Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”
“If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.”
“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.”
The world’s darkness isn’t just about shadows and monsters; it lives in your heart, burrowing its way deeper into your soul each time you take a step toward your darkest self, each time you look for salvation in the worst parts of your soul.
A whisper in the dark when you aren’t expecting it. A sudden flush of lust and greed in a vulnerable moment. A feeling—all too certain—that you deserve better than this, that the assholes who stomped your face into the ground and laughed must pay. The World of Darkness is a world of haves and have-nots, and everyone is a have-not under some bigger, badder monster who exploits them for all they’re worth. Corruption promises a way to tip the scales. It eats at you when you’re alone, promising power in exchange for hurting those motherfuckers just like they hurt you. It’s there when you desperately need an out, ready to trade you everything you need for just a little piece of your soul. Until one day, you wake up to find there’s nothing left to give it. The darkness already has it all; it’s gobbled you up a piece at a time. And now you’re the monster and the darkness.
Corruption is more than just darkness or evil. It represents your character slipping toward the worst parts of their nature, becoming that which should be feared instead of respected, hated instead of loved. Yet, as your Corruption mounts, your powers only grow…
Types of Corruption
Darkness is darkness, but there are countless shades and hues and pigments of it. Different night-folk (supernatural races) have different names for Corruption, as their respective curses and conditions push them towards the worst parts of their natures in different ways.
• Mortals, lesser night-folk (vampiric ghouls, werewolf kinfolk, etc.) and supernatural entities without a “species-specific” trait simply track Corruption, the overall measure of the darkness gnawing at their souls.
• Vampires track Beast, which measures how much they’ve embraced their inner monster and become distant from humanity.
• Werewolves track Rage, the strength of their primal instinct to hunt, kill, and destroy.
• Mages track Hubris, their pride in their cosmic power and the extent to which it’s driven them mad.
• The various other supernatural races track their own types of Corruption.
Beast measures how distant a vampire is from their human life, from specific people that draw them toward life and light, and from human concerns generally. Most vampires increase their Beast scores as they age, as the alien monster within them gnaws away at their sentiments, their memories, and their connections to the daylight world.
The Downward Spiral: Vampires are predators, have no doubt, and even a Kindred with the lowest of Beast scores remains a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is in a vampire’s nature to hunt and to kill, and it is the rare Kindred that does not eventually find themselves holding the corpse of a vessel they had not intended to murder. Nonetheless, as a vampire’s Beast grows, vampires not only become capable of, but also actively pursue, ever-more depraved acts. A vampire who cannot stave off their Beast will eventually be corrupted by it, transforming from a “mere” predator upon humanity into a true monster.
It is important, then, to know how vampires change as their Beast scores swell and less and less connects them with their origins. Vampires’ behavior can become so utterly depraved and alien that the very thought of them causes discomfort in others.
Corruption is a trait with a rating from one to five like any other trait. Characters typically begin play with 2 Corruption.
These are good people, decent to strangers and loved ones alike. They aren’t angels, they aren’t perfect, and they can have bad days. But they have a lot more good days than bad days. Chances are, the people in their lives look up to them as moral examples and ask, “What would they do in this situation?” when feeling conflicted over something. People in their lives can probably point to examples of some really decent things they’ve done. Sadly, such goodly souls are all-too rare in the World of Darkness.
These are actively principled vampires. They either have a firm moral code or are just naturally decent, wholesome people the Embrace didn’t ruin. They aren’t saints—they’re not necessarily going to sacrifice themselves to save a stranger’s life. They are, however, better people than your average guy off the street. They try to use their powers responsibly and in some cases for active good. They go out of their way not to kill, and when they do, they feel horrible about it and try to make things right (e.g., setting up a trust fund for a victim’s children).
These vampires are perhaps 5% of the population. Most vampires at this level of morality are neonates, but one occasionally finds an elder who’s managed to remain true to a moral code against all odds. There’s a decent chance that an elder at this morality rating is pursuing Golconda—they know the war for their soul favors the Beast. All it takes is one lapse of control to set back centuries of upright behavior.
