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Level Up (A5E) (+) Project Chronicle: Curses and Corruption

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
The Witch's curse is less obvious than that of the other gods, and far more targeted, leading many to believe that mages of all stripes may have been the true cause of the terrors heaped upon us. The Witch's curse is the corruption of flesh, of blood, of heart, and mind. That which twists men into monsters. Her curse afflicts all arcanists, all who use her power that once was free and is now jealously guarded. Tempt not the Witch, my friends.

For temptation is hers, alone.

-The Chronicler-

Corruption. A complicated thing to consider when applying a penalty to players for choosing to play the game in a way they wish. But it is a part of the style, the identity, of the setting. But how do we manage such a thing? Well. By making it an -attractive- penalty. With ways to mitigate it. Grim Hollow, for example, provides a front-loading of benefits with it's transformations, causing slowly increasing penalties each joined with another benefit, weighting the change toward power.

I sincerely think this is the right idea. By making corruption attractive, and dangerous, players are more likely to interact with it in a variety of ways. Particularly when you expand this particular form of curse across the player spectrum. Grim Hallow also allows people to -choose- their Transformation, rather than having one assigned to them. This, too, is the right idea. And should be the default presumption.

Perhaps this choice could be made at Character Creation... To choose between the Lich, the Fiend, the Aberration, the Werebeast, the Vampire, the Dragon, the Primordial, and the Specter.

At each tier of transformation (4 tiers) you gain a specified Flaw. At Tier 1, you get both Boons and the Flaw for that level. At tiers 2, 3, and 4 you choose 1 Boon and gain the Flaw of that level.

But how to -become- corrupt? Grim Hallow handles the matter through level ranges (1-4, 5-10, 11-16, 17-20) with players accomplishing certain goals within a given level range, such as completing a Ritual, undertaking an exceptionally evil (Or good for their Seraph) act, and similar milestones. And then each individual transformation has it's -own- specific milestones. Such as the Werebeast killing an Alpha Lycanthrope, or establishing a pack of Werebeasts.

But for the purpose of reinforcing the idea of Corruption... of Magical and Moral affliction... How do we handle such a thing?

For Moral transformation it seems fairly simple. Cruel, wicked, and violent actions accumulate levels in a fairly straightforward manner. Killing of innocents, for example, or otherwise large and bombastic displays of wrongdoing should do the trick quite nicely. It makes it both easy and difficult to transform based on your intention. Someone who -wishes- to become a monster can intentionally do terrible things, while someone who doesn't wish to become a monster just... doesn't do those things.

But for spellcasters it's a bit more complex... Should we manage a point-based system where every spellcast grants a specific amount of "Corruption Points" and rituals cleanse a specific amount until you reach, say, 20 points and gain your first Tier of Corruption? That seems like it might be difficult or time-consuming to keep track of, overall.

I could really use some suggestions, if possible! Because right now the 20 point threshhold seems appropriate with cleansing rituals taking of specific quantities of corruption...

Compilation of Project Chronicle Links: Project Chronicle: Master List - The Homebrewery
 
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Blue Orange

Adventurer
They don't necessarily have to be 'evil' actions, they could just be more in accord with the (alien) morality of the Witch.

You could look at Paths of Enlightenment from the old Vampire: the Masquerade if you wanted to see what alien, 'evil' paths of immorality look like.

Mechanically, a 20-point threshold sounds reasonable enough. Dungeon Crawl Classics has a roll to avoid corruption with every spell; every casting might have a chance of inflicting corruption. I mean, it's one or two numbers that go up; it doesn't sound much different than tracking Sanity in Call of Cthulhu or HP in any game.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
They don't necessarily have to be 'evil' actions, they could just be more in accord with the (alien) morality of the Witch.

You could look at Paths of Enlightenment from the old Vampire: the Masquerade if you wanted to see what alien, 'evil' paths of immorality look like.

Mechanically, a 20-point threshold sounds reasonable enough. Dungeon Crawl Classics has a roll to avoid corruption with every spell; every casting might have a chance of inflicting corruption. I mean, it's one or two numbers that go up; it doesn't sound much different than tracking Sanity in Call of Cthulhu or HP in any game.
That is true... Sanity and the like are something people often track. I guess I could work out a simple point system?

Should I do a single increase per level, though, or go odds?
Cantrip: 1 point of corruption
Level 1: 2 points of corruption
Level 2: 3 points of corruption
Level 3: 4 points of corruption
Level 4: 5 points of corruption
etc.
Or:
Cantrip: 1 point of corruption
Level 1: 3 points of corruption
Level 2: 5 points of corruption
Level 3: 7 points of corruption
Level 4: 9 points of corruption
etc.

