The Dungeons & Dragons Books For Mature Audiences Explained
Two Dungeons and Dragons books released with mature audience warning labels on their cover. The Dungeons & Dragons books that are sold in hobby shops around the world are generally intended for people of all ages, but there was a time when Wizards of the Coast experimented with adult-themed content.
There was a long period where Dungeons & Dragons was dogged by controversy, as parent groups and religious organizations accused the game of promoting Satanism and deviant behavior. The outcry was so strong the developers of the game had to be careful about the content they included, in order to diffuse any further complaints that could keep Dungeons & Dragons out of stores. One symptom of these changes was changing the names of demons and devils in Dungeons & Dragons, in a way that was meant to make them seem more like extra-dimensional beings than biblical fiends.
By the year 2000, the fervor surrounding Dungeons & Dragons had died down, which meant that the third edition of the game could experiment with new kinds of content without fear of controversy. In 2002, Wizards of the Coast decided to release the first-ever Dungeons & Dragons book with a mature audience label - the Book of Vile Darkness.
The Book of Vile Darkness was named after a powerful artifact players could find in Dungeons & Dragons. The real-life version of the book gave rules for things like alcohol and drug addiction, cannibalism, mutilation, sacrifice, and sexual fetishes. The intention was for the DM to be able to go to extremes with their villains, rather than relying on the cookie-cutter definition of evil present in the Player's Handbook. The book also gave advice on running games with evil characters, though this generally won't be to everyone's' tastes, as it can lead to some nasty and selfish behavior on the part of the players.
There are some elements of the Book of Vile Darkness that haven't aged well, with some players objecting to the idea that all drug use or interest in sadomasochism makes a person inherently evil, but the content in the book was unlike anything that had been seen in print up until that point. Dungeons & Dragons players had been used to being treated with kid gloves over the years, which even stretched to the creators, such as Ed Greenwood having to tone down sexual elements in the Forgotten Realms, so it was refreshing to see this kind of content dealt with in an official capacity A second version of the Book of Vile Darkness was released for the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2011, but there is currently no word regarding a new version for the current edition of the game.
In the same way that the Book of Vile Darkness exists as an item within the world of Dungeons & Dragons, there is an opposite equivalent for good characters, called the Book of Exalted Deeds. In 2003, Wizards of the Coast announced that the Book of Exalted Deeds was also being turned into a rule book and that it would deal with the extreme elements of the good alignment. The fans were surprised to hear that this book would also ship with a mature audience warning label, even though its content wasn't going to be anywhere near as extreme as the Book of Vile Darkness.
The introduction for the Book of Exalted Deeds deals with the meaning behind the warning label on its cover. The Book of Exalted Deeds doesn't describe extreme acts of violence or deviant behavior, but it does deal with ethical questions that most players might not be comfortable with including in their game. The average Dungeons & Dragons group has no problem slaughtering a group of orcs they might encounter on the road and they probably wouldn't blink an eye at torturing any surviving orcs for information after the battle. These are common acts in Dungeons & Dragons and few DMs or players concern themselves with the morality of doing these things, yet the Book of Exalted Deeds takes a hard look at the actions of the player in order to see if they truly qualify as being good characters. The Book of Exalted Deeds also dealt with aspects of real-world religion and tried to use them in the context of Dungeons & Dragons, such as stigmata. As such, the creators felt that the Book of Exalted Deeds also warranted a mature audience label, but for very different reasons than the Book of Vile Darkness.
One of the misconceptions about Dungeons & Dragons is that every game is just a power fantasy and that the stories never deal with tough ethical questions. There has been a growing trend with tabletop RPGs (especially with Vampire: The Masquerade) for DMs and players to establish ground rules before starting a new game, where everyone can hash out what kind of material that they are comfortable/uncomfortable with dealing. Rule books like the Book of Exalted Deeds and the Book of Vile Darkness paved the way for those kinds of discussions, which have become more necessary than ever as Dungeons & Dragons has grown as a hobby. A lot of the content present in the books is easy enough to work into the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but the warning labels on the cover should still be taken into consideration, depending on the kind of game players want to take part in.