Literature / A Practical Guide To Evil

"It doesn’t matter how flawless the scheme was, how impregnable the fortress or powerful the magical weapon, it always ends with a band of adolescents shouting utter platitudes as they tear it all down. The game is rigged so that we lose, every single time: half the world, turned into a prop for the glory of the other half.”
-Black Knight

A Practical Guide to Evil is a Young Adult (Allegedly) Heroic Fantasy Web Serial Novel written by erraticerrata. Started in 2015 the book is presently (November 2016) entering the final arc of Book II out of 5 planned books. A key element of the setting is that many Heroic Fantasy tropes are enforced by the universe's laws. Black and White Morality is an objective reality with individuals, species and nations that are clearly and Unapologetically Evil and Good. Individuals are able to gain superhuman powers and a certain degree of plot armor by embodying certain archetypes or 'Names' (Capital 'N'), most Names are clearly associated with Good or Evil though some are neutral and/or common. Named individuals are both more powerful than normal people (able to kill dozens or hundreds of Nameless Mooks or Red Shirts single-handedly) and more important to Fate (i.e. the plot). Fate tends to play out in predictable patterns that can be manipulated by particularly Genre Savvy individuals.

The Series follows the exploits of 17-year-old Catherine Foundling a.k.a. The Squire. Orphaned a few years after her homeland The Kingdom of Callow was annexed by their perennial foe The Dread Empire of Praes following a short and utterly devastating war of conquest Catherine was raised at the Imperial House for Tragically Orphaned Girls. Though she resents the greed and corruption of the imperial governor of her home city she is cynical about the prospects of rebellion, instead planning to join the imperial Legions of Terror in order to improve the system from the inside. However when she manages to impress the Empress' most feared general Black Knight she is offered a chance to join the ranks of the Named by taking the role of The Squire.

But the Balance Of Good and Evil is reasserting itself. Where previously a new hero might have appeared in Callow once every few years, they are now popping up every few months, a rate that even Black Knight's supremely efficient spy network can no longer keep a lid on. Meanwhile the very reforms that made it possible for the Dread Empire to triumph so completely are stirring unrest among the nobility of Praes who seek a return to the Stupid Evil ways of the Empire's past. To make matters worse the powerful neighbouring Principate of Procer has emerged from the long, debilitating civil war that has crippled them for so long - and are seeking revenge for the Empire's role in prolonging that conflict. As all of this threatens to boil over into a continent-wide war Catherine must navigate her own, and her country's, path through the turmoil.

This Series provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Penitent's Blade, the sword used by the Lone Swordsman. Has been see to cut through other swords, shields and stone. Backfired at least once when it got stuck in another sword halfway through.
  • Advantage Ball: The function of the more combative Named on the battlefield is to ensure their side has the Advantage Ball, and this usually results in an Epic Duel to the Death.
    • Sometimes the Idiot Ball and the Advantage Ball are in play at the same time - the best example being the Exiled Prince picking up the wrong ball by challenging Cat to a Duel... while standing within crossbow range of the Legion of Terror's line of battle.
  • A Father to His Men: Many characters, including Cat, Amadeus and the Exiled Prince. Amadeus is of particular note, as he is not only regarded highly by the troops he has personally led, but by more or less everyone in the Legions of Terror. He was the one who reformed the Legions to allow orcs to be actual soldiers rather than just Cannon Fodder.
  • Affably Evil: It's pretty much the trademark of Praes' reformers. All of the Calamities we've seen are perfectly decent guys as long as you don't interfere with their plans. The Empress Malicia also has this going for her. The Protagonist, even after she becomes evil, is probably too snarky to qualify, though she is A Mother to her Legionaries.
  • Anti-Villain: The web serial is primarily focused on examining the concept, as well as Pragmatic Villainy, in a world with strict Black and White Morality.
  • Arc Words: "I/We Do Not Kneel" is Black's. "Justification Only Matters To The Just" becomes Catherine's, and become a critical part of her Refusal of the Call.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted, everyone wears armor whenever it's an option and it plays a very important role in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Subverted. Black is intimidating, but his position within the hierarchy of the Empire is much more to do with his political skills and charisma than personal power. Several of his subordinates are far more physically powerful than he is. William tends to play this straighter.
