Inexplicably, last week's post on the 1984 controversy about running an evil campaign in AD&D turned out to be the most popular post I've ever written. Which is funny, because I wrote it merely as a preamble to my real topic... which is the evil campaign that some friends of mine and I played a couple years ago. Although our group rotates the role of Dungeon Master, it usually falls to me to write the introduction to every campaign... so without further ado, here is my introduction to our Very Evil Campaign, aka Down and Out with the Great Hood:
The Evil, the Bad and the Ugly
It is an evil time for those who love evil. How promising it
had all appeared just a few months ago. The Land of the Flanaess was ignited in a war of shocking ferocity and bloodshed. The Great Kingdom, a
powerful but decadent empire, had mustered her armies and attacked the
civilized nations all around her. And that wasn't all: orcs flooded down the
mountains in the South and barbarians swarmed from the North. Meanwhile, Iuz the Old (an evil dictator and so-called demigod) summoned a massive demon host
with which to attack his enemies. Not that you were rooting for Iuz. As far as
you are concerned, Iuz is nothing but an amateur.
But it was a promising war nonetheless – Nyrond, the Kingdom
that you inhabit, was devastated and then impoverished by the war against the
Great Kingdom, and then riven in pieces by a costly civil war that
followed on its heels. Banditry, starvation and lawlessness became the rule of
the day. During this mayhem, the Great Hood saw his chance!
|Iuz the Old from Dragon #67|
For that is the name of your Master, the Great Hood. He
tells you that once he was a great lord in the court of the arch-lich Vecna. In
ancient times, he had sat in council with the very Princes of Hell as Vecna laid
his plans for the domination of all of Aerdy. The power of Vecna in those days
was unimaginable – today’s armies are like children’s toys by comparison. And
the Great Hood had a large share of this power. Very large. Vecna had promised
him a vast dominion since Vecna saw in him a power, an intelligence and a
propensity of evil that nearly rivalled Vecna’s own. In fact, it would be
somewhat inaccurate to say that the Great Hood was Vecna’s subordinate – even
Vecna realized that the Great Hood was more like a co-ruler since his
necromantic powers were so great.
At that time, Iuz was just a boot-polisher in Vecna’s
retinue. Did Vecna and the Hood mock Iuz? Only insofar that they noticed him,
which of course they did not, since he was an inconsequential nobody.
But all this ancient glory came to naught. Vecna was
betrayed by his Sergeant-at-Arms, the vampire Kas. Some have said that Kas was Vecna’s
second in command, but that is a gross exaggeration – the Great Hood occupied
that position. In fact, Vecna told the Great Hood that he was to be Vecna’s
only heir. If no one else knew about this designation, why should they? It was
between Vecna and the Hood. And anyway, Vecna was called the God of Secrets for
good reason – he didn’t throw that kind of information around. Which is to say:
Kas was merely a foot soldier, a stupid drudge who betrayed Vecna and slew him with
a black vorpal sword. This was a grievous betrayal, but it was followed by an
even greater treachery – the Great Hood should have taken Vecna’s place, but
instead he was robbed of his inheritance by a band of parasites like Iuz, Kas
and Demogorgon. They cheated him, stole his power and deprived him of his
station. Even thinking about it makes you angry.
|Vecna the Lich|
Following the death of Vecna, the Great Hood spent long
centuries in the dark places of the earth, quietly assembling the forces he
would need to revenge himself on all those who injured him. During this time he
transitioned from being a living necromancer to an undead lich and finally to a demilich, which is to say, to an incorporeal spirit bound to a few decayed bodily
remains. In the Great Hood’s case, these remains are his left femur and his
jawbone, which are generally kept for safekeeping in a terracotta urn. Despite
all, his intellect was great as ever and his plans were of such excruciating
brilliance that they could not fail to succeed. Except that time and time again
his henchmen failed him through incompetence and cowardice. Is it any surprise
that his name fell into obscurity and his most capable followers gradually
abandoned him? What a miserable chronicle of failure the last few hundred years
had become. Finally, the Great Hood was driven like a rat from one place to
another, sometimes pursued by servants of the good gods, other times evicted
from his lair by more powerful monsters.
