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5E BBEGs, the Book of Vile Darkness, and Good Acts

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
I'm planning a campaign whose intended villain is a yuan-ti abomination cleric of Zehir, god of assassins, darkness, and poison. She desires several items to increase her personal power, one of which is the infamous Book of Vile Darkness.

Upon acquiring the Book of Vile Darkness it grants her power; however, it also has several drawbacks. Most significantly, she can never perform a good act again or the Book will leave her.

What constitutes a "good" act? Can she use her divine magic to heal a soldier fighting for her cause, or is the act of healing anyone for any reason "good"? It seems a fair assumption that the Book would rule the same way an absolute bastard of a DM would. Could it be that doing anything that would ultimately benefit her followers in the long run would count as a "good" act? Must she ensure that every single one of her followers will suffer in the end, lest she commit a "good" act? Should she devise a way to ensure that all those who follow her will have their souls consumed by her serpent god upon death in the most agonizing way imaginable, possibly by modifying the cult's rituals to mark her followers' souls as sacrifices to Zehir, as to avoid committing a "good" act?

Opinions?
 

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I imagine that as long as she’s not acting selflessly, she’s bot being good. So healing her follower is not about saving him so much as making sure he can keep fighting in her name.

If she’s meant to be straight up villain (which is how it sounds), I wouldn’t worry about it too much about it because her motivations are likely always going to be pretty self serving.
 

jgsugden

Legend
When assessing good and evil, I find it is best to decide on who is the judge. Then just ask what that being would think. If you use the official history (Book of Vile Darkness), you might decide that Vecna is the relevant judge, so you'd ask what would Vecna think. Of course, that guy tends to be a bit secretive about what he really thinks, so....
 


Can she use her divine magic to heal a soldier fighting for her cause, or is the act of healing anyone for any reason "good"?
Instead of saying she is "healing" mooks, reflavor it as "empowering them with Vile Energy" that pretty much reinvigorates the mooks. They are still "wounded" but suddenly are being "compelled/forced" to press on beyond their normal limits. She's just using them as tools anyway.

It's basically healing given a more sinister tone RPing wise.
 
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pukunui

Hero
I wouldn’t necessarily class healing a minion as a good act. She is most likely only doing it in order that the minion can continue to commit evil acts in her name.

If she healed a random stranger she found dying in the jungle, that might be considered a good act. Unless she planned to use it as leverage to make the stranger do her bidding.

If she had to sacrifice some of her own life force to heal a minion, that would be considered a good act.

If she was out in the wild with a minion and they were running out of food and she gave up her portion so the minion could live, that would be a good act too.
 

I wouldn’t necessarily class healing a minion as a good act. She is most likely only doing it in order that the minion can continue to commit evil acts in her name.

If she healed a random stranger she found dying in the jungle, that might be considered a good act. Unless she planned to use it as leverage to make the stranger do her bidding.

If she had to sacrifice some of her own life force to heal a minion, that would be considered a good act.

If she was out in the wild with a minion and they were running out of food and she gave up her portion so the minion could live, that would be a good act too.
If anything, the cleric would drain the life force of the minions to restore hers.
 

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
I'm trying to make this a crazy prepared villain, so I guess she would have attempted studying lesser tomes on the nature of evil before getting the Book of Vile Darkness. Still, though, if you had an item that took a lot of time to get, gives you a lot of power, and may be impossible to find again if you break the conditions of its use, I think you'd be a bit paranoid about losing it.

"Oh, there's a bug on the floor. Better step on it just in case."
 


I'm planning a campaign whose intended villain is a yuan-ti abomination cleric of Zehir, god of assassins, darkness, and poison. She desires several items to increase her personal power, one of which is the infamous Book of Vile Darkness.

Upon acquiring the Book of Vile Darkness it grants her power; however, it also has several drawbacks. Most significantly, she can never perform a good act again or the Book will leave her.

What constitutes a "good" act?
It's up to the DM.
Can she use her divine magic to heal a soldier fighting for her cause, or is the act of healing anyone for any reason "good"?
There is nothing "good" about healing soldiers to send them out to die again.
It seems a fair assumption that the Book would rule the same way an absolute bastard of a DM would.
Why? If the book is in the hands of a player it makes sense to highlight it's drawbacks, but if it is in the hands of an already evil NPC villain I see no reason to limit it.
Could it be that doing anything that would ultimately benefit her followers in the long run would count as a "good" act?
No. It's only "good" if you do something for no personal gain.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
But does she feed the kitten evil cat food? That's really where the rubber hits the road. Kittens generally are fine, everyone needs something to stroke while they're plotting the downfall of the civilized world, and not everyone likes rhubarb that way.
 

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
Why? If the book is in the hands of a player it makes sense to highlight it's drawbacks, but if it is in the hands of an already evil NPC villain I see no reason to limit it.
I treated the Book of Vile Darkness for her exactly as you would a PC by rolling on the tables to see what she got. I rolled this as one of the results:

"When you first attune to the artifact, it gives you a quest determined by the DM. You must complete this quest as if affected by the geas spell. Once you complete the quest, you are no longer affected by this property."

I decided this geas had something to do with forcing her to help some Vecna worshipers. Now that she's already done what Vecna wanted she's determined not to give him any excuse to take the book away from her, perhaps going overboard to make certain she never does anything remotely good. She's insightful enough to know that Vecna could use an excuse to take it away right when she needs it most to pursue Zehir's agenda.
 

But why? How does it serve the plot? So far as players are concerned evil villain is evil. It sounds more like you are treating your antagonist as a player character in a solo game rather than trying to entertain your players.