  • Badass Army: The Legions of Terror as a whole. Under Catherine and Juniper, the Fifteenth Legion is becoming one of the most notable examples.
  • Badass Crew: The Calamities for Praes. The triumvirate of Squire, Apprentice and Adjutant seems to be shaping up as this by the way they took on a demon of Corruption.
  • Black and White Morality: In theory the world operates this way, but from the reader's perspective it often seems more like Black and Grey Morality since most of the heroes are Jerkasses, many of the villains are Affably Evil Pragmatic Anti-villains and ultimately both sides are aristocratic societies where the peasantry gets shafted.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Goblins seems to have shades of this, with core values wildly differing from humans. Pickler seems to think saying someone is good at stabbing people while they're asleep is a compliment and later notes that by goblin standards Robber is macho.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Apparently the Lone Swordsman's plan for the Battle of Liesse. He'll sacrifice his life to summon an angel of Contrition that will brainwash all the people in a radius of forty-nine miles to oppose Evil.
  • Breast Plate: Generally averted, most female warriors wear bulky practical armor. The Heiress, however, shells out top dollar to get personally crafted armor that's sexy as well as protective (allegedly, we haven't seen anyone test her armor yet).
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Catherine has a moment where she screams at the sky from a balcony in the Tower after she gets outsmarted by Heiress in court.
  • Crazy Awesome: So many characters. Robber is flag bearer for this trope in the Fifteenth, leading the way with chants of "Kill them, take their stuff!" and "Stab the kidney, loot the corpse!". It seems to run in the sappers, who willingly work with the very dangerous goblin munitions because they like seeing things explode. Catherine has dabbled in it herself, punching out giant devil snakes after climbing up their backs and coming up with the idea of undead suicide goats in the first place.
    • Some of the Dread Emperors in the background seem to have been that way as well. Dread Emperor Traitorous stands out the most, having betrayed a Named called The Betrayer and frequently starting secret cabals with the aim of overthrowing himself. He even passed as his own Chancellor with a paper-thin disguise.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Conquest, when the Dread Empire invaded the Kingdom of Callow. The invasion is considered to have been incredibly one-sided by every character who's mentioned it so far, and it was traumatic enough that most Callowans consider rebellion hopeless.
  • Dark Action Girl: Catherine. Her nemesis, the Heiress may be as well but she doesn't like to do her own fighting.
  • Determinator: Catherine. As she herself points out, on one occasion she basically just walked off being decapitated.
    • Hakram "the Deadhand" is no slouch in the "injury-schminjury" department, either. His nickname isn't just for decoration: when you willingly sustain injury to get what you want, you're hard. When you go to necromancy just so you can keep slugging? You're definitely determined.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The Court of the Dread Empire in the Black Tower of Ater, City of Nine Gates. The Black Knight describes it as the most lethal environment short of an actual battlefield. Just for starters, all the food and wine is poisoned - not necessarily fatally, but with something with visibly embarrassing side-effects. Nobles are expected to have a spy network good enough to find out what antidote to dose themselves with ahead of time.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?? : Inverted - Catherine cons an angel into reviving her, when it refuses she takes her resurrection.
  • The Dragon: The Black Knight serves as this to Dread Empress Malicia, and the Captain serves as this to Black himself.
  • Due to the Dead: Praesi burial practices include the mourners whispering secrets to the corpse of the deceased, to give them something to bargain with the Hellgods.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Legions of Terror operate this way, there is still some racism between the different Praesi species and ethnic groups and against Callowans but institutionally these attitudes are suppressed and the XV legions has officers from all the major human ethnic groups in the empire (Callowan, Taghreb, Soninke, and Duni) as well as Orcs, Goblins and Ogres. Every other faction, good or evil, is openly bigoted against one group or other.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Ha. Ha. Ha. . . No. However, Cordelia Hassenbach, the First Prince of Procer, apparently believes this, or at least fears it to be the case, if the scenario she envisions of a continent wide good vs. evil showdown is to be understood as a genuine portrayal of her expectations.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Heiress believes she is this to the Praesi Reformists, and despises them for departing from the Empire's former For the Evulz ways.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Many, some quite blatant. Callow is clearly a standard Medieval European Fantasy setting and it's people are white with generally English names. The Duchy of Daoine is based on Wales/Brittany- an autonomous border region with celtic-inspired names and culture. The Empire of Praes is made up of several different ethnic groups including the Taghreb (Berber/Bedouin inspired), the Soninke (Sub-Saharan Africa) and the Duni who don't have a clear analogue. There are many other equivalents in the past history of the setting and more distant regions. The references to the three Licerian Wars between the Miezan Empire and the Baalite Hegemony seem to be a reference to the Punic wars, which in this setting were won by the Carthage equivalent.
