Thursday, November 10, 2022

What Happens When I Eat the Corpse Cake?

In the Sorrowfell Plains, the locals often call confessors or counselors, "sin-eaters." As with many terms, the origin is obscure to the average pseudo-medieval peasant, but scholars recognize that the villages of the western Sorrowfell Plains still maintain traditional funerary rites*, including leaving an offering upon the decedent's body which is then consumed by the mourners.

While this is often a celebratory practice, hoping that one will gain some of the positive qualities of the deceased, there is another aspect to the ritual. Those families who worry that their loved one's sins will cause them to rise as undead, or who have heard the heretical claims that the dead (called "petitioners") spend their afterlives in the Astral Reaches, will often feed this bread to a priest or other confessor, hoping that such a person will be able to take their loved one's sin and purify it. Other families or villages, cleaving more to the scapegoat model of morality (or lacking a local priest), may instead pay a poor person or a traveler to eat it in the hopes that they will go elsewhere and take the sin with them.

(Astute observers will also note that this trend is repeated across many such times and places. Interested parties are directed to examine sin-eating as practiced in historical Europe over the past few centuries.)

This sounds like the perfect excuse to put a funeral on your "What's happening in this random village?" chart, and have the locals try to sell the funerary bread to the adventurers passing through town in the hopes that they will take the sin with them. Locals are unlikely to offer much for this service: the traditional pay in Wales was six pence, and while I expect pseudo-medieval peasants and their ilk to not offer more than a gold piece for such an act, nobles might be willing to offer outrageous sums to travelers willing to eat the funerary bread.

If your system of choice offers XP-for-gold, it's up to you whether you grant XP for the gold given. I probably would, given that there's risk involved and since the money is likely to be low: a concerned and desperate noble will ensure your room-and-board for the night and might be willing to pay up to 100gp. It is unlikely that they would pay more unless they are certain the decedent's sins are truly grave, but what are the odds of someone doing something that horrible in private? Unless the characters are foreign and so are completely ignorant of the decedent's reputation...

So what's the harm? A free meal and ten gold pieces for your trouble? Why would you say no?

What Happens When I Eat the Corpse Cake?

Each player who partakes rolls 1d20. (The GM may prefer to roll, since a lot of these changes aren't immediately obvious.) Being under the effects of a spell like protection from evil completely prevents the following effects, which is why clerics are often preferred as sin-eaters.

1d20 Effect
No effect.
Roll a save vs. spell (BECMI) or a DC 13 Charisma save (5e). If you fail, your alignment inverts: Lawful becomes Chaotic (or vice versa) and Good becomes Evil (or vice versa). Neutral stays the same.
Roll a save vs. spell (BECMI) or a DC 13 Charisma save (5e). If you fail, your alignment changes to Evil, although the Law vs. Chaos axis remains the same. (If you're playing something like BECMI with only Law vs. Chaos, your alignment changes to Chaotic instead.)
You now detect as Evil/Chaotic/fiendish/bad for the purposes of spells and effects such as detect evil.
If there's a Bad Place™ to go when you die, you're headed there. Resurrection spells and other such effects don't work on you unless your party figures out how to get your soul out of cosmic impound first. (Revivify-style magic still works as long as the soul hasn't departed the body yet.) An appropriate purification ritual or quest can also free you from Hell, but since this corruption has no outward sign, you might not know until it's too late.
A small fiend — an imp, a quasit, or even just a regular animal with some weird demonic traits — starts following you around, serving you as a familiar. It hates you and wants to tempt you into evil acts, both to increase the net evil in the world and to condemn your soul when you die.
The decedent's sin pools in your head, giving voice to the worst, most self-destructive parts of you. (If this sounds similar to Shadowguiding from Wraith: The Oblivion, you know exactly how to play this.) Your bad side can consult with you telepathically and offer you advantage on any roll (roll two dice and take the better result), although it is under no obligation to do so and you are under no obligation to take the advantage. Once per day, it can attempt to possess you, controlling your actions for one hour: make a save vs. spell or DC 13 Charisma save to resist. The difficulty of the test is modified by the number of times you accepted advantage that day. (So if you accepted help twice, you're at a -2 to resist possession.) Smart evil sides do not volunteer this fact and do not attempt possession often. Your evil side can potentially be exorcised by appropriate spells (such as dispel evil), abilities, quests, and the like. It will attempt to pressure you into performing its own agenda, which may be your worst impulses and secret desires, the original decedent's worst impulses, or a mix of the two.
Corruption takes root in the flesh. Roll a save vs. paralyzation or a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or gain a mutation from the GM's favorite mutation table. (I personally recommend The Metamorphica, Realm of Chaos, or Tome of Corruption.)
No obvious change, but at midnight, a powerful fiend comes to tempt you. It can offer you anything the GM considers appropriate. It ultimately wants to purchase your soul, but might be willing to settle for less if it thinks it can goad you into corrupting someone or making future purchases later.
I don't know what qualifies for a +1 on this chart — maybe you ate all the funerary cakes by yourself, or the decedent was a really wicked dude, or you made a real ass of yourself at the funerary meal and someone surreptitiously cursed you — but if you somehow roll this, you die at dinner. A fiendish creature (again, maybe a fiend on the GM's demonic list of choice, or a weird mutant animal) bursts forth from you like the xenomorph to start terrorizing the countryside. (Or maybe you turn into a Deadite or something. Any option is fine, so long as it births a new monster from your flesh.) To add insult to injury, your soul is probably consigned to whatever bad corner of the afterlife exists in this world, and your flesh is so corrupted you can't be resurrected.

* According to the scholars, these funerary traditions were adapted from Olman rites into their current form. Contrast with the folk of the Feywalk Woods: the Maiavainrua elves are known to use magical rites to keep their dead around as counselors and honored ancestors, so many of the local villages in and around the wood maintain traditions involving prolonged mourning practices and embalming. Drigbolton, found on the northern edge of the Feywalk Woods near the elven town of En'amanisrahd, is cited as one of the most starling examples of these practices, at least to outsiders.

Developer Commentary: The general idea is that the characters get a free bed, a free meal, and some pocket change with a 40% chance of getting what is hopefully a weird and interesting curse. If you want to make D&D cosmology more present or turn this into more of an enticing gamble, expand this table into a 1d24 chart with eight additional entries for Good, no effect for Neutral, and the entries for 13-20 representing Evil. (Or expand the chart to your heart's content. Maybe true Goodness and true Evil are so rare that it's a d100 chart with only eight entries on one end, eight on the other, and eighty-four nonentries in between.) Also, in case it needs to be said, this assumes the generic, Gygax-style vague Christianity endemic to D&D and its imitators. If your setting or fantasy elfgame of choice has different assumptions, this will likely be tonally dissonant with the rest of your setting. (Unless you decide Hell is real, but only to the residents of this one village, which sounds delightful. "Hell is real, but only in Gawkes Mere," is a fun potential plot hook.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Print Friendly