The Endowment of the Dark Gods

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Dark cults, evil secret societies, and hidden orders of killers are a standard part of most d20 settings.

Yet it’s very hard to say where they come from. These are d20 universes here. You don’t have to join a dark cult to obtain mystic secrets, and any library holds out the promise of arcane power. Why bother with a secret society when you can just move to an evil realm where your activities – however heinous – will be regarded as tame? What evil order of killers has ever been as effective at killing as a party of adventurers?

Most of those evil organizations seem to have no real POINT outside of being stumbling-blocks and experience-point mines for parties of adventurers.

So where do they come from?

Gods have a very hard time gaining experience points. Finding a suitable challenge that you can go after WITHOUT upsetting a lot of other gods or wrecking the universe gets pretty awkward at that power level.

Fortunately, as demonstrated by the creation of magical items, there ARE ways to transfer experience points around, even if they aren’t very efficient.

When you’re a god, there are always options.

Thus the Dark Imbuement – a type of intangible artifact.

When a suitably evil mortal is granted – or “finds” and accepts – a Dark Imbuement, he or she is granted an incredible surge of power, gaining (1d6+14) levels.

If said mortal opts to spend a month or two investing some of those levels into followers, he or she gains followers with a total number of levels equal to (the number of levels given up x 12) – although none of them may have a total level exceeding one-half that of their boss.

So if Yondar the Pestiferous (a sixth level evil sorcerer) takes up a Dark Imbuement, he might gain eighteen levels (and become Yondar the Malevolent, twenty-fourth level Dark Lord of Khadath).

Not knowing what to do with himself (and not wanting to be worth that many XP until he gets level-appropriate equipment) he invests eight of those levels into minions to go out and get him some money and equipment. Besides, as the Dark Imbuement will instinctively inform him, when heroes kill one of his minions – provided only that they’ve been in his service for at least a few months – he’ll get one-half the experience that the heroes do.

So that’s (8 x 12) = 96 levels of minions, who can each be of up to level eight since Yondar has a current effective level of sixteen.

Call it eight of second level, five of fourth level, two of sixth level, and six henchmen of eighth level.

Now, as minions get killed, the power that’s invested in them will return to Yondar – either to be reinvested if he spends a few months recruiting or to boost his own effective level again.

For example, when he’s down to 48 levels of minions, he’ll only have four levels invested in them – and the Dark Imbuement will be granting him fourteen levels on top of the extra XP he’s getting.

Given that that XP is going to his base level of six, that can be pretty useful.

Now, when Yondar does eventually fall to some pesky heroes, the God who created the Dark Imbuement will gain one-half the experience that the heroes got for killing him – and can reclaim the Dark Imbuement to pass it on to some other suitable candidate.

Yes, that’s D&D: the Evil Reverse Ponzi Scheme! You too can make a profit by exploiting your deluded cultists!

Do you need to track this in detail?

No, not really. But now you know why evil bosses seem to rise to prominence overnight from nowhere, why they seem to have indefinite supplies of lower-level minions, why they trickle them at the heroes at just the right rate to have “balanced encounters” and build them up (since that – rather than using their resources effectively – gains them the most XP of their own), why they often seem to have no clear idea of how to use their power effectively, why they haven’t cut a swathe across the country gathering all the XP they need to reach level 20+,  why they seem to get stronger as their minions are eliminated, where those insane prestige classes that require that you kill someone else with the class before you can join it come from (from bosses who can grant levels in crazy classes to normal people and WANT them to die fighting), and why there always seems to be another evil boss around.

You want a true and lasting victory? Find some way to put an end to that Dark Imbuement.

The god behind it will probably just make another one, but it will be a lot of work – and he or she will be out all the power they put into the first one. Keep it up long enough, and you might defeat that god handily without ever getting into a direct confrontation with him or her.


10 Responses

  1. …If that is a artifact…
    Can I buy the recipe for it and build it?
    It seems like one of those things that would make sense for my character to have.
    I assume Grand Awakening would be one of the requirements…
    Seems very interesting.


    P.S.: Any specifics one would need to worry about? This just seems like too good a thing not to have as a noncombative character.

    • Certainly. I might charge a little extra for such a formula – it’s hard to think of anything with a much better claim to being a REALLY hard-to-find esoteric magical secret – but this is basically just an artifact, even if it is more of a background piece.

