Path of Wickedness: How to Make a Villain

This section is essentially a copy of the similar section from the "Way of the Wicked" campaign book. However, it has been modified to fit the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition system.

Introduction

Guilty. You are a lawbreaker – the worst of the worst. Too dangerous to live amongst the good people of Talingarde, they dragged you in chains before a magistrate and condemned you. They sent you to the worst prison in the land and there they forever marked you. They held you down and branded you with a runic F. You are forsaken. You won’t be at Branderscar Prison for long. Branderscar is only a holding pen. In three days – justice comes. In three days – everything ends.

What a pity. If only there was a way out of this stinking rat-hole. If only there was a way to escape. If only…

No. No one has ever escaped from Branderscar Prison. This is where your story ends.

What is Talingarde?

Talingarde is the most virtuous, peaceful, noble nation in the world today. This land is ruled by King Markadian V called the Brave of House Darius. He has only one heir – the beautiful princess Bellinda. This benevolent monarchy is heavily intertwined with the Church of Mitra, the Shining Lord. You are from Talingarde. This is your home. You have lived here your entire life. And if they gave you half a chance, you would have your revenge on all of them.

Who is Mitra?

Mitra, the so-called Shining Lord, is the god of the sun, bravery, honor, justice, charity and other such pusillanimous rubbish. The Church of Mitra is the preeminent religion of Talingarde these days. The Knights of the Alerion, the elite warriors of Talingarde, are a Mitran order. The monks of St. Macarius, who travel the land healing the sick and the helping the needy, are also a Mitran order. The House of Darius, the royal family of Talingarde, are devout followers of Mitra.

It wasn’t always this way. Before the Darians took over, Talingarde worshipped an entire pantheon of deities. Preeminent among those deities was Asmodeus, Prince of Hell, Lord of Ambition and Order. Now it is forbidden to worship Asmodeus. To do so is to be condemned. The Mitrans destroyed all the Asmodean temples and burned his books and priests. There are no followers of Asmodeus anymore in Talingarde – at least none you know of. Devout Mitrans will not say the name Asmodeus. He is simply “The Fallen” or “The Enemy”.

How did they catch me?

You tell us. You must pick a crime (there is a list provided below) that you were condemned for. They are only two requirements – you got caught and you really did it.

It’s not surprising that the Talireans (the people of Talingarde) caught you, though. Talingarde is a fiercely lawful and good society. Crime (especially heinous crime like yours) is not tolerated.

System

Making a character for the “Way of the Wicked” Campaign is similar to making characters for any campaign using Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition with just a few modifications.

Step 1 - Determine Ability Scores

Any method will do, but we present here an alternate method appropriate to this adventure path called ‘Focus and Foible’. Besides that one, the point buy method is also recommended. It’s challenging being a villain with the whole world against you.

Focus and Foible

Choose a Focus, an ability score at which you excel. You receive an 18 in that score.

Choose a Foible, an ability score that is your weakness. You receive an 8 in that score.

For the other four, roll 1d10+7 four times in order. There are no rerolls or moving of ability scores. Those are your other four scores.

Why this method?

This method makes slightly more powerful characters on average. It compensates for the potential increase in power by making characters slightly random. Randomness never completely hamstrings a character though (the lowest total you can roll is ’8’ after all) and never gives them an ability score higher than their focus.

Therefore your wizard might have a high dexterity and charisma as well as having a high intelligence and a low strength. The writer finds this tends to create slightly more interesting, unusual and diverse characters. If the randomness and potential for character inequity bothers you, you can always use point buy instead.

Step 2 - Pick Your Race

This is unchanged. All races in the Player's Handbook are permitted, and other races may be allowed with the Dungeon Master's approval.

Certain races that will be more difficult to play in this campaign. Extremely unusual or monstrous races are likely to be troublesome. PCs of those races may find themselves uninvolved in certain parts of this campaign. The PCs after all are on a secret mission to infiltrate and destroy Talingarde. It will be more difficult to infiltrate anything if you are travelling with a dragonborn, minotaur, or goblin for example. Tread carefully with these choices.

