboratory, "...often falling dormant for long periods of time."

I really like the art of this one, and I love the idea. Who made it? What is it working on? Does it serve a lich? What is in the lab? You can make a great encounter/storyline out of this one.

(Curse of Strahd) Strahd Zombie

This one is all about the stat block. When a Strahd zombie takes 5+ damage, it loses a body part: either an arm, a leg, or its head! The fight doesn't end, though. The severed part acts on the zombie's initiative and has its own action and movement.

It's a really fun idea, definitely a curveball that the group won't see coming.

(Tomb of Annihilation) Tyrannosaurus Zombie

This is definitely one of the highlights of 5th edition - a zombie t.rex that spews humanoid zombies from its mouth!

A really fun monster, very inspired! It definitely captures a certain style of play. It's definitely one of those monsters where the group will remember for a long time after they've faced it.

There were more in Mordenkainen's, but I didn't want to take too many from that book. The neogi should probably be on this list, though.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Bodak

As I prepare my Monte Cook "Lifebane" campaign, I see certain monsters in Monte's modules being used over and over again. I assume these creatures are some of Monte's favorites. These are some of them:

As I read through the Monte Cook adventures, I realized that there is another one: the bodak.

Bodaks kill you just by looking at you.

The Essential Information

I decided I should dig up all the information I could find on the bodak to help me run them well in my 5e campaign. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most relevant lore.

  • Mortals Transformed: They were mortals who have been transformed in bodaks.
  • Summoning Danger: If summoned by a spellcaster, they can sometimes take psychic control of that spellcaster.
  • Death Gaze: They can kill you just by looking at you. Those who make their saving throw might have a vision of their own death.
  • Sunlight: Sunlight harms them. Apparently if they die from it, they are destroyed forever.
  • Demogorgon: Bodaks once served Demogorgon and fought against Orcus.
  • Wanderers: Many bodaks wander the Abyss without purpose.
  • Benign Bodaks: Some bodaks actually retain their mortal personality and memories.
  • Dim Memories: Most bodaks retain a dim memory of their mortal life, and sometimes pause in battle when they recognize something from their time as a mortal.
  • Bodak Giants: There are bodak giants in at least one layer of the Abyss.
  • Nightwalkers: Entities from the Shadowfell known as nightwalkers can create bodaks.
  • Variants: There are a few bodak variants: reavers, skulks, and death drinkers.
  • Orcus: In 4e and 5e, bodaks are strongly linked to Orcus. 
  • The Hierophants of Annihilation: These are the first 7 bodaks to exist. They serve Orcus and are each as powerful as a balor.
  • Annihilation: Bodaks may be immune to the effects of a sphere of annihilation.

The story of the bodaks evolved and changed over the years. At various times, they've served Demogorgon, Nightwalkers, and Orcus. They've been linked to the Abyss and the Shadowfell. They can be created in a variety of ways.

It's hard to combine the lore into one cohesive story. 5th edition has fully embraced the idea that they are very closely linked to Orcus, to the point where Orcus an see and speak through them.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

In this adventure, we get both an encounter and a stat block.

Bodaks are:

  • Evil humans transformed into monsters by Abyssal energy.
  • Sexless, have gray skin, eyes are milky white ovals.
  • Speak "all demonic languages."
  • Usually remain in the Abyss except when called to serve a "foolish and evil magic user."
  • Death Gaze: Range 30 ft, save vs. death!
  • Direct sunlight does 1 HP of dmg per round to them.
  • Has "ultravision" which lets it see ultraviolet light.
  • When summoned, it has a chance to break free of a spellcaster's command and actually control the mind of the spellcaster.

Cavern of Corpses: In this adventure, a bodak is encountered in a chamber... "The walls of this vaulted chamber are lined with limed-over corpses."

A bodak lives in a small cave here. All of the dead are adventurers that the bodak has slain. The bodak stands immobile among the corpses.

There are some troglodytes here that revere the bodak as a demigod.

AD&D Monster Manual II

Same info as in Tsojcanth.

Tales of the Outer Planes - The Sea of Screams

This old book has a ton of adventures, many of which focus on a single monster or plane.

We are told that a cleric named Gustofsen Eller believes that the evil goddess Kali has died. The group is being hired to go to the Abyss with Eller to find her dead body, and confirm that she was actually slain! Eller has a scepter of passage...

Scepter of Passage: An amber scepter studded with star sapphires that can teleport up to seven characters at a time an unlimited distance to any location they can see. The characters must be within 5 feet of the scepter.

It turns out Eller is wrong, Kali is alive.

What really happened is that she has been sleeping in a black crypt in the middle of an ocean of blood for 2 months. Her followers are sustaining her by offering souls as sacrifices.

The group goes to two layers: Layer 99 and layer 500 (the layer ruled by Kali).

Layer 99 is made up of a number of mini-realms that the heroes will have to traverse:

  • The Gray Realm
  • The Lightning Realm
  • The Swirling Realm
  • The Yellow Realm
  • The Fog Realm
  • The Silver Realm
  • The Star Realm (contains a portal to layer 500.

The Lightning Realm: The group comes across a battlefield. "Ripped bodies of dinosaurs and giant snakes bleed into the white earth..."

This realm is a battlefield for the demon princes Orcus and Demogorgon. Currently, the forces of Orcus are in control.

Slugs: The group encounters a bodak that is beating two giant slugs with a silver whip. The bodak and the slugs are agents of Demogorgon. Their mission: To destroy the bone shacks containing agents of Orcus in this realm.

The bodak is having trouble herding the slugs, and wants to force the group to help. The group is meant to actually get the slugs to a shack, where the slugs spew acid on a shack. Wights, ghasts, and a babau emerge from the hut and attack.

