The Dreadful Winter
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 judgement 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 Powers may eventually grant the transgressor their own domain. Mortals may never know what the Dark Powers 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.
A powers check is actually extremely simple: The GM rolls a percentile die in secret, and the chances of you failing are determined by what you have done. Mortals have no control over the whims of the Dark Powers; no magic or special ability can ever modify this dice roll.
The percentage chance usually doesn’t climb above 10%, though circumstances and motives can modify it a little. Using a necromantic spell to heal a dying friend, for instance, would be considerably less likely to be worthy of the Dark Powers’ attention. But you never know. Some deeds automatically fail the powers check, however, such as brutally murdering a loved one.
No person is born evil. All PCs 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 (Good alignment, and must never have committed an act worthy of a powers check), a hero can enter the campaign with their Innocence intact.
Alternatively, if the player and GM agree, a PC could enter the campaign having already failed one or more powers checks. Such a character might be struggling against some dark inner nature, or might now be on a quest for redemption for past mistakes.
Innocence: Innocence represents a soul completely free of the taint of evil. This is a choice made at first level. Note that most people lose their purity long before they leave childhood.
Benefits: Evil is repelled by your inner light, and you get 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: You take a -2 penalty to Horror saves and Sense Motive checks. Evil clerics with Rebuke Undead can turn you just as a good cleric would turn undead. Spells in Ravenloft cannot target moral alignment, but some (like a paladin’s detect evil) can target Innocence.
The path from Innocence to the final damnation of a Darklord is distressingly short—a mere seven steps—and all too easy to traverse. Each stage comes with a gift and a curse attached. Both tend to be modeled after your own character’s inner flaws and nature—a cowardly rogue might gain an increase to movement speed, but their feet turn into ungainly and unsightly pig’s hooves.
The final stage is always the same, however. And it’s certainly a doozy.