If I go with the latter option I could set the different break points of corruption much higher over time that initially make it appear "Safer" to cast more spells, but you eat it up in strides.

20 points also gives me a nice range for Corruption Cleansing rituals. I could do them in 3s, 5s, 7s, 10s... With different functions for each ritual like material costs, duration, and potential participants.

One thing I wanted to do entirely was allow an herb chewed upon (Black Lotus) essentially allow you to ignore your Corruptive Flaws for a while, and still gain the benefits. With the obvious side effects of addiction and stuff.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
It seems really hard to tell which system works better without trying it out in-game. Rising corruption values are seen in Symbaroum, DCC, and the various Conan RPGs, so it seems like a pretty common mechanic, though invoked in slightly different circumstances. (Yeah, I'm flipping through my collection.)

You could try having the numbers be thematic--prime numbers (3,5,7,9,11,13,17) are often seen as being 'magical' somehow; alternatively 'highly composite' numbers with lots of divisors include 4, 6, and 12. You could tie it into the various cultures you're inventing--Westerners seem to like having things in groups of 4 and 7, whereas the Chinese prefer 5 and 8.

I think Symbaroum had a system where the various 'character classes' of magic-user (roughly approximating cleric, druid, magic-user) had ways to defray the corruption, so it was much more dangerous to be an unaffiliated mage. For a sword and sorcery-themed game a plant seems much more apropos.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
So... Symbaroum's corruption mechanics are pretty simple and interesting... But also too swingy, for me. Basically you've got 5 things to manage.

Resolute. A character attribute which shows your absolute corruption resistance (10 is normal, but 8 isn't uncommon)
Threshold. A lower number than your Resolute, typically 4-5, which is dangerous to cross over. If you cross your Threshold in a scene you gain Permanent Corruption.
Temporary Corruption. Whenever you do anything magical or interact with Blighted objects you gain 1d4 Temporary corruption.
Permanent Corruption. Whenever you exceed your Threshold you gain 1d4 Permanent Corruption.
Stigma. Whenever you use magic and gain Corruption you also gain a Stigma. It goes away when your corruption does.

The issue is that once your Corruption is equal to your Resolute you become an Evil NPC Blight on the world. But since your Threshold as a person with 8 Resolute is 4, rolling a 4 on a d4 of Temporary Corruption means you also immediately roll a d4 for Permanent Corruption. Which means you can cast 1 spell, roll 4 twice, and instantly become an Evil NPC if your Resolute is 8. Or, y'know, interact with a Blighted object unaware.

It's interesting, but -super- punishing. Instead of a tightrope act to avoid falling into evil it plays more like Russian Roulette.

Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of, on the other hand handles all the Corruption up front.

When you gain your spells you lower your Resolve attribute by an amount of points equal to 2+Spells when you make the Pact to gain this magic. Leaving your character permanently crippled in that specific stat (And even more crippled when you make more pacts to expand your repertoire). Which I get? But it also leaves me kind of cold. I like Corruption to build up over time.

Primes could work. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, and 19 would work really well... Would also mean that anyone who has avoided Corruption their entire career casts 1 9th level spell and is RIGHT on the border of being Transformed by their corruption...
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
The primes get more spaced out as you go further up for mathematical reasons (more numbers to have as factors), but if you wanted to have the party caster manifesting more control as they get more powerful that might work.

If you're going to use primes for corruption you could have the cleansing rituals work in groups of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc. with highly composite numbers such as 12 being particular numbers of power. The primes, being indivisible, represent the alienness of elements out of the universe outside of human control, whereas composite (nonprime) numbers can be subdivided and thus controlled.

(Obligatory math note: 9 is not prime.)
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
The primes get more spaced out as you go further up for mathematical reasons (more numbers to have as factors), but if you wanted to have the party caster manifesting more control as they get more powerful that might work.

If you're going to use primes for corruption you could have the cleansing rituals work in groups of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc. with highly composite numbers such as 12 being particular numbers of power. The primes, being indivisible, represent the alienness of elements out of the universe outside of human control, whereas composite (nonprime) numbers can be subdivided and thus controlled.

(Obligatory math note: 9 is not prime.)
Yup! I just got stuck on odds after 2, there, for a moment. My brain fixates because it is broken in specific ways.

So 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, and 23.

