Li Po's Guide to the Gray Waste
Living the Neutral Evil Alignment

If I say to myself: "Let darkness hide me,
let the light around me turn into night!",
even darkness is not dark to You,
the night is as bright as the day.
For darkness is transparent as light to You.

        -- Psalm 139

I don't feel guilty for anything I've done. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.
        -- Ted Bundy

Centers or wooden frames are put under the arches of a bridge, to remain no longer than till the latter are consolidated, and then are thrown away or cast into the fire. Even so, sinful pleasures are the devil's scaffolding to build a habit upon; and once formed and fixed; the pleasures are sent for firewood, and hell begins in this life.

        -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit in the center and enjoy bright day.
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the midday sun.

        -- Milton, Comus

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

        -- Josef Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Psychopaths seems to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feeling. While at times they appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow, and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression that they are play-acting and that little is going on below the surface. Sometimes they claim to experience strong emotions but are unable to describe the subtleties of various affective states. For example, they equate love with sexual arousal, sadness with frustration, and anger with irritability. "I believe in emotions: hate, anger, lust, and greed," said Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker". The apparent lack of normal affect and emotional depth led psychologists J H Johns and H C Quay to say that the psychopath "knows the words but not the music". For example, in a rambling book about hate, violence, and rationalizations for his behavior, Jack Abbott made this revealing comment: "There are emotions -- a whole spectrum of them -- that I know only through words, through reading and in my immature imagination."
        -- Dr. Robert D. Hare, "Without Conscience:
            The Disturbing World of
            the Psychopaths Among Us"
Men are not in hell because God is angry with them. They are in wrath and darkness because they have done to the light, which infinitely flows forth from God, as that man does to the light of the sun who puts out his own eyes.

Help yourself to my Planescape Character Generator for MS-DOS.

In some liturgies, worshippers renounce, or reaffirm their renunciation of, "the glamour of evil." On the Gray Waste, the glamour of evil is the satisfaction that comes from a conscious decision simply to despise others. Ego satisfactions come from owning things you don't need, enjoying a range of sensual experiences that degrade you and others, and simply hurting others for fun. In our own world, some people think this is what they really want.

Li Po, the gentle cleric of peace, is your guide to the "Gray Waste", the supremely sad underworld, devoid of both love and purpose. In TSR's wonderful "AD&D" / "Planescape" milieu, this is the spiritual realm where Evil is supreme over both Law and Chaos.

Even if you do not profess good alignment, please respect TSR's copyrights for all its material. Our own world would be dreary and colorless without art -- and this flourishes only when artists are assured of a fair return on their work.

Medieval Europe, the culture on which much of AD&D is based, depicted the spiritual powers of evil as ugly and dangerous, like human misbehavior, but also vulnerable and ignorant.

Li Po and I believe that this mirrors real life. When we see how repulsive evil is, most people will make the right choices most of the time. So long as we live, we can try to find the grace to live better.

"The Gray Waste" is universes of outer darkness and utter tedium, where all colors fade, all lights are dimmed, the sky is empty, and no semblance of love is to be found. Colors, even dimmed, hurt the eyes of the locals. This is the spiritual home of creatures that are utterly vicious and without love, who seek fulfillment through sheer cruelty and intimidation. As on all the evil planes, the locals say that love is a cruel charade and that no creature is genuinely good. Instead, they like making others miserable for its own sake. Many of the things that they enjoy most are probably better left undescribed. The spiritual powers of the Gray Waste seek to corrupt souls in the most primitive ways, appealing to vanity, lust, greed, and cynicism. Here they are addictive, and will quickly destroy the ability to be happy. In the Gray Waste, even the things here that may once have brought joy now no longer do this. The locals find full satisfaction only in carrying out acts of heartless cruelty. The most cynically evil creatures have their lairs here. Some visitors seek out the plane as the ultimate test of one's strength of body and soul. Any un-repented crimes that visitors may have committed may prove to be public knowledge here. New arrivals have vivid dreams of their most intense feelings. Upon awakening, they find the feelings gone. Monoliths flash brilliantly-colored searchlights, and those upon whom the beams fall lose the emotions or memories that are most precious. Visitors must save vs. wisdom at the end of every week or become insane and despair of ever leaving. They will find their natural tendency to be affectionate, even with their friends, diminishing. And their ability to create and to enjoy beauty and goodness, is being drained from them. However, alignment will not be compromised. Having a good cleric in the party, and accepting this cleric's ministry and struggling to be kind and generous, might prevent this -- provided that this is an actual role-playing focus. If you have not yet despaired, you will reach any destination in three times the normal time. Yet if you have given in, you probably no longer seek to travel. A referee might reasonably decide that no healing or restorative magic of any sort works here. All creatures look more or less dead. The locals seldom show feelings, and never show love. Faith communities exist and are dedicated to the pursuit of members' self-interest. They are not just selfish -- they actively seek to do harm to others in order to demonstrate their own superiority. What is most likely to unite these communities is the attitude that kindness is weakness, and that goodness is an illusion or a sickness of the mind. They are enormously proud of having realized what they think to be the truth -- that everybody who claims to be good actually has a hidden, selfish agenda. They claim to see the world as it really is, uncolored by lies about the possibility of real altruism. This is the only place in the universe where evil offers no excuses or additional agendas. Because evil is so powerful here, the locals lack even the ordinary loves of our world -- family, friendship, romance. These instead become ways in which a stronger being preys on a weaker being.

