- You can feel it in the air all around. This place chills you to the bone and squelches underfoot with rotting damp and the stench of mildew. The sounds don’t carry right, the city outside felt so distant. Even your feelings for your dead parents, your rage and hate for their murder, even they feel distant.
- Casually you slide your knife across your wrist, your blood wells up like liquid green fire. The drops fall and the stinking rotted boards catch light as you pray to your Lady of Cleansing Flame. When a place is this far gone there’s nothing to do but burn it, and it burns so beautifully in emerald fire.
The ruins of the concentration camps. A house on an island where 10 people were killed one by one by a sadistic murderer. An abandoned apartment where the worst gangs always gather. A hidden temple where a dark wizard sacrificed people for infernal power. These are the Tainted places, where the evil that men do has lingered. Some are well known, while others are forgotten. The one thing they all have in common is that the Darkness was - or is - strong there, and it doesn't want to leave.
A place becomes Tainted when someone commits a grave sin there, meant to make others suffer, or else when vicious and cruel acts become routine and customary there. The very substance of the area is bruised by minor sins, cut or torn by major ones, and the Darkness comes quickly to infect the wound and open it farther. Each Tainted area steals away some ability (native talent or training) from those within it who act for innocent and virtuous reasons, while leaving the evildoers’ faculties intact; by doing so, the Darkness makes it easy to commit acts like those that first Tainted the place, and hard for anyone to resist. And each time someone yields to temptation, the Taint deepens, and its malign influence steals more faculties from the innocent. Finally, staying within a Tainted area slowly drains the hope and life out of people even if they do nothing at all; a part of the Darkness stays in them afterward, trying to seduce them into joining it.
Anyone touched by the Light feels a shadow of fear, grief, ennui or despair when they stand within a Tainted place; the more experienced learn to recognize in that shadow a spoor of the Darkness. When a Beacon, Sworn, Shikigami or Noble first enters a Tainted area, and at the start of each scene in a Tainted area, the Storyteller rolls a dice pool of their base Sensitivity + the Severity of the Taint. If successful, the character realizes that the area has been Tainted.
Tainted areas are represented with two factors: their size, and the severity of their curses. The Size of a Tainted area is measured on the Sanctuary scale - the smallest Tainted sites, at Size 0, would fit within a small walk-in closet; the largest ever found, at Size 5, covers the whole of a large estate roughly the size of the Pentagon. Size also affects the Darkness’s grip on the Tainted area; in an area of Size 0 a single act of resistance might banish the evil influence, while the largest Tainted sites yield only after long, sustained purification. A Tainted area’s Severity measures its power to corrupt people, and limits the degree to which an innocent’s actions are impeded there; it is rated in dots, and is rolled as a dice pool. Finally, a Taint also has a Hold track, that has a number of boxes equal to its Size + 1. This records any progress made in purifying the area of its Taint; most methods of doing so mark off boxes on the Hold track. When the last Hold box is marked, the Taint’s Severity drops by 1, and all the Hold boxes clear. If the Taint’s Severity drops to 0 the area is cleansed of Taint entirely. Taint recovers its grip if nobody resists it until a curse fails; clear 1 Hold box on each day when no Hold box has been marked.
The growth of Taint in an area resembles somewhat the process of moral degeneration in people; the farther a place has gone into the grip of the Dark, the less any single sin seems to matter. The level of morality the sin breaks, and the current Severity of the Taint, set how much a sin adds to the local Taint; consult the following table. A dot of Severity costs 1 point. A dot of Size costs points equal to the new value of Size (1 point to raise Size from 0 to 1, 2 points to raise from 1 to 2, and so on.)