If you want to go with "the antagonist isn't really a bad person, the book made them do it" fine. But if the antagonist is already evil the book makes no difference. Palpatine doesn't need a book to make him evil, he can do it all by himself.
 

Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
But why? How does it serve the plot? So far as players are concerned evil villain is evil. It sounds more like you are treating your antagonist as a player character in a solo game rather than trying to entertain your players.
I haven't actually started this campaign yet. I'm still in the pre-planning phase and am trying to be thorough to prevent repeating mistakes I made in my last campaign.

In my previous campaign I had intended for a water-themed lich to be the BBEG who would use a special plane-shifting fortress battleship called Krakencore to drown entire coastal cities and reanimate the drowned as undead under his command. Unfortunately, I spent so much time detailing Krakencore and the underground base it teleported to for repairs and resupplying, Darkfathom, that I neglected to figure out the lich's history, his lieutenants, events he's been involved in, and the various defenses and countermeasures he might use (I was also unfamiliar with the rules for certain spells, which probably let the wizard PC who took out the lich like a chunp get away with things he shouldn't have been able to do by RAW).

I'm taking the opposite approach with this new villain. I want to figure out everything about her that the PCs could conceivably find out. I want to have stories for her rise to power, what transpired in her quest to obtain the Book of Vile Darkness (as well as three other legendary treasures), and concrete plans for her defenses, countermeasures, tactics, and lieutenants. I want to treat her as a PC in regards to certain things to familiarize myself with the usage of spells like scrying, planar binding, plane shift, teleport, and forbiddance.

I've also decided she obtained her copy of the Book of Vile Darkness from Baltoi, a unique marilith in the Ravenloft setting who acquired it before being imprisoned in a mountain in a Domain of Dread. I've already worked out how my villain found out about and located Baltoi (it involved an enslaved diviner who has been physically mutiliated and subjected to modify memory spells so that he only knows and is able to cast Contact Other Plane on the BBEG's behalf). I'm even planning to run a battle in which the BBEG and her forces attempt to defeat the enhanced marilith (who I'm also planning to give legendary and lair actions) and the three glabrezu demons she summons so I can have details of what went down in this battle for the Book of Vile Darkness in case the PCs capture an interrogate yuan-to who was there or knew someone who was there.

As for the Book itself, the BBEG originally just wanted to glean whatever useful secret lore she could get from it, like secret treasures or true names or new spells, before putting it into a vault somewhere. However, since I rolled that the book gave her a plethora of condition immunities (charmed, stunned, petrified, etc) I decided that she is know inclined to keep it attuned to her, despite suspicions that Vecna may be using it to spy on her or spirit it away when she needs it most.
 
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Voadam

Hero
A couple different options.

You could go with a 3e descriptor take and so [GOOD] acts are things like summoning an outsider with the [GOOD] descriptor which is magic that taps into supernatural [GOOD] power that is incompatible with the [EVIL] supernatural power of the Book of Vile Darkness. This makes [GOOD] and [EVIL] more like ritual purity that can be contaminated and repurified and is an interesting way to use these concepts that does not require a lot of quibbling about narratively good and evil acts.

You could argue a narrow definition of good as only truly altruistic acts so even helping out others to make yourself feel like a good person is not actually a good act.

You could go normal narrative good and the book is lost pretty quick because it is hard to be not good at all in any of your actions.

You could go normal narrative good and the villain tries hard not to be good to anyone, a sadistic psychopath with power would be the model. It is conceivable for a psychopath with power to be solely neutral or evil in their actions.
 



Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
You're the DM. Just discard that annoying piece of useless limitation in favor of something that doesn't cramp your game to satisfy someone else's 2-sentence idea.
Part of the concept for this villain is that she's so power hungry and ambitious that she's spreading herself thin and taking on the absolute maximum amount of stress she can, which her yuan-ti abomination psychology aids her in being able to take on thanks to her drastically suppressed emotionality compared to the human norm.

To sum it up, the BBEG, Seghulerak, has had her lust for power amplified by the Book of Vile Darkness as one of its traits, she was forced by a geas placed on her by the Book to aid followers of Vecna in a way that for all she knows could undermine her own ambitions, she innately knows an empyrean has been dispatched to wrest the Book from her and is coming for her at some point, she must figure out every possibility for what could be considered a "good" act and ensure she never commits any of them to keep the Book from departing, she hears the homicidal ravings of the insane marilith Sizlifeth in her mind due to her attunement to the artifact known as the Lash of Shadows (Explorer's Guide to Wildemount), the souls of those she's slain with a legendary sacrificial Riteknife (Gulldmaster's Guide to Ravnica) haunt her dreams, she's chosen to provoke Orcus by instructing her followers to retrieve a treasure of Zehir's called the Jewel of Gharan from Orcus' Abyssal layer of Thanatos, she's decided not to ask her god Zehir for anything but the bare minimum to prove herself competent and worthy, she's concerned with forming an alliance with the demon lord Shaktari, she doesn't trust the loyalty of any of her lieutenants, and she has an entire secret organization of cultists spanning the coasts of Wildemount, the Underdark of Tal'Dorei, and even other planes to run.

All these responsibilities, concerns, and psychic assaults upon the mind from multiple sources piled one on top of another could destroy almost anyone's sanity. The suppression of emotion that undertaking the evil rituals of ascension has provided have helped Seghulerak to withstand all this mental pressure without breaking.
 
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Hexmage-EN

Adventurer
Her copy? You mean it's not THE original Book of Vile Darkness? That would be an interesting story of its own.
My understanding is that there are a small number of true copies of the Book of Vile Darkness (each with significant differences due to modifications by previous owners) as well as a larger number of outright fakes.

I believe the same is said to be true of the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, although in that case I think it's more a case of multiple volumes in a series.
 

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