And then 4, 6, 8, 10, 12... I feel like five different rituals to remove corruption might honestly be too many. Could just do three at 4, 8, and 12. Or 3, 6, and 12...

Thoughts.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
I think there needs to be some opportunity to cleanse corruption, at least partially, but it shouldn’t be easy and might even be the totality of an adventure in itself. For example, Conan probably cleansed part of his soul in the Tower of the Elephant by killing the being to free it from its pain?
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I think there needs to be some opportunity to cleanse corruption, at least partially, but it shouldn’t be easy and might even be the totality of an adventure in itself. For example, Conan probably cleansed part of his soul in the Tower of the Elephant by killing the being to free it from its pain?
I wouldn't say he cleansed himself in that moment. But there explicitly -are- ways within the Hyborian setting to remove Corruption and purify the soul. Often they require time spent in self-reflection, seeking forgiveness from the Gods, or engaging in rituals that are designed to remove corruption.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
The rat-featured man dropped the silver ring in Teerka’s palm, smiling somehow wickedly and obsequiously in the same expression.
She remembered Xrione’s scream as the moving sands caused the great block to descend trapping her in the tomb with the undead creature, her hand reaching imploringly for Teerka’s before it closed.
Teerka remembered stumbling away, back to the desert sands. Two camelid mounts awaiting but one rider.
No amount of cheap wine since. No amount of gold. No Phetarr leaf. No lovers. No friends. None had ever eased the shame of that moment in Teerka’s heart or soul. And now, Xrione’s ring.
“ My master said you would care. Said you would want to know,” the filth-crusted messenger, “Be at the west postern gate three hours after the sun sets. Come alone. You can keep the ring.” The man, or creature, melted back into the crowded souk.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
How about something a little different:

You dont gain Corruption from misdeeds or magic or whatever IF you can hide from the ''Gods''. You dont get cursed by the Witch if they dont notice your sin.

When you failed a check on an Action that would be considered a Misdeed (Lying to a god, stealing from X, casting a spell etc) if you fail the check by X amount, the DM can decide that your a noticed by god Y and you gain a level of Corruption, which could be on a chart similar to the one for Exhaustion.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
From a previous thread:

I'd go with something:

Each PC has a Shadow (major flaw) in addition to the usual bond/flaw/idea. As always, roleplaying adequately this element of the character can gain you Inspiration.

PCs are subjected to Moral check, from the DMG, when prompted by the DM.

Ex:
Causing a Misdeed
Casting a spell
Facing an overwhelming force
Seeing pain and suffering or causing it
Losing a companion
Subjected to a curse or divine disease
Being subjected to the Frightened or Charmed condition.
Adventuring while lost or without illumination in the dark.
Attuning to an item of power made be the forces of chaos.
Traveling the land of X.

When failed, the Moral check gives you 1 level of Corruption/Shadow/Strife (TBD). You lose 1 level of X when you take a long rest in a safe haven, with access to comfort, support from your companions and time of sacred self-reflection and to make amends.

The effects from X are cumulative:

1Disadvantage on Cha/Int/Wis ability check
2Disadvantage on Wis/Int/Cha saves
3You cant maintain Concentration
4You can only take the Disengage, Dodge or Dash action in combat.
5You are unable to see anything farther than 15 feet away from you.
6Death
 



Faolyn

Hero
Don't forget: if you make corruption too good, without enough penalties or problems associated with it, you will encourage some players to be as evil as possible.

Ravenloft, in older editions, had there be a percentile chance that the Dark Powers would notice your evil act. You probably don't want to go for percentiles.

My suggestion would be to create a track exactly like piety, but for evil acts. In Mythic Oddessy of Theros, it specifically states "Your piety score increases by 1 when you do something to advance the god's interests or behave in accordance with the god's ideals." So, if you say that each person chooses, or is chosen by, one of the gods, then each time they do something that advances that god's brand of evil, they get one or more points of corruption. (When I say "chosen by the gods," I mean the player picks the god, or lets the DM pick for them, but the PC didn't make the choice.)

So it could be:

The Weaver: Taking away a person's free will, preventing that person from achieving their destiny (i.e., preventing that person from turning into a "vibrant color" in the tapestry of existence. Casting spells that inflict the charmed condition or that imprison someone.

The Serpent: Poisoning wells, killing livestock, burning fields--anything that makes it more difficult to live in the wasteland. Casting spells like blight, or spells that inflict poison damage.

The Mountain: Swift and thoughtless action, caring too much about individuals. Casting spells that completely destroy stone.

