Dragon Encounters

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A Deadly Friend: How to Play Corruption in DnD

This was originally part of the glabrezu article, and part 1: Deception appears there. As this seems like something that I’m going to need for more monsters, I decided to publish it separately as its own article. This way I can refer other monsters to here, and people won’t need to skim through the glabrezu article and try to figure out what parts are relevant.

Bad Influence Part 2: Corruption

Below are several ways in which the villain can [possibly] cause corruption in the players. I would suggest using one idea as your main form of corruption, and bringing in 1-2 others just for variety, and so that the progression not be too fast, and therefore too obvious. At the end of this section will be ideas for bringing it to a conclusion.

When using these corruption ideas, make the NPCs be not sympathetic personalities. [Having them complain a lot, be suspicious of the PCs, and be ungrateful are all great ways to achieve this.]

To advance the corruption, place the players in more situations that are basically the same idea, but with different details. Slowly have the NPCs become less unsympathetic, the players’ reasons for doing the deed be less compelling, and the cost to the NPCs should become higher.

Corrupting people in a game is a very grey area. Done successfully, you’ll end up with your players making some very bad choices, and basically committing war crimes. Done unsuccessfully, you’ll start getting frustrated that it’s not going anywhere, and your players will be confused and won’t have a clear idea of what’s going on. If you decide you don’t like the way it’s going, or if you’d rather not do something like this in this first place, I’m also including a few suggestions for having the villain just betray the party in the old-fashioned way.

Honestly, I do not think that corrupting players is a good idea either. (Inside of a blog, I like the thought of successfully meeting a difficult challenge. In a D&D game, I wouldn’t be using these ideas either.)

Also, don’t make this the main part of your game. Your game should always be about the players saving the day and defeating the bad guys. These corruptions consist of morally grey actions that the players do along the way.

Corruption ideas:

  • Get the players into a situation where they’ll be without food, and no easy way to obtain it, or needing transportation if they’re to save the day on time, or some such. Provide a peasant or other NPC that they can take it from. [The villain guided them to this location, and maybe made sure that the food would be ruined by bugs, the horses would be stolen, or similar. He was careful that it couldn’t be traced to him.]
  • They meet NPCs who committed evil actions because of necessity, and they have to decide how to respond. Make the NPCs not seem too sympathetic, and make a realistic way for the players to deal with them that will be doable, if perhaps a bit harder. If and when they ask, give at least a reasonable chance that doing the nice thing will have a good result, not a bad one. To make it way harder, have a case where doing the right thing ends up leading to a bad result. [The villain makes the PCs wealth noticeable, to attract a starving peasant to steal from them, for example. See also persuasion, below.]
  • They meet NPCs who ask them for help. Unfortunately, it’s a type of help that they don’t want to provide. This can be a request for some of their money [charity], a request for a less profitable quest, or for a less interesting quest. If you do this last, make it a short fight, not something too long and drawn out that would ruin the D&D game if they accept. [The villain mentions how powerful/wealthy the PCs are where it will be heard, or suggests to them that they circulate their deeds. If he can get them annoyed at their limited money soon before, or time it so that the two coincide, all the better.]
  • They get hired to go on a side quest. The pay is good, but the purpose of the quest is kind of shady. [The villain takes out the ruffians who were originally going to be sent on the quest, and/or intimidates the quest giver into hiring the PCs. The glabrezu has Darkness, and some other monsters have shapechanging or illusion abilities. All of there are great for intimidation, and it means that the person doesn’t know who spoke to him and therefore can’t betray the villain.]

Persuasion tools:

When persuading the players to do what is wrong, don’t argue for it too forcibly. That will reveal the villain’s true motive, and will possibly cause the players to feel that they’re being railroaded into it to advance the plot. If it doesn’t have this second effect, it might end up dissuading the players instead of encouraging them.

What you should do is have the villain present both options. If you’re careful, you can present the benefits of the path you’re advocating for and the losses of the other path, and gloss over the benefits and losses in the other direction. (This doesn’t mean not mentioning them, necessarily, you might need to mention them if they’re obvious. This means how much you mention them, and how attractive you make them sound. That said, to the extent you can get away with not mentioning them, the better. So long as the players know they exist.)

During the discussion afterwards, the villain can speak up once. Even then, confine yourself to a few short sentences, and take a thoughtful approach, pointing out the reason to choose one over the other. Do not take a strong approach of saying “I think we should do X.”

