Friday, September 1, 2017

The Evil, the Bad and the Ugly... An Evil Campaign for Dungeons and Dragons

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.

Iuz the Old from Dragon #67
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!

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.

Vecna the Lich
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.

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. 

Kas the Betrayer
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.

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 true power.

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.

The Great Hood in all his glory
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.  

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...


  1. Fantastic history! Thanks a lot for these background!

  2. How can there be an adventuring party full of evil people, who at the same time have a great deal of agency? Either they are coerced into staying together or they are free to stab each other in the face.

    Which is a lot like a good party I guess, but it's easier to presume a greater degree of agency.

    Ugh. This is why I prefer to stick to three alignments!

    1. I played in this particular evil campaign and can answer your question, which is a good one! The PCs were sworn to the Great Hood and mostly convinced they were in line to receive great power and other rewards when he returned. Self-interest was sufficient to prevent the group of ne'er-do-wells from devolving into back-stabbing chaos because cooperation was the quickest way to bring him back. Each character probably had plans to deep-six the others once that point came, of course...

      Allying with treacherous folks can (and did) lead to betrayals both grand and petty. And those were some interesting story moments! With the right group of players, the power struggles and infighting are fun and inventive instead of tedious and counterproductive.

  3. Love it! I would love to hear more.

  4. Proto-Paranoia via D&D! Delightfully whacked, man!

  5. This made me lol. Very nice indeed! I never played an utterly evil group, although on occasion my regular players engage in accidental mass murders of innocent bystanders and later put the blame on someone else. As you said, lots of comic potential ;P

  6. I normally don't care for reading about others' RP escapades.... you kinda had to be there, right? But this is interesting. I like the straight up "evil kind of sucks" background where even ultra-powerful beings who can't trust anyone are destined to fall hard... but of course the big bad and his minions are confident that THIS time, it'll all work out and they'll claim their due.

    Also, Jacob Two-Two? Nice.