A Corruption 1 character is inured to “sins” that most people would scoff at the idea of being sins at all. Souls virtuous enough to consider such actions “necessary but regrettable” are all-too rare in the World of Darkness. Some example “sins” can include:
• Feeding from the willing without otherwise harming them (as ethical a way for vampires to survive short of not feeding)
• Caroline killing Mother Iyazebel in self-defense (an unspeakably vile monster who was also threatening a Kindred risking his unlife to save her)
• Maldonato killing Mother Iyazebel’s servants (willful participants in her atrocities) in the Dungeon to save Caroline
• Lou interrogating Showerz under threat of reporting his assorted sins to the police
These people are your average John or Jane off the street. They’re capable of good deeds and capable of bad deeds. Chances are, either variety of deed is personally motivated—if someone murders their spouse, they may well want murderous bloody revenge, but they’d balk at the idea of murdering someone for petty reasons like stealing their wallet. These people are susceptible to more temptation than Corruption 1 people, and if asked to describe the worst thing they’ve ever done, they can probably name something shameful. They are human and fallible. It’s chancy whether they’ll do the right thing if it comes at a personal cost. Still, these people aren’t cruel, and they’re not out to ruthlessly screw over their fellow men to get ahead. For the most part, they just want to live and let live, and do right by their friends and loved ones. Most people in the real world and in the World of Darkness are Corruption 2.
These vampire are your average John or Jane off the street who just happen to drink blood. They’re probably not trying to make the world a better place (except for their loved ones), but they don’t want to make it a worse one either—they just want to get by. They feel bad when they kill, but if they’re old enough, or were Embraced under less than perfect circumstances, chances are they’ve left behind at least one body. They may or may not try to make up for it. It probably depends who the victim was—it’s one thing to kill a family member when you can see the hole that’ll leave in people’s lives, and another to kill a stranger. Still, these vampires try to avoid killing, out of principle as well as utility. Most of the time. They might do it if circumstances get really ugly—and they always do, don’t they? The downward spiral begins here.
A vampire at this Corruption level might also be a “realistic” principled elder—one who tries to follow a moral code, but who’s still committed misdeeds, likely as a result of significant participation in Kindred politics. Their soul shines brighter than most elders, but is still less than squeaky-clean. This is the highest level of morality that most princes can aspire to (and which most princes fall short of). The very nature of the job entails no-win situations that require moral compromise. These vampires are perhaps 30% of the population, the bulk of whom are neonates.
A Corruption 2 character is inured to sins that most people can rationalize as necessary or justify to themselves as “they had it coming.” Virtuous characters might still try to look for a better way. Some examples include:
• Feeding from the unwilling without otherwise harming them (necessary for vampires to survive)
• Killing in self-defense or another’s defense
• Caroline executing Amanda Turner at her request when the Hussar would have killed her anyway
• Coco killing the thugs Cletus sent to abduct Julia (her motives weren’t wholly altruistic, but she saved an innocent from an ugly fate)
• Emmett getting hit by Josh and ratting him out to Cash Money
• Emmett and Samantha Watts killing one of her rapists after he no longer posed an immediate threat
• Lou (hypothetically, he chose not to) roughing up Desire without harming her to learn what she knew about the Slattern Slashers
• Lou not saving Westley from the Dungeon (leaving an innocent to die, but no seemingly viable way to save him)
• Lou roughing up a bum to obtain the necessary bane to combat the Slattern Slashers
• Lou badly scaring “Chester” without otherwise harming him during an interrogation
• Rocco lying to Isa that he’d murdered her aunt after she publicly embarrassed him
These people are jaded. Other people might describe them as jerks. Chances are, your average person knows or knew someone someone like this with a “malfunctioning moral compass”—an asshole who was just really selfish and out for themselves, and whose bad deeds outweighed any good ones. These people probably haven’t done anything truly sociopathic—e.g., murder for the pure pleasure of the act—although stories of these people’s misdeeds can make others shake their heads. But they’re primarily expected misdeeds and fodder for water cooler gossip (e.g., “Did you know John regularly cheats on his wife, screams at her, and hits her? He just treats her like complete shit,”) rather than anything truly beyond the pale. But everyone has bad days, and these people’s bad days are more frequent than your average Joe’s—and much worse. They are capable of truly dark deeds, like murder, under moderate rather than extreme duress. It’s a dog eat dog world and they’re out to get ahead.
These vampires are worse people than your average guy off the street. Lying, cheating, extortion, and assorted criminal acts are everynight occurrences to these vampires. They’re not actively malevolent, but they’re not shy they’re looking out for #1. They’d prefer not to kill, but if push comes to shove, you probably won’t have to shove them hard. Principle may still matter, but it takes a backseat to practicality. Corpses are Masquerade breaches. Chances are they’ll feel a pang of conscience over killing an innocent, but they’re not likely to pursue active atonement. It’s a rough world. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay out of their way, because they won’t balk at killing if you’ve crossed them. This is the first morality level where vampires start to actively engage in twisted shit like ghouling or Embracing loved ones they can’t bear to let go. They probably still have reservations about it, but who knows how much longer that will last? Eternity is a long time.
