D&D Alignment and the “Big Six” Moral Values

This is another of my responses to Saving the Game’s alignment series they are currently producing (and still will be producing when this post drops). I added that link in here so you can find them, and so maybe they see the pingback and read this article 🙂

Briefly, a moral philosopher named Jonathan Haidt is a proponent of what is sometimes known as the “Big Five” moral values as a way to understand why, for example, liberals and conservatives can have strong moral intuitions that do not seem to overlap. It is kind of like D&D alignments, but for actual people. Those Big Five are Authority and Tradition, Care and Compassion, Fairness and Justice, Loyalty, and Purity. To those five some have added a sixth, Liberty, and I’ll be keeping that change, resulting in a Big Six.

There is a lot more to this conversation, and a good place to start is Haidt’s TED Talk about why conservatives and liberals seem to see moral questions so differently:

<div style=”max-width:854px”><div style=”position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%”>https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jonathan_haidt_the_moral_roots_of_liberals_and_conservatives</div></div>

All that being said, what I would like to do in thinking about alignment in D&D and similar games is to look at the Big Six and see if they can map onto D&D-style alignment in any interesting ways. (If you want to see the Big Six used as an alignment system in an OSR game, check out my own Iron Pax hack on DriveThru) Let’s take a look at how they might map to 5E’s standard alignments:

Authority & Tradition : Lawful

This first one is kind of a gimme. Clearly, if a character values authority and tradition highly, then they are going to lean toward a Lawful alignment of some kind. Of course, this could easily be Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, or Lawful Evil, depending on the traditions in question and how they are interpreted.

Care & Compassion : Good

This one also seems straightforward. If a character values care and compassion for others, it is hard to argue that they would be other than Good in alignment. If they were only concerned for people in their own in-group, then that would coincide with Loyalty. If they were only interested in caring for those who deserved it, that would lean more toward Fairness & Justice.

We can also immediately see how these alignments could be combined. Just from the first two, if someone interprets the Authority & Tradition of their culture in a way that prioritizes Care & Compassion, we could easily call that Lawful Good. Part of my point here is, isn’t it more interesting to take an in-depth look at what these alignments mean, beyond just “Lawful” or “Good”? I think that using more robust moral language is a way to deepen alignment and make it a more interesting rule, or even just a more interesting roleplaying guide. But I’ve said plenty about that before, and I digress.

Fairness & Justice : Lawful or Neutral

I can see Fairness & Justice being interpreted either in terms of legality or impartiality. If someone sees Fairness & Justice as applying the law to everyone equally, I think that this would indicate what we usually mean by Lawful. If, on the other hand, they see this as someone being impartial, that is, judging situations and people on even terms without preference for one group or another, then that would in my mind tend more toward the Neutrality. Is justice judging everything dispassionately on its merits? Or is justice judging everything according to the same laws or standards? The difference isn’t a huge one, but I think it’s noteworthy, in terms of the stance being ‘I am applying these rules to everything’ compared to ‘I consider everything on its own merits.’ I think that both could be interpretations of Fairness & Justice.

Liberty : Chaotic

Liberty was added by others to Haidt’s moral system, and I think it makes a lot of sense as the ‘sixth.’ And connecting Liberty to Chaotic alignments fits with my experience of people who play Chaotic alignments in game – what they seem to want more than anything else is no one telling them what to do. They want to function without an external standard to which they need to adhere. (That’s the best of it, anyway. Certainly there are players who play any given alignment to be jerks, but just don’t game with them)

Normally Chaotic isn’t so much a desire for chaos for its own sake, but rather a desire for freedom, which fits the moral value of Liberty perfectly I think. We can also see how some of these moral values overlap and others do not, or at least not as well. It is harder to imagine someone valuing both Liberty and Authority & Tradition, for example, though not impossible. I suppose that character would end up being a complicated version of Neutral – but I can think if people I’ve met who seem to value both. The classic rural family that has traditional values but also wants to be left to their own devices comes to mind – values/small government voters in the US. For me it is easier to imagine where Liberty and Care & Compassion overlap – I want to care for people, but in my own way and on my own terms. Chaotic Good.

