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Unearthed Arcana


Some places and items are so evil that exposure to them marks, or taints, a character in a very real and difficult-to-cleanse way. Taint is evil. It is a corruption so deep it warps the very plane of reality. A weapon used to slaughter thousands of innocents, a forest grown on land soaked in the blood of an evil deity, a book bound in the flesh of an archfiend for his own horrible purposes, and the presence of an evil deity are all sources of taint. Then, of course, there are rings…
Taint can be added to campaigns fairly seamlessly. It’s generally best to limit the number of places and items that can impart taint, to reduce the bookkeeping load on players and the GM.

Taint makes evil a physical threat to the well-being of characters. It can have a lasting impact on characters, even killing those who remain exposed too long.

One way of using this variant system is to replace alignment with taint. As a way of describing characters, taint works somewhat differently, since the standard alignment system uses sets of opposites (law vs. chaos, good vs. evil) and taint has no opposite. You’re either tainted, or you’re not.

In such a system, tainted characters are “evil,” considered a threat to common people and, in sufficient numbers, to entire nations. Characters without taint may act altruistically or selfishly, kindly or cruelly, generously or miserly, as their personalities dictate. An evil monster has a taint score equal to one-half its Charisma score, with evil undead getting a +1 modifier and evil outsiders a +2 modifier.

Alternatively, taint can be used in addition to alignment. While characters with a minor amount of taint aren’t necessarily evil, they probably are. The more taint they acquire, the more evil they become. The GM should monitor taint carefully and provide a warning when a character disregards its effect, just as he would when a character acts outside his alignment.

If you include taint in your campaign, you can add a detect taint spell to the cleric’s spell list. If you are not using alignment, change the paladin’s detect evil ability to detect taint.

The detect taint spell or spell-like ability is identical to detect evil, except that it detects the presence of taint within a creature or object. When determining the power of a tainted aura, refer to the table in the detect evil spell description. Find the creature or object’s taint score on the row for “Cleric of an evil deity”; the aura’s power corresponds to the column in which the taint score is contained.

Initial exposure to a tainted place or tainted object gives a character 1d3 points of taint.

For every 24 hours spent in a tainted place, or spent carrying a tainted object, a character must make a Fortitude saving throw. The base DC is 10, +5 for every consecutive 24 hours of exposure. Multiple simultaneous exposures (such as carrying a tainted weapon in a tainted place) increase the DC by +5 per source of exposure every 24 hours. If the character fails his saving throw, his taint score increases by 1.

Because of their good Fortitude saves, most barbarians, fighters, monks, paladins, and rangers resist taint better than members of other classes. Bards, rogues, sorcerers, and wizards are much more susceptible to taint.

Taint-Absorbing Items
Some natural substances absorb taint and thus protect those who are exposed to carry them. Examples include a pure jade rod the size of a human finger, a sheet of vellum prepared from a year-old lamb, an intricately carved piece of lightning-struck oak, or a silk sash. The GM can create other examples appropriate to the campaign as well. Regardless of the shape or substance of the item, taint-absorbing items cost 100 gp each.

As an item absorbs taint, it darkens, softens, and gradually rots away over seven days. During that time, it absorbs all taint to which the carrier is exposed. Possessing multiple taint-absorbing items at the same time can protect a character for longer than seven days, but the benefit does not accumulate indefinitely, as shown on Table: Taint-Absorbing Items.

Table: Taint-Absorbing Items
Items PossessedDays of Protection
7 or more1
Evil and Taint
Simply having an evil alignment is no defense against taint — it is too profound an effect for personal beliefs or moral codes to ward it off. Only undead and creatures with the evil subtype can ignore taint.

Of course, you may choose for evil creatures to become tainted by good. You can create sacred places and objects in your campaign that taint evil characters as well. You could say that creatures with the good subtype are immune to the effects of taint in such sacred places, but those sacred places would rot away creatures of the evil subtype.

Alternatively, you could inflict taint according to the conflict between law and chaos, along with or instead of taint associated with the good-vs.-evil conflict.

Alternative Saving Throws
Often, fantasy literature portrays characters who delve into ancient, lost, or forbidden knowledge as becoming warped by their exposure to such knowledge. In campaigns with the same conceit, the Fortitude saving throw makes sense. However, you could easily use a Will saving throw instead to determine whether a character picks up taint. This would mean that bards, clerics, sorcerers, and wizards develop a resistance to taint as they go up in levels (because of their good Will saves), but other classes would have a much harder time resisting.

Whether a Fortitude save or a Will save is used, clerics, druids, and monks are equally resistant to taint, which supports the genre conceit of horrible secrets hidden in inaccessible temples and monasteries. Rogues are vulnerable either way, explaining how thieves often appear in the genre as unwittingly releasing horror on the world when they steal something that was better left lost and protected.

When a character casts an evil spell in a tainted area, treat the caster as +1 caster level for spell effects that depend on caster level. When a character casts a good spell in a tainted area, treat the caster as -1 caster level for spell effects that depend on caster level. These changes in caster level have no effect on spells known, spells per day, or highest level of spell available.