These vampires are perhaps 30% of the population—neonates who’ve “grown up,” many ancillae, and elders who are “decent enough. For an elder.” This is the most decent prince that most Camarilla cities are realistically likely to wind up with. Overthrow them and there’s decent odds their replacement will be worse.
A Corruption 3 character is inured to medial sins that would disturb most people, such as:
• Creating a ghoul
• Knowingly hurting someone to obtain blood
• Murders committed in frenzy
• Killing someone by accident
• Second degree murder
• Amelie’s murders committed during her “blackouts”
• Amelie potentially killing Big Dawg and Fizzy in response to their repeated harassment and ill treatment
• The various people conspiring to ruin Amelie’s life and future in the aftermath of the LaLaurie House slumber party to save the most complicit girls
• Caroline killing Bishop Malveaux, who’d so often threatened her (diablerizing him being a lower sin)
• Caroline not saving Westley from the Dungeon (leaving her own brother to die, but no seemingly viable way to save him)
• Emmett wanting to win Cecilia’s heart before callously abandoning her
• Emmett conning people out of their money to maintain a comfortable lifestyle
• Bert Villars “not giving a shit” if Emmett killed the person he was accused of murdering and defending him anyway
• Lou accidentally killing Mama Wedo with beanbag rounds that ruptured her cancerous cyst
• Robert O’Connor wanting to murder Rocco in cold blood to get justice for David Hennessy
These people are bad, ruthless people. Your average John or Jane off the street would be shocked, not just disgusted, to learn the extent of their misdeeds. They’re capable of casually cruel acts like beating a maid bloody for scuffing the floors, and capable of far darker acts like murder if it’s in their best interests. Someone at Corruption 3 might initially balk or look for another way before going along with it. Someone at Corruption 4 just nods and accepts it as necessity. They might say it’s too bad, or that a gentler way would be preferable, but their conscience is a twinge rather than protesting voice at this point—in so many things. These people are a minority of the population, but still all-too common in the World of Darkness—and often disproportionately represented in positions of power and authority.
A step beyond just killing when they have to, these vampires kill whenever it suits them and are largely blase to death. Another body doesn’t mean all that much. They are a lot worse than your average guy off the street, most of whom will react with horror to their misdeeds and call them monsters. They can get off to all sorts of sadistic acts for shits and giggles, or they might just be utterly ruthless and practical-minded, seeing lives as little more than numbers. While they might still adhere to a moral code, it’s probably one grounded in distinctly inhuman values—e.g., the Tzimisce who’ll flay a ghoul’s skin for disobedience, but who wouldn’t dream of betraying a guest in their domain. These vampires may still have Touchstones/morality pets who they’re kind and decent towards, but it’s utterly at odds with the rest of their behavior—after all, Hitler was a vegetarian. It is tragically easy for them to ruin these Touchstones’ lives, even unintentionally. Still, such morality pets offer a glimmer of hope that the person they used to be isn’t completely gone. Woe to anyone who pisses these vampires off enough. They probably won’t just kill you, they’ll make you suffer first.
These vampires are perhaps 25% of the population. Most elders and more jaded ancillae fall into this category. A few neonates who’ve been through some seriously twisted shit might wind up here. It is pretty typical to have a prince at this morality level. The bright side is their subjects can definitely do better by overthrowing them.
At Corruption 4, the character is inured to serious sins that would horrify most people, such as:
• Embracing someone to save their life (a “remorse Embrace”)
• Premeditated murder or torture for “practical” reasons
• Committing serious harm against loved ones and children
• Cletus torturing Rocco for information
• Samantha Watts drugging and raping Emmett to spite his girlfriend
• Cash Money raping Josh to “teach him a lesson”
• Caroline murdering Joseph Paxton in cold blood
• Caroline murdering her own mother in self-defense (Corruption 5 if Claire hadn’t been threatening her unlife)
• Caroline knowingly feeding from Trenton Nowak while starving (an action extremely likely to kill him)
• Emil telekinetically crushing half a dozen people with an SUV in preemptive self-defense (a “justified” reason, but the sheer scale of his deed would horrify most people)
• Orson wanting to lobotomize Caroline to stop her indiscretions
• Donovan sending Caroline Jessica White’s severed head for intruding in his domain
• Micheal torturing the teenage runaway Cletus lied was a spy of Matheson’s
• Micheal killing a homeless man’s dog because it annoyed him, depriving the man of perhaps his only friend in the world (while killing a dog is a lesser sin than killing a man, it was a deeply hurtful act motivated solely by petty malice)
• Rocco killing Paulie at his party for his failure to repay owed debts
These people are downright sociopaths, giving even other ruthless power-seekers a bad name. Someone at Corruption 4 might beat a maid bloody for failing in her duties, but someone at Corruption 5 might casually order her shot to cow the other servants. These are the sorts of people who have it in them to become mass murderers and bloody-handed dictators—and be regarded as cruel and brutal even by other dictators. There’s almost no atrocity they’re incapable of. What conscience they have left is a ragged and feeble thing indeed.
