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The Corruption and Taint of the Unlife

By Cormac Doyle

Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

Copyright ©2000

Excerpts from On the Nature of the Unlife, a lecture to the Collegiate of the Arcane by sage Crom taal Kieranis, Professor of the Occult:

"The corruption of the Unlife creeps unevenly across the lands of Kulthea like some foul cancer. Left alone, it festers and grows, spreading ever outwards from the source of the Taint. As the presence of Taint spreads, it corrupts the natural flora and fauna of the land. This transformation occurs slowly, over a long time. Areas which once were lush farmlands wither and mire to become dank swamps and fens; steppes and plains dry up, becoming desolate wastes; while the bogs and woods of the highlands become blasted heaths and dark, twisted forests. As the Taint becomes stronger, the changes become more pronounced and the plants and animals which remain become progressively more mutated and twisted.

"Just as the Unlife corrupts the world around us, it will taint our very beings. Simply travelling through a corrupted land will slowly corrupt one's balance. Eating foodstuffs from such a corrupted land—or worse yet, drinking tainted water—will affect the individual in question far faster. Of course, close interactions with the creatures and constructs of the Unlife will most assuredly cause the unfortunate victim to suffer grievous corruption.

"Perhaps the first indication that a person has suffered some level of corruption is that he is no longer able to complete even the simplest cantrips without effort—and the more intricate incantations quickly become nigh on impossible. The Taint also affects our bodies and minds; as the amount of corruption in our systems grows, an individual will suffer progressively more severe headaches, stomach pains, indigestion, muscle cramps, and general aches and pains. Along with this air of general physical malaise, it can be almost guaranteed that the individual's mood will become steadily more abrasive and curt, his attention span will decrease, and as the corruption gets worse, he may slip into a deepening depression, becoming increasingly lethargic and pessimistic.

"Certain meditative techniques can help the individual cleanse some of the accumulated Taint from his system, but obviously it is easier to perform such tasks in an area which is not in itself Tainted! Some spell-casters have also learned of ways to purge their systems of the Taint, but this process is a difficult one, and not one which can be carried out on someone without their consent. Many religious rites will also cleanse their believers and confer a certain level of resistance to the background Taint. Unfortunately, the clerics that can successfully lead a village in such a rite tend to be targeted by the servants of the Unlife.

"Obviously, anyone who utilises the Unlife as a source of power cannot use any of the methods I have mentioned for very long. Perhaps this is why most of the practitioners of the dark arts will eventually seek out the ultimate transition to the Unlife—to become a Lich, a Spectre, a Vampyre, or a Wraith."

How do we quantify the effects of the corruption of the Unlife, and the Taint to which a character may be exposed? When a character interacts with the Unlife, or the corruption that it causes, he begins to become Tainted. Taint Points (TP) are a mechanic that allows the player and the GM to get a rough estimate of the characters' current level of Taint; it forms the basis of the remainder of this text.

Quantifying the Corruption

Characters will accrue a certain degree of Taint as they interact with their environment. It is possible for characters to cleanse themselves of some of that Taint if the proper meditative techniques or rituals are utilised. However, a proportion of the Taint may become permanent. Thus we must track both "Temporary Taint" (TT) and "Permanent Taint" (PT). Naturally, PT is far more difficult to remove; it may require the intervention of a very powerful spell-caster.

Once a month, when Orhan has waned and is no more (the night of the new moon), the character's PT score is increased according to the following formulae:

PT(new) = PT(old) + ?(PT), where

?(PT) = [TT(old) – PT(old)]/10.

The TT score is then reduced by the same amount:

TT(new) = TT(old) – ?(PT).

However, TT(new) may never be less than PT(new), so PT(new) should be calculated first.

Sources of Corruption

Living in or travelling through an area tainted by the Unlife may cause a character to become Tainted. Eating foodstuffs—animal or plant—from a Tainted area brings increased hazards, and drinking waters befouled by the Unlife brings a very high level of Taint. Close interaction with creatures or creations of the Unlife causes the character to become severely Tainted, as will manipulation of the Unlife itself. All of these factors are summarised in

Table I

.

