A while back there were a couple of excellent posts about evil and evil religions one by Friar Dave at Blood of Prokopius and the other by Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic. Friar Dave goes into detail about what is evil and his concept boils down the absence of good (or God) there is evil. Fair enough. But for gaming purposes it doesn't work for me. Rob Conley takes on evil religions from a historical point of view. It sparked quite the flurry of activity and debate. Rob's points are solid, but the problem I had with it is it based in reality. I don't know about all you out there, but I play a fantasy game with spell slinging wands and greedy little goblins and swords that glow and beans that turn into giant bean stalks and where decapitating a troll is celebrated with elven wine. I'm not anti-reality, in fact I use it as a foundation to my campaigns, but there is a strong fantasy element that lets me tweak whatever I want. And I want evil religions in my campaign. There, I said it and it doesn't make me a bad person.
Developing an evil religion is tricky. I don't like to make mine the mustache twirler. Again for this there are different ways I approach this. One version is a cult or sect of an established religion. This group is usually made up of extremists that have taken one part of the teachings and developed their entire philosophy around it. Skewing the intended meaning when taken out of context. These make wonderful enemies and add a lot of flavor on a small scale. Cults are formed around a charisma leader. The leader is usually well versed in the religion he is preaching. He develops an 'us against them' mentality. He wants to build his own power base by keeping those around him loyal by using fear. Soon you have this core of people who will do anything. When something threatens the power structure, whether that threat is within or outside the group, it is dealt with harshly. All in the name of the god they worship.
The second version I use is 'it depends on which side of the line you are standing' evil. I have two gods that are always battling and their people follow suit. The followers of Delaquin think the followers of Sarrath suck and Sarrath followers of Delaquain are the suckiest. Both believe the other is evil. If I have characters that are coming in from the Delaquain side and they are in a culture that prays to her then Sarrath is going to come off as the evilest dude since the guy who decided to put peanut butter and jelly in the same jar. That just ain't right. And the same if they decided to start on the Sarrath side. In the beginning it's easy for one side to start hacking away at the other. They are evil and need to be destroyed. But once the religion is explored they may find they have way more in common than different. Epiphany baby.
The third type of evil religion is the true evil. The kind of evil where the followers of both Sarrath and Delaquain agree to put aside their differences and deal with their common enemy. This is usually some sort of primal force such as chaos or in my campaign oblivion that manifests itself and needs to be purged from the realm. Is this a religion? There is a strong enough movement that believes if the structure of pantheon can be destroyed and all those in power are brought down then a new world can be rebuilt in their view of how things should be. Another example from my campaign is when the god of the underworld decided he should lord of the gods and started putting foot to them. And everyone pays their respects to the god of the underworld, he decides who goes where and they want to get where they are going. During this time this god ended up murdering one of the more beloved goddesses who promoted peace and harmony. Her death corrupted him further. So you have this god gone insane who controls where the souls go. The people are screwed. The gods are screwed. He demands to be the only god worshipped and his clerics threaten if the people don't worship him alone than when they die they will be sent to the very worst of places.
The forth version of an evil religion is the racial version. This is a fantasy campaign and you may have evil races. Well they general worship someone who shapes their beliefs. The one that always stood out for me from the old Deities & Demigods was Gruumsh, god of the orcs. It seemed like a natural fit. So this kind of god can be added as an evil religion because they have a prolific race backing him or her.
Next part will include kingdom and empire building.