The Witch: Stealing magic from another person, creating magic items and new spells, spreading magic by teaching it to others, creating constructs. Casting spells like dispel magic.

The Beast: Destroying anything civilized, transforming into a beast. Casting spells like awaken or animal shapes.

The Dweller: Summoning and binding creatures from beyond (aberrations, fiends, undead). Casting spells like animate dead or planar ally (or any of the summon spells from TCE).

The Tempest: Acts of wild and massive destruction, channeling the weather, conjuring elementals, making natural disasters worse, using elemental magic. Casting spells like fireball or lightning bolt.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
My current thoughts on flaws, @Faolyn:

The Beast: Slowly turns you into a Werebeast. The tier 1 flaw of the werebeast is:
When you assume Hybrid form (which gives you big combat benefits for unarmed fighting) you must make a Wisdom Save every round with an escalating DC or lose control. If you lose control you -must- attack nearby NPCs prioritizing those that are helpless. If you aren't within a move action of NPCs you must dash on your turn to try and catch them. If you attack an NPC with your action, you must also use your bonus action to claw or bite as a follow-up attack.
If you transform under the Full Moon you -automatically- fail your saving throw.

Tier 2: Silver Vulnerability

Tier 3: Disadvantage to Intelligence ability and skill checks. DM can say "You don't remember" something important from your recent memory. Lost in the change.

Tier 4: If you can see, hear, or smell a helpless creature you have disadvantage to Wisdom Saving Throws. You have to make a Wisdom Save immediately to not rush over in hybrid form to kill and eat them. If you kill while in Hybrid form, for any reason, you become trapped in Hybrid Form 'til the next dawn.

The Dweller: Turns you into an Aberration. The tier 1 flaw of the aberrant one is:
Every time you take a long rest, roll percentile dice to see which mutation you wind up with. Some of them are beneficial, like becoming immune to grapple/restrain. But almost all of them are significant penalties like disadvantage to dex saves, no reactions, can't speak more than 1 word sentences, or movement speed penalties. And all of them are tied to horrific mutations that you have to try and hide.

Tier 2: Your hideous true form asserts itself whenever you attempt to concentrate on a spell, fall unconscious, enter hallowed ground, or choose to reveal yourself. In times of stress, the DM can call for a Con Save to avoid reverting to your horrible otherworldly form.

Tier 3: Whenever you roll a 1, 2, or 3 on a saving throw you revert to your horrible otherworldly form.

Tier 4: Whenever you fail a save, roll on the Unstable Mutation table. If the new mutation is lower, you gain it in place of the one you rolled at the end of your last long rest. (The lowest rolls on the percentiles are the worst)

The Witch: Turns you into a Fey creature. The tier 1 flaw of the fey is:
You have disadvantage on Death Saving Throws as the Witch tries to drag your dying soul out of your body.

Tier 2: Deliver a Treasure or Tribute to the Witch on the Summer and Winter Solstice. Fail, and you're dragged to her realm, living, for no less than 100 years or until you strike a bargain with the Witch to return early.

Tier 3: You become bound by your words. Any time you make a promise, or even assert intention to accomplish a task, you must complete it. Failure to do so means you lose all your Fey Benefits and retain flaws until you tithe an extra tribute to the Witch.

Tier 4: Cold Vulnerability in the Summer, Fire Vulnerability in the Winter, and if you're struck by that damage type it also reduces your maximum HP by the value rolled. (So if someone hits you for 10 you take 20 damage and max HP drops by 10).

The Serpent: Turns you into a Vampire. The tier 1 flaw of the vampire is:
You cannot enter a dwelling without invitation, if you enter against your will (dragged, teleported, whatever) without permission you take 1d10 Psychic Damage per turn you are inside the house. Disadvantage to attacks and ability checks in Sunlight, and you must feed on blood once every 7 days at least with your Tier 1 fang boon.

Tier 2: Your hideous true form asserts itself whenever you attempt to concentrate on a spell, fall unconscious, enter hallowed ground, or choose to reveal yourself. In times of stress, the DM can call for a Con Save to avoid reverting to your horrible undead form.

Tier 3: 1d10 acid damage if you touch running water. 1d10 Radiant damage from direct sunlight. Feed every 3 days.

Tier 4: If you get Critically Hit by a Wooden or Silvered Weapon while you have less than 50hp you become Paralyzed for 1 hour or until the weapon is removed from your heart. No saving throw.

The Weaver: Turns you into a Specter. The tier 1 flaw of the specter is:
Disadvantage on Death saves as your grip on reality loosens. At DM's discretion you become a Specter or Ghost when you die.