Loyalty : Lawful

Here I think of Valerie in the Pathfinder: Kingmaker computer game (which I’m currently playing and is a great game). Her alignment is Lawful Neutral, and I think they did a great job with her character. Her comments on your choices are always in terms of loyalty and duty – not cruel, but not particularly compassionate either. After you become the baron of the Stolen Lands, she is continually reminding you of your duty as a ruler and your duty to your people over everything else. But even when she disagrees with your decisions, her loyalty remains.

When I think of the moral value of Loyalty, I think of the “My country love it or leave it” types in the United States. Patriotism is to a large degree composed of Loyalty. It is a sense that “these are my people”, almost a pack mentality in a way. This is also one of the moral values that I can easily see sliding into Evil, depending on to whom you are loyal, and how you live that loyalty out. Where Care & Compassion as a primary value could just make you vulnerable and idealistic, I could easily see where Loyalty as a primary value could be turned to evil ends.

Purity : Good, or Neutral, or Evil

Purity is interesting – there is a whole sub-category of disgust psychology that I find fascinating. As always, I recommend for Christians the book Unclean by Richard Beck. Really for anyone, but for Christians in particular, as that is his approach.

Disgust is powerful – it comes to mind that pretty much every genocide that has ever occurred has largely been motivated by Purity-style rhetoric and thinking. Even the name we use, “ethnic cleansing” (a term I dislike), has echoes of Purity and cleanliness to it. Think of films like The Purge for another example of how Purity can be bent toward evil quite readily. “Purity culture” is an example of the damaging influence this value can have in Evangelical Christianity, in the United States at least.

Though valuing purity might also motivate a Jain practitioner to adhere to nonviolence and veganism, for example, or a Shinto priest to diligently serve their community, in the real world. It depends on how one defines what, or whom, is unclean. And, basically, if you are defining any person as unclean, you’re flirting with evil right there in my view. That’s why I say that Purity as a value could map to Good (vegan pacifists), Neutral (cleansing ancestral shrines) or Evil (genocide) quite readily.

Alright, this is a first-thought type of post. What do you think? What did I miss? Would you, like me, prefer to use the Big Six in place of the classic D&D alignments?

Animals as Living Traps for D&D

5 Interesting Facts About Reef Stonefish | Hayden's Animal Facts

I always struggle with traps, as I’ve written here before. Hard to come up with ones that are interesting and make sense in the world’s ecology. Who built them? Who resets them? What makes them interesting? And so on.

I was watching a show about milking the venom from stonefish, and it occurred to me how living things could function as traps. I mean, a stonefish is basically a deadly trap that re-arms itself that would fit in any coastal environment.

The traps below are based on living creatures, assuming that there are fantasy versions of each of them in your setting. I’m also creating 5E rules for each that are modeled after the creature’s capabilities, including lethality, even if this contradicts weaksauce 5E rules for things like poisons.

For each of the following examples, assume that the creature in question is somewhat more potent than the ones found on Earth.

Stonefish

Stonefish might be encountered in any shallow salt water or estuary. These stonefish are larger than the Earth version, and their spines are able to pierce boots, though a character wearing boots has advantage on their saving throw. A DC 15 Survival roll will reveal the presence of a stonefish if a character is searching the area. Otherwise, they are easily mistaken for a stone and might be stepped on by any character. When stepped on, their victim must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw, taking 5d10 poison damage on a failed save and half as much on a successful one. They pain also causes one level of exhaustion on a failed save. This exhaustion can be relieved by a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check to treat the wound immediately after it occurs.

Recluse Spider

AKA fiddle-back, brown spider, or reaper. When bitten by a recluse spider, a character must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 3d10 poison on a failed save and half as much on a successful one. On a failed save, after an hour has passed, the character must make a second Constitution save against a DC of 20 or take 3d10 necrotic damage and have their maximum hit points reduced by that number. This reduction can be negated by lesser restoration or a similar spell. If the bite is treated with a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check, this necrotic damage is avoided.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

Not generally aggressive, but potentially fatal. When bitten, the victim must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw, taking 3d10 damage on a failed save and half on a successful one. On a failed save, after one minute, a second DC 20 Constitution save must be made to avoid taking a level of exhaustion. This exhaustion will continue to accumulate, one level per minute, until either the victim succeeds on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or the bite is treated with a DC 18 Wisdom (Medicine) test.

