Saturday, October 8, 2016

Corruptions (And Power) in Horror Adventures

For those folks who don't know me, and who have not dug too deeply into my archives, you should know I'm a horror lover. In case my recent Jason Voorhees Pathfinder character conversion didn't give it away. Nothing makes me more eager to show up for a game than the knowledge that zombies are going to be terrifying, dreams are going to be gateways to outer worlds, and somewhere on my character sheet I'll need to track my character's sanity and mental disorders.

This is my spa.
So, when Horror Adventures came out, I was all but bouncing on my toes with excitement. Not because I feel that every, single game needs to be an homage to the Old Ones, but because it promised to be a tool box full of nasty, awful things that I could use to make some of my darker character dreams come true. And that it would clarify certain arguments we've had over the years, as I covered in my last Crunch topic Horror Adventures Settles The Argument About Evil Spells and Alignment.

I was not disappointed.

Let's Talk About Corruptions

The stand-out mechanic for Horror Adventures is corruptions. Detailed on page 14, corruptions are awful malignancies that can twist characters out of true, tempting them with dark paths, and rewarding them with terrible gifts if they choose to succumb instead of fighting. It is, in a real way, showing that certain types of power stain and corrupt those who choose to use them.

The way a corruption works is that there is a precipitating event keyed to a certain type of corruption. This event can happen any time during the character's lifespan, including at level 1. When you first acquire the corruption, and every other level after it, you gain a manifestation. These manifestations are powers that represent how advanced your corruption is, and each one comes with a unique stain that makes it progressively difficult to hide what you're becoming. They're sort of like "free" feats, in that they get more powerful as you increase in level, but the drawbacks that come with stronger manifestations can become crippling in certain circumstances.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
For example, say you gain the vampirism corruption. You could gain the Fangs manifestation, which allows you to grow fangs as a swift action, and grants you a bite attack. However, it also means that you have to drink enough blood from a sentient creature in order to inflict at least 1 point of Constitution damage every day, instead of every week. That would be the stain. Alternatively you might gain the Devil's Horns manifestation from the hellbound corruption, which gives you unnatural horns, and a gore attack. In this case the stain is that you have horns that cannot be hidden, and which people recognize as unnatural. They also show up in whatever form you take, even if you're polymorphed. As you progress through your corruption, you add more manifestations, until you eventually have the full complement of the corruption's abilities.

It's important to remember that it's not all fun and games, though. You see, in addition to the stains that come with your powers, each corruption has a certain trigger. When you act in certain ways, and perform (or fail to perform) certain actions, then you need to start making saves in order to halt the corruption's progress. You begin at Stage 0, and every time you fail a save, you progress to the next stage. These progressions typically come with an alignment shift, as well as other penalties. If you fail the save 4 times, you succumb to the corruption completely, and are relegated to the position of NPC. It's also possible, if you get to the source of the corruption, that you can remove it from your character. This provides an interesting question; is your love of power greater than your sense of self?

Now, it's entirely possible to gain the maximum number of manifestations (9, since you can only have one every two levels) without ever leaving Stage 0. But it's important to ask yourself how long you can play with fire before it seriously starts to burn.

The Forms of Corruption

There are 11 different corruptions, and each one offers its own, unique powers. While you can technically gain two corruptions (under very special circumstances) you're typically limited to one. Which means you need to choose which corruption you feel is most appropriate for your character and concept... unless, of course, you trust your DM to roll a 2d6 and hand you whatever comes up?

Which is a terrible plan, by the by.
When choosing which corruption to add to your character, there are several questions you need to ask. The first is how you acquired it, and when you're going to start adding levels of it? The second is how you plan to avoid increasing the stage of your corruption, even while you add additional manifestations? The third is whether your corruption is something you're embracing, or something you're trying to fight against (and possibly to remove entirely)?

On the one hand, every corruption has a way to remove it. On the other hand, a corruption is a source of genuine power for those it afflicts. Just as the character may be torn about embracing or fighting a corruption, so the player may hem and haw about whether to keep the manifestations for the sake of their power, or trying to cure them in order to eliminate the risk they pose.

Well, that's all for this week's Crunch topic. Hopefully everyone is just as excited about using these corruptions as I am! If you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. There's free stuff in it for you, too, as long as you pledge at least $1 a month. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, now would be a great time to start.


  1. Took a look, and these really seem way too damning to seek out as a player, both from a mechanical and flavor point of view. Three failed saves, that become progressively harder for each you succeed on, to become an NPC? That's sort of ridiculous.

    There's an appeal to playing with a difficult to control dark side, but this seems to be handled in a way that's extremely unfriendly to the player.

    1. As someone who is actively enjoying the vampiric corruption, the advice I'd give is to pick a corruption whose roll you don't have to make very often. Like any other disease, if you keep up on the treatment (in that case, drinking blood once per week), you can maintain yourself with a fair amount of ease.

      I've gone 3 levels since I acquired the corruption, and I haven't had to make a single save for it.

    2. I'm looking forward to exploring corruptions in the next campaign I'm running, see what my players do with it. I do agree that the final switch to NPC is pretty ridiculous though. I personally think it would be fine to let the player continue with their character, as long as they understand that it is no longer the character they expected to play.

  2. Technically, you don't have to become an NPC. If the GM is fine with you being completely corrupted, and you can (role)play such a character properly without infringing on the enjoyment of the others, there is no reason to retire said character