The locals will know if the player-characters have ever harmed others simply for personal gain or amusement, regardless of professed alignment. They will use this information to try to persuade the adventurers that the Gray Waste is indeed their spiritual home. Of course, open-faced evil is poor politics. The locals will present themselves to outsiders as people who "really understand life", without illusions that make people weak or foolish. There are many models for this in the non-ideological dictatorships of our own world. The locals will talk a lot about cruelty as a way of "building character." Evil deeds, or any use of death magic or necromancer's spells might tend to transform the character progressively (1-10% chance each time, DM decides how to check, and what result.) Those who persist (i.e., six failed checks) become NPC permanent residents. Primitives will find ice-cold realms of utter boredom, populated by owls and spiders. Mottos mostly involve "promoting excellence" and "looking at things as they really are". Public portals between the layers and to remote planes appear as temples to the idols of ignorance, sensuality, lust, greed, vanity, bigotry, bad magic, and hate.

Oinos is a universe of filth, disease and sick minds, where Anthraxus and the other bestial lords of disease maintain their tower. The theme here is depravity. The spirits of the most flamboyantly evil suffer from grisly diseases as a sign of spiritual sickness. This is the spiritual home of the most cruel of the sensualists and the sorcerers. At the center, a whirlpool in the Styx returns the evil of evil visitors dying on the plane to their planes of origin. Perhaps this route, or other routes, offers safe passage to those seeking to be rid of their own darker sides. This is a common location for the headquarters of evil cults devoted to disease or magic. The Stamphalian birds flock in the foul and rotting marshes. Rusty orange pools into the astral appear in the filthy swamp waters, and can be moved wherever the ground is swampy. The sight of these patches of color, leading to an alien world, makes the locals uncomfortable. Known Portals to the Outlands, Gehenna or Carceri (Tartarus) are often holes in gigantic spinning coins. Don't expect leaving to be easy, especially not to the Outlands. This is a common location for the headquarters of evil cults devoted to disease, drugs, or dark sensuality.

How do you role-play an evil cleric?

It is one thing to be compassionate and tolerant of real differences. It is another to advocate or promote behaviors that will predictably lead to serious harm for those engaging in them.

In my own experience and reading, many (not all) of our own world's self-styled "New Agers" (the new / revived nature religions, etc.) and so forth talk endlessly about sex, and make the seeking of sexual satisfaction a central focus. At the same time, they are silent about real, enduring affection between people with common interests and goals. I'd find the same fault generally with today's Christian Left. Life has taught me that sex and love are two very different things, and that most people really want the latter more than the former. This is why the mainstream religions still encourage (though few try to force) people to delay full sexual satisfaction until there is a stable marriage. If your own experience has been different, you will have to decide that I am terribly wrong.

One of the greatest moral failures in my own life was my failing to speak up when a group of "mental health professionals" heckled a perfectly kindly and gentle little nun who had said that, just as a personal decision, she had chosen to remain celibate in order to devote her life to the service of humankind. One person actually called her a "self-righteous bitch." If I'd said anything, it would probably have affected my grade. (This was in 1975.) I'm still ashamed.