Knot of Thorns | Path of Wickedness: How To Make A Villain

Step 3 - Pick Your Class

All classes are permitted for this adventure path. A few classes require some special consideration below.

Clerics are allowed but must worship a god who approves of the villainous path ahead of you. Worshipping the lawful evil god Asmodeus is strongly encouraged (Asmodeus grants the Trickery and War domains). At the GM’s discretion it may be required for clerics and warlocks. The Death domain from the Dungeon Master's Guide would be an excellent choice for this campaign as well, although Asmodeus does not grant it.

Most paladins do not walk the Way of the Wicked. The great majority of Paladins in Talingarde worship the lawful good god Mitra and this is unacceptable for this adventure path. It might, however, be reasonable to play a fallen Paladin of Mitra that retains his or her powers, with the intent of taking the Oathbreaker archetype (from the Dungeon Master's Guide) at level 3 in service to Asmodeus. Such a fallen Paladin would be an excellent choice.

Rangers walking the Way of the Wicked might be well-advised to consider Celestials and Humanoid (Humans) as favored enemy choices. This campaign features a wide variety of terrain, but the coast terrain in particular might be a good choice for the Natural Explorer feature in this adventure.

Warlocks are a fantastic choice for walking the Way of the Wicked. Making a pact with Asmodeus himself or a lesser devil such as a pit fiend (talk to your DM for suggestions) is strongly encouraged and may, at the DM's discretion, be required. However, a pact with another entity could work as well.

While the Draconic bloodline is certainly allowed for Sorcerers, with a little work it could easily be reflavored as an Infernal bloodline.

While any sort of Wizard would be a great choice, creating a prospective Necromancer would be a perfect fit for this adventure path.

Step 4 - Choose Backgrounds

This campaign does not use the normal background rules. As Forsaken, the PCs will generally not be able to rely on their past life and connections. Instead, the PCs each gain proficiency in two skills and a total of two tool proficiencies or languages.

In place of a background trait, every character must choose a crime that landed in them in Branderscar. They were not wrongly imprisoned -- they are guilty of their charge.

Step 5 - Buy Equipment

The characters begin with nothing. They have no money, no weapons or armor, no gear, no animal companions of any sort and no material possessions besides tattered, dirty prison clothes. Equipment will be acquired in game.

Bards begin without an instrument.

Clerics begin having memorized spells for the day. They do not have their holy symbol or any material components however. Druids also begin having chosen all their spells for the day.

Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards do not have their spell books, material components, familiars (if summoned by find familiar) or arcane foci. Wizards, however, begin with a full selection of memorized spells from before their incarceration.

Step 6- Finishing Details

As normal except that good and chaotic alignments are not allowed. Every character must be lawful neutral, lawful evil, neutral or neutral evil. Of those four alignments, lawful evil is definitely the preferred choice. At the Game Master’s discretion, lawful evil may be the required alignment.

There is a further requirement and it is something of an intangible quality. At some point in this adventure path every character is going to have the chance to join an evil organization and swear allegiance to the master of that organization and its patron – the lawful evil god Asmodeus. The adventure path assumes you say yes to this chance. Therefore, you should make a character who can say yes.

The Path of Vengeance

Perhaps right now, you may be experiencing a little cognitive dissonance.

This campaign is about breaking out of prison, joining an evil organization and then seeking revenge. Above, we recommend that characters be lawful evil. You may be asking yourself right now “how is breaking out of prison and getting revenge lawful?”

It isn’t.

Lawful evil is the recommended alignment not because your character is obeying the laws of Talingarde but because your characters seek to impose a new order.

This is not the campaign for chaotic loners or freespirited vagabonds. Those campaigns exist in abundance and if they are what you are looking for, perhaps you are in the wrong place. This is a campaign about joining an evil organization with a wicked agenda. Eventually, you may even come to control that evil organization.

“Way of the Wicked” is a chance to play an unusual sort of character. You will play a burgeoning dark lord -- someone who will rise from imprisonment and destitution to become one of the greatest villains of this age. At first, you will be a minion in service to a sinister plot. But eventually, you will be a minion no longer. You, if you can survive, will become the master.