    • Procer, a land of feuding principalities with an elected head of state, seems a fairly clear analogue of the late Holy Roman Empire, albeit without the Pope.
  • Fantastic Racism: Pretty much every group is racist against most other groups, more specifically:
    • The people of Callow hate the Praesi, as a result of centuries of war and decades of occupation. Many have a particular contempt for the greenskins (orcs and goblins) partly motivated by the orc habit of eating people.
    • The Praesi consist of at least five different ethnic groups, most of which hate each other in some way or another. The two dominant cultures, the Taghreb and the Soninke, have a sort of cordial contempt for each other born out of mutual chauvinism and a long history of conflict. They share their bigotry against the orcs and goblins, who aren't the humans' biggest fans either. The orcs and goblins seem to be only mildly suspicious of one another, probably because their lands are on opposite sides of the Empire and they both hate the humans more. All four groups despise the Duni, the light-skinned inhabitants of the western border lands, as they are associated with the ancient Miezans and the crusader kingdoms that occupied Praes in the past.
    • There's some hints in the story that the Soninke don't even consider themselves Human.
    • The orcs also hate Deoraithe, who hold Callow's northern border against them and with whom they have fought many wars over the centuries. Their preferred epithet for them is Wallerspawn. Interestingly if Breagach is any indication the Deoraithe Watchers don't seem to hate the orcs all that much, viewing them more as worthy opponents.
  • Five Races: Each of the standard good races (except Halflings, who have yet to appear) gets a deconstruction.
    • The classic Our Elves Are Better trope gets played to it's logical conclusion: The elves are technically aligned with the side of Good to such an absurd degree that they consider basically all non-heroes to be evil scum and are so xenophobic and isolationist that any human who comes close to their kingdom in the Golden Bloom is killed without warning. They are nevertheless undeniably better, with a small unit of elven troops reportedly able to slaughter battalions of conventional troops with no casualties.
    • The dwarves, rather than a dwindling remnant, are depicted at the height of their power with an empire that spans the entire continent of Calernia beneath the surface. All of their traditional negative traits are amplified- they believe that no one but a dwarf can actually own property and so dwarves travelling the surface customarily steal everything that isn't nailed down, with surface dwellers generally too fearful of the power of the Kingdom Under to object. They are also in the habit destroying entire surface cities when vexed.
    • Little is known of the gnomes, however their general Bungling Inventor hat has been replaced with an overwhelming technological advantage over all other civilizations. Generally the only time Calernia hears about the gnomes is when they send cryptic threats to any nation dabbling in technology they deem forbidden. Any nation ignoring their first two warnings is eradicated without a trace.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: So feared is one former Dread Empress that if ever her name is mentioned, every Praesi character present immediately prays to the Gods Below to ensure that she never comes back to creation. When she died, half her Legions of Terror went down with her, and it's widely held that she may have tried to conquer Hell when they all ended up there. Such is the Crazy Awesome cultural memory of Dread Empress Triumphant note .
    (talking about why everyone says "May she never return")
    Squire: Is that considered… likely?
    Robber: You tell me, Boss. When she croaked it several of her Legions went down with her. Odds are they ended up in the same place. The old girl conquered more with less.