|Class of sin||Severity|
|Bullying, petty theft, threatened violence against the defenseless||0*||0||0||0||0|
|Grand theft, deliberate injury to the defenseless||1||0*||0||0||0|
|Mass property damage (e.g. arson), negligence causing serious injury||2||1||0*||0||0|
|Negligence causing death, deliberate serious injury to the defenseless||3||2||1||0*||0|
|Murder, torture, rape||4||3||2||1||0*|
|Two or more of murder, torture, and rape on the same victim||5||4||3||2||1|
|0* means that a single act at that level gives no points, but repeating it many times can build up to a point eventually.|
For each dot in Severity, the Storyteller selects 1 curse. A Taint sustains exactly as many curses as its Severity (really, the curses are the Taint) and if cleansing removes a Severity dot, it also removes a curse. Curses are penalties inflicted on people within the Tainted area, which apply while they remain there, unless they form an intention to do harm or allow the stress of the Taint to disturb their mental balance. Actions which create Taint at any level of Severity, even the lowest, never take penalties from a curse, but when a character’s purposes are good or innocent, and he keeps his intention pure, the Taint opposes him. It also tempts him - if a character fails a breaking point while within the Taint, the curses may cease to impede him for a time... and the character may gain the Tainted Condition. Moreover, everyone in a Tainted area is aware, if only subconsciously, that yielding to temptation will mollify the curses on the place.
A curse can produce any one of the following list of effects. A Tainted area can inflict any curse any number of times, within the limit of its Severity.
- Attribute: Dice pools that include one Attribute take a -1 penalty.
- Skills: Rolls of two Skills take a -1 penalty; or, rolls of one Skill take a -2 penalty. An Attribute + Attribute dice pool, such as Perception, may be treated as one Skill.
- Specialties: Three types of tasks, each of the scope of a specialty, take a -1 penalty. These can be stacked, with one type taking -2 or -3.
- Defense: Characters with good general intentions are vulnerable to mundane assault. Reduce their Defense by -2, to a minimum of 0.
- Health: The Taint steals vitality; blood clots slowly, wounds will not close. All injuries suffered inside it are worsened by one point of Health. This curse may not be applied more than once.
- Resistance: Characters with good general intentions are vulnerable to supernatural powers. Reduce either Resolve or Composure by -1, to a minimum of 0 (not both - pick one) when the Attribute is used to resist a power.
- Speed: The Taint steals motion and force. Reduce Initiative and Speed by -1.
- Willpower: The Taint steals the will to act. Reduce Willpower by 1 dot. Willpower points in excess of dots remain, but can’t be spent. Characters with 0 Willpower take no action of their own volition, unless the action would be a breaking point - taking such an action releases them to act normally for a scene.
- Corruption: Breaking point rolls within the area take a -1 penalty.
- Vice: The Taint reinforces base desires. Each level of this curse applies to one Vice. Anyone within the Tainted place may fulfill that Vice in addition to their own, but only if their action can create Taint. If the indulger’s own Vice is one the Taint has cursed he regains two Willpower by fulfilling it in this way. As always a character may only regain Willpower through Vice once per scene.
- Terror: Characters with good intentions experience a nameless, sourceless fear. All such characters gain the Shaken Condition [CofD 290] at the start of a scene in the Tainted area. This curse may not be applied more than once.
Beyond its curses, a Tainted place disturbs anyone who remains in it for long, especially if they fall to slumber. Anyone with an Integrity or Belief trait who sleeps in a Tainted area long enough to regain Willpower has horrifying nightmares, and must make a breaking point or compromise roll immediately on waking (though they still regain the Willpower.) They take a penalty on the roll equal to the Tainted area’s Size.
Within each Tainted area is at least one focus: the original site of the wound, from which the infection spreads. When a single sin Taints a place, the focus of the Taint is almost always just where the sin was committed; when the Taint comes from long practice of corruption, its focus appears where the wickedness is most often done. Because the Taint originates there, the focus of a Tainted area is especially dangerous to touch, but it is also the weakest point of the whole area; a direct attack on the focus has a good chance of banishing the Taint from it entirely. Touching a focus is a breaking point for all characters with Integrity, and a compromise for characters with Belief; both apply a penalty equal to the number of curses emanating from that focus.
As the Size and Severity of Taint grow, the diversity of sins contributing to the Taint creates more than one focus - a good rule of thumb is to have as many foci, and types of sins, as the lower of Size and Severity/5. If a Taint does have multiple foci, the Storyteller distributes its Severity among the foci and decides which curses emanate from each focus; destroying one focus only affects the Severity and curses tied to that focus.
Taint, once established in an area, infects the people in that area if given an opportunity to do so; anything that deranges the mind or soul lets the Darkness take root there. Whenever a mundane character reaches a breaking point while in a Tainted area, in addition to the normal consequences, make a corruption check for him. The dice pool equals the Taint’s Severity, minus the sum of the character’s Resolve and Composure. If this number is 0 or negative, roll a chance die as usual.