Thirty years ago, the Great Hood took a small keep in the
hills of Nyrond as his abode. His brilliance in selecting this location was
apparent after thirty years of solitude and privation, when Nyrond was plunged
into the above noted struggle with the Great Kingdom. As the forces of order and
justice disappeared from the countryside, the Great Hood saw the opportunity to
reverse his fortunes. Raising up a mighty platoon of skeletons, he gradually
began to accumulate greater wealth through extortion and banditry,
until he was able to fortify his lair and assemble a formidable band of
followers. That was when you came into his service.
|Kas the Betrayer|
What heady times! The King’s soldiers were nowhere to be seen.
Most men of fighting age were warring in far distant battlefields. Only the old
men and children were left, and they knew better than to take on the Great
Hood. The Halfling settlement to the south of his lair (“the Canton”) was
almost entirely subdued, as was the nearby town of Yort. The Great Hood’s keep
(“the Mournhold”) was populated with monsters from far and wide, a menagerie
whose diversity was a point of special pride for all of you. Were there not kobolds, umber hulks, black puddings and undead all cohabiting under the
Great Hood’s awful banner? You all felt important and powerful, and the Great
Hood made it known that soon we could begin his Ultimate Plan – the
construction of a specially designed temple whose very architecture would
channel unimaginable power into the Great Hood, finally restoring him to his
That’s when things went pear shaped. The war against the
Great Kingdom (called the “Greyhawk War” because the peace treaty was signed in
the free city of Greyhawk) ended, and Nyrond’s civil war concluded in favour of
the Good King Lynwerd. Rumour has even come to you that Iuz himself was
destroyed with the help of a young band of heroes. A new dawn was coming. A
bright, horrible dawn.
Although Nyrond was still impoverished, road-wardens and
militiamen once again began to patrol the byways and towns. The townsmen of
Yort began to mutter about a return of the King’s justice, and soon even the
Halflings began to sass you whenever you rode through their land. As the Great
Hood began to gather his forces for one final, decisive attack on Yort, he was
ambushed in his own keep by a band of adventurers. The struggle was terrifying and
bloody, with the band of warriors moving from one room to the next, inexorably
slaying the inhabitants and searching them for treasure. The pit traps, the
secret doors, the scary magic-mouths – all were no use. They even slew Manty, your special manticore friend. The only reprieve from this horrible assault
came when the adventurers would hunker down in one room to rest for eight hours, heal and
re-memorize their spells.
|The Great Hood in all his glory|
Finally, the team of do-gooders arrived in the Great Hood’s throne
room: the Paladin Raymond Snowcape; Valence, the Priest of Heironymous; and
Mandrake Mooncup, the Halfling Fighter. Your surrender was swift and total. In
your mad rush to throw down your arms and beg for mercy, you are unsure what
happened to the urn containing the Great Hood...
Design notes: This campaign occurs in the aftermath of The Greyhawk Wars. I chose the Greyhawk campaign setting because I wanted a world with lots of magic and an old-school feeling. It also let me freely draw on some iconic emblems of AD&D, like the Eye of Vecna and the Sword of Kas.
As many have pointed out before, the problem with evil campaigns in general is that the parties are generally torn apart by the centrifugal power of selfishness and cruelty. In order to overcome this, we devised the idea that the characters are loyal lackeys of a Dark Lord in the mold of a Sauron or Vecna. This should keep them (somewhat) unified. However, the danger with having a powerful boss is that the characters may learn to depend upon his greater knowledge or power to extricate them from the perils of the campaign. In order to avoid this, we made the Great Hood a deeply weakened Dark Lord. He barely has enough power to manifest a spectral presence, let alone save the characters' bacon in a fight.
Being servants to a useless Dark Lord has a lot of comic potential (not unlike the Dungeon Keeper games for the PC). And indeed, humour was a big part of our campaign, and kept our evil game from ever getting too dark or distasteful. The Great Hood himself was inspired as much by Sauron as by Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang.
Our first adventure involved the characters escaping from the prison house at Yort and re-uniting with the Great Hood (i.e. an urn with the Great Hood's left femur and jawbone) in his hiding spot in the potato cellar of a local inn. It was the beginning of a long and hilarious set of adventures. I hope that perhaps this write-up inspires you to your own expedition into the heart of darkness...