Necromantic Taint

Copyright Nathan Watters © 2006

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"A single encounter may be enough to slowly drain the victim's life"

Necromantic taint is the term used by necromancers and sages for the physical and mental changes incurred by prolonged exposure to negative energy. Negative energy exists everywhere naturally. However, on the prime plane of existence, this energy is consistently held in check by the life-giving energy essence. Despite the counteracting presence of essence, every living thing is in some small way affected by this energy over time. Aging is one way that negative energy affects a person; insanity can also be a symptom as long if the buildup of negative energy is large enough.

Since negative energy is a key element in creating undead, the effects are greater in their presence. This effect is called necromantic taint: the slow decay of the body and eventual death of the necromancer. However, this death is not permanent. The victim rises as an insane, evil undead due to the large amount of negative energy present at the moment of death. The process is a long and painful experience that can take years.

While all undead have the capability to generate necromantic taint, ethereal undead, especially those composed purely of negative energy, are the worst carriers. A single encounter may be enough to slowly drain the victim's life. Generally an undead transfers taint by draining constitution, but prolonged exposure to undead and their lairs can do so as well.

To determine the amount of necromantic taint transferred by an undead, divide any constitution drain by two (for most undead) or one (for spectral undead). Undead that do not drain constitution can only generate necromantic taint through prolong interactions (see below).

The effects of taint manifest slowly; many victims don't realize they have been afflicted until it's too late. Each point of taint takes, on average, a number of days to manifest equal to the victim's constitution bonus. For example, if a ranger with a constitution bonus of 5 receives 10 points of taint, the effects will be fully manifest after 50 days. The exact timing of intermediate effects is up to the GM, but it should not be entirely predictable.

Effects of necromantic taint

The following chart describes the effects of taint, both positive and negative. All effects are cumulative.

Total Taint Negative Effects Positive Effects
1 -- 10 None None
11 -- 15 Skin turns pale* None
16 -- 25(*) Skin turns grey*
Eyes appear unnaturally sunken
26--30 Smells of light rot All beings able to smell within 10' must make an RR (vs. disease) or suffer a penalty of -5 to all actions.
31 -- 40 Skin appears stretched*
Penalty of -5 to base movement rate (BMR)
Victim craves flesh
41 -- 50 Skin cracks*
Penalty of -5 to BMR
Victim must consume flesh to heal
Stun results are reduced by one round
51 -- 60 Blood turns black*
-1 Ag and -1 Qu
Smells of mild rot
Affected by Repulsions[1]
Additional penalty of -5 to RRs described above
61 -- 70 Skin rots*
Victim must consume flesh once a day
Stun results are reduced by one round

+5 to Body Development

71 -- 80 Senses dull (penalty of -10 to all awareness maneuvers) None
81 -- 90 Blood turns to ash*
Affected by Holy Ground[2]
Stun results are reduced by one round

Unaffected by bleeding

91 -- 99 Penalty of -5 to BMR
-1 Ag and -1 Qu
All criticals reduced by one
+5 to Body Development
+1 St
100 Victim dies and rises as a Type I Undead[3] Unaffected by stun results
Drains 1 Co on touch
200 Victim consumed by taint and permanently destroyed

Tainted Places

A place can be corrupted by the presence of undead. This process requires an extended period of continuous exposure to the undead. The exact amount of time required is variable, but it depends (in part) on the power of the undead. The amount of natural negative energy in the area is the largest factor. Natural negative energy is always attracted to sources of unnatural negative energy. Undead, being a source of unnatural negative energy, act as a magnet drawing natural negative energy to the area they call home.

Within the area that is tainted, living things tend to die. Plants stop growing and animals shun the area. A character must make an Animal Handling maneuver every hour to convince an animal to remain in a tainted area. Sentient beings experience a sense of dread and despair, and will begin to accumulate taint. A tainted area is detectable using Detect Curse or Detect Evil.

Any uncontrolled undead within a tainted area is able to sense when a living being enters the taint and will usually try to intercept it. Moreover, living beings cannot hide from undead while within a tainted area (even using Invisibility). The intruding life essence is clearly visible to any undead also within the taint.

