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The greatest danger to those who battle the horrors
of Ravenloft is not death, but the seductive,
corrupting force of evil. Indeed, most adventurers
pray for a chance to lie peacefully in a
consecrated grave. It is all too easy for even the most noble
and valiant of heroes to gradually become that which he has
devoted his life to destroying.
What is a Power Check?
In most cases, players run their characters in the heroic fashion expected of them. From time to time, however, a player opts to have his character undertake an action of questionable morality. In most game worlds, he could get away with such things provided he did not perform an action so heinous as to require an alignment change. On the Demiplane of Dread, things are not so simple.
The dark powers keep a constant vigil over the actions of every living thing in Ravenloft. Whenever someone commits an evil deed, the shadowy gaze of the dark powers could possibly fall upon the wrong-doer. In order to determine whether or not a given act draws the attention of the dark powers, the Dungeon Master makes use of a game mechanic called a powers check.
A powers check is, quite simply, a means of prodding the player characters away from acts of evil. If the players follow the course of heroes and champions, they will never have to attempt a powers check; the less pure of heart, who often tread the gray edges of the Abyss, will make them constantly.
While the chance of failing a given powers check is generally slight, those who must make them repeatedly will surely fail sooner or later. When that happens, they begin to sink into a quicksand of evil, and only the greatest of heroes ever saves himself from that mire.
When to Make a Power Check?
Whenever a character undertakes an action that might be considered evil, the Dungeon Master should require a powers check. Exactly what sorts of actions require powers checks, however, can be the subject of some debate.
As a rule, a Dungeon Master should require a powers check only when a character commits a premeditated act of evil. If the character suffers from some form of mental domination, no check is required. If the act is a necessity forced on the character by his situation, no check is required. A Dungeon *Master must decide on a case by case basis whether or not an act requires a powers check.
How to Make a Power Check?
A powers check is nothing more than a percentile roll. When the Dungeon Master decides to require a check, he assigns a chance of failure and then rolls 1d1OO. If the roll is above the chance of failure, the attention of the dark powers was focused elsewhere, and the character does not come to their attention.
If the roll is equal to or less than the chance of failure, however, the character draws the attention of the mysterious masters of Ravenloft. In recognition of the character's misdeeds, they grant him a new special ability - but not without a price. In addition to this new ability, the character will be burdened with some manner of disadvantage or weakness.
Determining the Chance of Failure
Once the Dungeon Master decides that an act requires a powers check, he must assign a chance of failure. Evil acts range from petty crimes to unspeakable deeds of debauchery, and the nature of the action should mandate the severity of the check.
Table 16: Recommended Powers Checks indicates the chance of failure associated with some common evil acts. A particularly vile example of these deeds should have its chance of failure increased by half. If mitigating circumstances played a part in the character's decision to do evil, the chance of failure may be reduced. In all cases, of course, the Dungeon Master has the final say.
Crimes or Acts of Violence
In some cases, these are the least risky of evil deeds. While the dark powers may occasionally take notice of a thief cutting the strings on a purse, they are generally uninterested in such matters. Usually, only those violent acts of a particularly cruel or brutal nature attract the attention of the dark powers.
Assault, Unprovoked: Unprovoked assaults are those in which the perpetrator has no actual intent to murder or cause lasting harm to the victim. Such actions are often unwarranted manifestations of malice, spite, or bigotry. Violent crimes like muggings fall into this category.
Assault, Grievous: A grievous assault is one in which lasting damage is inflicted on the victim. In general, the assailant employs a deadly weapon and cares little for the survival of his victim. A particularly barbaric unarmed beating can also fall into this category, however. Exceptionally violent crimes like attempted murder fall under this heading.
Betrayal, Major: Few acts are as difficult to define as betrayal. As a rule, however, betrayal can be defined, as the breaking of a trust or promise. This should not be confused with violations of holy oaths or tenets, which are described below. Actions that violate the spirit of a promise, even if they adhere to the letter of it, still count as betrayals. In order to qualify as a major betrayal, the act must lead to the long-lasting harm or death of the victim.
Betrayal, Minor: A minor act of betrayal causes the victim to be publicly humiliated or forces a change in his lifestyle. Exposing an embarrassing secret entrusted to you by a close friend or lover qualifies as a minor betrayal.
Extortion: This category covers many criminal areas, including blackmail and armed robbery, in which the perpetrator uses the threat of violence to deprive someone of something which is rightfully his. It also includes forcing someone to commit evil acts, violate a law, or otherwise undertake an undesirable action.
Lying: The dark powers are said to hear every word spoken in the Demiplane of Dread. A whispered untruth, whether in the middle of a public market or in the darkness of a hidden lair, can potentially draw their attention. The act of lying includes both the telling of untruths and the omission of facts, but unless the lie has a directly negative effect on the hearer, no powers check is required.
Murder, Brutal: To define any murder as less than brutal is obviously inappropriate. In game terms, however, this category includes all acts of homicide in which the victim is made to suffer for an extended period of time. For example, beheading someone would not fall into this category, but strapping them down beneath a slowly descending, razoredged pendulum would. Especially brutal murders may well fall under the heading of torture, which is described below.
Murder, Premeditated or Nonbrutal: This category encompasses both nonbrutal (as defined above) and premeditated murders. Premeditated murder includes any act of homicide which is committed in the name of personal gain or vengeance.
Theft, Grave Robbing: Grave robbery is one of the most universally despised acts that any human being can undertake. This includes everything from the violation of ancient tombs for scientific inquiry to the exhuming of a corpse for the construction of a golem or zombie. Pilfering the belongings of fallen companions is also deemed to be an act of grave robbing. In places like Har'Akir, where the natives especially revere the tombs of the dead, grave robbing might even count as the desecration of a holy place (as described in the "Unholy Acts" section below).