Table I: Temporary Taint Adjustments by Source

Source

Taint

Living in/travelling through land:

  • Untouched by the Unlife
  • Areas where the Taint is actively eliminated
  • Within a month's ride of a Lich's Citadel
  • Within 7 days' ride of a Lich's Citadel
  • Within 3 days' ride of a Lich's Citadel
  • Within a day's ride of a Lich's Citadel
  •  

    +0 per month

    +1 per month

    +2 per month

    +3 per month

    +4 per month

    +5 per month

    Consuming Tainted Food

    2× Taint value of land per meal

    Consuming Tainted Water

    5× Taint value of land per pint/half litre

     

    Contact with Tainted Creatures:

  • Creature's PT = 100
  • Creature's PT = 200
  •  

    +1 per minute

    +2 per minute

    Contact with Creatures of the Unlife

  • Type I Unlife (Lesser Ghoul)

  • Type II Unlife (Revenant)

  • Type III Unlife (Spectre)

  • Type IV Unlife (Wraith)

  • Type V Unlife (Vampyre)

  • Type VI Unlife (Lich)

  • Type VII Unlife (Veyrr)
  •  

    +2 per minute

    +4 per minute

    +6 per minute

    +8 per minute

    +10 per minute

    +12 per minute

    +15 per minute

    Contact with Blood of Creatures of the Unlife

  • Type I Unlife (Lesser Ghoul)

  • Type II Unlife (Greater Ghoul)

  • Type III Unlife (Lesser Blood Beast)

  • Type IV Unlife (Greater Blood Beast)

  • Type V Unlife (Vampyre)

  • Type VI Unlife (Lich)

  • Type VII Unlife (Veyrr)
  •  

    +5

    +10

    +15

    +20

    +25

    +30

    +45

    Manipulation of the Unlife

    +1 per PP cast

    Notes:

    • Close interaction with a creature of the Unlife will give twice that creature's "Type" (except VII) in TP per minute. Naturally, close interaction includes melee combat.
    • If the blood of a Creature of the Unlife splashes on a character, he will gain five times the creature's "Type" (except VII) in TP.

    The Effects of Corruption

    When a character accrues any Taint, the following rules apply:

    • He can no longer automatically cast spells—he must always make a Spell Casting Static Manoeuvre (SCSM), using his TT level as a negative modifier.
    • The character suffers a penalty equal to his PT level on all Meditation attempts—including Cleansing Trance.
    • Animal Hatred: Animals can instinctively detect characters with high levels of Taint. As the level of corruption increases, they will tend to either flee or attack (based upon their basic outlooks).
    • When a character accrues 100 PT points, he can no longer utilise the Essænce for magical effect. Additionally, the character will begin to be partially affected by spells and items that normally only affect the Unlife (Repulsions, Holy Weapons, etc.). Where possible, these should do half damage, or be at half effectiveness, etc. The character will also detect as "Evil" when targeted with scrying or detection spells.
    • When a character accumulates 200 PT points, he is considered to make the irreversible transition to the Unlife.

    Mutations

    Although mutations are probably the worst aspect of the effects of corruption upon the body, the Taint of the Unlife has other, more insidious effects:

