Alice jumped down the rabbit hole…and we all know how the story goes…

So in my previous article, I talked about Halloween in the Feywild. We discussed potential hooks and ways for DMs to introduce the Feywild into a Halloween inspired story. We even talked about utilizing a different role-playing game’s mechanics into a Halloween inspired session. But in case you are sticking to the tried and true d20s and character sheets, we can find some interesting ways to make the player’s experience full of mischief and terror.

Descent into Madness

Madness is an interesting mechanic that was introduced in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and further implemented in this year’s Out of the Abyss adventure module. Basically the mechanic is broken into 3 tiers of severity: short-term (which last anywhere from 1-10 minutes), long time (which can hours), and indefinite (which sounds obvious). The unique trait of the 3 levels of madness is that once a character has failed a madness saving throw, the character starts back up at the 1st level of madness. In other words, the player incurs further madness. I like that idea of layered amounts of depravity and loss of sanity.

When is a good time to dish out some madness?

Well, in the Out of the Abyss adventure, there is the magical radiation known as faerzess, it can cause bits of mental degradation and it has been known to impede magic as well. In some parts it even has the ability to change the spell effects, similar to a Wild Magic zone. But what made madness truly viable in this adventure was the alien nature of the societies and creatures that reside in the Underdark, in addition to the Demon Lords (spoilers, well not really since it’s on the cover). So after witnessing the strange and alien, there is very little doubt that a character’s sanity would remain entirely intact. So we offer the characters a madness saving throw, if they fail they gain a level of madness, roll for a random madness, and watch the fun commence. Now the good news for the players is that madness can be cured. But who wants to do that? It makes for the storytelling different and unexpected. The other aspect to keep in mind, the DMs should record which bouts of madness the players acquire, reminding the players subtly when their madness may have more prevalence at certain narrative points.

The most maddening thing about all of this? When you fail a madness saving throw and being already at the 3rd level of madness. Having an indefinite madness and a brand-spanking new short-term madness to tag along all of a sudden. Can you imagine having the flaw: “I keep whatever I find” and having a short-term madness of experiencing an overwhelming urge to eat something strange. I can envision a character now biting on a piece of rock that was coveted by the deranged character.

Taint – the Scars of Evil or what I might starting Corruption

Back in the early days of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition, an idea sprung for alternative rulesets and even classes, this became the Unearthed Arcana supplement. It became a staple in the Open Game License for the 3.5 ruleset, often referenced and inferred when branching out of the core rules of 3.5 edition. Taint was a concept that dealt with the touch of evil or the very essence of evil was so immensely concentrated that it left a mark on the characters physically or mentally. In later supplements, Taint was divided into depravity (mental) and deformity (physical) forms of taint.

There was even methods to channel taint for spellcasters, which lead to some broken mechanics in-game. But for now we will not implement such a concept yet. But since Madness took on the mental aspects from the original Taint system, I figure I cover the physical expressions of evil, which will be referred to as Corruption.

We do not want to be too removed from the Madness model so we shall implement 3 levels of Corruption. After failing a Corruption saving throw (most likely Constitution saving throws) at 3rd level of Corruption, they gain a level 1 of Corruption. So like Madness, it can be cumulative. With some exceptions, Taint/Corruption can kill characters, I suggest that acquiring a number of Indefinite Corruption equal to a characters’ Constitution modifier, minimum 1. This incentivizes the need to cleanse or purify the taint quickly for characters with low Constitutions.  Also, death from Corruption results in the being to be reanimated by the vile energies into some sort of Undead. So in other words, only a True Resurrection can bring a character back that died from Taint.

Minor Corruption/Taint

Roll 1d100, effects last 1d8 days

1-10. A skin rash develops, sometimes purple or green in hue. Disadvantage on Constitution saving throws involving concentration.

11-20. Lips and mouth are dry. Bad breath. Great thirst that needs to be quenched.

21-30. Hair becomes discolored, sometimes white or unnatural hair color.

31-40. Lose weight and becomes gaunt.

41-50. Wrinkles develop on face.

51-60. Bags form underneath eyes. Pupils enlarge. Becomes blinded in normal lighting.

61-70. Tongue becomes discolored. Cannot taste.

