A Light in Darkness
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 destruction.
Unseen by mortals, the Dark Powers sit in judgment of all that occurs within their realm and silently watch countless 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 Powers may eventually grant the transgressor her own domain.
Making a Powers Check
Whenever a player character willingly performs an evil act, the DM will 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.
A percentage chance of attracting the attention of the dark powers will be assigned based on the severity of the transgression (generally from 1% for a major theft or unprovoked assault on a stranger to 10% for premeditated murder of an innocent or close friend). Some acts are so horrific they will invariably attract the attention of the dark powers (sadistic torture) and some so trivial they require no roll (lying to all but the closest friends, assaulting an evil creature). If the percentile roll falls below the assigned percentage, the character moves one step down the path of corruption.
The nature of the victim also affects this percentage, crimes against innocents and loved ones are more dangerous than those committed against strangers or enemies. Be prepared to explain (not justify) your character’s mindset when committing a morally questionable act, motivation can also affect this chance.
Crimes or Acts of Violence
Murder, theft, assault, extortion, threats and torture all put the perpetrator in a dark mindset with the potential to attract dark attention. In another world slaughtering goblins with a rain of arrows from the darkness would be considered acceptable, they are evil creatures after all. Not so in Ravenloft. You may fight, even kill, in self defense without concern and even the presumption of danger is generally sufficient to justify violence (the goblin warriors are marching on the village, you setup an ambush and attack them first). Marching into the goblin’s home caves and slaughtering them simply for being what they are, that will leave a stain on the soul. Be sure you are in the right before risking corruption, it is far too easy to descend into darkness here.
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 has no reasonable way to know of the existence of a religious tenet will not be punished for failing to obey it. Note that transgressions against an evil faith not your own never call for a powers check. Deliberately breaking the tenets or desecrating the holy places of a neutral or good faith, even if you don’t share it, will call for a check. Serious transgressions against your own faith are almost certain to attract the attention of the dark powers.
Powers checks can also be incurred through trafficking with unholy supernatural forces. With these acts, the chance of failure is determined not by the nature 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 profane to warrant a powers check. Examples of this type of transgression involve laying a curse, casting an evil or necromantic spell, using (or even carrying) an evil magic item or worse, creating one.
Effects of Failure
All players are assumed to start with a “clean soul” — they have never failed a powers check and the forces of corruption have no claim on them. If the player wants, they can enter the campaign with their Innocence intact.
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 are inexorably tied; a rogue who gains low-light vision might also suffer from light sensitivity; a monk who receives a bonus to natural armor might grow a thick, scaly hide. These curses apply OR penalties whenever they are observed.
The Dark Powers tailor 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 her transgressions but harder to conceal her crimes. In the early stages of corruption, when redemption is still at hand, the curses tend to be minor and easily concealed. In later stages, however, the curses gain in strength often forcing the character to rely on her dark gifts — abilities that often require more powers checks to use.
Innocence represents a soul completely free of the taint of evil. Any character can choose to be Innocent if they meet the prerequisite. Innocence is a extraordinary quality, not a feat. Indeed, although all people are born Innocent, most lose their purity long before they leave childhood.
Prerequisites: You must be a humanoid and of good alignment and must never have committed an act requiring a powers check (regardless of the outcome).
Benefits: Evil is repelled by your inner light. You gain a +3 divine bonus to all saving throws against any spell effect or supernatural ability that either requires a powers check or is used by an evil creature.
Drawbacks: Your naivete leaves you with a -2 competence penalty to Horror saves and Sense Motive checks.
Losing Innocence: You immediately lose all effects of Innocence if you fail to meet any of the above prerequisites or if you ever suffer a moderate or major Horror or Madness effect. You may also voluntarily lose your Innocence at any time. Once lost, however, Innocence can never be regained.