There are monsters and then there are monsters. These guys give even their fellow Damned a bad name. Diablerie, pedophilia, torture, mass murder—it’s all fair game, and depending on their personality, might even be lots of fun, too. The Camarilla observes more than one type of Masquerade, and these vampires are more monstrous than it is socially acceptable to openly be—they remind their fellow Damned just what they really are underneath the facade of humanity. They disgruntle the Corruption 4 vampires, disturb the Corruption 3 vampires, and horrify the Corruption 2 vampires. The smarter ones learn to hide the full extent of their crimes, because they know the Camarilla cares more about politeness than morality. Don’t rock the boat and you can get away with more than murder. The dumber ones who don’t grasp this tend to burn out fairly soon, whether at the hands of vampire hunters or fellow Kindred tired of the messes they keep leaving. These vampires may have Touchstones, but if they do, there’s decent odds they’re just as cruel to the Touchstones as any other victim. God help anyone who crosses one of these vampires and loses. Final death may seem a mercy.
These vampires are perhaps 10% of the population. They’re a minority, but they’re regrettably more common than the Corruption 1 vampires.
A Corruption 5 character is inured to terrible sins that most people would see as pure evil, such as:
• Killing or torturing someone for the pure pleasure of it, or similarly trivial reasons
• Killing or torturing loved ones or children for “practical” reasons
• Embracing a willing childe (still likely condemning many people to die over their Requiem)
• Caroline executing the half-dozen-odd defenseless Cottonmouths in cold blood
• Caroline killing Ericson and condemning her children to grow up without a mother because it was convenient
• Cletus killing a servant for annoying him over a ringing phone
• Cletus killing two illegal immigrants for fun while hunting
• Cletus orchestrating the Soiree Night Slaughter, a dozens-large massacre
• Emmett arranging Samantha Watts’ brutal gang-rape to get back at her
• Cash Money selling Emmett to the Dungeon
All PCs at Corruption 6 become NPCs under control of the GM.
Some people believe mere mortals are incapable of this level of evil. It’s a comforting thought, but a false one. Mortals at Corruption 6 are beasts in human skin. They are serial killers and sociopaths incapable of maintaining any meaningful attachments to other human beings—even a Corruption 5 mass murderer might be able to feel something for a spouse or child, but a mortal at Corruption 6 is too far gone. Theirs is the face of evil.
Wassail. Wightdom. The final frenzy. The Beast has won and the Man has lost. The vampire exists in a state of perpetual frenzy, never to reemerge, until someone puts them down. From this dark state there is no return.
A Corruption 6 character is ‘inured’ to unspeakable sins that cross a line even for monsters. Among vampires, only wights are inured to such sins. These can include:
• Embracing an unwilling childe
• Killing or torturing loved ones or children for the pure pleasure of it, or similarly trivial reasons
• The things that happen in the Dungeon
• Caroline’s half-joked idea that Vidal sabotaged the levees, causing untold suffering to thousands, to strike at the Baron
• Bobbi Jo massacring Jacob’s dozen-odd children for no particular reason
• Bud hideously torturing Emmett’s niece and nephew (both small children) and recording it to make a few extra bucks
• Rocco murdering a man who’d done him lasting kindness (David Hennessy) to join the Mafia
Characters increase their Corruption by accumulating Stains, which they gain from committing monstrous acts. For every five Stains a character accumulates, their Corruption increases by 1. While Corruption doesn’t go up often, your character’s number of Stains is likely to fluctuate over play. Your character can gain Stains from any of the following ways:
When you spend Story Points for a dice bonus, you can choose to accept a Stain in lieu of paying another cost. If the action was in line with your PC’s Vice, you can choose to accept a Stain without paying any Story Points. See “Story Points,” above, for more information.