Sea Wasp/Box Jellyfish

This might be a large Fantasy box jellyfish but the normal ones can be fatal on their own. They are translucent, and hard to see, requiring a DC 15 Perception check to notice floating nearby. Their trailing tentacles have a reach of 10 feet to entangle a swimming creature. Once entangled, the victim must make a DC 18 Con save or take 3d10 poison damage and becoming poisoned, or half damage and no poisoned condition with a successful save. Escaping entanglement requires a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check. If a creature begins it’s turn entangled it takes another 1d10 poison damage.

Bullet Ant Swarm

The sting of a single bullet ant has been described as a 12 hour tsunami of pain, and bullet ants live in colonies of 1,000 to 3,000 individuals. A bullet ant swarm only fills a 5 foot square, and can move 20 feet per round.

When in the area of a swarm of bullet ants, a creature must make a DC 20 Con save or take 2d10 poison damage. They are then stunned until the start of the swarm’s next turn, and take one level of exhaustion. On a successful save, they take half damage but still take the level of exhaustion from the agony. On any consecutive turn that begins in the swarm, the creature must make a new DC 20 Con save to resist a further 1d10 poison damage and another level of exhaustion. On a successful save, they take no further damage, but still take another level of exhaustion.

Piranha School (Swarm)

This description has more to do with the legend of the piranha instead of the actual fish. Blood in the cloudy water of a river is enough to attract this school of fish which functions as a swarm. The swarm is 20 feet square and has a swim speed of 30 feet. When a creature starts it’s turn adjacent to the swarm or enveloped by it, they must make a DC 15 Strength save or take 2d10 slashing damage.

 

Sample 10th Level Spells for D&D 5E

A while back I wrote about 10th level spells in theory, and I’ve noticed that that post gets a little bit of steady traffic, so I thought I’d come up with a few examples of what I had in mind in terms of 10th level spells. I’ll put these in basic layout, and of course you can use them in your games. Quick reminder of the principles I came up with for 10th level spells:

  • A 10th level spell can change the setting in some ongoing way.
  • 10th level spells must be found, or researched, or earned as part of a quest.
  • A 10th level spell can be cast only once, and then it is lost.
  • 10th level spells are how you account for magical effects in the setting that aren’t covered by existing spells or magic items.

Cataclysm

10th-level evocation (Cleric, Druid, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 500 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: concentration, up to 1 hour.

You summon a catastrophic combination of energies that are more than enough to level a town or small city. This spell creates horrific, lethal conditions within a 1000 foot diameter circle that extends 200 feet above and, where appropriate, below ground.

Lightning: any creature that comes within 10 feet of a large metal object risks being struck by static electricity. The creature must make a Dexterity save or take 5d10 lightning damage, or half damage with a successful save.

Rain of acid and fire: The entire area is pelted with a fiery, acidic rain. Every round a character begins or ends out of cover, they must make a Constitution saving throw to resist 3d10 acid and 3d10 fire damage, taking half damage on a successful save. Each minute, the rain will burn through six inches of wood or an inch of stone, meaning there will be less and less cover as the cataclysm continues.

Tremors: The area is wracked by tremors, making all terrain difficult terrain and causing buildings to collapse. Each minute, a given building has a 10% chance to collapse, dealing 4d10 bludgeoning damage to all inside if a wooden structure and 8d10 bludgeoning damage to all inside if a stone structure.

Create Demi-Plane

10th-level conjuration (Cleric, Wizard); Casting time: 24 hours; Range: 1 mile; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

This spell consumes a single magical item that creates or interacts with extra-dimensional space, such as a bag of holding, worth at least 10,000gp.