Theft, Major: The distinction between major and minor theft is not based upon the value of the stolen items, but on its effect on the victim. Stealing a purse of gold from a wealthy noble will do little more than anger him and, thus, should be considered minor theft. Alternatively, stealing a few silvers from a poor family could cause them to go hungry and should be considered major theft.
Theft, Minor: Any theft that does not fall into the previous category counts as minor theft.
Threats of Violence: Unless it becomes habitual, this offense seldom draws the attention of the dark powers. Threats fall into this category only if they greatly intimidate the victim and if the offender has both the means and intent to follow through on his words.
Torture, Routine: Anyone who engages in torture is certain to run afoul of the dark powers in short order. Even when used to gain information that might result in an ultimate good, the use of torture is an evil act. Even torture done out of necessity falls under this heading.
Torture, Sadistic: Those who regularly engage in torture for sheer enjoyment number among the most vile and heinous creatures in Ravenloft. Such folk are certain to be consumed by the evil within them.
Violating a religious code can often attract the attention of the dark powers. This is especially important if a paladin or priest undertakes the evil act.
Unholy acts should require a powers check only if the offender is aware of his transgression. A character who enters a temple and fails to make a holy sign of respect because he does not know about the custom has committed no wrong. If the character still refuses after being informed of the practice, he runs the risk of offending the powers.
Unholy acts depend on both the personal beliefs of the character and the beliefs of those around him. A character is expected to consistently uphold his own personal beliefs. For instance, a worshiper of Thor must always follow the teachings of his church, and if he fails to do so, his transgression may be noticed by the dark powers. Alternatively, a character can also commit an unholy act by openly and maliciously violating the beliefs of those around him. A character who mocks an important idol may well offend more than the local townspeople.
Breaking a Tenet: Every religion has a number of rules that its members must follow. For example, worshipers of a sea god might be expected to eat fish or seafood at least once a day. Anyone who knowingly violates one of these practices is guilty of breaking a tenet.
Breaking an Oath: Deities often require their followers, especially members of the clergy, to make promises of loyalty and obedience. For example, priests who worship a god of peace might swear an oath of pacifism forbidding them to ever strike another in anger. If such a character is goaded into throwing a punch, he violates this holy oath. Even if the act was prompted by a desire for self preservation or in defense of a helpless innocent, it still requires the character to make a powers check.
Breaking a Vow: Usually, only members of the clergy take holy vows. The violation of such a vow often carries penalties even beyond the powers check. For the purposes of powers checks, holy vows are lifelong commitments designed to show the devotion of a priest to his deity. A priest who breaks a vow betrays both his church and his deity.
Defilement: A character commits an act of defilement when he causes a sacred object, place, or person to lose its blessing. Pouring lamp oil into a font of holy water, thereby spoiling the holy water, counts as an act of defilement. By the same token, opening a tomb in the domain of Har'Akir also counts as defilement, because of the special reverence that the natives grant to the dead.
Desecration: In many ways, desecration resembles defilement in that it robs a holy place or item of its sacred stature. Desecration, however, actually makes the object offensive to the deity who blessed it.
Laying a Curse
Whenever a character calls upon the dark powers to curse another, whether his actions are justified or not, he must make a powers check. The chance of failing such a check depends upon the final effect of the curse, as indicated on the chart. While all curses have the potential for drawing the attention of the dark powers, those laid without cause are twice as dangerous.
A complete discussion of curses is presented in Chapter Twelve: The Whispered Evil.
Other Evil Acts
Two other commonly attempted acts can mandate powers checks as well.
Casting an Evil Spell: Most spells do not require a powers check. Some, however, tap into sources of mystical power best left untouched. Spells that require the player to make a powers check are noted in Chapters Eight and Nine. In rare cases, the Dungeon Master might feel that an evil spell is being used with exceptionally altruistic motives. If so, he may opt to halve the chance of failure on this powers check.
Using Evil Psionic Powers: When a character uses the powers of the mind in the service of evil, he runs the risk of having the dark powers overhear his thoughts.
While the above guidelines allow the Dungeon Master to handle almost any situation involving powers checks, a few additional factors should be considered.
Acts of Ultimate Darkness
Some deeds are so evil that a normal powers check just is not appropriate. These acts of ultimate darkness are so terrible that they almost certainly draw the attention of the dark powers.
Exactly what qualifies as an act of ultimate darkness is left up to the Dungeon Master. Certainly, the betrayal and murder of Sergei von Zarovich by his brother Strahd falls into this category. Even if not committed for so unsavory a goal as the possession of Sergei's betrothed, the act alone reeks of evil. The fact that his actions drove an innocent woman to suicide and resulted in the death of countless others only magnifies the atrocity. It is no wonder that this is the first recorded act to draw the attention of the dark powers.
When a player commits an act of ultimate darkness, the Dungeon Master is free to assign any chance of failure. As a rule, the minimum value selected for such a check should be 50%. In extreme cases, the Dungeon Master might even mandate a 100% chance of failure.
Multiple Evil Deeds
Occasionally, a character will undertake an act that seems to require more than one powers check (like using a chill touch spell to murder an innocent person); both the casting of this evil spell and the act of murder require powers checks. Still, the character should make only a single powers check when this happens. The chance of failing such a check equals the total of all the lesser checks. In the example above, the powers check would have a chance of failure equal to 10% (for the premeditated murder of an innocent) plus 2% (for the use of a 1st-level necromancy spell) for a total of 12%.