  • Grim Up North: The northern reaches of the continent of Calernia consist of the Chain of Hunger, a mountain range dominated by some type of horde-like evil species called Ratlings, The Kingdom of the Dead, a kingdom of undead ruled by an immortal Lich-King who also happens to rule over an entire dimension of the hells and all the infernal legions that inhabit it, and the Everdark, which is apparently the domain of warring drow tribes who follow something called the Tenets of Night.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Hilariously deconstructed. Before the Battle of Three Hills the Exiled Prince rides in front of the Legion's formation to deliver his Kirk Summation, taking his helmet off to show off his heroic good looks. Catherine takes the opportunity to shoot him down with a crossbow and the magical arrow-deflecting properties of his armor deflect the bolt upwards into his unprotected neck, turning a potentially survivable wound (for a hero) into a One-Hit Kill
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Black teaches Catherine that relying on any kind of enchanted artifact inevitably leads to this. He seems to have a point what with The Exiled Prince being killed by his magic armor diverting an arrow into his neck, and Catherine killing the Lone Swordsman with his own sword.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Ruling through fear is a large part of why villains tend to fail. More than anything else, a willingness to make Callow a better place and be noticed doing it is the cornerstone of Black and Malicia's plan.
  • Mad Scientist: Masego and Wekesa both qualify. While they are fearsome mages in a practical sense, both of them have outright said that what they are really interested in is tearing apart reality so they can figure out how it works.
  • Military Mage: Part of Black's reforms involved implementing this trope. Each Legion of Terror includes its own Mage lines, capable of acting as massed artillery with a Fireball spell, or of Healing injuries after the battle. Individual Mages may be able to cast wards, scry or perform other spells, and working as a unit they can perform the signature Praesi Ritual Magic.
  • Necromancer: The roles of Black Knight and his chosen Squire tend to come with Name abilities that mimic necromancy to some degree — undead steeds a specialty. However, Masego would be among the first to point out that they aren't true necromancers. He and his dad, Warlock, are. Well, it's just one school of magic they're well-versed in, at least.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: In the old days of For the Evulz style villainy, these were a big thing, especially under Dread Empress Triumphant note .
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons and Devils in this universe are separate but not opposed to each other. Devils are infinite in number they start out as very weak mook types but over time they can develop into much more formidable varieties. They are known to devour human souls. Demons are Eldritch Abomination scale threats that come in a few varieties, each of which involves weakening and contaminating the nature of reality.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Apparently they take Good Is Not Nice Up to Eleven, considering every non-elf non-hero to be scum. They are certainly very powerful though, a single elf can be expected to wipe out a company of soldiers.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The only democracy on the continent of Calernia is aligned with Evil. This is why.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Warlock. Specifically noted several times in the text as only being deployed on the battlefield if the Black Knight is willing to write off the entire location as collateral damage. In one of the later flashbacks we get to see exactly what he did to both earn the Name of Warlock and the sobriquet "Sovereign of the Red Skies".
  • Platonic Life Partners: Catherine and her Adjutant Hakram have this going. The scene where Hakram pledges his loyalty to Catherine splits the difference between a feudal pledge of loyalty and a marriage proposal, under starlight no less. As in so many things, her mentor did in first in his relationship with the Empress.
  • Power Parasite: The Take aspect.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The hallmark of the empire's Reformist faction including the Calamities, the Legions and the Empress. Catherine and her merry band of young villains are in the process of learning the ropes.
  • Precursor Villains: The five Calamities serve as this to the current generation of villains, though they are still active and powerful.
  • Running Gag: Catherine having castrated an ogre in single combat and the increasingly elaborate lies her followers tack on to that.. Robber having a jar full of eyeballs comes up now and then, as does the fact that Hakram is an inveterate gossip.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: Several characters state this to be the way Creation works. Black's entire life has been dedicated to breaking this trope.
  • Smug Snake: Heiress, all the way. The way she constantly schemes against and undermines Catherine while hiding behind her connections had made her arguably the most hated character in the series.
  • Villainous Friendship: Black Knight and the Empress are genuine friends and have been since before she was taken into the Imperial seraglio. This may not prevent them from turning on each other, however. Likewise the Five Calamities are by friendship and trust rather than fear or ambition as might be expected. Catherine follows her mentor's lead in this when she gets her own minions.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Cat does. Or at least, has Nauk do so.