Saturday, May 14, 2011

Evil versus Cartoon Evil

Occasionally in a game, there will be a jarring break from the standard cartoon evil villains, or misguided tragic villains to someone who is evil, unredeemable and just wrong.

This has to be something that is carefully managed to have a stark contrast to cartoon evil. Cartoonish evil is full of skulls, and blood and gore. It is a realm of cackling megalomania mixed with pointless shock. I recently added some true darkness to the game in the following manner.

The party broke into an enemy camp and discovered a secret grimoire of the armies leader. Asking what was in it, I responded "Terrible Dark Magic you may not be able to stomach, I haven't written what they actually are beyond the Spell Templates". I went on to inform them that if they did want to use them they would as a group decide the specifics of the templates. As a quick recap on templates, there may be a spell template like "Bolt" and then specific versions of the spell that can be found like "Lightning Bolt" or "Acid Blast" or "Malakath's spectral serpent strike". So I explained the templates are "Spell Storage", "Channeling" and "Know Alignment".

Spell Storage is a template for putting spells into an item for later use. Brewing potions is a version of the template, so is dwarven runes, so would putting a spell into a candle or an ointment etc. Channeling is to replenish your mana from the environment, such as regaining mana from the mountaintop or recharging on the sunrise. Know Alignment is a template for various mind reading spells like mind meld, or a spell where you enter a sleepers dreams.

So they start going with "Evil Spells", describing events "Melting Faces" etc etc. So I set them straight, these are EVIL SPELLS.

So I quickly threw together an evil version of "Spell Storage". In this case the spell allowed the caster to put a spell into a child they conceive. It must be their child, and the child must love them for full effect. And while a potion must be drank, or a candle lit this spell required killing the child. There is no way in which this spell can be used by someone who is not unrepentant evil. A spell like "melt face" can be used by a good person against an evil person. No one could ever use a spell like this and not be evil.

Now due to its limitations and evilness it was a very powerful version of the template, incredibly potent. But in no uncertain terms the good thing to do is burn the grimoire and even learning the spells is really an evil act.

But I told them if they want to have the spells I won't stop them, but I am making them develop the spells. So I am asking the players to make up the details to go into the templates.

I would like to see if any of my readers have any ideas to start off for these evil spells, not mechanics, just themes. A mind reading spell and energy restoring spell that cannot be used by a good person.

Feel free to email if you feel sheepish of even having particularly evil ideas. I'll let you know what the players come up with.


  1. what's your goal here? Is it a pure thought experiment - are you trying to see how far your players will go?

    If you're working up to saying something about the nature of "actual evil" I think it might be most effective if you remove any vestige of fantasy, like spells and such that offer some sort of rational actor excuse, turning the evil into means toward some possibly not-evil end. The point of the holocaust (for instance) was to get rid of the jews, they weren't charging some magical battery for some other purpose.

  2. The whole point is a spell that is evil in use, not in a cartoonish sense but something that represents black magic as something where the users are rightly feared.

    This isn't a case of making any grand moral point about evil and good. Its simply to add verisimilitude, some things the villains use are not for heroes to use by their very can never be used for anything good.

  3. Channeling - That one's easy. Human (or Humanoid) sacrifice. It's a very common theme to gain power that way. And having to kill an innocent elf, dwarf, or human in a ritual way is a pretty twisted thing.

    Know Alignment - That could involve a pact with dark powers to gain that sort of information (with promises of future services by the demon). Another way this could be dark is that it rips the information from the person's soul, putting the target of the spell in agony while the caster analyzes the results. (Sort of Spiritwrack ( for living people).

  4. Possible winner for Channeling:

    Powered by Love, ripped from Brian Clevinger I believe: The caster transforms love into mana, destroying the love in the process. The caster grows more and more bitter, angry and jaded as it destroys not just his love of people, but his love of things, events items. He now dislikes his favourite brandy, even finds his pastimes irritating and unenjoyable. Perhaps this should be changed though to destroy 'goodness', making the caster more evil with each use?

  5. For the Know Alignment, perhaps a spell that allows you access to as much knowledge as you can retrieve from a person within the time limit. It requires the distillation of their brain, and will only work for approximately 30 minutes following their death. The longer you wait to begin the distillation (which requires a working magical laboratory) the less you can extract.

  6. Hi Zzarchov

    Sorry to intrude on this posting but can't find your email address as I was wanting to pick your brain on your hit point losing wilderness travel system you alluded to in a comment to Alexis?

    See here for background

    And sorry if I initially made a confusion as to your identity which my helpful readers kindly put me straight on.


  7. Channeling: (Spirit Away?)

    The caster can channel any magical ability that they know through any person they know, no matter the distance involved. They must know them well, and be liked them. The evil part about the is that it uses the person's soul to fuel it. They don't die; rather, their soul is destroyed, with only a Wish spell being capable of restoring it. Even worse, they won't know what happened to them, as it does not remove their personality or mind. They will simply experience a great pain, cast some form of magic, and collapse. If they make a successful save, enough of their soul remains to slowly grow back over the next year. However, if killed before six months have passed, they cannot be raised from the dead. If they are killed before a full year, but after six months, they may still be raised as normal, but the timer is reset for their recovery.