      For actual details… Grand Awakening would be good, I’d suspect that this would also call for rather a lot of Orichalcum, thousands of souls (probably including some with special qualities, rather like “thirteen ghosts”), some personal quality of the creators (sense of humor or some such is very classic), several points of Godfire, a quest to seek aid from several mighty primordial forces, a ritual to make the whole thing immaterial, and some random bits and pieces – but artifact designs tend to be campaign-specific.

      • Hmm… I suppose I make it a 6 CP cost and add a reference in the characters backstory. Probably specialize the recipe so the XP are fully consumed by the XP-Tithe I owe my Loa, it probably knows better what to do with those points anyway.

        Is such an artifact subject to things like a soul-bind àla witchcraft? Can I (as it’s creator) “lend” it to someone until his dead in exchange for some sort of service or would that not be possible?

      • Given that it’s an artifact even if it is intangible, it wouldn’t normally be subject to soul-binding – although entrapping it’s user on the edge of death might be a good way to keep the thing out of circulation for a bit. When it comes to lending it out, I’d presume that you mean assigning the ultimate benefits to someone else, allowing them to gain the experience points from the end of the “assign it to some unwitting dupe” cycle (since lending the thing to someone is a basic part of its operation). That might be possible (after all, every artifact is at least a little bit unique) – but I think that I would limit it to individuals who had either contributed a part of the Godfire that went into the thing or were at least very closely involved in creating the Dark Imbuement.

        Fundamentally, of course, this is a bit dull. After all, this is more or less a way of getting experience points without adventuring, which is a lot less fun in play than having your character go out and earn them personally.

      • Oh, I meant Spirit Binding… oops.
        Anyway, it says that this ability allows someone to seal a bargain with a witch and apparently oly allows a save if one of the two is forced to make it.

        So what I thought was if I could use the Dark Endowment as part of that deal, essentially telling the “unwitting dupe” I am giving him this “awesome power” for accepting my terms while witholding the whole “I gain something from you kicking the bucket”-business. That way, if he figures it out, he can’t willingly give it up or seek to abandon it, depending on what terms I lay down.

      • That’s certainly a valid bargain – although the most common routine is probably to just appear, announce that the eventual victim has been chosen, and slap the thing on. Second most common is probably to plant it somewhere and scatter clues until some incautious adventurer comes and claims it…

        I suspect that it’s not a big worry anyway; once you’ve upset people enough to make them a creditable threat to you while you have an extra 15+ levels stacked on you, giving up those extra levels is likely to get you killed even more swiftly, and with a lot less chance of winning out.

      • Makes sense…

        I wonder… is there a limit on how many of those you can bring into circulation?
        I mean, it is said that it’s possible for people to… “cooperate” creating an item (if they want it or not), so the personal cost could be a cost for another person, and I could possibly hoax people into doing these quests for me… so there’s that.
        And multiple enemies mean more adventures and adventurers and when they become too much, you have the emergency-option to equip a force of you own…

        It would also serve to spice up the countryside a bit…

      • I didn’t put in any hard limit – but even very similar artifacts are unique to each setting, so your GM may opt to have one. Still, I’d assume that making one is awkward enough to keep them relatively rare. Otherwise things could get very silly indeed.

      • While that’s probably true, the idea of someone setting up shop with these things seems funny. I mean, it’s a pretty good deal for both sides: The one that takes it gains a lot of power, and the maker get’s XP when they mess up, or at least doesn’t loose anything other than some time (and if the maker used Godfire, there is a good chance he has infinite time).

        Getting it somewhere is simple: Everyone wants the power to get to their goal. If it’s conquering the world for an upstart-villain or a good meal for a street-child is irrelevant, fact is, they’ll get a good deal of power, and as most people with a lot of power, they will also attract the attention of others. If not through going mad with power, maybe they want to become a great hero? It doesn’t really matter to you if the character invested his Dark Endowment power-up to become a Paladin-paragon and get’s killed by a big dragon or the other way around, as long as the one that had the Endowment died violently, you get an XP boost.

      • Oh certainly; if you wanted to take the notion and use it for something like “a group of kids just acquired vast cosmic power, but none of the resources, experience, equipment, paranoia, or contacts that you normally acquire while earning it” there’s no reason why you couldn’t.

        After all, these were written to make some of the common “how the game is played” tropes make sense – but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be used to “justify” a wide variety of other tropes.

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