- Dramatic Failure: The character sees the Taint’s corruption for the horror it is and rejects it, and the Taint’s hold on the place weakens. He gains the Sight of the Pit Condition, and the Taint checks one Hold box.
- Failure: The character is uncorrupted. He suffers only the effects of the breaking point.
- Success: The character’s mind and soul are undermined by the Darkness. The character gains an instance of the Tainted Condition, but removes all effects of the area’s curses for the rest of the scene.
- Exceptional Success: The Darkness deeply corrupts the character. The character gains two instances of the Tainted Condition, but removes all effects of the area’s curses until he leaves it.
Characters with Sensitivity (Nobles, Beacons, Sworn and creatures of Darkness) cannot be infected by Tainted places, but the attempt gives them pain nonetheless. They make a corruption check when they roll for a breaking point or compromise, with these effects:
- Dramatic Failure: The character throws off the corruption without effort. She is wholly unaffected.
- Failure: The character is Haunted; roll her base Sensitivity dice pool to determine the severity. (Dark beings do this to check for Shadows gain - they suffer no other effects from a Haunting.)
- Success: The Darkness’ strength deepens the Haunting; add +1 to the character’s Sensitivity pool for each success.
- Exceptional Success: The Darkness’ strength greatly deepens the Haunting.
An Anger Haunting instills an obsession with cleansing the area of Taint, and penalizes all actions not directed to that end. In addition, whatever the results of the roll, a Light-touched character also gains the [[Sight of the Pit]] Condition when a Tainted place tries to corrupt him.
There are always people willing to sell their souls for power, and being corrupted by Tainted areas is a path to power ... but a slow one. Those who are ready to sink into depravity at once can find, in moldering books or Internet sites on black magic, a host of rituals meant to summon the powers of darkness into the ritualist’s body or soul - and if performed in a Tainted area, some of them will work. While the effective rituals vary widely (their discoverers come from every country and culture that ever existed) they have two points in common: they all include profound blasphemies against what the discoverers held sacred, and at their climax they require a human sacrifice.
A typical ritual for inviting the Darkness into oneself takes about an hour to complete, and must be done within a Tainted place. Only a mundane human can perform it, and he must murder in cold blood another mundane human, or a being touched by the Light, during the ritual’s course. Many rituals mention that sacrificing the innocent, virtuous or holy is pleasing to the dark gods, which will lead them to favor the supplicant; though none refer to the Light’s servants by name, it’s unquestioned that the Darkness responds well to their deaths.
At the end of a ritual, the ritualist rolls Resolve + Occult - Integrity, applying modifiers as appropriate.
- Dramatic Failure: The ritual works too well - the ritualist’s flesh decays with unnatural speed, killing him in a few minutes of horrible torment. At the next nightfall his corpse rises as a Darkspawn, with whatever traits the Storyteller sees fit to give it.
- Failure: The ritual fails. The ritualist checks for a breaking point and Taint corruption as a human.
- Success: The Darkness claims the ritualist for its own; the ritualist immediately gains the Darkened Condition, and checks for a breaking point and corruption as a Dark creature.
- Exceptional Success: As for normal success, plus the ritualist gains a Shadows dot on top of any gained from the corruption check.
Modifiers: Powerful Taint (+1 per 5 Severity dots), victim is Virtuous (+2), victim is Vice-Ridden (-2), victim is Sworn (+1), victim is Hopeful (+1 per 2 Inner Light dots), victim’s Integrity/Belief is 8 or more (+1 for 8-9, +2 for 10), victim’s Integrity/Belief is 3 or less (-1 for 2-3, -2 for 1)
Cleansing Tainted PlacesEdit
Several methods are known for breaking the Darkness’ hold on a Tainted place, and patching the frayed reality it leaves behind. When the place is small and the Taint weak, all that’s often needed is to ask some people with strong minds to stay there for a few days. Even an average person may wash away a dot of such Taints (Severity 4 or less) by inadvertence, when it tries to corrupt him and fails utterly. These Taints survive only in areas that are seldom visited, or when found and cultivated by cults of Darkspawn. Tainted areas strong enough to overcome most people’s resistance, though, call for more deliberate techniques.
