The Ravenloft setting uses “Powers Checks” to reflect the gifts and curses imposed by the mysterious Dark Powers upon those who transgress moral laws. This gives some structure for great stories of corruption and redemption, but the exact game mechanics of these checks have always been open to questions by fans. It’s even worse when the player supports their character’s decisions, and enforcement of the rules spirals into an argument about who has the correct moral compass. If you want to include temptation in your game, here are 4 optional rules to keep Powers Checks from going the route of politics and religion.
1) Whispering Shadows
Assign each player the “dark side” of another PC. During gameplay, these “shadows” entice their target to commit acts that are worthy of a Powers Check, and can actually offer specific boons that will come from giving in--the DM decides the corresponding penalty. If the controlling player accepts the offer, the player that offered it gets a token they can trade in at any time to turn one die roll into a natural 20. This is a great opportunity for players to roleplay temptation, as well as get to know other characters better.
2) The Burden Of Time
Ravenloft PC’s study tomes of forbidden lore, brave sinkholes of evil, steal cursed objects, and worse. Reflect that general attrition of the soul by having players roll percentile dice when they level up, 1% cumulative for every 1000 XP they earn (10K for higher level groups). When someone fails, go through their most recent actions and find an appropriate offense. If nothing works, consider foreshadowing (see below), or change the powers check result to a failed horror check.
If a player argues that their offense wasn’t that big a deal and shouldn’t be punished, let them look for a better opportunity. The failed roll becomes foreshadowing of what the PC is about to do, rather than what they have done. Of course, while the Dark Powers are interested in little things done for good reasons, such as white lies and grave robbing, it’s best to only share the results of these rolls with the DM in case the player is eyeing that “Betrayal, Major” column in the rulebook.
Some players look at roleplaying as a chance to behave however they want without any consequences. While powers checks can help discourage this, the system is not designed as a teaching curve. If one of your players is playing Chaotic Stupid, consider a probationary result. When they fail the roll, they don’t suffer the consequences immediately. Instead, the PC is on probation: anything additional within the next (in-game) week that warrants a check will cause them to fail.
So depending on whether you need some more structure or flexibility, one of these rules may give you what you need or inspire you to create your own tweak. Just remember that whatever rules you use should be applied consistently, so that the Dark Powers feel like an omnipresent moral hazard instead of the whims of the DM.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement.
Picture Reference: http://thecampaign20xx.blogspot.com/2016/03/dungeons-dragons-guide-to-curse-of.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.