This Midnight Hour
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. But the gifts of Evil are poisoned fruits, 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 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 in Ravenloft, there is a chance that the Dark Powers will 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 Powe rs may eventually grant the transgressor her own domain.
Mortals may never know what the Dark Pow- ers hope to achieve with their dark gifts. Perhaps the Dark Powers act as caring but overly harsh parents, cursing transgressors to frighten them back onto the path of righteousness, or perhaps the Dark Powers seek to inflame mortals' sins, alternately taunting and teasing the morally weak into bottomless spirals of doom.
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 on Table 3-6. An "Innocent" is any charac- ter with the Innocence special quality. (See sidebar, below.)
Assault, Unprovoked: Violent crimes in which the offender has no intention to kill the victim or cause lasting harm. These attacks are often the result of bigotry, bullying, or petty cru- elty. Common examples include muggings, picking a drunken brawl, or striking a child in anger.
Assault, Grievous: An attack in which the offender intentionally causes lasting harm to the victim. The offender typically has no concern for the victim's life. Common examples include vi- cious beatings and attempted murder.
Betrayal, Major: Betrayals include the break- ing of trust or of a promise. Breaking a holy vow, however, is considered an unholy act and is de- tailed below. To be considered a major betrayal, the act must result in lasting harm or death to the betrayed victim. Examples can include a traitorous guard selling the defense plans of his master to assassins, or a merchant reneging on a major con- tract, bankrupting his business partner's family.
Betrayal, Minor: A minor betrayal results in minor but lasting effects for the betrayed party. Common examples include breaking up a happy marriage or acts of public humiliation.
Extortion: Extortion is the criminal act of using the threat of violence to coerce others into giving you something that rightfully belongs to them, or obeying your commands. Common ex- amples include blackmail, armed robbery, and taking hostages.
Lying: Lying includes telling falsehoods and purposefully withholding truths. The Dark Powers hear every word spoken within their realm, but harmless white lies and tall tales are beneath their concern. To warrant a powers check, the lie must directly result in the hearer coming to harm. Examples might include declining to warn a friend that her drink is poisoned or tricking a herdsman into entering the lair of a fearsome beast to search for his lost sheep.
Murder, Brutal: Brutal murder is the act of deliberately taking a person's life through painful and sadistic means. Examples might include Vlad Drakov's method of impaling victims on long stakes, or a creature that tries to keep its prey alive for as long as possible while feasting on it. Brutal murders that involve particularly extended suffering may also count as torture.
Murder, Nonbrutal: Nonbrutal murder does not include extended suffering — the killer just wants the victim dead. The murder must still be premeditated; killing in self-defense does not war- rant a powers check. Vengeance and personal gain are common motives for this brand of murder.
Theft, Grave Robbing: Raiding crypts and looting corpses defiles the sanctity of the dead. Grave robbing includes violating ancient tombs, unearthing coffins to steal corpses, and looting the bodies of the fallen. In cultures where the tombs of dead are particularly revered, grave robbing may be considered an act of desecration (see below).
Theft, Major: Theft is the act of taking any item that rightfully belongs to someone else. Whether the theft is major or minor depends on its effect on the victim, not the stolen item's value in gold pieces. Any theft that results in serious hard- ship for the victim counts as a major theft. Common examples include stealing the meager savings of a peasant family and taking a magic item that the victim needs to keep a curse in check.
Theft, Minor: Any theft that causes the vic- tim little more than passing aggravation is considered minor. Common examples include stealing an apple from a successful fruit stand or silverware from an aristocrat's pantry.
Threats of Violence: Intimidation in itself causes little harm and is often beneath the concern of the Dark Powers. To warrant a powers check, the offender must have both the means and intent to follow through with her threats, and the victim must honestly fear for her safety.
Torture, Routine: Routine torture is the act of inflicting pain to extract information. This is an evil act even when perform ed toward an ultimate good. Many so-called heroes have been seduced into evil through the misconception that the ends justify the means. Common examples include tor- turing an enemy to learn the location of her head quarters, battle plans, or even the location of hostages.
Torture, Sadistic: Sadistic torture is the act of causing intense suffering to derive pleasure. Those who engage in such foul deeds soon draw the attention of the Dark Powers.
Unholy acts are transgressions against a reli- gious 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 has no reasonable way to know of the existence of a religious tenet should not be punished for failing to obey it.
To determine the chance of failure, compare the transgression on Table 3-6 to the core align- ment of the violated faith. Violating the religious codes of one's own faith, regardless of its align- ment, is a particularly serious offense.