A rite of purification, similar to those that banish ephemeral beings, can shut off the Darkness from a Tainted area for a little while. The abjurist rolls Resolve + Composure, contested by the Tainted area’s Severity. The abjurist’s Integrity, Virtue and Vice modify the roll as they do for abjuring a ghost or spirit [CofD 140]. If the abjurist wins the contest, all the curses of the Taint are suppressed for one full day, or until someone commits an act that creates Taint within the area (whichever comes first.) On an exceptional success, the abjurist becomes a bane to all creatures of Darkness as long as the area’s curses remain suppressed.
A Tainted area is anchored by its foci and every focus has a cause, a flavor to the sins that Tainted the ground. Opposing the prime causes of a Tainted place acts as a bane to the Taint; the foci can be purified and the curses lifted. If a place was tainted by bullying and cruel enforced social isolation a character could host a speed dating event or a party. (It is strongly recommended to use abjuration to suppress the Taint before hosting a social event in a Tainted area.) If a place was Tainted by crime it can be used as the headquarters of a neighborhood watch.
Removing Taint in this fashion uses a system similar to social maneuvering. Impressions of the Tainted area set the time needed for a roll; the times are the same as those in social maneuvering. The initial impression depends on how much the purifier knows about the Tainted area’s general character and history; simply reading newspapers and listening to locals’ stories is enough for an average impression, but each step upward requires deeper and harder investigation.
The purifier chooses his dice pool for each roll based on his best guess of the Taint’s nature. The pool can (and should) change from one roll to the next. A successful roll checks off one of the Taint’s Hold boxes, and a exceptional success checks off two; a failure imposes a cumulative -1 penalty on future rolls, and a dramatic failure also lowers the purifier’s impression by one step, forcing him to retreat and change tactics. If the impression ever reaches hostile, the purifier has failed; all Hold boxes clear, and he can’t purify the Tainted area until it has changed in either Size or Severity. The purification succeeds when every Hold box has been checked.
If two people try to purify a Tainted place at once, treat one purifier as an assistant to the other, using the rules for teamwork actions. The purifier who begins first becomes the primary actor; if both begin at the same time, the purifier with the better impression takes the lead.
Finding the focus, or foci, of Taint in an area allows a more direct, if destructive, tactic to cleanse the Taint: one has only to destroy whatever is at that spot. The first step is discovering the sins that were committed in the area, and which Tainted it. When the area is still in use, this is often a simple matter of observing the place. After it’s abandoned, as deeply Tainted areas usually are, a variety of investigative methods may be used: sifting physical evidence on the site, questioning witnesses to the sins, reading old records, and so on. Foci of Taint are always fixtures: a spot on the floor where a man’s lifeblood spilled out, an outcropping of hard rock in a forest, a streetlight with a burned-out bulb that’s never replaced. Once a focus is found, the cleaning crew must make some drastic alteration to the fixture, sufficient to make it unrecognizable to anyone who knew it when it was first Tainted. Reducing it to dust and rubble is the simplest way to get rid of the Taint, though it is possible that the neighbors or the police will object.
Whenever one of a Tainted area’s foci is mutilated or destroyed - usually, though not always, by someone’s deliberate action - roll the Severity dots tied to that focus. The number of successes on this roll is the Severity of a new focus for the Taint; remove any curses tied to the destroyed focus, and add a number of new curses equal to the new figure. (Yes, it is possible for raw destruction to leave behind a focus stronger than the one you destroyed. Brute force can be clumsy.) Bonuses and penalties to this roll include: structure of the focus is left intact (+2), remains of the focus are scattered outside the Tainted area (-2). The Storyteller may just add the new Severity to other foci in the Tainted area, if there are any, instead of adding a new focus.
Dreams of SinEdit
Occasionally, the Hopeful find a Tainted area for which the sins that created it simply cannot be undone or redeemed - perhaps all the guilty and their victims are dead, and there are no people left whom the Taint has corrupted. In these areas, the long persistence of the Taint gives it a character of its own, distinct from the Darkness from which it comes; such Taints have, in fact, a kind of awareness, and their malign influence almost seems purposely aimed at bringing out the worst in anyone who enters them. That awareness, though, gives the Hopeful a way to defeat them. In a process quite similar to entering the Dreamlands, they can walk through the area and search out the malignity, eventually falling into a dream in which the Tainting sins are continually reenacted. When a Noble reaches this state, she purifies the Taint from within: protecting the dream-victims, stopping the dream-sinners, persuading the dream-people to cease their evil practices.