Permanent Polymorph

10th-level transmutation (Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 30 feet; VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

As polymorph, but the change is permanent until it is dispelled by powerful magic.

Permanent Resistance

10th-level abjuration (Bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: 30 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent.

This spell grants a creature resistance against a single damage type from among: acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, radiant; bludgeoning, piercing or slashing from non-magical sources. Casting the spell consumes a single gem representing the damage type (ruby for fire, etc.) worth at least 5,000gp.

Raise Flying Citadel

10th-level transmutation (Cleric, Wizard); Casting time: 24 hours; Range: 1000 feet; Components: VSMgp; Duration: permanent (until brought down)

This spell is cast by a single powerful cleric or wizard with the support of at least a dozen fellow clerics and wizards. The spell requires 24 hours to complete, and at the end, a stone keep is ripped free of the earth and allowed to float above the earth. It can be guided by a powerful spellcaster (of 12th level or higher) from the inside thereafter. It has a flying speed of 60′, and if not being guided simply hovers in place. This spell obviously requires a material component of one citadel which is not consumed in the casting.

Wish

10th-level conjuration (Sorcerer, Wizard); Casting time: 1 action; Range: self; Components: V; Duration: instantaneous.

This change simply makes the wish spell a 10th level spell so that it can only be cast once, must be found via a quest or deep research, and a DM can be more lenient with the various restrictions on the spell.

Erasure

10th-level illusion (Bard, Warlock, Wizard); Casting time: 1 hour; Range: self; Components: VSMgp; Duration: instantaneous.

This spell makes one creature permanently immune to being targeted by divination magic. The spell consumes an ingot of adamantine metal worth at least 5,000gp.

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #14: Fate Core/FAE

Player Ideas as Self-Compels

Many GMs love using the ideas that players come up with during play. Sometimes the thing that players think is going on is more interesting than what you had in mind, so you just steal that idea. I like this as an overt system in Fate Core – the player comes up with an idea, and the GM can hand them a Fate point in order to make it true. “I hope there aren’t ratmen on the other side of that door…”

Tag Aspects to Help

In many versions of Fate Core, you have three Aspects that are for your character alone and two more that connect your character to the others. I like the idea of using those connective Aspects when helping those characters, letting you spend a Fate point to grant them a +2 on their test.

Aspects: Switching Between Worlds

I like the idea of a Fate Core game where the characters are switching between two worlds – maybe alternate realities, or maybe a mundane world and a fantasy world, etc. The fun would be designing Aspects that are beneficial in one world and that are a liability in the other. Another challenge would be in Skill selection, as there should be Skills that are useful in one world and not in the other – not a general Skill like Lore, but maybe Arcana for the magical world and Education for the mundane one.

Fate and Helping Dice

I like making systems more concrete at the table, using fiddly bits where I can. For helping in Fate, I like the idea of passing the player you are helping one of your own dice (especially since Fate Core dice sets tend to be distinctive colors) that they put on a “+” before their roll. So they end up having a total of five dice to combine.

D&D Using Fate Dice

DnD using Fate Core and Fate Dice. Ability score = DC for everything. Advantage is a + and disadvantage is a -. You would have a much worse chance of doing much worse or much better than your score, and obviously would never be more than +/- 4. But it’s an interesting idea, to me at least, and would result in much more reliable/predictable success and failure and far less swinginess in results.

It occurred to me that since D&D ability scores are from 3 to 20 and DCs tend to be in the 10 to 20+ range with 5E’s bounded accuracy, you could actually use Fate dice for D&D. Get rid of the ability score bonuses and just use the straight ability scores, and you can roll Fate dice versus the given DCs. There would need to be some adjustments made, and there would be more rolls that are simply impossible. It may very well be too much of a spread, but it would be interesting to try out I think. Just set the DCs based on a sense of how good someone would have to be to do these things. Proficiencies could let you set one die to a + before you roll. Advantage could let you set another die to a +, and disadvantage make you set one to a -, and if they cancel out you just roll.

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Scaling D&D 5E Spells

My DM and I were talking about how there are D&D 5E spells that should scale but don’t, so I thought I’d lay down some notes on how spells could scale in my games via house rules. These won’t be full spell write-ups, just my initial thoughts that would become house rules if players wanted to use spells in this way.