The bodak fights the babau, and the group can escape if they so desire.

AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium - Outer Planes Appendix

"Bodaks serve no purpose in an already purposeless Abyss. They wander the terrain there in abhorrent hatred of their inhuman endurance granted them during transformation from dying mortal to bodak."

The rest of the info is the same as in the Planescape Monstrous Appendix below.

AD&D Planescape Monstrous Appendix

The grim bodaks are formed from hapless mortals who ventured into parts of the Abyss too deadly for them.

The Bodak Who Walked Home: A Sigil legend. A swordsman agrees to go to the Abyss to fetch soil in exchange for the return of his wife.  The swordsman returned years later as a bodak, handing over the soil (which turned into blood, then snakes). The bodak killed the king and was then destroyed by sunlight.

Sometimes a bodak retains a small feature from their mortal form - a nervous twitch, combat style, etc.

"There is a base 5% chance, rolled once per encounter, that the creature sees something in an enemy that reminds it of its mortal life. The bodak pauses and make no attacks for one melee round."

"Any person or creature that meets a bodak's death gaze must save vs. petrification or die. The gaze is effective to 30 feet. A victim who dies in the Abyss transforms into a bodak in one day."

There are some places in the Abyss that are so loathsome and secretive that mortals are simply not allowed to enter. A mortal foolish enough to visit these and die is painfully transformed into a bodak.

Benign Bodak: Sometimes, a good-aligned mortal's mind survives the transition from mortal to bodak. It retains its memory and consciousness, but it cannot cast spells.

Faces of Evil: The Fiends

This book devotes a few pages to bodaks, written by an NPC named Michil Kedell.

"Bodak" is actually a word in the Abyssal language, meaning "the unfinished dead."

In 1e they were sexless, but in this book, it's different. "...any mortal who takes a wrong turn in the Abyss can become a bodak. That means any gender is possible among the creatures. I myself have read "documented" cases of bodaks mating with mortals..."

Bodaks don't eat, but they do rest in order to heal."Perhaps they survive on the life forces they drain with their gazes."

: A bodak that finds itself in the sunlight slowly withers and dies for good.

Bodaks hate each other as much as they hate all other life.

A bodak that fully recalls its former life will usually do whatever it can to help mortals who find themselves trapped in the Abyss. But even these bodaks can speak in only halting, nearly incomprehensible words.

Uncaged: Faces of Sigil

In the city of Sigil, there is a bookshop called The Parted Veil run by a gnome named Kesto Brighteyes. Kesto has an assistant - a bodak named Sir Cleve. Cleve is described as "silent, mouse-gray, and spindly..." He was once a paladin from the world of Krynn. He was slain in the Abyss while attempting to rescue a kidnapped lord from "the watery caves of Demogorgon."

He retained his mortal memories and was repulsed that he'd become a bodak. He went to Sigil in search of a spellcaster who could cure him. Kesto Brighteyes has put him to work in the meantime.

He has made peace with his "condition," and has the ability to control his death gaze. He only used it once, to kill a night hag who tried to burn down the shop.

D&D 3.5 Monster Manual

"Bodaks are the undead remnants of humanoids who have been destroyed by the touch of absolute evil."

They still have the death gaze, and vulnerability to sunlight.

Libris Mortis

This book has a section on undead grafts. One of the items:

Bodak's Eye: "This white, empty eye fits into a humanoid creature's empty eye socket and allows the grafted creature to make a death gaze attack once per day." A target that dies from this attack does not rise up as a bodak 24 hours later.

Dungeon Magazine #94 - The Spiral of Manzessine

This adventure is about a prison in the underdark run by mind flayers. The prison contains "criminals too valuable to kill but too dangerous to live free."

One room houses two bodaks, charged by a high-level mind flayer cleric with guarding the prison cells against unauthorized entry - or exit.

"Two bodaks have guarded this room for untold years, averting their gaze for authorized passersby."

Dungeon Magazine #149 - The Wells of Darkness

This adventure is about a layer of the Abyss that contains wells which act as prisons. Imprisoned here are many powerful entities, many of which are D&D creatures from old products, such as Shami-Amourae.

The Custodians: This realm is guarded by giant bodaks known as the Custodians. Some think they were once members of a cult devoted to Ahazu the Seizer (the demon who rules this layer), but were slain by Orcus.They immediately attack and off-plane intruders.

As far as stat goes, they are essentially large, more powerful versions of regular bodaks.

4e Monster Manual

"Bodaks are heartless creatures that kill for the sake of killing, serving their own desires or the desires of an even crueler master."

Linked to the Shadowfell: Undead humanoids with strong ties to the Shadowfell.

"When a nightwalker slays a humanoid, that nightwalker can ritually transform the slain creature's body and spirit into a bodak. The bodak then acts at the nightwalker's behest, serving whomever its master dictates."

What the heck is a nightwalker? I don't remember. Let's look in the 4e MM.

Nightwalkers: "Nightwalkers are hateful beings of pure shadow that spread death and suffering."

  • They are shades of evil mortals who died and refused to pass from the Shadowfell to their eternal reward.
  • Finger of Death: Nightwalkers can reduce you to 0 HP with their touch.
  • Void Chill: they have an aura that does cold and necrotic damage.
  • Void Gaze: They can knock you back 20 feet and do necrotic damage with their gaze.

Creating a Bodak: "A nightwalker can turn a humanoid it has killed into a bodak by using an arcane ritual that works only when cast in the Shadowfell, and only when cast by a nightwalker. Nightwalkers alone can warp the void energies of the Shadowfell to create such horrors.

There are two types of bodaks in the Monster Manual:

Bodak Skulk: It has a gaze aura (which does 5 necrotic dmg) and a death gaze attack (which drops you to 0 HP). It can also turn invisible/insubstantial as an action. The bodak actually speaks Common.