Any character with Sensitivity can try to enter the dream of a Taint as a simple action; the base dice pool is the Taint’s Severity. If the character has been Haunted thanks to exposure to this Taint, the bonus for investigating the Taint applies. It isn’t easy to enter a Taint’s dream, though - simple success gives information, but an exceptional success is needed for a full communion with the Taint’s awareness.
- Dramatic Failure: The Taint bites into the character; make a corruption check for her. Also, she can’t enter the Taint’s dream until she has had a full night’s rest outside the Tainted area.
- Failure: The Taint’s awareness does not respond. The character gets nowhere. She may try again in 30 minutes, but she takes a cumulative -1 penalty.
- Success: The character learns the location of the nearest focus for the Taint in the area, if she didn’t know it already. She may try again in 30 minutes, and removes all penalties from previous failures.
- Exceptional Success: The character enters the Taint’s dream. To an observer, she falls unconscious where she stands.
Once within the Taint’s dream, the character perceives the Tainted area as it was while the sins that created it were committed. At the start the dreamer is a bystander, watching phantoms of the people involved; as long as she remains on the sidelines, where none of the people involved would have noticed her if she had been present, nothing definite will happen in the dream, though there is always a feeling of impending doom. The dreamer may use this preliminary time to slip through the scene looking for clues, signs and portents; she’d better be careful, though, because while there always are small hints pointing towards the crimes to come, discovering the hints has a good chance of beginning the crimes’ re-enactment, with the dreamer pushed into a dangerous role. The dreamer’s task here is to identify the key players in the drama before it starts, and choose her moment to intervene. All the Taint’s curses apply to her, at this and all later stages.
Eventually the dreamer finds and pulls a trigger for the dream proper. In essence this means that the Taint has noticed the Noble. The Taint notices anything that’s unusual to the narrative, including attempting to help a victim or entering restricted areas that the Taint knows only one person should enter. The Taint’s attention is also attracted by anything that strongly suggests the dreamer should be suffering though she is not, such as stepping inside an inactive torture device. Of course, doing the blindingly obvious, such as opening fire with a machine gun, will attract the Taint’s attention. Unless the player has done something unimaginably silly, like lock herself into an obvious death trap, the Storyteller should avoid making triggers that are inescapable death. When the Noble trips a trigger, the phantoms solidify and begin to act out their parts. Once solidified, the people appearing in the dream will behave as the original people would have, if the Noble had been present. Therefore, the Storyteller should provide stats for them as if they were normal characters. However, the Taint influences them much as it does the Noble, and rather more strongly; dream characters follow the rules for Moral Inversion and Tainted Heart in the Darkened template, even if their originals were not Darkened - and even if they were supernatural beings.
- Example trigger: The Noble finds a padded cell with a mummified corpse, the walls look slightly eaten. She walks in to investigate. The door slams shut and locks behind her and she is suddenly feeling very hungry. To escape this situation, the Noble might have the ability to pick locks, smash down doors or a friend in shouting distance who can open the door from the outside.
As with purifying foci outside the dream, each focus has a specific key task that resolves it. (Any attempt to resolve a focus will trip a trigger and involve a Noble in the narrative, if she hasn't done so already.) Inside the dream, the task that resolves a focus has something to do with the place where the focus rests in reality - a critical object, or person, will be found there, or a critical event takes place there. The Taint invariably opposes all attempts to resolve its foci, by penalizing anyone attempting the key tasks and giving bonuses to any character opposing them. The difficulty of resolving a focus should correspond to the Severity dots tied to it.
- Example tasks: Find a letter written by an inmate, and make sure it's properly mailed and not destroyed. Release a murder victim from her restraints and persuade her to escape. Recover or destroy letters kept by a blackmailer.
Bashing damage the dreamer takes fighting in the Taint’s dream is real only within the dream - if she is forced to unconsciousness she falls into normal sleep. Lethal or aggravated damage, however, is quite real, appearing as heart attacks, strokes, paralysis, and other invisible wounds. Willpower or Wisps spent are gone for real, but the effects of Charms are confined to the dream. If the dreamer manages to leave the Tainted area within the dream, she awakens; though the Taint will twist the dream to keep her from doing so - it likes having Sensitive people around to torment! Finally, the dreamer may choose to awaken when she resolves a focus, and always awakens when she resolves the last focus remaining and the Taint is gone.