1st Level Spells

Alarm –> Greater Alarm

3rd level. If you cast Alarm using a 3rd level or higher spell slot, the area that it can cover is extended from a 20′ cube to an area up to a 100′ cube defined by the caster. This area can include any number of portals (windows, doors, etc) and can be limited in the same ways as the original spell.

Animal Friendship –> Charm Monster

This one is already essentially scaled up as charm monster.

Grease –> Wave of Grease

If you cast this spell with a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can create an additional 10′ square area of grease per additional spell level.

Jump –> Group Jump

If you cast this spell using a 2nd level or higher spell slot, you can affect one additional creature per additional spell slot.

Speak with Animals –> Speak with Monsters

4th level. As with speak with animals, but you are able to speak with creatures of any type, whether they normally speak a language or not.

Tenser’s Floating Disk –> Tenser’s Island

3rd level. You create a disk 10′ in diameter that can carry 5,000lbs but otherwise functions like Tenser’s Floating Disk.

Thunderwave –> Thunder Cone

2nd level. As with thunderwave, but the effect is in the shape of a 15′ cone. Thundercone could also be an entirely different spell.

Unseen Servant –> Unseen Staff

3rd level. You summon a staff of unseen servants, and the maximum distance from you extends from 60′ to 120′. The half-dozen servants otherwise function like unseen servants.

2nd Level Spells

Cloud of Daggers –> Storm of Daggers

When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can choose to create one additional 5′ cube of daggers per spell level rather than increase the damage.

Enlarge/Reduce –> Greater Enlarge/Reduce

4th level. Your size is tripled or divided by three, moving from Medium to Huge or Medium to Tiny for example. Weapon damage increases by 2d4 or is reduced by 2d4, with additional effects at the DM’s discretion.

Locate Animals or Plants –> Locate Anything

Locate Object –> Locate Anything

Locate Creature –> Locate Anything

6th level. Name a creature, person, or location. For the duration of the spell (concentration, up to 1 hour) you know the direction to the target of the spell as long as it is on the same plane of existence, regardless of distance.

Misty Step –> Misty Journey

4th level. As misty step, but you are able to affect up to six willing creatures at once if they are within 30′ of you. If creatures are currently engaged in melee, they will provoke attacks of opportunity when they step (but not when they arrive). (That’s the limiting factor for this potentially very powerful effect)

3rd Level Spells

Speak with Dead –> Greater Speak with Dead

5th level. As speak with dead, but the target does not need to have a mouth and can be undead. You can call up any spirit as long as some physical remains exist.

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Playing with Gender in D&D

Playing with Gender

This all started with goblins, but ended up being this little brainstorm I had during Save Against Fear. There are little kernels of this idea in D&D already, but I wanted to play out a view of sex and gender for the major intelligent species of D&D that fit with the lore as it is but was more interesting than just assuming two sexes and two genders in every case (which is ridiculous even with humans alone, not to mention every other intelligent species in D&D).

Note: this is not me wishing we could have lots of discussions and arguments about pronouns, multiplied times all of these intelligent species. That does not sound fun for me. He, she and they should cover it for these options in my opinion.

Goblin Gender

Otherwise this will be alphabetical, but I’m starting here because this was the first thought I had that led me along this path. I’ve always wondered about goblinoids: goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. Where do the drastically different body types come from? Do they intermarry? Can they interbreed? In previous editions they were just an outlier – where most intelligent species are ‘humanoid’ they are over there, the ‘goblinoids’, the other.

I realized, wouldn’t it be fun if all goblinoids are the same species, except they have three sexes, and the three types of goblinoids are their three sexes? So one sex is goblin, and one sex is hobgoblin, and one sex is bugbear, and it takes all three to reproduce. They all are born goblin-ish, and then have a big growth spurt if they are going to grow up to be hobgoblins, and then another growth spurt to become bugbears.

If you ask them how they make babies with three sexes, they of course attack you, because that’s an incredibly rude question.