Bodak Reaver: Same gaze powers as the skulk, but this one gains temp HP and a bonus to hit when it reduces an enemy to 0 HP.

4e Open Grave

There are some notes on the Bodak's gaze. "When a bodak's gaze fails to slay a creature, the creature instead causes an adversary to witness an unsettling vision of his or her own death."

Debilitating Gaze: An alternate gaze aura. This one gives enemies within 10 feet -2 to FORT saves (aka CON saves in 5e).

The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond

There is an NPC in this adventure, a nightwalker named Lord Nill. He has two "bodak deathdrinkers" with him.

Bodak Death Drinkers: These bodaks are a bit different:

  • Their gaze does 10 necrotic damage to people who make radiant energy attacks.
  • When a living enemy drops to 0 HP they gain 10 temporary HP.
  • They have a ranged attack that stuns and drains a healing surge (which is like stealing a hit die from a character). 
  • Death Touch: The bodak does necrotic damage and immobilizes/slows enemies with their touch.

E1 Death's Reach

In this adventure, there are bodaks that work as flunkies of Orcus in two different encounters. In one encounter they're led by a "Flameharrow Lord" (an eye of fear and flame) and in the other, they are led by a naga.

Volo's Guide to Monsters

In 5th edition, bodaks have become linked to Orcus in a major way.

Becoming a Bodak: "A bodak is the undead remains of someone who revered Orcus." Worshipers of Orcus can use a ritual of Orcus to become a bodak.

The Hierophants of Annihilation: The first bodaks in the Abyss! There were seven of them

  • These figures, as mighty as balors, have free will but serve the Prince of Undeath directly.
  • They can turn a slain mortal into a bodak with their gaze.
  • They bear the mark of Orcus as a chest wound, where a mortal humanoid's heart would be.

Linked to Orcus: Orcus can recall anything that a bodak sees or hears. He can speak through a bodak if he so chooses. "Bodaks are extensions of Orcus's will outside the Abyss..."

Only a wish can return a bodak to its former life.

Tomb of Annihilation

Way down in the 4th level of the tomb, there is a room that features bodaks.

Room 49. The Maze of Death: There is a green devil face in here containing a sphere of annihilation.

If the group removes a crown from a pedestal, 2 bodaks magically emerge from the sphere of annihilation, seemingly unaffected by it. "Any creature killed by the bodaks is dragged back to the sphere and tossed into it. The bodaks crawl back into the sphere only if they're satisfied that there's nothing left in the maze to kill."

Sphere of Annihilation & Bodaks: The sphere doesn't kill them? In some 2e Planescape products, it is said that a sphere of annihilation doesn't exactly destroy things - it teleport them to the plane of Acheron, where the people and objects slowly become metal pieces of the cubes that hover in the plane. Maybe the bodaks can use the spheres to travel to and from Acheron?


Forgotten Realms Wiki: Bodak

The Monsters Know What They're Doing - Bodak Tactics

Bodaks & Not Being a Jerk to Players

Mythic Monday: The Bodak

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Book of Vile Darkness

Today we're going to look at a famous D&D item - The Book of Vile Darkness. I'm going to go through old D&D products and try to collect all of the known lore right here. Really, I just want to answer the question: "What is actually written in the Book of Vile Darkness?"

Tomes: This guide joins the ranks of some of my favorite things to write about - D&D tomes. I've written guides like this on 2 other legendary D&D items:

Combining the Lore: I've taken all the lore and information from various editions and crammed it into my version of the book. I took a few liberties, attributing certain ideas written in various sourcebooks to Vecna. Let's look at my Book of Vile Darkness, then we'll go through each product and see how we got here.

What is in the Book of Vile Darkness?

  • Vecna's Introduction: This is actually written out in the 4e Book of Vile Darkness sourcebook.
  • Vecna's Notes on The Beginning: Vecna writes about how Atropus created the gods, and that in the early days there was no evil, just order vs. chaos. 
  • Energy Planes: Vecna writes about how the multiverse seems to spring from two planes: The Positive Energy Plane and the Negative Energy Plane.
  • Atropus: Vecna writes about Atropus, a "stillborn god" who floats in the multiverse destroying worlds. Atropus apparently created the gods, and now wishes to destroy them.
  • The Vasharans: Details on the Vasharans, a human subrace that pre-dates mortals, linked to Graz'zt.
  • Notes on Evil: Vecna's vast research on the secrets of the multiverse and the nature of evil.
  • Apotheosis: The book contains the ritual for becoming a lich, and the process on how one might become an evil god.
  • God of Death: Concepts linked to Nerull, a god of death, written by his priests.
  • Infernal Writings: Topics relating to the Nine Hells, written by Baalzebul, the arch-devil.
  • The Chained God: Writings of a mad follower of Tharizdun, detailing the shard of evil that lurks at the bottom of the Abyss. A claim is made: "Evil wasn't born until Tharizdun plucked a shard of darkness from the furthest reaches of the cosmos."
  • God of Decay: Information on Amnissos, a god of decay. Written by high priest Xenothrakti Ur-tocul.
  • Vecna's Following: Writings of The Heart, high priestess of Vecna, detailing what Vecna's followers have learned following Vecna's apotheosis.
  • Mad Zakharan Scrawlings: Random notes written by Thuba Mleen's prisoners.
  • Im-Ravin's Research: A lich named Im-Ravin may have used the information in this book to become a lich. He writes about Vytholus, an ancient serpent god who rules an abyssal layer, and the lifebane, sentient energy that, in theory, could empower Atropus.
  • Ancient Evil Gods: Writings relating to many of the most evil deities: Karaan, Rallaster, The Patient One, Scahrossar, The Xammux, and Yeathan.
  • The Age of Worms: A prophecy that speaks of transforming the world through Kyuss, the Worm God.
  • Shemeshka's Notes: Shemeshka the Marauder, an arcanoloth, provides wry notes in certain sections, possibly about the baernoloths.
  • Nhagruul's Dragon Magic: The writings of a mad wizard who has since merged with the book. Includes information on corrupting dragon eggs to create Nhagruul Dragonspawn.
  • Black Magic: Many new spells, including Apocalypse from the Sky (from Elder Evils) and a huge pile of spells from the 3e Book of Vile Darkness supplement (converted to 5e here).
  • Sacrifices: "Methods on extracting pain from the innocent." This topic is also covered in the 3e sourcebook.
  • Forbidden Secrets: How to use Dark Chant to empower undead.
  • Dark Speech: How speakers can use Dark Speech to empower magic items, weaken physical objects, command vermin, and cause magical fear.
  • Stealing Divine Magic: The book details the process in which an Ur-Priest can actually steal divine magic and spells from other deities.
  • Demon Husbandry: Summoning demons, using demons.

AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

We start off in 1st edition. The original version of the book is described in a single paragraph. We learn the following:
  • It takes a week to read it.
  • Evil clerics gain +1 WIS and XP.
  • Neutral clerics either lose XP or become evil.
  • Good clerics who read the book must SAVE OR DIE. They go permanently insane if they live.
  • Good characters who handle the tome take 5-30 damage.
  • Good characters who look inside the book gain the attention of a night hag. Why a night hag?

So basically, evil characters who read the book gain a stat point and a pile of XP.

Dragon Magazine #37 - The Pit of the Oracle

The Stalker

In this issue is an adventure called "The Pit of the Oracle."

The Stalker: The town of Narrion is being menaced by a creature known as "the stalker." It is a "huge, shambling, mottled green toad-thing with 2-inch-long claws and a maw like a bear trap. The art of the monster makes it look a bit similar to a slaad.

Temple of Apathy: This town has the most unique D&D church I've ever read about: The Temple of Apathy. "The religion preaches that only through the ignoring of day-to-day events can a true state of oneness with God be reached."

The monster lives in a dungeon called The Pit of the Oracle.

Piles of Treasure: This place has everything. An amulet of the planes, a sphere of annihilation (in a room that has walls that are immune to the sphere), a mirror of life-trapping, A room full of bubbles containing a diamond worth 40,000 gp, another mirror of life-trapping, and that's all before the heroes find the Hall of Treasure.

In order to actually kill the Stalker, they need to find its heart, which has been removed from its body and placed deep in the dungeon. It is guarded by TWO balors and an ancient red dragon made of tarnished metal.

The Stalker (who is also the Oracle) lurks in the Hall of Treasure, "...languishing in his immense treasure pile." This pile includes:

  • A Hammer of Thunderbolts
  • Ring of Regeneration
  • Staff of Power
  • Rod of Lordly Might
  • Staff of Withering
  • Cloak of the Manta Ray
  • Horn of Blasting
  • "One copy of the Necronomicon (Latin)"
  • Deck of Many Things!
  • Magic Carpet
  • and... "one book of vile darkness"

We are told: "Note that though the treasure is great the risks and obstacles are incredible."

Who is the Dark Lord? In this adventure, it is explained that the Stalker/Oracle and this dungeon was created by an evil entity known as the Dark Lord.

The Dark Lord is described as a man in "...a long, flowing, floor-length robe with a face-covering, horned helmet through which only two evil, orbless eyes can be seen." His symbol is "the indullable Red-Eye..."

AD&D 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

This entry is virtually identical to the 1e version. 

I figured there would be info in the Book of Artifacts, but there isn't!

Temple, Tower, & Tomb

This book contains three adventures for characters lvl 7-12. The first one is The Temple of Amnissos.

The heroes live in a land that is on the brink of war. The ruler is hoping to find magic that will aid him. He has located a few items:

  1. The Hesper (A crystal ball/gem of seeing)
  2. The Fasces ( bundle..? containing a rod of lordly might, a rod of passage, and a rod of terror)
  3. The Annulus (a helm of telepathy/comprehending languages).

The heroes are sent to a ruined temple of Amnissos to retrieve the Hesper.

Aminissos: An ancient god of decay. No longer worshiped - his death-loving cult has disappeared. Destroyed by a paladin-king named Leonidas.

The Hesper is in the Temple. This temple is a cruel, cruel locale. Here's one room: A hallway with dust.

There is a Hall of Relics, containing items important to worshipers of Amnissos.

  • Ring of Regeneration
  • Staff of Withering
  • Gem of Seeing
  • A bunch of potions
  • A Book of Vile Darkness. "The chest contains a book of vile darkness that belonged to the mightiest high priest of Amnissos, Xenothrakti Ur-toxul. Any good-aligned PC who touches the book receives 5d6 damage; nonevil neutral characters suffer 5d4 damage."

Labyrinth of Madness

This is the ultimate D&D adventure! An insane, deadly dungeon for characters level 17-20, written by Monte Cook himself. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the guy who wrote the 3e Book of Vile Darkness included the magic item in this adventure.

The final room of the dungeon is the tomb of Im-Ravin, a lich/yuan-ti high priest of a serpent god called Vytholus. Once the group deals with Im-Ravin and his phylactery, they can loot his sarcophagus.

In it is a "ring of woven unicorn hairs worth 10,000 gp", a portable hole, and a Book of Vile Darkness.

Die Vecna Die

In this adventure, the heroes will go to the Palace of Vecna. Deep inside is a crypt thing that guards a tiny chamber. The creature has the ability to teleport intruders into a prison cell in another area.

