Evil comes in many forms, but it is never so dangerous as when it is convenient. Evil can seduce us in ways that Good would never try. Good demands much – patience, compassion, self-sacrifice – and its rewards are often obscure. Evil seems to ask nothing but gladly offers anything we could desire: power, riches, even love. The gifts of Evil are poisoned fruits, however, tainted by the very acts undertaken to claim them. Each gift we accept, each moral shortcut we take, leads us further from the light and one step closer to Evil’s final reward: our own destruction.
Unseen by mortals, the Dark Powers sit in judgment of all that occurs within their realm and silently watch countless other worlds as well. Whenever a mortal performs an evil act, there is a chance that the Dark Powers respond, both rewarding and punishing the transgressor in a single stroke; this is resolved through a powers check. If a character continues down the path of corruption, the Dark Powers may eventually grant the transgressor their own domain.
Mortals may never know what the Dark Powers hope to achieve with their sinister gifts. Perhaps the Dark Powers act as caring but overly harsh parents, cursing transgressors to frighten them back on the path of righteousness, or perhaps the Dark Powers seek to inflame mortals’ sins, alternately taunting and teasing the morally weak into infinite spirals of doom.
Making the Powers Check
Whenever a player character willingly performs an evil act, the DM should resolve the powers check by making a percentile roll. Mortals have no control over the whims of the Dark Powers; no magic or special ability can ever modify this dice roll.
The DM should find the character’s transgression to determine the chance of failure. If the DM rolls this number or less on the d%, the offending character fails the powers check and moves one stage down the path of corruption. If the DM rolls higher than the listed number, the character succeeds at the powers check; the act has fallen beneath the Dark Powers concern – this time.
The DM can raise or lower the chance of failing a powers check, depending on the character’s motivation. If a character performs an evil act for particularly vile reasons, the chance of failure might rise by as much as half. If a character performs a transgression for altruistic purposes – such as casting a necromantic spell to save a life of an ally – the DM may reduce the chance of failure by half.
If a character performs an evil act that does not appear, the DM can use the listed transgressions to estimate the chance of failure. Only truly despicable acts should have a chance of failure as high as 10%. Some deeds are so monstrous they cannot help but attract the attention of the Dark Powers. Anyone who commits one of the Acts of Ultimate Darkness automatically fails the accompanying powers check.
Powers checks are intended to enhance the game. Use them wisely and where they serve the game. If overused, powers checks can slow the game to a crawl as the DM meticulously rolls dice every time someone swats a fly or coughs in the vague direction of an old woman.
Crimes or Acts of Violence
These transgressions directly cause others to come to harm. To determine the chance of failure, compare the transgression to the alignment of the victim.
- Assault, Unprovoked
- Assault, Grievous
- Betrayal, Major
- Betrayal, Minor
- Murder, Brutal
- Murder, Nonbrutal
- Theft, Grave Robbing
- Theft, Major
- Theft, Minor
- Threats of Violence
- Torture, Routine
- Torture, Sadistic
Unholy acts are transgressions against a religious code – a particularly serious act for divine spellcasters. As with acts of violence, a character must knowingly violate a religious code to warrant a powers check. A character who as no reasonable way to know of the existence of a religious tenet should not be punished for failing to obey it.
- Breaking a Tenet
- Breaking an Oath
- Breaking a Vow
Powers checks can also be incurred through trafficking with unholy supernatural forces. With these acts, the chance of failure is determined not by the alignment of the victim, but by the power of the occult forces the transgressor calls. Unlike unholy acts, the transgressor does not need to know that a form of magic is considered profane to warrant a powers check.
- Laying a Curse
- Casting an Evil or Necromantic Spell
- Using an Evil Magic Item
- Bearing an Evil Magic Item
- Crafting an Evil Magic Item
The Effects of Failure
No person is born evil. All player characters are assumed to enter a campaign with clean souls – they have never failed any powers checks, and the forces of corruption have no claim on their spirits. If the player wants, and if their character meets the prerequisites, a hero can enter the campaign with their Innocence intact. Alternatively, if the player and DM agree, a player character could enter the campaign having already failed one or more powers checks. Such a character might be struggling against some dark inner nature, or they might now be on a quest for redemption from the mistakes of their earlier years.
If a character fails a powers check, the Dark Powers respond with gifts of darkness – and the character moves one stage toward corruption. At each stage, the corrupted character receives an occult boon and an accompanying curse. The gifts and curses bestowed by the Dark Powers are inexorably tied: a rogue who gains low-light vision might also suffer from light sensitivity. A monk who receives a bonus on their natural armor might grow a thick scaly hide. These curses apply Outcast Rating modifiers whenever their effects are noticed.
The Dark Powers tailor all their gifts and curses to the victim. As a rule, the Dark Powers’ gifts tend to make it easier for a corrupted character to repeat their transgressions but harder to conceal their crimes.
In the initial stages of corruption, when redemption is still at hand, both the gifts and the curses bestowed by the Dark Powers tend to be minor and easily concealed. In later stages, however, the trap starts to close. The curses gain strength, forcing the corrupted character to rely more heavily on their dark gifts – abilities that often require more powers checks to use.
The Path of Corruption
- The Caress
- The Enticement
- The Invitation
- The Embrace
- The Creature
- The Darklord
The road to damnation is swift but not certain. It is possible for a character to recoil from evil deeds and, with time and toil, return to the light. If a character is truly penitent, the Dark Powers may subtly guide the corrupted character’s fate to test their repentance. To escape the event of a powers check the corrupted character must encounter an event echoing the one that resulted in their failed powers check. This time around, the character must choose the righteous path.
It is no mere feat to scrub corruption out of the soul, however. The character must repeat the process a number of times equal to the chance of failure of the original powers check. If the character accomplishes this, they can attempt a new powers check at the same chance of failure. If the character succeeds at this check, the Dark Powers loosen their grip on the character’s soul; the character retreats one step along the path of corruption. Acts of Ultimate Darkness cannot be redeemed. It may even be possible for a darklord to redeem their blackened soul – but in all the known history, not one ever has.