The chart below shows how much natural negative energy is in an area. This is dependent upon the general alignment of the land, and how much life essence (e.g., vegetation) there is. The chart is based on 6 general alignments and 7 vegetation types:


Haven: An area that is actively protected by the forces of light. Evil has all but been destroyed, and there is no place it can hide. Elven lands are generally considered havens.

Good: This is a land that follows the gods of good, and is known for fighting for the course of good. Any highly populated good country is considered Good.

Neutral (good): An area that is good-aligned, but with a low population. A normal countryside is an example of Neutral (good) location.

Neutral (evil): A location that is in the wilderness and not really claimed by anyone but the monsters who call it home. It is sparsely populated by unfriendly creatures.

Evil: An area that is known for being a place of evil. This could be a country that worships evil deities, or land that borders an evil country.

Dark Haven: A stronghold of evil! This might be an Orcish country, Dwarven ruins under the control of a demon, or just a country ruled by an evil demigod.


Plains: This is normally abundant with plant and animal life, but dry spells are common. The savannah that covers much of Africa falls in this category.

Grasslands: Grasslands are large, open regions that do not suffer from an annual dry season. The Great Plains of the United States are an example of this category.

Forest: This category includes deciduous and coniferous forests.

Rain forest: The rain forests are alive with life and therefore rich with essence. This category has the least natural negative energy. The jungles of South America and Africa are examples of this category.

Mountains: All mountains fall into this category. However, their age (and height) affects the amount of natural negative energy.

Deserts: Deserts include any area that is almost void of water and life. This also includes rocky waste lands, and any area wiped clean of life (e.g., by magic). Africa's deserts are an example of this category.

Oceans: While seemingly void of life on the surface, the oceans are teeming with life and are therefore filled with essence. Natural negative energy is almost non-existent on the high seas.

How to categorize a given region is up to the GM. When multiple categories apply, the GM must decide which features predominate.

Haven Good Neutral (good) Neutral (evil) Evil Dark Haven
Plains 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.5 3 3.5
Grasslands 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.5 3
Forest 1 1.3 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.6
Rain Forest 0.4 0.7 1 1.3 1.6 2
Mountains* 1.3 1.6 1.9 2.3 2.8 3.3
Desert 2 2.3 2.6 3.1 3.8 5
Oceans 0.5 0.8 1.1 1.4 1.8 2.3

This chart indicates the amount of natural negative energy generated in a one mile radius region each year. This natural negative energy is drawn to the unnatural negative energy generated by undead. To determine the size of a tainted region, first multiply the type of the most powerful undead by 20 (or 30 if the undead is spectral). Second, multiply the types of the remaining undead by 10 (or 15 for spectral undead). The sum of these values indicates the radius of the taint.

For example, if a dungeon contains 40 zombies (type I undead) and 5 lesser specters (type III undead) led by a greater wraith (type V undead), the radius of the tainted area is (5 x 30 + 40 x 1 x 10 + 5 x 3 x 15 = 150 + 400 + 225) 775'.

Once you have determined the size of the tainted area you must determine from how far away natural negative energy is being drawn. Multiply the size of the taint by the type of the most powerful undead. (Continuing the previous example, 775' times 5 is 3875', or roughly mile.)

Next, determine the alignment and vegetation of the surrounding area to determine the amount of natural negative energy for a radius of one mile. Multiply this value by the radius obtained in the previous step to determine how much taint will be transferred to every living being each day they remain within the tainted region. (If the dungeon in the ongoing example is located in a Dark Haven rain forest, the tainted area will transfer 1.5 points of taint every day.)

Note that natural negative energy will slowly return to the area depleted by the undead. Thus, five years after the undead take up residence, increase the taint by fifty percent, and after ten years, double the original taint. (If the undead are still around after 10 years, any brave souls that enter the dungeon will gain 3 points of taint every day.)