"Inside the crypt thing’s chamber is a bier it rests upon when not active, and a small iron box containing three gems (worth 50 gp, 1,000 gp, and 1,400 gp). The box rests upon a book whose white covers are smudged with dirt and bloody fingerprints. This tome is a book of vile darkness."

Much deeper in the palace, is a chamber that is home to The Heart, Vecna's High Priestess.  She has a book of vile darkness that she was in the process of reading.

In the back of this adventure, artifacts linked to Vecna are detailed:

  • The Eye of Vecna
  • The Hand of Vecna
  • The Sword of Kas

Nothing on the Book of Vile Darkness, though.

AD&D 2nd Edition Trading Cards - Thuba's Book of Vile Darkness

There are a few cards detailing an Al Qadim NPC named Thuba Mleen. He was a psionicist who wore yellow robes. He acquired the Book of Vile Darkness from a priest who visited him and tried to usurp his throne. Thuba enjoyed having prisoners read from the book so he could learn more bout it.

So.. the prisoners probably lost XP and went mad.

D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide

I did not expect this. The 3.5 Book is basically identical to the one in previous editions, just updated to the new rule set. "Good divine spellcasters (LG, NG, CG) perusing the pages of the Book of Vile Darkness have to make a DC 16 Fortitude save or die."

I'm really interested in what is actually in the book, but so far, not getting a lot of info. You read it for a week. What are you reading? Hopefully the next few books will fill in some details. 

D&D 3e Book of Vile Darkness

This supplement is all about evil. It was intended for "mature audiences," as it was pretty graphic and explicit.

A lot of the book is D&D stuff - classes, advice on using evil in your game, torture devices, etc. But I'm looking for things that might be in the actual book of vile darkness - the one in the game. 

There is a 5th edition conversion of much of this content on the DMs Guild.

Vile Gods: We learn about some new deities:

  • Karaan: A beast god of the dark side of nature.Karaan may be related to Yeenoghu, the demon lord of gnolls.
  • Rallaster: The Razor God, a deity of murder, torture, and psychotic behavior. He is a tall, glistening, ebony-skinned humanoid without hair or wrinkles. His entire body is made of razors, dripping with blood and oil.
  • The Patient One: An alien creature that whispers secrets to itself. It "waits until its time comes, and then it strikes, destroying or consuming everything in its path. Revered by aberrations (mind flayers and beholders worship it!)
  • Scahrossar: The Mistress of Exquisite Pain. She wears studded black leather and holds a whip and a hook. She is Olidammara's sister. Her followers wear leather or iron masks.
  • The Xammux: An entity comprised of 6 different beings. It represents cold, analytical thinking taken to its extreme. It is a patron of utter indifference and delves into forbidden knowledge through exploration and experimentation.
  • Yeathan: God of the evil depths, master of the last gasping breath. A sea god worshiped by kuo toa and aboleths.

Vile Races and Cultures: The supplement details 2 sub-races:

  • Vasharans: A race created by Graz'zt (!) from the remains of the first mortal the gods had tried to create. The Vasharans are evil humans with black hair.
  • Jerren: A halfling tribe that committed atrocities against goblins and bugbears.

History: In a sidebar, we learn more about the Book of Vile Darkness:

  • The book was originally a scroll written by a Vasharan spellcaster millenia ago.
  • Years later, a cleric of Nerull found it and added to it.
  • Other evil priests added to it.
  • Eventually the collected works fell into the hands of a genocidal wizard and warlord named Vecna.
  • After he died and rose as a lich, Vecna transcribed the scrolls into a bound book. He created its cover from the flesh of a human face and the bones of a demon.
  • The symbols on the cover are understandable only by those who have read the book in its entirety.
  • Cultists of Erythnul kept the book in a vault for many years, using it as part of an initiation ritual.
  • A few flawed copies were made. Errors in the copies caused the reader to be drawn into one of the Lower Planes.
  • Thieves stole the original during a great war.
  • Baalzebul kept the book in his personal library for a time.
  • 6 complete copies exist, including Baalzebul's altered version.

The book contains information on:

  • Evil deities
  • Black magic
  • Sacrifices
  • Forbidden secrets

"Once a mind has absorbed the knowledge in this book, the attached soul is so polluted that there is no recourse other than to turn evil."

"Powerful fiends watch over the book, because where it goes, evil power grows."

Dark Chant: "The dark chant is not a spell, but a number of particularly foul necromantic words and phrases strung together into a litany of evil power." If at least 2 undead speak the chant together, undead within 100 feet are empowered and protected against turning by clerics.

Dark Speech: This is the secret language of the evil gods.. " foul and so potent that even demons and devils refrain from its use, lest it consume them."

The safest way to use Dark Speech is through spells found later in this supplement.

"To actually communicate by means of the Dark Speech - that is, for a knowledgeable speaker to convey some information to a knowledgeable listener - the speaker must take great care, or both listener and speaker will be harmed. There are no words in the Dark Speech for good concepts such as kindness, mercy, and purity. However, evil characters can speak of misery, anguish, hate, and betrayal with an accuracy impossible in any other tongue."

It has no written form.

There are four ways that a speaker can use the Dark Speech:

  1. Dread: Cause non-evil listeners to flee, evil listeners cower.
  2. Power: Energizes magic items and spells (casts spells at a higher level?)
  3. Corruption: Weakens physical objects - doors, walls, etc.
  4. Dark Unity: Up to 100 vermin/animals form a united hivemind and follow a single command of the speaker.

Ur-Priest: The supplement details a pile of "prestige classes" that higher level characters can become. The Ur-Priest sticks out to me, because it details something I'd imagine would be in the actual Book of Vile Darkness.