And that is almost the definition of lawful evil.

Knot of Thorns | Path of Wickedness: How To Make A Villain

Crimes of the Forsaken

Each character chooses one heinous crime that has earned them a place in Branderscar Prison. Each crime grants a different benefit. You may have committed many crimes during your lifetime, but this is the crime that finally got you branded and condemned.

This list of twenty crimes is not intended to be comprehensive. Feel free to invent your own crime, punishment and benefit (with the DM’s approval of course).

Besides simplying choosing a crime, you should also consider how the crime was done. Was this a well-planned criminal enterprise or a crime of passion? Did you do it alone or did you have accomplices? Was this the first time you did this crime or are you a repeat offender? Answering these questions will help flesh out your character’s background.

This has been said before, but it bears repeating. Your character actually perpetrated this crime. You may have done it for what seemed like noble reasons. You may have gotten entangled in this criminal enterprise unwillingly. But there is no doubt that you are guilty. You have not been sentenced to the worse prison in Talingarde unjustly.

You are here because you deserve to be.

Arson

You have willfully started a fire that destroyed property. To be sent to Branderscar, you didn’t start just a minor little trash fire. Your act of arson threatened a major town, city, church or castle and likely cost someone their life. You’ll be punished for your crime by facing the fire yourself.

Punishment: Death by burning

Benefit: When you roll damage for a spell or weapon that deals fire damage, you can treat any 1 on the damage die as a 2.

Attempted Murder

You tried to kill someone and botched the job. To be sent to Branderscar Prison, you did not try to kill just anyone. You likely assaulted someone of great importance and prominence.

Punishment:Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Intimidation.

Blasphemy

Either you have defamed the great god Mitra or you have been found guilty of worshipping one of the forbidden deities (who preeminent among them is Asmodeus).

Punishment: Death by burning

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Religion.

Consorting with the Dark Powers (Witchcraft)

You have been found guilty of summoning an evil outsider. Likely you were captured by the famed witch hunter Sir Balin of Karfeld. The last thing he said to you was, “May Mitra have mercy upon your wretched, damned soul.” If only you could get a chance at revenge!

Punishment: Death by burning

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Arcana.

Desecration

You have violated one of the churchs, cathedrals or holy shrines of the great god Mitra. To be sent to Branderscar this was no minor act of vandalism. Instead you have done something flagrant and spectacular to dishonor the Shining Lord.

Punishment: Death by burning

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Religion.

Desertion

You have deserted from the Talirean military and been recaptured. To get sent to Branderscar this was not some minor or routine dereliction of duty. Instead, you abandoned your post during a time of crisis -- perhaps battle or while defending the Watch Wall. Regardless of the exact circumstances, your laziness and cowardness must have caused loss of life.

Punishment: Death by hanging

Benefit: You gain proficiency in History.

Dueling unto Death

You have engaged in a duel to the death and mortally wounded an opponent. The opponent was honorable enough to say nothing before he expired. Alas that his family or companions was nowhere near so honorable. Dueling was once common in Talingarde before the House of Darius came to power. The House of Barca all but encouraged duels of honor. Now, dueling of any sort is punished severely. Dueling to the death is a sure way to be sent to Branderscar Prison.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Intimidation.

Extortion

You have defrauded money from someone by holding information of their wrongdoing over their heads. To end up in Branderscar, this was no minor act of merely threatening to expose someone. Instead you ave attempted extortion against someone of great prominence and for exorbitant stakes.

Punishment: Life at hard labor in the salt mines

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Intimidation.

Forgery

You have forged documents issued either by the crown or by the Church of Mitra. Alas, that your forgery while competent was not entirely undetectable. To be sent to Branderscar, this was no minor finagling of paperwork. This forged document could have cost lives, undermined the reputation of the Church or endangered the security of the realm.

Punishment: Life at hard labor in the salt mines

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Deception.

Fraud

You tried to bilk someone out of their cash. To end up in Brandescar Prison, this was no petty con job or penny ante racket. Instead, you brazenly tried to defraud someone important of a huge sum of money. And it almost worked too!

Punishment: Life at hard labor in the salt mines

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Deception.

Knot of Thorns | Path of Wickedness: How To Make A Villain

Grave Robbery

It is forbidden by sacred law to dishonor a corpse after it has been sealed in its tomb by a clergy of the Mitran faith. Some may not honor this ban: necromancers, golem crafters, self-styled scientists, and alchemists delving into the forbidden secrets of life and death. These ghouls can expect no mercy from the Talirean Magistrates. And by sending you to Branderscar Prison, you have received none.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Medicine.

Heresy

You have denied the supremacy of Mitra and been condemned for it. For this to be a crime, you were not content to keep your heresy to yourself. You tried to sway others. Likely you were captured by the famed witch hunter Sir Balin of Karfeld. The last thing he said to you was: “Mitra may forgive you yet for your lies. Talingarde will not.” If only you could get a chance at revenge!

Punishment: Death by burning.

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Religion.

High Theft

You had a foolproof plan to steal some great treasure. Alas, the scheme had a fatal flaw and went horribly awry. To be sent to Branderscar prison, this was no ordinary robbery attempt. You tried to steal something of great value or religious significance.

Punishment: Life at hard labor in the salt mines

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Sleight of Hand or with Thieves' Tools (choose one).

High Treason

You have willfully worked to bring down the current Monarch of Talingarde -- the beloved King Markadian V called the Brave of House Darius. To be successfully tried for High Treason you have done more than merely dislike the king, you did something tangible to undermine his rule. Alas, that you failed at your plot and are now headed to Branderscar Prison. Treason is the only crime that is still punished by the gruesome ritual of being drawn and quartered. Your stay at Branderscar will be brief.

Punishment: Death by drawing and quartering

Benefit: You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.

Kidnapping

You have abducted someone perhaps to ransom them or do unspeakable things to them. Unfortunately, you were caught and your victim was rescued (if they weren’t rescued -- you would be guilty of murder instead). To be sent to Branderscar Prison, you must have abducted someone of great importance or in a particularly gruesome manner.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Intimidation.

Murder

You have killed without just cause and been condemned for it. To be sent to Branderscar Prison, this was no typical killing but a particularly savage and unforgiveable act. You may also have killed someone with powerful friends.

Note: You are not allowed to have killed someone in the royal family of Talingarde. You may have tried (this would instead be High Treason -- see above) but ultimately they are too well protected.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: When you score a critical hit, you may roll one of your damage dice an additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.

Piracy

You have been caught in the act of piracy on the high seas. This is a rare crime these days since Markadian I called the Victorious burned the last major pirate fleet to threaten these isles. Still the crime is punished harshly. Likely you are the sole survivor of your ship.

Punishment: Death by hanging

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Deception or Intimidation (choose one).

Sedition

You have attempted to covertly stir up rebellion against your rightful sovereign. This differs from high treason in that you attempted to convince others to make war against Talingarde instead of taking direct action yourself. A subtle difference to be sure. But it is the difference between receiving the swift justice of the axe instead of the slow suffering upon the rack.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Deception or Persuasion (choose one).

Slave-Taking

Slavery is illegal in Talingarde and a very rare crime. Still, once in a great while, slavers from the mainland will foolishly make an incursion into Talirean protected territories. When they are captured alive they are always made an example of.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: When you make a Strength (Athletics) check to grapple, you are considered proficient in Athletics. If you are already proficient in Athletics, you may add double your normal proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus.

Slave Trading

Slavery is legal in other parts of the world and it can be tempting to the most decadent of Talingarde’s nobility to acquire a “souvenir” when traveling abroad or to purchase the object of their desire from a less reputable merchant. However you ended up trading slaves in Talingarde, you were caught red handed and now you will lose more than simply your freedom.

Punishment: Death by beheading

Benefit: You gain proficiency in Persuasion.

Knot of Thorns | Path of Wickedness: How To Make A Villain

Common Knowledge: Talingarde

Here are thirteen things everyone knows about the kingdom of Talingarde.

1. Talingarde is an island. It is about the size of England in the real world. It is an isolated place far from any other nations and outsiders are something of a rarity. In the south it enjoys a temperate clime, but the north of the island is quite cold and often blanketed with snow. Most people avoid this part of the island because it is populated by monsters.