Tier 2: Your hideous true form asserts itself whenever you attempt to concentrate on a spell, fall unconscious, enter hallowed ground, or choose to reveal yourself. In times of stress, the DM can call for a Con Save to avoid reverting to your horrible undead form.

Tier 3: Disadvantage on Intelligence Ability and Skill Checks, DM can say "You don't remember" something important from your recent memory. Lost to the ghost.

Tier 4: When you roll a natural 1 on any Saving Throw you take 1d6 damage per 2 levels as the grave tries to pull you away. If you die, only a Wish or True Resurrection can restore you as your body dissipates into ectoplasm.

The Tempest: Turns you into an Elemental. The tier 1 flaw of the elemental is:
You have disadvantage on Death Saving Throws as the Tempest tries to drag your dying soul out of your body.

Tier 2: Your hideous true form asserts itself whenever you attempt to concentrate on a spell, fall unconscious, enter hallowed ground, or choose to reveal yourself. In times of stress, the DM can call for a Con Save to avoid reverting to your elemental form.

Tier 3: If you complete a rest within a city or place of Civilization you cannot expend hit dice, recover hit dice, or lose any levels of exhaustion.

Tier 4: When you roll a natural 1 on any Saving Throw you take 1d6 damage per 2 levels as the Tempest tries to pull you away. If you die, only the Wish or True Resurrection spells can restore you as your body becomes wind.

The Mountain: Does not Care.

The Flower: Does not Curse.
 


GuyBoy

Adventurer
The potential for dark S&S roleplay is immense here, with the mechanics providing a scaffold.
It also allows the DM to create scenarios with a loved one of the PCs impacted by a curse, with a quest to try to save them from both the curse and vengeful people.
 

niklinna

Looking for group
My current thoughts on flaws, @Faolyn:

The Beast: Slowly turns you into a Werebeast. The tier 1 flaw of the werebeast is:

(etc)
Wow. Those are some harsh and blatant flaws, right out the gate. I was expecting a more gradual slide toward becoming Something Else. (Wishing right now I hadn't gotten rid of my copy of Nephilim.) Without seeing the corresponding boons, I don't have much else to say about those.

Apart from that, some very general thoughts, in particular since I saw a similar mechanic for Torg Eternity raise a sh*t-storm on social media....

Taking away player agency makes players unhappy. Werewolves going berserk is totally in trope, but difficult to make work because of that.

Having one PC's flaws screw over other PCs in the party makes those other players unhappy. Werewolves again.

Making PC death more likely, or as an "or else" isn't very compelling for many people; folks will either be really invested in telling a particular story with your character, or be like, "eh, I'll just reroll a new character".

Corruption as a number that ticks up or down based on mechanical actions (casting any spell) or even a list of proscribed actions is a bit dry. One Torg GM handled the matter brilliantly by instead making tempting offers to the players at moments when they really needed a helping hand—which the forces of darkness were more than happy to proffer. You get the help, but then you have a goodly chance of gaining Corruption—or have to do something proscribed in the process. This may not be the nature of Corruption in your game, but let me tell you I saw players squirming in delightful torment at the choices offered to them (even though Corruption in Torg is, unfortunately, just a number that ticks up until you become an NPC). Some really crude examples:
  • Spell is effectively a level or more higher without having to upcast, or doesn't need a spell slot. Test for Corruption, or just gain some (possibly temporarily).
  • Spell is more effective in some particular way, but you have to include innocents in the area of effect. Oh and you'll probably get some Corruption.
  • Your jump is 10' longer, and then maybe your speed goes down by 5' for 1 minute. Oh and you'll probably get some Corruption.
Again these would be offered in the moment by the DM, just when they are needed most.

Then there's the whole issue of promoting evil acts. If that's the slant of the whole campaign, or part of a conflict that the players want to explore as a group, then cool, but D&D is already prone enough to murder-hoboing. I'm still fuzzy on the morality of your game world, particular in god/people interactions, apart from knowing there's some clear antagonism from most of the gods. There's something rich to mine here, but it'll be tricky.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
It's definitely something that is gonna have to be heavily workshopped, @niklinna. At this point, in fact, I'm looking at applying Curses as Synergy Feats 'cause it's just a very interesting method of doing so which gives players a clear way to either -invest- more, or progress along a track.

Honestly, that system is a godsend. Especially since Vampires are going to be a Synergy system, already. Perfect for the Serpent!
 

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