Niflheim is an arctic universe of blighted, colorless pines, icefields, snows, frost, fogs and mists. The theme here is hate and meaninglessness. The spirits of the most cold-hearted dead are locked into the trees and ice. The roots of the World Ash are gnawed here by the dragon Nidhogg and her loathsome spawn. The tree might offer escape to those who seek a better life, as it leads to the Viking Heavens, where warriors bear each other no grudges but rejoice in camaderie-in-arms. There are palaces here, where the walls and ceilings drip poison and the floors crawl with venomous snakes. This is the spiritual home of all who consciously decided to live without loving others. The Legion of Merit, from Li Po's world, has its headquarters here. ("Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for I am the meanest son of a bitch in the valley." "If you love a thing, let it go. If it comes back, it is yours forever. If it doesn't come back to you, hunt it down and kill it.") This is a common location for the headquarters of evil cults devoted to cold or hate.

How do you role-play an evil cleric?

I would like to offer, as a near-perfect model of a neutral-evil cleric, the TV evangelist who is once the nation's most prominent anti-semite, the last major advocate for young-earth creationism, and the last major proponent of laetrile.

It is inconceivable that this individual does not know, by now, that he is peddling untruths. Mainstream and even very-conservative Christians have even posted sites urging others to "deal pastorally with him."

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

        -- Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"

Pluton is a stately, ruined universe of graves, black willows, dry poplars, fields of asphodel, classical sculptures, and black marble interiors, all dying or in disrepair. Souls are locked into the treasures of the realm. All entrances are guarded by Cerberus. The blight-ridden grove of Persephone is here, and the wealthy house of Hades. The Coagulated Sea is here, filled with dread monsters and cluttered with gold-laden, becalmed ships whose pirate crews are locked in immobility. There is a realm in which souls are twisted into precious metals, stock certificates, and so forth; gold bullion and brilliant jewels might retain their color here and torment the eyes of the greedy shades. This is the spiritual home of all who made money their god. Here one can find the multiverse's most ostentatious displays of private wealth, especially as platinum and colorless diamonds. The love of wealth is displayed here as the root of all evil, and here one can sell one's abilities, virtues, and soul, provided one is acting of one's informed free will. The roots of Mt. Olympus lie here, perhaps offering escape when visitors realize that happiness is not to be found in material things, but in pursuing the transcendent and the good. This is a common location for the headquarters of vile cults devoted to death, darkness, greed, robbery, and wealth.

How do you role-play an evil cleric?

There are entire "Christian" ministries that focus on gaining wealth, money as the entitlement of a person of faith, and so forth.

Spell alterations in the Gray Waste: Every spell cast will have the most evil effect possible. All color-based spells fail. Summoning spells bring participants from the nearest never-ending war, the power of the spell has nothing to do with the power of what is brought, and they are resentful. Divinations need not be true, and will always given the saddest answer. Charms are saved against at +3, or if no save is allowed elsewhere, a normal save applies here. But when a charm succeeds on someone who's been under the gloom's influence for less than two weeks, it snaps the object out of it. Or perhaps (my idea) the only "charm" that really works is the effectively role-played preaching of a good cleric or lay minister. Objects enchanted are at bonus effectiveness, so long as they could be used for evil. If they are strictly enchanted for good, the enchantment fails. All undead are free-willed and evil-aligned, and "Animate Dead" produces ghouls. Wizardly necromancy fails if cast for a good purpose. Pseudoelementals are always evil, and are free-willed. Spell keys probably can overcome some of these problems.

Wizardly spell keys are variable for each school and layer, involving taking something away from somebody. Power keys are unholy symbols, with some indication of the single sphere for which each one functions, and are rarely given.

Third edition "Manual of the Planes" focuses primarily on simplifying and encouraging individual campaign creativity. Ideas include:

  • The suggested color for pools from the astral is rust. Ethereal curtains might be dark red.
  • The dead are immune to cold and fire, and as an additional ability are incorporeal.
  • The plane is "strongly evil-aligned". Non-evil creatures have -2 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks.
  • I respectfully suggest that the actual effect might be

      -1 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks for all non-good, non-evil creatures
      -2 on all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma checks for all good creatures
      Good-based spells simply fail.
      Evil-based spells work as if caster were 4 levels higher.
      Law-based spells (non-good) are unaffected.
      Chaos-based spells (non-good) are unaffected.