The Ur-Priests despise gods. Some of them have learned to tap into divine power and use it for their own needs without praying to or worshiping a god. They never steal too much, and they steal from many different gods.

Evil Spells: There are a TON of these. They've been converted in a 5e DMs Guild product.

Dungeon Magazine 128 - The Champion's Belt

This adventure is part of the acclaimed Age of Worms adventure path. This specific adventure is set in the "Free City" (of Greyhawk) and involves the heroes fighting in an arena. It comes with a super-useful arena poster map.

During an information dump with an NPC, the group learns about the Age of Worms itself. The Age of Worms is an ancient set of prophecies that speak of a transformation of the world, of a time when life gives way to something else. "These prophecies are recorded in certain texts like the Book of Vile Darkness, Libris Mortis, the Necronomicon, and the Apostolic scrolls...."

Elder Evils

Aspect of Atropus

The Book is linked to an entity known as Atropus.

Atropus: Atropus is a "stillborn god" - drifting through the multiverse, searching for worlds to consume and erasing all life. "As the afterbirth of creation, it is committed to unmaking all things."

  • Was the force behind the creation of the gods.
  • In the process of creating life, Atropus died - it became the wasted materials left over from the formation of the gods.
  • Since the gods are living beings, they rely on energy gained from the Positive Energy Plane.
  • Atropus must be their inversion - death incarnate, drawing power from the Negative Energy Plane.
  • It is a decaying, disembodied head, leaving necromantic detritus in its wake.
  • Atropus wishes to unmake living things, to absorb their souls.

When Atropus enters a world's orbit, the dead rise from their graves.

  • It regrets creating the first gods.
  • It drains positive energy from worlds.
  • Goal: Destroy all gods.

Using the Book: We are given a campaign outline. A villain hopes to use an old tome to summon Atropus. The villain obtains the Book of Vile Darkness, and learns from it that Atropus will visit the world if "...a tragedy of widespread death were to occur."

Apocalypse From the Sky: We are told that there is a corrupt spell in the Book of Vile Darkness called Apocalypse from the Sky. It takes 1 day to cast. Upon completion of the casting, all creatures (including the caster) and objects within a 10-mile radius take 10d6 points of damage.

Atropals: In Elder Evils, it says that Atropus is nothing more than a decaying, disembodied head,
leaving in its wake cast-off necromantic detritus that floats through the void. "Perhaps atropals—the stillborn gods take their shape from these cast-off bits."

This book includes an adventure where the heroes actually get onto Atropus (which is a 700-mile-diameter moonlet) to try to figure out how to get it away from their world. On the Atropus are various undead creaatures, angels of Atropus  ("angels of decay"), an atropal, and an aspect of Atropus itself.

If the group defeats the aspect, the Atropus rockets away from the world, moving at a speed of 40,000 feet. Characters still on the surface are carried with the moonlet.

5e Atropal: I just want to jump over to the 5e Tomb of Annihilation real quick. An atropal is actually one of the big villains of this adventure.

In 5e, an atropal is "...a ghastly, unfinished creation of an evil god, cast adrift and abandoned long ago. Since an atropal was never truly alive, it can’t be raised from the dead or resurrected by any means."

Connected to Negative Plane: It has an umbilical cord that actually attaches to the Negative Plane. "This connection gives the atropal power over death and undeath." The cord can be severed by a vorpal sword.

Summoning Wraiths: An atropal can summon vestiges of creatures that died in the Negative Plane, which manifest as wraiths. 

Powers: It has a few powers that I think help us understand what Atropus might be like:

  • Negative Energy Aura: Creatures within 30 feet of the atropal can’t regain hit points, and any creature that starts its turn within 30 feet of the atropal takes 10 (3d6) necrotic damage.
  • Life Drain: The atropal targets one creature it can see within 120 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 19 Constitution saving throw, taking 36 (8d8) necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The atropal regains a number of hit points equal to half the amount of damage dealt.
  • Disrupt Life: The atropal lets out a withering wail. Any creature within 120 feet of the atropal that can hear the wail must succeed on a DC 19 Constitution saving throw or gain 1 level of exhaustion.
  • Vulnerable to radiant energy. Makes sense, right?

D&D 4th Edition The Book of Vile Darkness

This product is actually two books - one for DMs, and one for Players. The player book actually looks like the book itself.

Shemeshka: We start off with a quote from Shemeshka the Marauder. Shemeshka read the book and doesn't think it is evil.

Vecna's Writing: There is a long passage written by Vecna

“There is not a moment in the long years of my life when darkness did not shroud my thoughts. Looking back through the veil of time, I recall well those early lessons, living a life apart from others due to the stain my family bore upon their souls. We were untouchable, outsiders, cursed, a people known for consorting with the forbidden. Such a life brought great suffering and want, yet I believe the hunger I felt and the resentment brimming in my soul laid the foundation for the greatness I have since achieved.

 “My mother’s identity shaped my earliest life. I recall well her sacrifices, the mewling cries of small animals dying beneath her sacrificial knife. I remember her horrid coupling with things that bore no resemblance to natural creatures. She was stern and cruel, yet she was the greatest teacher I have ever known. Though I have no love for her and was gladdened when the people burned her alive for consorting with fiends, I owe her a great debt. Without her, I would not be who I am today.

 “I mention these memories not out of some maudlin need to explore my origins or as some justification for the actions I have taken in my mortal life. Rather, I bring them up here, in this work, to explain this manuscript’s purpose and to reveal to you the power and wonder residing within darkness.