Sidebar: Taint and the DreamlandsEdit
It's quite possible to find entrances to the Dreamlands within a Tainted place, if you know how to find them elsewhere. It is, however, decidedly unwise to take a nap in a place where Darkspawn may show up at any moment. Moreover, it poses a real risk to the Dreamlands themselves. The Noble's body is exposed to the Taint while her mind travels in the Dreamlands, so she will have to make a corruption check if she sleeps long enough; and if she suffers a Haunting because of it, the Taint actually spreads to her current location in the Dreamlands. Darkspawn can use such Taint as a bridge into the Dreamlands, sending images of themselves to kidnap and torment Dreamlanders, and to widen the breach with more sins ...
Sample Tainted Places Edit
Mary Ann's Bathtub Edit
After a breakup with her boyfriend of four years Mary Ann ran herself a nice hot bath, poured herself a glass of wine, and slit her wrists. Four years of emotionally manipulating her vulnerable boyfriend condensed into one single act, tainting the bathtub. When they came for the body it was cleaned up of course, the tub was bleached and washed until it gleamed and not a drop of blood remained but cleaning isn't enough to remove Taint. If they wanted to do that they should have replaced the tub.
Even to this day, no matter how hot you run the water the porcelain always feels uncomfortably cold against your flesh. Lying in for a good soak comes with feelings of loss and distance from the people you care about.
Size: 0: Just a bathtub.
Focus: The tub itself. Curses: Composure -1, Empathy -2
The Utility ShedEdit
In 1925 at Ellinson Junior high their were repeated incidents of students disappearing from campus... when the number reached 6 the school had almost closed down, but finally they discovered that the man behind it was in fact the school’s janitor who had kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered the girls here.
This place was briefly much more powerful, but after the police took the bodies and buried them, stripped the shed down looking for evidence, as well as destroying the murder weapon this place has lost most of its curses. But perhaps they should have destroyed it entirely, since the shed remains a popular location for students to sneak a cigarette or an illicit tryst. That doesn’t make it a good location though; at best the Taint makes things uncomfortable and clumsy, at worst, well, neither sweetheart is likely to feel very good about what the other gets up to.
Usually no one stays long enough to actually risk becoming Tainted themselves, but one repeat truant hid there just a few too many times. She's currently running on the rush, being in that shed makes her feel strong in a way nothing else ever did. She dosn't know why, but she knows she can grow the taint and is looking for ways to just that.
Focus: The shed itself. Curses: Terror, Defense -1, Composure -1, Perception -2 (People outside the shed have trouble noticing anything within), Memory rolls -2
White Picket Lane Edit
White Picket Lane always was a superficial place, a place where appearances counted for more than substance. Then it turned spiteful. The correct appearances became ever narrower. Those who did not fit in were passively aggressively driven away. The Taint is mild, but widespread.
Today White Picket Lane doesn’t feel that different from normal. The minor amount of Taint is not enough to compete with the lovely climate and obsessive cleaning performed by the residents. On the surface the people wouldn't be seen dead as impolite, keeping up appearances is everything but peal back the surface and you'll see that the residents have become embroiled in constant games of one-upmanship, false smiles and social backstabbing.
White Picket Lane has few Darkspawn but many Darkened, most are in the mould of the Malicious Gossip.
Size: 5 (an entire neighbourhood)
Focus: A corded telephone that Susan spends much of the day using to spread gossip. It can be found in Susan's home office. Curses: Composure -1
Focus: An ordinary wicker chair Gabrielle uses when hosting the weekly Stitch 'n Bitch. One of the cases where the insult is entirely justified. Curses: Socialise -2
Focus: Lingerie that Bree wore when she seduced Tom to get revenge on Lynette. Bree thinks she's lost it, but in reality she was able to tell what it had become and so hid both it and the truth from herself. It can be found down the back of Tom's washing machine. Curses: Vice (Ambitious)
Focus: A gold pendent Mike brought Mary when they were having an affair. If Mary isn't wearing it then it can be found in her jewelry box. Curses: Vice (Corrupt)