    The Fourth Edition retains Pluton as a place of gloom and funerary wealth, inhabited by those who feared real death and chose undeath instead. The gloom and despair -- though not the tendency to turn nasty -- reappear in the newly-introduced Shadowfell. Perhaps visitors would get bonuses or penalties to intelligence, wisdom, and charisma-based skill checks depending on how much their behavior has been in keeping with the ideals of the locals.

    In keeping with the flexibility of the third and fourth editions and the backgrounds of many players, perhaps the Gray Waste is essentially a world where like-minded spirits meet. It looks and works like our own world, except that its lack of color is a metaphor for the renunciation of all love. NPC attitudes are typically "hostile". The daemons of the Gray Waste are a fiendish, non-human (or formerly human) race devoted to promoting the community's ideals among the living by encouragement and subtlety, rather than by force. The dead find communities matching their own ideals and interests, and continue to live much as they did on earth, though no longer able to visit the Prime Plane.

    Instead of the "gods" of polytheism, each living Neutral Evil divine spellcaster is sponsored (and monitored) by a prayer fellowship with similar interests based on the Gray Waste. For the fourth edition, I suggest no penalties for divine spellcasters from elsewhere. For earlier editions, I respectfully suggest that the only penalty for such a cleric on a differently-aligned outer plane is the loss of one spell of the highest available level for each plane removed, with the Outlands two planes from Mechanus, Elysium, Limbo, and the Gray Waste. When one level is depleted, spells of the next highest level are lost. Thus a cleric sponsored from the Gray Waste would lose one spell on Carceri or Gehenna, four spells on Elysium, and six spells on Mt. Celestia or Arborea. Moving to the Outlands loses two spells.

    A world where love is despised above all things would be as dreadful as any rules-intensive world ever visited by adventurers.

Referees might not want players to realize that they have entered Hades. In dim light, and with "light" spells failing and artificial light muted, the absence of color might not be apparent. Depending on the site of arrival, visitors might simply recognize that something in the environment is draining away their ability to love others and to enjoy life. The local clergy will say that this is the key to true spirituality.


Why is the loss of feeling the metaphor for unalloyed evil?

Gary Gygax's brilliant original description of the Outer Planes designated "the three glooms of Hades", the classical Greek underworld (the gloomy part was actually "Erebus"), as the home of Neutral Evil.

The ancients often thought of the afterlife as a place of darkness and privation. In the Enuma Elish of old Mesopotamia, all the dead, good and bad, live deprived of light and joy. In the Odyssey, the hero restores the spirits of the dead to brief awareness using fresh blood. The shade of Achilles says he would rather be the most miserable living slave than king among the dead. Norse mythology envisioned Hel's abode of darkness for all who did not die in battle.

[Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly] The Judeo-Christian scriptures devote little attention to the geography of the afterlife. (This is in contrast to other world-scriptures that I find less credible, partly for this very reason.) Fire is mentioned in the last book of the New Testament, and in the Third Gospel, the rich man who turned his dogs on a sick man in his dumpster finally burns "in Hades". The prevailing New Testament images of the destiny of the uncaring, though, are "outer darkness", sadness and privation, in a place not made for human beings but for evil spiritual forces. In a passage that may surprise readers and that invites interpretation, the Lord preaches to the "spirits in prison" (I Peter 3:19), evidently the souls in the underworld.

On earth, we may lose the ability to love others due to clinical depression, in which everything seems gray, bitter, and hopeless. Medication, learning and practicing new living skills, and/or examining one's own attitudes and fuzzy thinking can usually relieve this grim symptom, for which the "Gray Waste" seems to be a metaphor.

But "mentally sound" people can turn away from love, and choose the Gray Waste. We do this whenever we decide:

  • to use people as objects of amusement, sensual gratification, or ego pleasures without regard to how it makes them feel ("Oinos");
  • to cherish our hatreds, dwell on injuries better forgotten, or let our ethnic or sectarian hatreds or grievance-group identities define us ("Niflheim");
  • focus on wealth and status symbols as the signs of successful living ("Pluton").

In The Screwtape Letters, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis gives a devil's perspective on the origin of spiritual evil. Around the time of the origin of our universe, God mentioned a future episode involving "a cross". Lucifer asked how God could love animals that didn't love Him back. God replied that He wished Lucifer would try to understand. Lucifer, feeling insulted, removed himself and his troops to a realm of darkness. Here "my good cannot be your good" and unselfish love is a contradiction in terms. For C.S. Lewis as for some of the Christian mystics and visionaries, the fires of hell are simply the supreme reality of Love, which causes the selfish egomaniacs to suffer horribly. Lewis's devil himself writes that if the devils could understand and live unselfish love, they could re-enter heaven.