    • Headaches: They begin as transient discomfort, but gradually become an unrelenting, throbbing pain, stabbing at the eyes and making even the faintest light unbearable. As the headaches become worse, the pain begins to cause nausea. Think migraine, and you're halfway there. These headaches are actually the first signs of Neural Damage (q.v.).
    • Indigestion: The mucous membranes of the GIT (gastrointestinal tract, stomach and intestines) gradually break down. This means that victims will initially experience heartburn and indigestion after practically every meal, but as the corruption gets worse, it will progress into bleeding ulcers. Those may eventually perforate, resulting in sudden toxic shock and death. Even before this happens, victims will lose progressively more and more blood into their stool every day, resulting in tiredness and anaemia.
    • Peripheral Neural Damage: The growing level of corruption in the victim's body gradually damages the sensory nerves, beginning with the longest. Thus victims will slowly lose all feeling in the soles of their feet (including touch, pressure, heat, cold and pain). As the condition worsens, it will spread to their hands, and then slowly start to spread towards their core bodies, progressing up the arms and legs (actually, it rarely gets there; they normally die first). Because victims will have no feeling in their peripheries, they can cause themselves serious damage—they don't realise they are bleeding, or touching a red-hot iron, or standing on a nail, etc. This means that they are very prone to recurring infections, which can develop into gangrene.
    • Epilepsy: Some individuals have exhibited epileptic episodes as their headaches become more severe. These episodes follow a progression:
    • Such episodes begin as "brown-outs." Victims seem "distant" or "inattentive" to observers. Although they may be able to respond in an appropriate manner, they will have no memory of events which occur during such a brown-out, although they never fully lose consciousness.
    • Later, victims begin to have "black-outs." They suddenly collapse unconscious, and may injure themselves in falling. Note that this is not a "faint"; it is not caused by lack of oxygen delivery to the brain.
    • As the condition becomes more serious, victims will experience actual seizures, where they will collapse unconscious and be wracked by seizures for 10d10 rounds. As the condition continues to worsen, such seizures become more and more common.
    • Narcolepsy: Victims may unexpectedly lapse into a deep sleep, often when under pressure.
    • Optical Damage: Victims' visual acuity will be affected by the progression of this condition. In some, their eyes actually cloud over, blurring and eventually blinding them with untreatable cataracts. Others suffer a progressive degeneration of the cones in their eyes, resulting in them losing the ability to focus on stationary objects and a progressing loss of colour acuity. Eventually, they can only see in black and white. (Note that such colour loss does not happen a colour at a time, the colours simply start to blur into one another, until all the victim sees is shades of dirty grey.) Since the cones are necessary to make out fine detail, the character soon looses the ability to read, etc.
    • Photosensitivity: In addition to the visual photosensitivity caused by the headaches, many victims of this condition display a progressive loss of melanin, accompanied by an increasing sensitivity to ultraviolet light. As the condition worsens, they may suffer sunburn after being exposed to indirect sunlight for as little as ten seconds. Bright light will also temporarily blind such people, because their eyes have adjusted to cope with their world of darkness. For someone in the final stages of this condition, even moderate exposure to sunlight can cause second- and third-degree burns.
    • Weight Loss: As the condition progresses, victims may begin to lose a lot of weight. If this progresses too far, they will quickly die as their organs begin to fail.
    • Ill Health: Victims' physical statistics (Constitution, Agility, Quickness, and Strength) are eroded due to their failing health. For every ten points of Taint over 50, the character's temporary physical statistics are reduced by one point per month.
    • Gross Physical Changes: The following gross physical mutations have been noted:
    • Hair Loss: Over a period of time, the victim's hair falls out in clumps.
    • Blackening/Loss of Fingernails: The victim's fingernails and toenails blacken and fall off, leaving open, weeping sores.
    • Scaling/Keratinisation of the Skin: The victim's skin becomes rough and scaly; essentially, the outer layers begin to have keratin (the major component of fingernails and hair) deposited. This does not confer any armour bonus and looks absolutely gross.
    • Peeling and Shedding Skin: The skin on the victim's neck seems to segment into small patches that dry and flake off, leaving the skin underneath red and puffy. As the condition gets worse, the area affected spreads down the trunk, and up the neck and face.
    • Bony Protrusions: The victim's body begins to leach the calcium and magnesium from the bones and deposit them in strange locations, causing bony protrusions under the skin. Often these are deposited around joints, reducing manoeuvrability and causing considerable pain. Anyone who has seen someone with severe juvenile arthritis should be able to visualise the situation. (If you haven't, check out your local library.)
    • Internal Haemorrhaging: The victim's veins begin to weep into the surrounding tissue, causing blood to seep under the skin, resulting in large dark patches on the body (petecheae). This is exceedingly painful. Any individual haemorrhage will clear itself up after about a week, but others will form in the meantime. As the condition worsens, the number and severity of the bruises increases.
    • Open Sores and Ulcers: The victim develops welts of up to an inch in diameter, which are red and sore to the touch. After a period of time, these welts open up and begin to drain. Eventually, the cyst scars over, remaining dormant for a while before reopening. As the condition worsens, more and more cysts form, and those that already are present reopen.
    • Unusual Mutations:
    • Increased Metabolism: Victims require progressively more food simply to maintain their energy levels.
    • Increasing Core Temperature: The victims' internal metabolic processes are altered, causing internal temperature to rise by several degrees. (This can eventually result in damage to the brain and other vital organs.)
    • Glow: Victims begin to glow in the dark. Initially, the glow is so faint that it is only noticeable in a dark room. However, as the level of mutation increases, the luminescence increases.
    • Hanging Skin: Victims' skin begins to grow; it hangs in folds from their flesh.
    • Fangs: Victims begin to grow fangs (i.e., their lower and upper incisors begin to elongate). Normally the fangs overlap properly, allowing the victims to continue to eat. Some, however, are not so fortunate; they must have the fangs removed to allow them to survive.
    • Altered Eyes: The pupils of victims' eyes change to vertical slits like a cat's. The numbers of rods and cones are altered to optimise their visual acuity for night vision, but this degrades their ability to focus on fine detail.
    • Psychological Effects: Partly because of the terrible things happening to them, and partly because of the direct effects of the Unlife on the mind, several psychological effects may be noted in victims as they become more and more Tainted. Note that almost any psychological effects can occur. Some of the more commonly observed effects include:
    • Cannibalistic Tendencies: Victims get the urge to consume the flesh of creatures of their own race. As their PT increases, the urges become progressively stronger.
    • Compulsive Eating.
    • Loss of Emotion: Victims lose the ability to feel emotions or to care about other creatures.
    • Pessimism, Lethargy, Depression: All are caused mainly due to the pain, rather than any overt action of the Unlife.
    • Multiple Personalities: Victims' minds fragment under the stress. Although they now have several personalities, each of which may believe they have different skills or abilities, in game terms only their personalities have changed. Some of the personalities are simply unaware of certain skills and overconfident in others.
    • Loss of Self-Worth: Victims no longer care, and are likely to place themselves in grave danger.
    • Loss of Self-Control: Victims are prone to bouts of irrational rage (or inappropriate elation, etc.).
    • Pyromania.

    A "Time-Scale" for Alterations

    This section lists a basic time-line for the symptoms described above to occur. It lists the symptoms (classified by type) in order of severity. The numbers in [brackets] after each condition are a series of "attack levels"—the victim's negative activity modifier is equal to the attack level of the complaint. The numbers in {braces} after each complaint are the TP values needed before this symptom will begin to occur.

    • Neurological Complaints:
    • Headaches [1, 2, 5, 10] {10}.
    • Epilepsy/Narcolepsy [5, 10, 15, 20, 25] {50}.
    • Peripheral Neural Damage [1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 50] {25}.
    • Intestinal Complaints:
    • Indigestion/Heartburn [1, 2, 5] {10}.
    • GIT Ulcers [5, 10, 15, 20, 25] {50}. Victim loses 1 hit per day per five attack levels.
    • Weight Loss [5, 10, 15, 20, 25] {50}. Victim loses 1% of his body weight per month per five attack levels.
    • Dermatological Complaints:
    • Peeling/Flaking [3, 5, 7, 10, 15] {25}.
    • Scaling/Keratinisation [3, 5, 7, 10, 15] {25}.
    • Photosensitivity [3, 7, 15, 25, 40] {50}.
    • Hair Loss/Nail Die-Back {75}.
    • Weeping Cysts [10, 15, 25] {75}.
    • Circulatory Complaints:
    • Internal Haemorrhaging [15, 25, 40] {100}.
    • Bone Redistribution [15, 25, 40] {100}.
    • Unusual Mutations: The probability of an unusual mutation occurring (or becoming more pronounced) is calculated as follows: Roll d100 (open-ended), and add 10% of the victim's PT value. If the result exceeds 100, a mutation has occurred.
    • Psychological Disorders: The probability of a Psychological Disorder occurring is calculated once per month as follows: Calculate the average activity penalty the victim is suffering under due to the physical and neurological effects of the Taint. Subtract three times the victim's Self Discipline. This net result is his "psych bonus." Roll d100 (open-ended), and add the "psych bonus." If the result exceeds 100, the victim begins to suffer from a psychological disorder. The GM may choose one of the psychological effects, or select one randomly. If the victim already suffers from a psychological disorder, then there is a 90% chance that it gets worse rather than another disorder appearing.