Dragonborn Gender

Dragonborn (and maybe lizardfolk as well) are hermaphroditic with three genders. A dragonborn self-fertilizes when they are ready and lays a clutch of eggs. This is taxing and difficult, and when the dragonborn hatch they are much more helpless than normal for reptiles and require years of care like human infants and children. So the three genders are the One Who Lays, the One Who Guards, and the One Who Gathers. The first one is obvious. The second gender is taken on by a dragonborn who takes responsibility of guardianship for the layer and for the young. The third gender is for the dragonborn who takes responsibility to go out into the world and accomplish what needs to be done to support all three – hunting, gathering, earning gold, whatever.

Dwarf Gender

Dwarves have two sexes and one gender. Every wonder why all the jokes about dwarf women having beards and looking a lot like dwarf men? That’s because dwarves only have one gender. Though males tend to have thicker body and facial hair than females, they all are performing the same gender for all intents and purposes. Perhaps there are nuances there visible only to fellow dwarves.

Elf Gender

Elves have two sexes but are genderfluid over time. When you meet an elf, you are meeting someone on a 700 year long journey of exploration.

Gnome Gender

Ancient gnomes had a very strict system of two sexes and two genders. Modern gnomes are all transgressive about how they perform gender, and often take on aspects of the genders they see around them among other intelligent species. Intersex gnomes are held in high regard, meaning that they now functionally have three sexes.

Half-Elf Gender

Half-elves are normally born to human and elven parents at some point in the elf’s centuries-long life. What they call their parents could be unique to a particular half-elf, and they might very well be born to a mother who later, when the half-elf meets them as an adult, is now a man, and possibly even a father to new children. So half-elves tend to cling to their human side for stability, or embrace the fluidity of their elven side.

Half-Orc Gender

Half-orcs raised with orcs are given their purpose from the gods. Half-orcs raised with humans tend to choose and perform a human gender, though sometimes they encounter orcs later in life and are given a purpose then.

Halfling Gender

Halflings have two sexes and three genders. The three genders for halflings are male, female, and bachelor, in honor of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. And, as far as we can tell, Merry and Pippin and Gaffer Gamgee and loads of others. Of course, women can be bachelors too. No self-respecting halfling would call her a bachelorette.

Human Gender

Humans have two sexes and three genders. But you don’t need terminology for this. You just describe men and women and intergender/nonbinary people, and then some of the men happen to be trans men and some of the women happen to be trans women. You have a lot less baked in bigotry, which is fun anyway.

Some Other Thoughts

Kenku Gender

Kenku keep their sexes secret from outsiders, though most assume they have two. In a kenku community, there is the gender of the sitter and the gender of the builder. A sitter is the one who primarily sits on the eggs while they develop, though a group might trade off on this activity, one tends to be primarily. The builder is the one who is responsible for building a nest, initially to garner the interest of potential sitters.

Orc Gender

Until adolescence orcs do not acknowledge gender. At adolescence, an orc goes into the wilderness to commune with the gods (this could be a metaphorical urban wilderness). The gods tell them their purpose and place in society, and that is functionally their gender. Some will have the purpose of parenting, but others won’t, and the part in society they perform is more important than what other species tend to think of as gender.

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RPG Setting Round-Up #3: Villains by Necessity

Villains by Necessity is a novel by Eve Forward, and reading it was the start of my ongoing ideas about running a D&D style campaign where evil PCs save the world despite themselves. I start from the germ of her idea, which is very D&D-esque, and have built outward from there. I’ve run what I call, uncreatively, “The Evil Campaign” three times so far, and it has been consistently really fun for me and for the players. For one of those run-throughs, we handed off DMing so I also got to play in a version of it. The premise is pretty simple, I can just bullet-point it:

  • The Last Battle against evil has happened, and good won. The Dark Lord or Lady or Whomever was cast down in ruin, their towering iron fortress leveled (or recycled), and their armies scattered.
  • In the aftermath, the forces of good deal with the question of how to handle all of the leftover ‘evil’ people and races (yes, this campaign takes racial alignment starting at face-value, as a way to criticize it – it is an assumption of many in the world that is false). Basically, Sauron is defeated, so what do we do with all of these Orcs, Easterlings, and Haradrim?
  • Rehabilitation Camps are opened, where evil creatures are redeemed through calisthenics, encouraging mantras, re-education, and of course some quiet slave labor.
  • 100 years pass, and the PCs are the last evil people they know in the whole world. They find out that there is a scheme to magically eliminate evil forever, and they grudgingly come together for mutual survival and to stop that scheme.