When your character accepts Stains to bolster their roll, describe it happening in-character. Make it dark and grisly. Your character is giving in to their inner monster, and they’re probably doing it during a desperate moment for a badly-needed edge. This is easy for rolls with Physical Attributes or supernatural powers, but even for rolls that concern purely mundane Mental and Social Skills, you can describe your character’s smoldering ambition and drive to succeed at any cost.
Dark Deeds are any action that a normal, well-adjusted person knows are wrong. Torturing the prisoner to get information; fleecing someone out of their life savings; throwing a friend under the bus to get ahead; these actions and countless others qualify as Dark Deeds.
Dark Deeds have a rating from 1 to 6 depending on how vile they are: see “In-Game Corruption Examples,” below, for some examples. When characters commit a Dark Deed, they gain a number of Stains equal to (deed’s rating – character’s Corruption + 1). Dark Deeds are relative and some acts can corrupt characters far more quickly than others.
Overhearing your neighbors in the apartment next door beating their crying child; listening to the taped confessions and twisted fantasizing of a serial murderer; beholding the true form of a summoned archdemon as it claws its way up from Hell; as any veteran homicide detective can attest, some deeds make you dirty just for being exposed to them.
Whenever your character is exposed to significant mental trauma, the GM may call for a Resolve + Composure roll (DC varies by situation). On a setback, your character’s mind buckles. They take (DC – rolled successes) Stains and may also take a Condition. On a success, their psyche is strong enough to internalize how what they’ve seen isn’t their fault. Take no Stains.
Corruption changes less often than Stains. It only goes up in a single way: whenever your character accumulates 5 Stains, increase their Corruption by 1, and reset their Stains to 0. The higher a character’s Corruption, the more monstrous they’ve become in outlook, behavior, and (for night-folk) even physical appearance.
Past a certain point, the soul becomes numb to further atrocity. What’s another life ruined after your hands are already caked solid red? Characters stop accumulating Stains for Dark Deeds committed at the following Corruption ratings: sins most people can rationalize (Corruption 2), sins that disturb most people (Corruption 3), sins that horrify most people (Corruption 4), sins most people see as pure evil (Corruption 5), and sins that cross a line even for monsters (Corruption 6).
At the GM’s discretion, some Dark Deeds may count as higher or lower-level sins for some PCs than others, based on their histories, temperaments, and moral convictions. For example, a PC who’s fiercely loyal to their family might count killing someone in their family’s defense as a lower-Corruption Dark Deed, but would count betraying a family member as a higher-Corruption Dark Deed.
The Point of No Return
If your character would ever gain 6 Corruption (that is, if they gain 5 Stains while at 5 Corruption), they’re on the brink and get one last chance to stop the darkness from swallowing them whole. Whatever it is, it’s not easy. If they succeed, they take a lasting scar (often a supernatural or mental Flaw), but are able to pull back and reset their number of Stains to 0. If they fail, they wholly succumb to their monstrous nature and become an NPC under the control of the GM. Your character might go mad from the atrocities they’ve committed, transform into a supernatural horror, or simply become a remorseless sociopath who gives zero fucks about anyone else: whatever dark fate is appropriate to their final descent.
Just getting by in the World of Darkness scars everyone, but you can walk away from the sins and wounds of the past. Stains and Corruption can go down as well as up… and in some cases, be avoided altogether.
By taking meaningful in-game action, you can remove one or more of your character’s Stains (to a minimum of 0). Removing Stains isn’t too hard: it involves anything that makes the world a little less dark for someone without much cost or effort, or simply refraining from doing the morally worse thing when convenient. Some in-game examples include Caroline apologizing to Angela Greer to make Neil feel better; Cletus soliciting Maldonato’s advice to ease Isabelica’s homesickness; Emil getting Hillary to pay her respects to the Rabinowitzes (if he’d succeeded); Emmett apologizing to Samantha Watts for his complicity in her rape; Jon ending his relationship with Eleanor as gently as he reasonably could; and Lou not killing Caroline and Rene after torporing them (something he seriously contemplated in order to preserve his anonymity). The more significant the action, the more Stains it removes, up to a maximum of five.
With a bigger effort, you can reduce your character’s Corruption by 1 (to a minimum of 1). Actions which buy down Corruption must make a bigger difference in someone’s life and/or carry a meaningful cost. Some in-game examples include Caroline taking Natalia under her wing; Emil saving Amelie’s life; Emmett saving Emil’s life; and Celia confessing her infidelity to Roderick when it risked losing the relationship. Cletus, unsurprisingly, likely won’t ever do anything to buy down his Corruption.