2. Talingarde is a lawful good nation. Talingarde is a place of law and order. Violations of the law are punished severely but fairly. Talingarde is also a place that reveres the ideals of goodness. Clergy tend to the sick, often for no pay. Knights seek to protect the weak. Paladins are fabled individuals often featured in stories and songs. Talingarde might be, in all the world, the nation most committed to the ideals of law and good.

3. Talingarde is a monarchy. It is ruled by good king Markadian V called the Brave. Markadian is a much beloved ruler from a well-established royal family known as the House of Darius.

4. The King has no son. He does however have a daughter, the beautiful princess Bellinda who is twenty years old and still unmarried. The king and the princess are the only full-blooded members of the royal family, though they have lots and lots of cousins and more distant family. The King’s wife Lucinda died in child birth and he has never remarried.

5. The Victor was the first Darian king. Markadian V is actually the great grandson of Markadian I called the Victor who established the House of Darius and defeated the former royal house, the House of Barca, at Battle of Tamberlyn. The Victor remains beloved in Talingarde even decades after his death and you still see statues of him everywhere.

6. The only god you are allowed to worship in Talingarde is Mitra. Once other gods were worshipped, but that all came to an end under the House of Darius. Worship of Asmodeus, arch-enemy of Mitra, is outlawed and punishable by death by burning. Worshipping other nonevil gods is technically allowed but highly discouraged and very rarely seen.

7. Mitra is the Lord of Light. Mitra is the god of light, healing, goodness and leadership. He is usually depicted as having three aspects – a king, a healer or a living flame. Mitra is benevolent god and the arch-enemy of the First Tyrant, Asmodeus.

8. The Church of Mitra is everywhere. No town in Talingarde lacks a church of Mitra. The priests are almost always important men in their community. The second most powerful man in the kingdom is the High Cardinal of the Church, Vitallian of Estyllis. Their word is not law but it is heard and respected and ignored only infrequently. The House of Darius and the Church of Mitra are allies dedicated to keeping Talingarde the bastion of goodness, law and Mitran devotion that it is today.

9. Asmodeus is the enemy of Mitra and Talingarde. Only one faith is banned and punishable by death within the kingdom of Talingarde – the faith of the devil-god Asmodeus, the lord of the Nine Hells. Before the House of Darius rose, Asmodeus was part of the pantheon of Talingarde. Asmodeus was not loved, but he was feared and respected alongside the other gods. Markadian IV called the Zealot outlawed the faith and unleashed the Inquisition against it. In the Asmodean Purges of the twenty years ago, every temple and high priest of Asmodeus was burned. The Temple of Asmodeus never recovered.

10. Talingarde is defended by the Knights of the Alerion. The Knights are a storied and legendary order of warriors who uphold the right, protect the weak and work to see justice done. They are a religious order and everyone has sworn oaths to Mitra. Uniquely, they are not all nobles. Even those of common blood may become a knight if they are deemed worthy. Not every Knight is a paladin, but their order has produced more paladins than any other.

11. Talingarde has six regions. The Island of Talingarde has six parts – The Cambrian Ports, The Heartland, the Borderlands, the Caer Bryr, the Savage North and the Lands of the Yutak. The Cambrian Ports are the three large cities of Talingarde that sit upon the Bay of Cambria. The Heartland is the farms and rural parts of Talingarde. The Borderlands are the northern reaches of the kingdom protected by the Watch Wall. The Caer Bryr is a great forest inhabited by the savage Iraen. The Savage North is a wasteland of ice ruled by monsters. And the Lands of the Yutak are scattered small northern islands inhabited by strange men very different from the men of Talingarde (or Talireans as they are sometimes known).

12. Talingarde is protected by the Watch Wall. Twelve fortresses mark the northern border of the kingdom of Talingarde. These fortresses control every point of access from the Savage North and defend the land from incursion by the bugbears and other monsters that live there. Markadian V called the Brave earned that name defending the Watch Wall.

13. Talingarde is at peace. But will it last?

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