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Of all the things that make Ravenloft unique as a campaign setting, the most standout feature would have to be Dark Powers checks. The most tangible evidence for the existence of the Dark Powers, their system of moral judgement is by turns capricious, arbitrary, and cruel, but at the end of the day boils down to this: a codified system for identifying and punishing the most wicked of the realm’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, the system has yet to be translated for 5th edition.
It starts with a sin: the PC performs a wicked act which may attract the attention of the Dark Powers. The Dark Powers tables from the 3rd edition campaign supplement can give you a good idea of where they start, but the percentage chance that the Dark Powers will take notice of the transgression is usually small. Small crimes like gossip or petty theft can be safely ignored. A lie which actually causes someone harm might invoke a 1% Dark Powers check, as might threatening a bar patron with bodily violence. Actual violent crimes (excluding reasonable self-defense) might incur checks at a 2-4% depending on severity. Murder or other brutal and sadistic acts might cause a check of an even higher severity, up to 8-9%. Casting necromancy spells (or using spells which summon evil beings) should always provoke a powers check at a percentage equal to the spell level. Even owning a necromantic or evil magic item is enough to warrant a 1% check per week. If the target should roll over the check, there is no result. Should they roll equal to or less than the target, however, they begin to slide down the scale of degeneration.
If the sin has a victim, the victim’s alignment or relationship may modify the check. Evil victims or bitter enemies may halve the check number. Good (or apparently good) victims, or those who are close to the offender, may double the check number. Innocent victims should always result in a higher check number. (A full spread of Dark Powers transgressions can be found in the 3e Ravenloft Campaign Setting Core Rulebook, and is still entirely functional with 5e.)
As the character begins to be embraced by the Dark Powers, they develop additional abilities or powers. Unfortunately, these powers always come at a cost, invariably one that the character considers to be too high. Usually, the powers will seem to give the character exactly what they want, but inevitably the concomitant curse will actually deprive the character of the very goal they seek. Eventually, a character of sufficient depravity may be ‘rewarded’ with their own domain within the Mists.
When a character first draws the attention of the Dark Powers, it may seem at first as though they’ve been rewarded. The ‘gifts’ the Dark Powers give such people often overshadow the drawbacks at first.
Path of the Miser: Obsessed with wealth and its acquisition, the character gains a keen insight into the value of items. They gain advantage on all rolls to determine the value of an item. However, they must ingest 1 gp worth of treasure (non-food items) per week or begin to suffer the effects of starvation.
Path of Rage: Weak and helpless, the character finally gains the ability to fight back against those that would oppress them. They can rage once per long rest (lasting up to 1 round per level, which can be ended early), gaining +2 to melee damage rolls, but all attacks against them gain advantage during this time. (If they have rage as a class feature, use whichever damage bonus is higher.)
Path of Dread: The character finally gives in to their impulse to compel others through intimidation, and finds that they have a talent for it. The character gains advantage on Intimidation checks, but suffers disadvantage on Persuasion checks.
Characters at the first stage of degeneration may recoil or even repent at their evil, but those who descend to the second stage display a commitment to wickedness that will only deepen over time. The advancement of their curse reflects this.
Path of the Miser: The character’s lust for wealth deepens, and their curse begins to become a permanent part of them. They must now ingest 1 gp of treasure per day or begin to suffer the effects of starvation. However, they gain the ability to safely consume anything that they can fit in their mouth.
Path of Rage: The more the character vents their wrath, the more invulnerable they feel. The character gains resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing weapons in rage, but if they are injured and have rages remaining, they must make a Wisdom save (DC = damage dealt) or enter a rage involuntarily.
Path of Dread: The unexpected thrill from inflicting terror on someone begins to thrill the character even more, and they discover it is even easier to unsettle those around them. As an action, the character may cause a victim who fails a Charisma save (DC = 9 + the cursed character’s Charisma modifier) to be Frightened of them for one minute. The character can no longer attempt Persuasion rolls, and suffers disadvantage on Deception rolls.
At this point the hook is set, and the pernicious cost of the character’s curses are now becoming apparent. Relationships suffer, and the character’s unholy nature is much more difficult to hide.
Path of the Miser: The character now requires 1 gp per hit die per day in consumed treasure to stay alive. They learn to ferret it out with unerring accuracy however, gaining proficiency in Perception and Investigation and advantage on all rolls to ferret out hidden wealth.
Path of Rage: The character’s fury intensifies even as their self control withers further. The character gains advantage on all attack rolls while in rage, but they may no longer end their rage voluntarily so long as enemies or strangers are present.
Path of Dread: Fear has become the character’s stock in trade, so much so that they find they cannot always resist spooking those around them. Whenever the character succeeds at a roll that they had advantage on, all enemies or strangers within 15 ft. must make a Charisma save (DC as above) or be Frightened of the cursed character for one round.
Once a character reaches this level of depravity, there is rarely any going back for them. Few villains of this magnitude would even consider repenting, and fewer still are willing to commit to the work that cleansing their blackened souls would require. They often are forced to withdraw from any remaining close relationships, as their foul nature is almost impossible to hide from that level of scrutiny.
Path of the Miser: The blackhearted character’s foul diet affects them permanently, and their bloodstream is replaced by threaded veins of gold or silver. The consumption requirements rise to 5 gp per hit die per day. The character now has immunity to poison damage, and resistance to piercing and slashing damage. The veins in their body now bulge against their skin, giving them an unnatural appearance.
Path of Rage: Anger is almost all the character knows. They suffer disadvantage on all rolls they make when not in a rage, and cannot discriminate enemy from ally while enraged. They only require a short rest, rather than a long rest, to regain all their uses of rage.
Path of Dread: The character has become so feared that even their name takes on special power. Anyone hearing the character’s name spoken aloud must make a Wisdom save (as above) or become Frightened for one round. The character’s presence, or even knowledge, of this ability is not required.
At this point the character is well and truly a monster. Redemption is all but impossible. At the DM’s discretion, the character may become an NPC under their control, rather than let such a despicable abomination continue in the hands of a player.
Path of the Miser: The miser’s appetite is now voracious. They must consume 10gp per hit die per day to avoid starvation. In addition, any person the character touches must make a Constitution save (DC = 9 + the character’s hit dice) or be Petrified into gold, silver, or some other precious metal.
Path of Rage: Having failed to master their anger, the character finds that their anger has become their master. The character always suffers disadvantage on any rolls to resolve conflicts in any way other than violence, and their appearance becomes hunched and brutish. They gain advantage on all rolls while enraged, and can rage at any time without restriction.
Path of Dread: The character is now a horrific monster that inspires the utmost horror in all who see them. Anyone who sees the character’s naked visage must make a Constitution save (as above) or suffer 1d6 Necrotic damage per hit die of the dreaded character. Whenever a person becomes Frightened of them, the character regains 1d6 hit points.
In Ravenloft, rock bottom may not be the end for the most loathsome of evildoers. The Mists have a way of rewarding those at Stage Five degeneration with their own domains, making them true Darklords. Those in the broader multiverse sometimes find themselves sought out by the Mists, to be dragged to their new domain whether they wish it or not!
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: https://www.myth-weavers.com/showthread.php?t=329013
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.