    Removing the Taint

    Probably the simplest way for individuals to remove the corruption that they have received is to learn and use the Cleansing Trance skill—although this will only remove Temporary Taint. Every half-hour of meditation gives one roll on the Cleansing Trance Chart.

    Persons who already know the Cleansing Trance skill can assist those individuals ignorant of those techniques (e.g., children, idiots, fools, and people unaccustomed to the problems of the Unlife). To do this, they sit quietly with the persons they wish to assist. Cleansing Trance chart results apply, but in this case the Taint is not eliminated, it is transferred to the healers, who must then retire to a quiet place to try and cleanse themselves.

    In Palia, the Clerics of Reann and Fay'all and the Druids of the Dragon's Conclave possess the power to cleanse their followers of the Taint—even Permanent Taint. The process is exhausting, painful, and not without risk.

    Several herbs also exist which can affect the Taint. Reann's Wort, the Dragon's Blood and the Flame of Fay'all are all described below.

    Table III: Some Herbs from The Healers' Handbook

    Name

    Reann's Wort

    Other Names

    Iy, Oiokasvi

    Type

    Cleansing

    Range

    Along the banks of unpolluted freshwater streams in the highlands of Gaalt and the Palian Archipelago [Mountainous/Freshwater, Cool Temperate, Common: t-A-3 or t-F-3].

    Characteristics

    Reann's Wort is a low, hardy, creeping shrub related to the Vacinnium family (bilberry, blueberry, cranberry). The small blue-black berries are so acrid and sour that they are almost inedible.

    Medicinal Uses

    None.

    Other Uses

    When one pound of these berries are fermented with one pound of elderberries and three pounds of blueberries, the resulting white wine is delectable. A glass of this wine taken every day will remove up to 5 points of Taint.

    Name

    Dragon's Blood

    Other Names

    Iy, Seroracca

    Type

    Cleansing

    Range

    Temperate forest clearings [Deciduous/Mixed Forest, Cool Temperate, Rare: t-D-7].

    Characteristics

    Dragon's Claw is a climbing orchid that grows on the trees at the edges of forest clearings. The green leaves turn a deep red in the autumn, when they are said to resemble the blood of a dragon dripping down the tree. Although the plant is relatively common, it will only flower once every seven years, and it is the pollen of the Dragon's Blood which carries its cleansing properties.

    Medicinal Uses

    None

    Other Uses

    The pollen of the Dragon's Blood is a powerful cleansing agent, capable of cleansing up to 20 points of Temporary or 5 points of Permanent Taint from the afflicted person. However, for this to occur, he must collect the pollen of five flowers and dissolve it in a cup of Oiokasvi Wine. Because this process stops the plant from being pollinated, few Druids will allow adventurers to raid the Dragon's Blood in the forests they protect.

    Name

    Flame of Fay'all

    Other Names

    Iy, Morotusquë

    Type

    Cleansing

    Range

    The alpine meadows of Gaalt and the Palian Archipelago [Alpine/Meadow, Cool Temperate, Uncommon: t-A-5 or t-S-5].

    Characteristics

    Growing among the grasses on the high mountain meadows of the highlands of Gaalt and the Palian Archipelago, this strange little plant is noticeable for its spread of dark red leaves and rare orange flowers, which only appear after the flower has seen half a dry dozen summers. When the flowers do appear, the look like little tongues of flame, which is why they are called the Flames of Fay'all.

    Medicinal Uses

    None.

    Other Uses

    Although the little flowers have little or no value in themselves, their pale roots may be decocted to form a foul-tasting tea which will cleanse five points of Temporary Taint from the imbiber.

    Editor's Note

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