To me this is a fun campaign idea that addresses some of the problems that evil campaigns run into, and I encourage you to spin it off and run your own. Here are some notes and ideas I have for my next one.

D&D Roadside Attractions

DnD needs more roadside attractions as PCs travel around. They could be related to the rise of the Heroes of Legend, or to things that used to exist, like a theme park that is modeled after an orc village, where you can buy “authentic handmade orc crafts” and drink “traditional orc blood-mead.” The kinds of roadside attractions you create would be a great way to tell the players what people think their history is, what they value, and even what they have forgotten. A 1st level adventure could clearly be the PCs coming across a mysterious roadside attraction. Someone is charging admission, but they go further in than they’re supposed to, and find out this “ruin” is still active.

So, google some real-world roadside attractions, and then create D&D versions of those. A giant concrete dragon advertising a caravanserai. The world’s largest ball of hemp rope, the very rope that was once given to adventurers 50 feet at a time! A library named after a famous barbarian princess and decorated with taxidermy monsters.

An Angel for Every Town

Every city has its own angel. And the angels should be freaky, like Bible angels and mythical ones more than D&D ones. The angel will become the theme of the city – angel of rivers, angel of trees, angel of iron, etc. This angel should be a constant presence while you are in the city. It could be the reason there isn’t much of a police force, and not many soldiers guarding a city. What would make this more interesting is to have the angel maintaining its own priorities that are not understood by the mortal populace, who assume the angel is there on behalf of their religion, and the angel lets them think that in order to accomplish what it wants to accomplish.

I like this as a call-back to Revelation, where there are messages for each of the angels of seven early churches.

Goblin Dimorphism (Trimorphism?)

Hobgoblins are just female goblins, kind of like the etymology of names for female humans in many languages (man/woman, ish/ishah). Maybe bugbears are a third gender, but goblins won’t explain how it all works to non-goblins. Humans took to calling them bugbears from folklore, and because they didn’t have a word for a third gender. So goblins are just three genders, and if you ask them how reproduction works for them, they tend to kill you in your sleep. Maybe goblin children all look similar, but then grow up and hit puberty and some grow larger to become hobgoblins, or larger and hairier to become bugbears.

Arcanotech Religious Interface

This would also work for a religion in a setting like the Ninth World – I’m imagining an arcano-technological interface that lets you select from a number of gods with which to make contact. Contacting the deity is like talking to Alexa or Siri. Clergy charge for access, a one-question amount, or by the minute like a phone-sex line, and they keep timekeeping devices handy to make sure you don’t go over your minutes. Addicts show up, wanting the experience of talking to a deity again and again. Are these really gods, or AIs, or demons, or complex algorithms telling people what they want to hear? Cold-readers in another room with remote access?

Truly the Darkest Timeline?

The defeat of the Dark One caused a rift in the multiverse, and there is an alternate world where the Dark One won, which is demonstrably worse than the default setting for the evil campaign (which is far from perfect). It is like the Midnight setting, a place of widespread misery, repression, and necromancy. In part, this is just my reaction to the vapid morality of “good and evil are just two sides of the same coin”, which is of course absurd. Good-intentioned people can create a dystopia, which is what the evil campaign is about, but good and evil aren’t both somehow needed for “balance.”

In part this comes from my own daydreams about an alternate universe where Al Gore was declared President by the Supreme Court, climate change was mitigated, and we’re all in self-driving electric cars enjoying our socialized medicine, there never was an Iraq War, etc.

Have you ever run an evil campaign? It’s tricky. How did yours go?