 “Before any legitimate discussion on the nature of evil can begin, it is first necessary to dispense with the misapprehensions about evil commonly held by those moralizing proselytizers who seek to redeem the corrupted, to save those who have fallen into shadow, and to foster virtue in all they meet. Evil is not an absence of good. It is not a choice. It is not some crime, such as murder, theft, or deviance. It is not service to a reprehensible master; nor is it devotion to some dark power. Evil is one of two forces in the cosmos, an agency locked in eternal struggle against its antithesis. This war has only two sides, the light and the dark. And the whole of creation is both their battleground and the prize for which they vie. Do not be deceived into thinking a middle path will present a way to rise above the struggle. Only good and only evil exist. And not even a hair’s width of space separates them.

 “My mother understood this. She embraced her nature. She welcomed the darkness into her soul and profited from it. And though she found agony and death for her allegiance, her legacy lives on in me and my works.

 “This, then, is why I wrote this book, why I labored to complete my studies on evil and preserve its legacy for all time. This book I leave as a testament to my service to evil and also as a guide to others who would follow my steps into the vile darkness. These contents exist to understand evil’s myriad expressions, to learn from them, and to use them. And though I have embraced the darkness, I know my understanding of it is not yet complete. Therefore, I leave this book open to others to add to its lore with a goal of creating a more perfect understanding of what it means to serve evil and to wield its power.

 “I have but one warning before I leave you to your awakening. Resist not the truths I and perhaps others record here. Open your mind and heart to the knowledge contained on these pages. Only then will you understand and receive the wisdom darkness can provide. Should you falter, should you feel the treacherous pangs of guilt and shame, understand that this book will know. And when this book is roused, it will destroy you. Embrace the lore and spurn the light, and you too shall ever after walk in darkness.”

The 4th Edition Book of Vile Darkness: Artifacts were different in 4e. This is a "paragon tier" item, meaning it is meant for characters level 11-20 (character levels go up to 30 in 4th edition).

  • "A blasphemous tome whose pages are stained with unspeakable knowledge, this vile work reveals evil's darkest secrets."
  • Grants bonuses to Arcana, History, and Religion.
  • Gives enemies penalties to saving throws.
  • Allows an attack that missed to hit.
  • Bolsters summoned creatures.
  • Allows spellcasters to do 2d10 extra damage against good targets.
  • It grants a ranged attack once per short rest that does a lot of damage - 4d10! It ignores any resistances.

Corruption Points: Using the book gives you (and an ally within 25 feet of you) a corruption point.
When a character's corruption point total equals their highest ability modifier, the character's alignment shifts one step closer to chaotic evil.


  • Food tends to spoil around the owner
  • The owner hears faint, evil whispers.
  • The owner experiences vivid nightmares. 

If the book becomes displeased with the owner, it devours the owner's soul, "...leaving behind a living and unresponsive husk. Black flames burn away the artifact until nothing but greasy ash remains." The place where the artifact disappeared becomes cursed.

Lore: "Perusing the book's odd pages, which consist of a mix of parchment, hammered metal, cloth, and other materials, conveys a sense of dread and seductive wonder."

Divining the book's original author is a fruitless enterprise.

Many believe Vecna was the first author, and that he wrote the book in the months before the Great Betrayal (when Kas the vampire turned against him) cost him his eye and hand.

Many copies of the book may exist, but all are crude reproductions of the true work. Efforts have been made to destroy the book, but each time the book reconstitutes itself.

Some believe that the artifact is but a projection of the true Book of Vile Darkness. It could be that each world/"each reality" has its own Book  of Vile Darkness, recording the insights and discoveries inhabiting that time in place.

Sentience: The book is aware, and possesses a dim cunning. It cannot communicate, but it can move words around on the page so the reader can divine it intentions and objectives.

We learn some more things about the book:

  • Each copy of the book is flawed - imperfect facsimiles lacking in the true power contained by the original work.
  • The book is always changing. Each time the book falls into wicked hands, the contents evolve.
  • Those who master the book can replace, revise, and add to its contents.
  • The book's secrets contributed to Vecna's apotheosis.
  • Some say the actual original writer was Nhagruul, who fashioned the tome from his own flesh. The ink was its blood and its soul was bound into the manuscript.
  • Some think seers of Tharizdun created the book to annihilate the works of law and chaos.

What the actual book looks like:

  • Black patchwork cover held in place by heavy metal plates and adamantine wire.
  • Claws and teeth sprout from its spine.
  • A heavy iron claps and padlock hold the book closed.
  • Pages are parchment made from humanoid skin
  • Writings range from lucid to incoherent.
  • Diagrams, illustrations, and commentary from past owners break up the text.

The book may have originally served as a profane liturgy for priests of Vecna.


  • Ritual Sacrifice
  • Demon Husbandry
  • Methods of Extracting pain from the innocent

There is no order to the book - no table of contents.

Reading the book:

  • Causes flesh to blister.
  • Death - brain liquefies.
  • Some are driven mad.
  • Some readers become monstrous wretches.

Some authors claim that good and evil were never part of Creation's underpinnings. In the beginning, it was about order vs. chaos.

Evil wasn't born until Tharizdun plucked a shard of darkness from the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

Nhagruul, Dragonspawn: These dragons were created by a wizard who eventually merged with or became the book.

Nhagruul was a deformed wizard who sought to use the Book of Vile Darkness to conquer and enslave the world.

He grew dragonspawn in his laboratory from stolen dragon eggs. He used his own demonic essence to corrupt the embryos.

The Book of Vile Darkness eventually consumed Nhagruul.

The Knights of the New Sun: A band of Pelor-worshipping paladins devoted to destroying the Book of Vile Darkness.

Disciples of Nhagruul: The Book has been separated into three pieces. The disciples scour the world, looking to reassemble the book. They are led by a mind flayer named Shathrax. Shathrax has a flying fortress where magic items and spells are created.

The Vile Tome: This sourcebook includes an adventure that details how to destroy the Book of Vile Darkness.