Harnessing Taint

Another way for negative energy to pool in an area is for a character to use the skill "Harness Negative Energy". This approach is slow and requires the character's constant attention. The difficulty of the maneuver depends on the amount of natural negative energy in the area. The maximum area that a character can draw from is 100 feet for each rank of Harness Negative Energy. The taint is pooled into a region with a 1' radius per rank of Harness Negative Energy. The chart below gives the base difficulty depending on the vegetation and land types.

Haven Good Neutral (good) Neutral (evil) Evil Dark Haven
Plains Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Ext. Hard Easy Light
Grasslands Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Ext. Hard Easy
Forest Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Hard Medium
Rain Forest Absurd Absurd Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Hard
Mountains Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Hard Medium Light Light
Desert Hard Medium Medium Light Light Routine
Oceans Absurd Absurd Sheer Folly Sheer Folly Ext. Hard Hard
+50' draw radius -10 per 50' increment
normal time -10
normal time -20

The chart below shows the time it takes for the taint to pool in hours. Just cross index the total roll, after all modifications have been made, with the difficulty of the maneuver.

Roll Routine Easy Light Medium Hard Ext. Hard Sheer Folly Absurd
200 + 309 315 324 330 349 354 360 365
196 -- 199 313 319 328 334 353 358 364 372
185 -- 195 317 323 332 338 357 362 368 378
175 -- 184 321 327 336 342 361 366 372 383
156 -- 174 325 332 340 346 365 370 376 388
140 -- 155 329 338 344 350 369 374 380 393
125 -- 139 333 342 348 354 373 378 384 398
110 -- 124 337 348 352 359 377 382 388 403
95 -- 109 341 352 356 363 381 386 394 408
90 -- 94 344 357 360 368 385 390 400 415
85 -- 89 349 360 364 372 389 394 406 422
80 -- 84 353 364 368 376 391 400 412 429
75 -- 79 358 368 372 380 395 406 418 436
70 -- 74 363 372 376 384 401 412 424 443
65 -- 69 368 376 380 388 407 418 430 450
60 -- 64 372 380 384 392 413 424 436 458
55 -- 59 375 384 388 398 419 430 442 466
50 -- 54 380 388 392 404 425 436 452 476
45 -- 49 384 392 398 410 431 446 462 486
40 -- 44 387 397 405 416 437 456 472 496
35 -- 39 393 402 413 422 443 466 482 506
30 -- 34 398 409 420 428 453 476 492 516
25 -- 29 403 415 428 438 463 486 502 526
20 -- 24 409 420 435 448 473 496 512 536
15 -- 19 415 426 443 458 483 506 522 546
10 -- 14 520 432 451 568 493 516 537 561
05 -- 09 426 440 459 478 503 531 552 575
01 -- 04 432 448 468 493 518 546 567 590
-20 -- 00 440 455 477 508 533 561 582 605
-21 -- -50 447 470 486 523 548 576 597 620
-51 -- 459 480 496 538 563 581 612 635

Dissipating Taint

When the tainted area is cleansed of undead, the negative energy and the taint that it produces will dissipate. For every month that passes, the amount of taint drops by one point unless the area is cleansed using Cleansing Trance. In societies that commonly employ undead, it is standard practice to purge the land of undead every few decades and to cleanse the land completely of taint (unless, of course, the inhabitants don't care about the effects of taint). Often times a professional society is formed to cleanse the land on a daily basis, and it is constantly on the lookout for regions with too much taint.

* The victim loses 1d10 points of appearance.

(*) Starting with this category, the victim must make a sanity check (see Mentalism Companion) for each category.

[1] The victim receives a special modifier of +20 to all RRs vs. Repulsions; the victim cannot be destroyed by a Repulsion spell.

[2] The victim suffers a penalty of -25 to all actions unless a successful RR is made vs. Channeling; the modifier to RRs vs. Repulsions drops to +10.

[3] The victim is affected by Repulsions normally (no bonus to RRs and susceptible to destruction).

* This represents a young mountain range below the tree line. For older mountains with more life, decrease the natural negative energy value by 0.3. For regions above the tree line, add 0.2.