The eye of Odin,
Plucked from Mímir's well, &...NO!
...The eye of Vecna!
I've never been a fan of boxed sets. I know that some people like them-- "oh, maps!" they say, I imagine-- but I like books. Durable books, for my gaming-- hardcover over paperback, please. That being said, The Book of Vile Darkness isn't in a format I particularly like; a softcover, a thick pamphlet, & a map, all in a slipcase. Is this what Dungeons & Dragons books are going to be like? The future of Fifth Edition? I hope not. This is just personal preference; I suppose someone might find the binding...no, you know what? I don't think so. There is a "Dungeon Master's Book" & a "Player's Book," but what? No, I don't agree that having the division is needed. I understand wanting to keep secrets from the Players-- though I don't think there are particularly good ones in here-- but I don't think it is a reasonable solution. People buy a book; sometimes those people are Players, sometimes they are Dungeon Masters, & sometimes they do both. What, are people supposed to buy this book...as a couple? I don't get it. Let's put that aside; I don't like the format, that is the first impression I get from the book, & there you have it. Actually, my second impression, since my first impression is "woah, this Wayne Reynolds cover is sweet." The Worm the Walks! All disgusting as heck, with his diabolical tome-- presumably the eponymous Book of Vile Darkness.
Here is the thing; I know I have exaggerated expectations. The Third Edition Book of Vile Darkness by Monte Cook is like, my favorite third edition sourcebook-- okay, after Unearthed Arcana-- so the new Book had a tough row to hoe. The Book of Exalted Deeds, the Third Edition "good" counterpart to The Book of Vile Darkness, is something I'll curse up & down. "Benevolent" poisons? How about being good means not poisoning people? Cribbing the same mechanics as Corrupt Spells (the same system the D20 Call of Cthulhu used for magic, by the way) as like, some sort of sacred stigmata? Lazy! Add on top of that a bunch of over powered classes & feats & ptew. I spit on your grave! The Fourth Edition Book of Vile Darkness isn't that bad. Sadly...well, like a lot of Fourth Edition products, it is all chock full of crunch, of mechanics & rules, & I just...don't care? I mean, they aren't of so much use to me-- any use at all, since I use the Storyteller System for Oubliette-- but I can still appreciate cleverness. Far more ruinous is all the...philosophy? Listen, I don't need pages on what evil means, nor do I need pages on theoretical ways to integrate vile villains into my game. I would more rather...well, I would rather the book followed the writer's adage: show, don't tell. The old Book of Vile Darkness is slithering with Demon Princes & Arch-Devils, you know? Throbbing & thrumming with the (heavy metal version of) evil. It has feats to give permanent wounds-- Vile Damage is probably my favorite side-mechanic of the Third Edition. The Fourth Edition version...has some traps? Some templates for monsters that...let them do more damage? I dunno, I just don't feel it, you know?
It isn't bad! In fact, some of it is quite good; the magical artifact of the Book of Vile Darkness is great. Backstory on that-- so yes, the title of this book is "The Book of Vile Darkness," but in the universe of Dungeons & Dragons, "The Book of Vile Darkness" is also a magical tome, a relic of evil written by the evil magician turned undead lich turned demigod turned god of secrets Vecna. Fourth Edition did magic items the opposite of good, if you want my opinion-- stripping the weird & interesting bonuses in favor of...well, dealing more damage, & making the math of the game require & assume you have them. Yawn. The one thing Fourth Edition did knock out of the park was artifacts-- the ur-items, the relics of legend & lore-- & that system works great for the "Book of Vile Darkness" as an item. I want to put it in a game along side the Hand of Vecna & the Eye of Vecna! & Themes-- I always like themes, even in Heroes of the Feywild. Some are obvious, like Cultist or Vile Scholar, but some are great, like Disgraced Noble...man, Disgraced Noble, I saw that & was so happy. Still, nothing here makes me go-- "oh dang, dang that is really mean, doing that to a Player...yikes...hahah!" & that is bad, because that is what should be happening. I should be cackling with glee, or at least flinching away. Instead...nah. Nothing.