71-80. Teeth become sharp, animal-like. Gains thirst for flesh and meat. Sees any being as a food source.

81-90. Skin changes to an unnatural color for your race. Skin blisters and boils when under direct sunlight.

91-100. You lose a limb. Disadvantage on Strength and Dexterity checks and saving throws. Melee attacks using either ability score is made with disadvantage.

Moderate Corruption/Taint

Roll 1d100, effect lasts 2d4 weeks. 

1-10. Boils form for face and skin, foul smelling pus excretes out. Anyone within a 5 feet radius of you must make a Constitution saving throw or be sickened.

11-20. Fingers become elongated and bony, making it difficult to grasp objects. Disadvantage on Dexterity checks.

21-30. Jaw becomes elongated and teeth become enlarged as well.

31-40. Arms become swollen, muscles and bone become disproportionate. Advantage on Strength checks, disadvantage on Dexterity checks and saving throws.

41-45. Blood becomes acidic, you are sickened, and receive only half the hit points from expending hit dice during a rest, minimum of 1 hit point.

46-50. You sweat slimy, mucus constantly, objects held have a chance to slip out of their grip. Roll a d20, on a 18-20, the object falls out of your hands.

51-60. Your skin becomes very thin, you easily bruise from even bumping into objects. Whenever you are dealt damage, take an additional 1d6 blugroning damage. This damage cannot be reduced or prevented.

61-65. You are blind.

66-70. Your lungs are eaten away by the taint on the inside. Leaving you with wet, laborious breathing. You have disadvantage on Constitution saving throws and Strength checks.

71-75. Your eyes rot away, leaving behind black eye sockets filled with a menacing red light.

76-80. You develop uncontrollable seizures that lead to spasms. Every hour, roll a 1d100, you have a 5% chance of developing a seizure. You are considered paralyzed, unconscious, and blind. You must make a Constitution saving throw or have your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores reduced by 1d4 and take 1 level of exhaustion. It takes a long rest to recover from the effects of a seizure.

81-90. You develop nervous ticks, uncontrollable bodily spasms.

91-100. You fall unconscious. No amount of jostling or damage can wake you.

Indefinite Corruption/Taint

Roll 1d100, gain a flaw until cured.

1-15. You develop a limp in your leg due to a bulbous growth or because part of rotted away. 

16-25. Spine has twisted, you now hunch over. 

26-30. Teeth begin to grow out of your gums uncontrollably, new teeth pop out in the most unusual places. 

31-45. Mutated, deformed fingers, toes, legs, arms, head, ears, or eyes begin to grow on inappropriate parts of the body, then shrivel, rot, and eventually fall off. 

46-55. Fingers and toes web and fuse. Skin emits a slimy residue.  

56-60. Severe warping of skeleton, skull enlarges and deforms.

61-70. Skin blackens, peeling off in papery sloughs at the slightest touch, leaving raw, red flesh underneath.

71-80. All of your teeth fall out, your gums blacken and shrivel up. Your nose rots away, revealing skeletal openings.

81-85. You are blind. (This is a flaw instead of simply a condition)

86-90. One of your arms or legs rots off. (50% arms, 50% legs).

91-100. You develop a disease that is slowly eating away at you from the inside out. It causes excruciating amounts of pain.

Now on to curing the Taint/Corruption.

Cleansing Corruption/Taint

  • Dispel Evil and Good – emphasizing on the evil portion, this spell would only remove one level of Corruption from the target
  • Greater Restoration – can remove one effect of Taint per casting
  • Heal – reduces Taint levels to level 1 (if already at level 1, it does not remove Taint)
  • True Resurrection – a character that died from Taint can only be returned to life through this method
  • Good deeds will not cure one of taint, you will need divine graces to aid in its removal
  • Sacred grounds or lands infused with positive energy or goodness will aid in the cleansing of the corruption/taint. Spending a week in such a place will help remove a level of taint.

Alright, guys, I hope you enjoyed this article on Madness and Taint (or Corruption), it’s something new to play with when dealing with greater evils. A nice idea for DMs during the Halloween season for sure, but useful anytime whenever it would logically make sense. There use to be full-fledged Taint D&D campaigns, those were truly a test of a player’s mettle. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like that returning in the 5E era, for those that like a more mature, grittier experience.

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