Whatever one may think of Judeo-Christian-Islamic eschatology, the visionaries of yesterday and today -- people who have lived well, and people who have not -- report the supreme challenge. "Can you love others unselfishly, as God loves you?" To try to do so is to leave the Gray Waste, and is the beginning of every successful life on earth.

Mongoose Publishing has published a guide to a "Zahhak", a plane resembling the Gray Waste, though supposedly chaotic-evil.

The Plane of Hell -- full of abusive egomaniacs. "With a feeling of sick familiarity, I recognized here my own thinking."
Don Brubaker -- "You'll first experience hell", God said evenly, with a tone of complete control, "to prove to you the reality of evil. You've only believed that there was goodness. You must see for yourself that hell is real."
Near Death Experiences -- including accounts of hell.
Near-Death Experiences -- the outer darkness. One leaves upon choosing love. Some people reportedly remain there for a very long time.

Hell's Dominion -- a near-death experience


A suicide attempt's near-death experience -- experiences all the pain he has caused others in life. "It was horrible... It was incredibly enlightening."

American Psycho -- allegorical book and movie about the preoccupation with vanity and greed. "I feel only greed and disgust... Since in this world it is not possible to empathize with others, one can always empathize with onesself... I want my pain to be inflicted on others. This confession has meant nothing."

The Temple of Set, back online, is a "Left Hand" mystical society with magicians, talismans, and so forth. Nominally devoted to self-empowerment, openly hostile to the other world-faiths, and without even lip-service to the idea of loving one's neighbors. Much has changed since it went online over a decade ago. Decide for yourself whether there is anything here that you might use for a "neutral evil" cleric's sermon.

Michael Foucault -- sadomasochist and in his time "the world's most famous intellectual". He claimed that love and kindness, both in society and in individual relationships, aren't real. He said that the Marquis de Sade "didn't go far enough." Unlike chaotic evil philosophers, he is no egomaniac and no rebel. The link to the 1993 article in "The New Criterion" is now down, but here is an excerpt.

[Foucault brought the news that] every institution, no matter how benign it seems, is "really" a scene of unspeakable domination and subjugation... At school, where Foucault decorated his walls with Goya's horrorific etchings of the victims of war, the future philosopher was "almost universally detested." Schoolmates remember him as brilliant, but also aloof, sarcastic, and cruel... Foucault came to enjoy imagining "suicide festivals" or "orgies" in which sex and death would mingle in the ultimate anonymous encounter.... When Chomsky insisted "we must act as sensitive and responsible human beings", Foucault replied that such ideas as responsibility, sensitivity, justice, and law were merely "tokens of ideology" that lacked legitimacy.... At the center of Foucault's sexual obsessions was not the longing for philosophical insight but the longing for oblivion. "Complete total pleasure", Foucault correctly observed, is "related to death." The unhappy irony is that this apostle of sex and hedonism should have wound up, like the Marquis de Sade before him, exiling pleasure from sex.... He is supposed to have been a supreme intellectual anatomist, ruthlessly laying bare the hidden power relations, dark motives, and ideological secrets that infect bourgeois society and that fester unacknowledged in the hearts and minds of everyone... But wait? Is it TRUE?

Final Note

Unity of the Rings -- comic book art

Gamers for Christ -- news group

The Alignment Planes

The Abyss -- Chaotic Evil
Acheron -- Lawful, Evil Tendencies
Arborea -- Chaotic Good
Arcadia -- Lawful, Good Tendencies
Baator -- Lawful Evil
The Beastlands -- Good, Chaotic Tendencies
Bytopia -- Good, Lawful Tendencies
Carceri -- Evil, Chaotic Tendencies
Elysium -- Neutral Good
Gehenna -- Evil, Lawful Tendencies
The Gray Waste -- Neutral Evil
Limbo -- Chaotic Neutral
Mechanus -- Lawful Neutral
Mount Celestia -- Lawful Good
The Outlands -- True Neutral
Pandemonium -- Chaotic, Evil Tendencies
Ysgard -- Chaotic, Good Tendencies
The Inner Planes
What "Planescape" could be
AD&D and the Religious Right
Li Po's Hermitage (character generators, more)
Background by Bev.


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