Praising up someone deeds [in this case, misdeeds] is also an incredibly good way to influence people. We’re hungry for compliments, and when we feel sincerely complimented it motivates us to do more of the same in the future. Sometimes, it encourages us to do so even more strongly, and even if our original actions were all that sincere.

If you’re not managing to persuade them, or if what I wrote here seems too difficult, have the villain switch tactics and betray them instead.

Bad Influence Part 3: Downfall

Should they go along with the villain’s pitch, the final thing we have to discuss is bringing it to a conclusion. You’ll only be able to corrupt the PCs so far, so we need a stirring climax type event to wrap it up, and then you’ll move on.

Below are several options:

  • The players are asked to judge a case that is somewhat similar to whichever corruption path they’ve been led along [although different enough in details that they won’t recognize this fact. This is helped by the fact they we tend to excuse our own actions.] When they judge against the guilty party, the villain reveals to them that they’ve been just as bad. Then, laughing at them, if flies away, hops on a boat, or otherwise departs.
  • After the players cross the line, a good aligned NPC or monster shows up, pronounces them corrupt, and attacks them. (I would suggest using an angel or a guardian naga. Using an NPC will require you to homebrew.)
  • The angel or guardian naga lays a curse on them instead of attacking. The curse should be annoying, but not fatal. Eventually, you’ll give them an opportunity to get rid of it. Perhaps a reverse Midas touch, where any money they obtain turns to worthless lead until they do sufficient good deeds. If you’re running a sandbox, you can banish them to some distant realm instead. (If you’re running a campaign, you’re not going to like the last idea much, which is why I specified sandbox.)
  • The angel marks them with a disfigurement, showing that they’re corrupt and causing other good aligned people to distrust them. Again, this should only last so long.
  • This final option is really “All of the above”: After the villain reveals that they’re the same as the guilty party in the trial, the angel shows up and moves to put a punishment on them. [The villain quietly disappears as soon as the angel arrives.] It announces what it’s going to do in advance. If the players attack it, you switch to a fight, and if the kill it they get branded with the disfigurement. Oh, and the villain should show up at the campaign end as a final boss. The players are going to really hate it at that point. 

Betrayal tactics:

This part, as mentioned above, is for when you don’t want to use the villain as a corrupting influence. I applaud your common sense.

This first part above, deception, you can use as it appears in the glabrezu’s article. I also intend to cover it with other monsters as well. This part will take over starting with the second section, above.

There are actually two different forms of betrayal, the short term and the long term. Let’s look at them individually.

Short term: This is when the villain [or other enemy] is posing as a friend only long enough to catch them off guard. As soon as it gets a chance to catch them off guard, or as soon as it catches them in a weakened state, it plans to betray and kill them, preferably by taking them by surprise.

If you use this style, be aware that they’ll be suspicious of it at first. The longer you wait until you have it attack them, the harder the fight will be. This can also be a negative, as it increases the chances that the villain will catch them when they’re nearly dead, or in terrain or a situation that favors it, and an attack in that situation will TPK them.

A variant I might suggest is that instead of wanting to catch them in a weak moment, the villain will wait until they’ve nearly achieved a significant victory and will attack them there, to hit them when it will hurt them most. If you’re doing this, the villain could aim to take the treasure they just obtained away from them, to rescue the villain they were aiming to kill, or something similar. If we assume that it’s meant to cause despair, that even matches the goal of corruption, at least somewhat.

Long term: This is where the villain does not have any immediate plans to reveal himself. Instead, he’ll pose as their friend while passing on information to their enemy[ies]. Fly is very useful for this, as is summoning or telepathy. He summons a monster, or contacts another villain who is out of sight of the PCs, and use them relay messages. Since most messages aren’t urgent, even a small chance of success will do nicely. He can always try again tomorrow.

Generally, you’ll want him to be sabotaging the players behind the scenes. While this doesn’t make much sense strategically, this is very tempting in terms of gameplay. If you do go with this, I would suggest that some part of the players’ quest be time sensitive, and that way the villain at least has a reason to sabotage them. Alternatively, he’ll sabotage them so that his allies, the players’ enemies, can get there before them or in time to stop them. To do this properly, you’ll have to actually have some possibility of them getting there too late, or at least make it harder it they get there late.

One response to “A Deadly Friend: How to Play Corruption in DnD”

  1. […] already written about corrupting and betraying PCs here. The only thing I’ll add is that the erinyes is more likely to send them on a quest than to […]

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.