Breaking a Tenet: All religions have certain practices that their faithful are expected to follow.
As an example, followers of the Morninglord are expected to sing a short hymn of thanks each morning. Willingly violating one of these rules is considered breaking a tenet.
Breaking an Oath: Some religions require followers, particularly their clergy, to swear oaths demonstrating their devotion. The clerics of Zhakata, for example, must swear to obey the commands of their high priest at all times, while clerics of Osiris are sworn to protect the sanctity of the dead. Willingly violating such an oath war- rants a powers check.
Breaking a Vow: The clergy of some religions are required to swear lifelong vows in the name of their deity. For example, the priestesses of Belenus in the Shadowlands are considered to be spiritually wed to their god and thus must take vows of chastity. A character who breaks a holy vow must make a powers check, and her religion may enforce additional penalties.
Defilement: Defilement is the act of causing a sacred place, object, or person to lose its holy blessings. Deeds might include fouling holy water, breaking into a sealed tomb , and even purposefully robbing someone of her Innocence.
Desecration: Desecration is a more serious form of defilement. Rather than merely causing a sacred object to lose its blessing, desecration actu- ally renders the object unclean in the eyes of its god.
Examples include performing a bloody sacrifice on the altar of a good-aligned deity and or casting the desecrate spell.
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 tran sgressor calls. Unlike in 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: The curse's severity deter- mines the chance of failure.
Casting an Evil or Necromantic Spell: Some spells call on forces that mortals were not meant to wield. The "Altered Magic" section later in this chapter details which forms of magic require pow- ers checks. The chance of failure is equal to the effective spell level of the spell being cast. Note that some special abilities, such as the Empower Spell feat, can alter a spell's effective level. If a spell has both the "evil" and "necromancy" descriptors, the chance of failure is doubled.
Using an Evil Magic Item: Some magic items have one or more special abilities that mirror the effects of spells that incur a powers check. Using such a special ability incurs a powers check as if the user had cast the spell. For example, whenever a character uses a sword of life stealing to bestow a negative level on a foe, the wielder must make a powers check as if she had cast energy drain. The end of the "Altered Magic" section lists all of the Dungeon Master's Guide magic items that require powers check to use, bear, or craft.
Bearing an Evil Magic Item: Some magic items are so infused with evil that a character runs a risk of corruption merely by keeping the item in her possession. This is most often the case with intelligent evil items or th ose with powers that are continually in effect, such as a darkskull. A character with this item in her possession must make a powers check once a week. The chance of failure is equal to that of the item's highest-level spell effect.
Crafting an Evil Magic Item: Magic Items hold the potential to be powerful tools of evil. An evil spell is cast once and is then gone, like a bee losing its sting. A magic item with evil abilities can sting again and again, spreading evil long after its creator is gone. These items can be created only by calling on evil forces. Powers checks for Crafting evil magic items often carry significant chances of failure. First, add the total chance of failure for all prerequisite spells. If the magic item is reusable (as opposed to one-use items like scrolls, potions, or magic arrows), add 10% of the prerequisite experience cost. For example, for a cleric, the prerequisites for Crafting a hand of glory include animate dead, a 3rd-level spell, and 288 XP. The cleric's chance of failing a powers check for creating a hand of glory is thus 31% (3% + 28%). Creating some magic items can incur a powers check with a chance of failure well over 100%; consider crafting such an item to be an Act of Ultimate Darkness. If a metamagic feat augments a character's spell that results in a powers check, the level of that metamagic feat adds to the level of the spell in question for the purposes of determining the chance of failing a powers check. Characters who use feats are going out of their way to make something happen; using them to aid heinous sorceries is all the more noticeable to the Dark Powers.
The Effects of Failure
No person is born evil. All player characters are assumed to enter a Ravenloft 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 her character meets the prerequisites, a hero can enter the campaign with her Innocence intact (see sidebar). 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 she might now be on a quest for redemption from the mistakes of her earlier years.
If a character fails a powers check, the Dark Powers respond with gift s 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 inexo- rably tied: a rogue who gains low-light vision might also suffer from light sensitivity, inflicting
1 pen alties to attack rolls in bright daylight; a monk who receives a bonus to her natural armor might grow a thick, scaly hide. As with the curses offered earlier in this chapter, these curses apply OR modifiers whenever their effects are noticed. Curses arising from failed powers checks should manifest at least as often as the accompanying gift comes into play.