We learn that a paladin named Grayson defeated Shathrax. The flying fortress fell to the ground and the Book of Vile Darkness is buried in the rubble.

To destroy the book, they must perform a ritual at the Well of Many Worlds to draw forth good from all the worlds to completely destroy the book.

Obtaining the Book: In the adventure, the group must fend off some demons at the ruins of the fallen fortress. Once that is dealt with, the heroes can retrieve the book:

"You have found a massive book: a dark thing, crudely made and adorned with sinister decorations. The spine is a shrieking face held in place with nails and barbed wire. A toothy metal hasp keeps the black covers shut. Metal wing shapes reinforce the edges, resembling those of a bat or demon. Strange runes and diagrams have been painted on the black leather covers, the skins stretched taut over concealed boards. There is a strangeness about this tome, a sort of wrongness that speeds the heart and raises hairs."

The Well of Many Worlds: The group takes it to the "Well of Many Worlds." It is the most powerful portal in the planes - it connects to all planes at once.It can be used to draw objects and creatures forth. The adventures can perform the Ritual of Beginnings to destroy the tome.

As the group starts the ritual, an angel of Vecna and two "Spell Howlers of Vecna" arrive to stop them. Vecna wants the Book of Vile Darkness.

The Ritual: The ritual takes an hour. If it fails, the book breaks apart and spreads into a multitude of different worlds. Success means it is destroyed.

D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

We finally get to the current version of the book. It is no longer just a stat-booster! It is a full-blown artifact detailed in the DMG.

"Most believe the lich-god Vecna authored the Book of Vile Darkness."

Attunement: A creature attuned to the book must spend 80 hours reading and studying it. When a non-evil creature attunes to the book, they must make a CHA save or become neutral evil.

Displeasing the Book: The book leaves you if you willingly perform a good act, or fail to perform one evil act within 10 days.

Dying: "If you die while attuned to the book, an entity of great evil claims your soul. You can't be restored to life by any mean while your soul remains imprisoned."

Powers: The book has a pile of random properties, which I went ahead and rolled for:

3 Minor Beneficial Properties

  • (75) While attuned to the Book, you can use an action to cast one 2nd lvl spell of the DM's choice from it (I choose Invisibility). After you cast it, roll a d6. On a roll of 1-5, you can't cast it again until the next dawn.
  • (62) While attuned to the Book, you can use an action to cast one 2nd lvl spell of the DM's choice from it I choose Darkness). After you cast it, roll a d6. On a roll of 1-5, you can't cast it again until the next dawn.
  • (42) While attuned to the Book, you have resistance to one damage type of the DM's choice (necrotic makes sense, right?)

1 Major Beneficial Property

  • (77) While attuned to the Book, you can use an action to cast one 6th lvl spell of the DM's choice from it (I choose Circle of Death). After you cast it, roll a d6. On a roll of 1-5, you can't cast it again until the next dawn.

3 Minor Detrimental Properties

  • (67) While attuned to this artifact, non-magical flames are extinguished within 30 feet of you.
  • (89) While you are attuned to the artifact, animals within 30 feet are hostile toward you.
  • (39) While attuned to the artifact, you are physically ill and have disadvantage on any ability check or saving throw that uses Strength or Constitution.

2 Major Detrimental Properties

  • (80) When you become attuned to the artifact, one of your ability scores is reduced by 2 at random. A greater restoration spell restores the ability to normal.
  • (55) When you become attuned to the artifact, you gain a form of long-term madness (DMG pg 260). These only last 1d10x10 hours. I'm a bit torn between having the character roll and just picking the madness. If I were to pick, I'd take: The character experiences uncontrollable tremors or tics, which impose disadvantage on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws that involve Strength or Dexterity.

Stat Boost: You gain +2 to an ability score of your choice, and -2 to another ability score.

Mark of Darkness: You acquire a physical disfigurement.
you can cast dominate monster once per day.

Dark Speech: You gain Dark Speech! In 5e, Dark Speech does 3d6 psychic damage to non-evil creatures within 15 feet (you also take 1d12 psychic damage).

Destroying the Book: If a solar tears the book in two, the book is destroyed for 1d100 years. Also, you can unearth a word or phrase in the book that destroys you an the book (the book reforms in 1d10x1000 years).

5e Book of Vile Darkness DMs Guild

This product converts a lot of the content that appeared in the 3e book. It contains 5 chapters of conversions: Subclasses, Spells, Feats, Equipment, and Rules.

Apocalypse From the Sky: The Apocalypse from the Sky spell is in there! It's a 9th level spell, goes like this:

"You call upon the darkest forces in all existence to rain destruction down upon the land in a 200 mile radius originating from you. All creatures and objects in the spell’s area take 10d6+30 fire and acid damage. This damage usually levels forests, crumbles mountains and causes genocides. You take this damage as well."

"Upon casting, you take 8d6 necrotic damage and your hit point maximum is reduced by that amount until you complete a long rest.

Spells: I think that I will try to give my villains who have read this book some of these spells. It make sense, right? When my group faces Im-Ravin at the end of the Labyrinth of Madness, he should be dropping some of these spells on the group.

Dark Speech: Dark Speech is in here, too. You need to have the "Dark Speaker" feat in order to use Dark Speech. You could also drink the elixir of dark speech, which apparently permanently lets you use Dark Speech.

For whatever reason, I really love the idea that Dark Speech can destroy walls and objects. The conversion goes like this:

"As an action, you can speak the Dark Speech to undermine the very earth beneath you. You take 1d12 psychic damage. Non-magical objects within 60 feet of the speaker take 5d8 thunder damage."

Should damage thresholds be involved somehow? Should it ignore damage thresholds?

This supplement is $4 and 100% worth buying.

Thanks for Reading!