Monday, May 20, 2019

When You Call on the Dark

With all the talk of rules for diabolic bargains coming in the forthcoming Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus book, this seems like a good time to post my guidelines for demonic bargains in The Liberation of Wormwood. I see these as a baseline way to approach dealing with demons; since demons are creatures of chaos, there's certainly room to add other possibilities here as well.

Those who crave power in Cinderheim often draw upon the unholy might of demon lords to make their desires manifest in the world. Survival is fraught amid the deadly wastelands of Cinderheim; growing stronger through demonic aid can mean the difference between seeing another sunset and dying unknown and unmourned.

Magical power is sometimes gained from demons through unconscious, pernicious influence. Although they are often blunt instruments of chaos, some demon lords are crafty enough to bend mortals to their will without attracting notice.

Sometimes a character consciously strikes a bargain with a demonic entity and trades their service and their immortal soul for a supernatural gift. Demons are little more than power given hateful substance; they have no qualms about sharing that power with others who might advance their aims and be corrupted to their chaotic, destructive purposes.

A player character should always be aware that they have the option of pursuing a bargain with a demonic force to gain additional power. A powerful demon, such as one of the demon lords trapped beneath the encampments of Cinderheim, might offer temptations subtle or otherwise—dangling the promise of power in front of a character caught in a precarious situation.

Accepting a demon’s offer of power, whether consciously or unconsciously, is always an act that damns a character’s soul. When they die, their soul is forfeit to the Abyssal Disunion and cannot be resurrected. A lost soul is initially refashioned as a lowly manes within the Disunion. As the newly formed demon spreads disorder, chaos, and violence, it grows in power and might evolve into a more potent form of demonkind. It is even possible for a tainted soul to eventually become a demon lord as powerful as those who have warped Cinderheim into a vast abyssal infection of tainted deserts and corrupted wastelands.

The gifts granted by the demon lords of Cinderheim fall into these categories found in the Other Rewards section of the DMG:
  • Charms. Charms are often the initial offering a demon grants to a bargainer. Because charms are a finite, exhaustible resource they function as a form of addiction. A demon uses the promise of renewed charms to lure a bargainer into dependence upon them for magical aid. Demon lords withhold charms from those who do not feed their needs and desires.
  • Dark blessings. Dark blessings are the demonic equivalent of the blessings bestowed by the gods. The demon lords of Cinderheim are powerful enough to offer dark blessings in return for a character performing an act that significantly advances their aims. The promise of a dark blessing is used to coerce characters into service. They are often accompanied by bodily corruption that marks the recipient as being favored by a demon lord.
  • Training. Demon lords visit the mortals they corrupt in their fevered dreams to teach them proficiency in skills, grant them feats, or give them inspiration. This training is frequently also used to test the bargainer’s loyalty and cement the bonds of servitude. Through training, a demon shapes a bargainer into a useful tool. The training offered by a demon lord may also change a character’s personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.
  • Epic boons. Epic boons are only granted to a demon lord’s most powerful champions. These gifts are bestowed exclusively upon faithful and fanatical disciples who have served their masters well. When a demon lord offers an epic boon, it is a sign that they feel assured that their servant’s loyalty is beyond question.

Due to the influence of death-hungry demons in Cinderheim, a death saving throw succeeds on a roll of 15 or higher.

If a character enters into a bargain with a demon lord and has the Spellcasting or the Pact Magic class feature, the demon may add additional spells to the spell list for their class, thereby expanding the spell options available to them.
The demon lords of Cinderheim’s major encampments grant the following spells to their followers, cultists, and champions:
  • Druuz. Identify (1st level), augury (2nd level), speak with dead (3rd level).
  • Narah. Expeditious retreat (1st level), enlarge/reduce (2nd level), gaseous form (3rd level).
  • Raaz. Hunter’s mark (1st level), enhance ability (2nd level), haste (3rd level).
  • Thanor. Charm person (1st level), suggestion (2nd level), vampiric touch (3rd level).
  • Yaza. Dissonant whispers (1st level), phantasmal force (2nd level), animate dead (3rd level).
  • Yrkali. Wrathful smite (1st level), spiritual weapon (2nd level), aura of vitality (3rd level).
  • Zulor. Bane (1st level), beast sense (2nd level), erupting earth (3rd level).
The independent demon lords listed below grant the following spells to their followers, cultists, and champions:
  • Abrigrax the Deceiver. Disguise self (1st level), invisibility (2nd level), hypnotic pattern (3rd level).
  • The Flayed Horror. Ray of sickness (1st level), ray of enfeeblement (2nd level), bestow curse (3rd level).
  • Kyrus Vor. Searing smite (1st level), hellish rebuke (2nd level), fireball (3rd level).
  • The Motley Princess. Hideous laughter (1st level), crown of madness (2nd level), blink (3rd level).
  • Sadireth the Vile. Grease (1st level), web (2nd level), slow (3rd level).
The demonic nature of Cinderheim can physically corrupt those living within it, and those who bargain with demons often find their bodies altered in strange ways. Players may roll on the following optional table to see how the demonic forces of the desert have transfigured their characters or they may simply pick a result that appeals to them if they so choose.

Bestial horns grow from their head.
Spiny ridges or coarse patches sprout from their body.
Their body is covered in fur, scales, or feathers.
Their body is covered in boils or weeping sores.
Their body is entirely hairless or exudes a slimy sheen.
Their ears are oddly shaped or their nose is nonexistent.
Their hair, eyes, or tongue is unnaturally colored.
Their limbs are unusually long or are strangely gnarled.
Their skin is leathery, withered, or oddly textured.
Their skin is unnaturally colored, patterned, or marked.
Their spine is crooked or abnormally twisted.
Their teeth are long fangs or protruding tusks.
Their tongue is forked, elongated, or otherwise uncanny.
They have a misshapen head or are animal-headed.
They have extra or fewer fingers than usual.
They have ferociously clawed hands or misshapen digits.
They have hooves instead of feet or misshapen feet.
They possesses a tail or other extraneous appendage.
They possesses extra, although sightless, eyes.
Useless, vestigial wings sprout from their shoulders.

If you like the content above consider checking out The Liberation of Wormwood, a supplement for generating characters facing the invasion of their hometown by a usurping force, now available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG.