Book of Exalted Darkness – My D&D 5E ode to the Book of Vile Darkness

Book of Exalted Darkness cover snapshot

Let’s talk about evil in gaming. You can read about the decopunk campaign setting this GLORIOUS ARTWORK by Indi Martin is for in a newcomer context over here on this page and it can be purchased at the Legendary Games Web Store or on DriveThruRPG (provided you’re 18 or older).

This isn’t quite yet the time or place for it, but before I dig into this I want to point out that we can #DoBetterThanDrow. Drow appear in two places in this HUGE (414 page) book: the poison table (because drow poison) and in the foreword (because I really feel like we need to move past drow as the predominant fantasy representation of black people. Seriously everybody let’s just move on.)

There’s no other place to really start here than with the Book of Vile Darkness which was what I originally wanted to do but obviously could not. After 2099 Wasteland (think gonzo Fallout for D&D) was done I knew I wanted to go after evil for D&D 5E so I put together a basic framework for a world where that made sense (being evil) and then figured out that the BoVD isn’t actually on the Open Gaming License. So the design team got together and we identified what was or wasn’t worth carrying over as a broad concept, making sure that we wouldn’t be violating any intellectual property but still hit all the different notes that it did.

Somewhere around here is when I got inspired to introduce decopunk into the mix and we hit the gravitational contrast that makes this book utterly consume you. Originally the setting was very medieval and a vaguely European-knights sort of deal, but I couldn’t quite figure how to make that really work to have the same appeal as the evil side. I mean, yeah I’ll sit down for a few weekends to wreck a lame world but where’s the fun in that? It should still be interesting. There should be things there that I want my character to do when the day is won. With decopunk we brought in inaequa, and that unlocked this huge meta knowledge I can only compare to Wagyu beef. I’m not gonna lie–I was panicking for maybe two or three weeks when the bridge that makes all of the book work together just wasn’t materializing, but when I did I knew we really were making something special. Something groundbreaking and distinct with the same kind of invitation to madness that the Book of Vile Darkness inspires every time I look upon it.

That’s about when we started kicking around what to do with the cover of this book. There’s a whole lush decadent theocratic world wrapped around a metric f#$%ton of vile in here–how do you tell people that with like 8.75 inches by 11.25 inches of space?

As you’ve already witnessed, Indi figured out how to do it. The email thread we have on this beast of an illustration I think neared 100? I can’t say enough good things about it. I couldn’t even put the logo on it and I don’t really care that I couldn’t–what kind of heartless monster would I have to be to do that to THIS?!

The kind you play using the Book of Exalted Darkness, obviously.

There are other people that bear mentioning as I reflect on my biggest campaign setting yet (well, for a single book–Mists of Akuma is technically bigger with all its adventures, then comes in second Veranthea Codex) and I would be remiss to forget them!

I’m going to start with Luis Loza. Luis, you time-traveling idea-stealing bastard, we are all immensely proud that you’ve made your way into the house of golems. It was plainly obvious to me the first time I encountered your work that you were on a road to Seattle and it’s because of your dependably stellar acumen that I gave you that single hardest thing to design in this book. I’m so stoked to see folks react to the 8 level (THE HERESY!) prestige class you put together for dark transformations–and I’m reckoning it’s going to be overwhelmingly positive.

Michael McCarthy almost always gets stuck last so we’re on to you next. The Spheres of Askis (great works by the Celestial Heroes that perpetuate their beneficent authority over the world) were started back when these were still medieval lands. I think he knew how dangerous that territory is because it means I’d already started throwing around plot threads and character connections for this part of the campaign setting well over a year before the Kickstarter even launched–a veritable minefield. With his usual aplomb and thoroughness he crushed them all however, and each is a unique and exceptional note in the epic verse that this book has become.

It’s hard to think about evil gaming without thinking about Savannah Broadway, particularly if you’re talking devils. I’ve never met anybody so obsessed with devils. It’s not like she’s even a pentragram-bearing satanist (that I know of? o.0) it’s just that whenever the opportunity to play a devil or devil-like thing is on the table, she’s on the spot. Obviously she embraced this project and has been a fantastic voice of critique after getting some of the juiciest parts of the design–the oath of heresy, the college of anarchy, and spells–all of which she did a great job putting together.

Speaking of spells James Introcaso took part in this outing and had some great additions to that chapter. Where he really shines through is the evil relics though and I’m really glad he joined us because first reading each one is like watching your terrible sister open a ribbon-wrapped bag of dog droppings (which I was punished for, even though it was 100% deserved). It’s a memory I’m going to cherish with equal measure. Stellar work!

Finally I need to acknowledge that I definitely lost control of myself working on this book. Part of it is that I need to be complete here–the Book of Exalted Darkness needed to present a full campaign setting, it needed to have a ton of evil in it, and basically it needed to be two books in one. Originally I foolishly thought I could work all this justification into maybe a book and a half, but that wasn’t the case.

The other part of the problem is that I wanted so much of this to exist. This isn’t meant to be evil-f#$%in-lite here, in order to have impact and weight it needed to have ACTUAL weight. It didn’t help that evil ideas spawned more vile ideas, but after you think “oh we could have a cannibalistic warlock that worships a cosmic entity Blob thing called The Meat” HOW do you walk away from that?

I can tell you my answer is that you don’t. You hug that idea, you take it to the ground, and you tear it apart and rework it into a proper monstrosity.

Huh–maybe that’s the real story with this image? It’s a proper monstrosity left unattended, caged within the resplendent gold of its pompously lofty surroundings.

To every principal, teacher, relative, friend’s parent, neighbor, police officer, judge, lawyer, and literally countless other people that have told me I need to apply myself: here you go. Grab it on the Legendary Games Web Store or DriveThruRPG.

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