If you are using Manual of the Planes, entire planes may inflict taint. Mildly aligned planes inflict taint as outlined in Becoming Tainted. On strongly aligned planes, the saving throw DC increases by +5 every 12 hours instead of every 24 hours.

Table: Taint Effects
Occasional nausea or vomiting
Pain in joints
Hair goes white
Mild paranoia
Increased aggressiveness
Mild hallucinations
Phlegmy, wracking cough
Eyelid swells, obscuring vision
Pale, grayish, dead complexion
Sunken eyes, cracked lips
Skin seeps greasy, yellowish “sweat”
Skin thickens, cracks, and turns leathery
Bones begin to warp and thicken
Black, lichenlike growth across skin itches incessantly
Reddened, burnlike sores and scars
Eye clouds or blood vessels break, obscuring vision
Lips shrink back from gums
Gums swell, bleed, and rot
Bleeding from eyes, nose, mouth, ears, or lips
Hair falls out
Uncontrollable seizures that wrack the body with spasms
Eruption of painful sores
Sores ooze blood, pus, foul-smelling ooze, spiders or insects, thick pasty substance, maggots, or acidic green slime
Hears voices of evil spirits
Severe paranoia
Fits of uncontrollable, disturbing laughter
Disregard for hygiene and cultural mores
Flesh of nose rots away, leaving skull-like openings
Mutated, deformed fingers, toes, leg, arm, head, ear, eye, or teeth begin to grow on inappropriate parts of the body, then shrivel, rot, and eventually fall off
Spine twists, back hunches
Severe warping of skeleton; skull enlarges and deforms
Great swollen growths on the body
Lungs eaten away from inside—wet, labored, and painful breathing
Eye falls out, leaving gaping socket that glows with eerie green light
Skin peels off in papery sloughs at the slightest touch, leaving raw, red flesh beneath
Fingers or toes begin to web and fuse
Irresistible murderous urges
Reduced to primitive behavior
Eats inedible or still-living things

A character’s taint score applies as a penalty to his Constitution and Wisdom scores. Thus a character with a 16 Constitution and a 14 Wisdom who acquires a taint score of 4 has an effective Constitution of 12 and an effective Wisdom of 10. These penalties reflect the taint’s impact on the character’s physical and mental health.

Characters who embrace taint (see below) and make use of it can ignore some of these penalties. Though it reduces ability scores, the effect of taint is not treated as ability damage, ability drain, or any other penalty to an ability score that can be removed by magic.

A tainted character experiences the Constitution and Wisdom penalties in a variety of ways, from mild nausea, joint pain, or disorientation to rotting flesh, severe skeletal warping, and irresistible murderous urges. Table: Taint Effects is categorized according to whether a character is mildly, moderately, or severely tainted. A character who has lost 25% of his Constitution to taint is mildly tainted. A character who has lost 50% of his Constitution to taint is moderately tainted. A character who has lost 75% of his Constitution to taint is severely tainted. The effects on Table: Taint Effects are primarily meant as role-playing features, though the GM can apply minor game-related modifiers to represent some of these effects if he so chooses.

If a character’s Constitution score reaches 0 from the effects of taint, he dies — and 1d6 hours later he rises as a hideous, evil creature under the control of the GM. What sort of creature he becomes depends on his character level before dying.

Character Level Before DeathTransforms Into
  1. Advance the bodak until its HD equals the character’s level before death.
2nd or lowerGhoul
9th or higherBodak1

As terrible as the effects of taint are upon the living, they are even worse upon the dead. Any creature that dies while exposed to taint animates in 1d4 hours as an undead creature, usually a zombie of the appropriate size. Burning a corpse protects it from this effect.

Embracing Taint
Once a character’s taint score reaches 10 (assuming he is still alive), he may seek out forces of great evil and pledge himself to their cause. Often evil cults, temples of evil deities, and the militaries of evil warlords eagerly accept such pledges, giving the character access to new sources of power (see Tainted Prestige Classes).
It is possible to remove taint from characters in several ways, including through the use of spells, the performance of good deeds, and cleansing in a sacred spring. Taint cannot be removed unless the tainted character wants to be cleansed.
The following spells can reduce taint scores when cast outside tainted areas. No character can have his taint score reduced by any particular spell more than once per day (though different spells can reduce taint if cast on the same character in the same day).

Atonement: This spell can remove taint, but with limits. First, it always requires a quest. Second, the caster decides how much taint to remove when casting atonement, up to a maximum equal to the caster’s level. This use of atonement costs the caster 500 XP. Atonement can reduce a taint score to 0.

Heal: This spell reduces a character’s taint score by 1 point per three caster levels, but it cannot reduce a taint score below 1.

Miracle, Wish: These spells cannot remove taint except by duplicating the effects of other spells mentioned here.

Remove curse, remove disease: These spells reduce a character’s taint score by 1 point, but they cannot reduce a taint score below 1.

Restoration: This spell reduces a character’s taint score by 1 point per four caster levels, but it cannot reduce a taint score below 1.

Greater Restoration: This spell reduces a character’s taint score by a number of points equal to the caster level of the cleric casting greater restoration. Greater restoration can reduce a taint score to 0.

Good Deeds
Simple good deeds are not enough to remove taint. A character wishing to reduce his taint score through good deeds must undertake a particular ritual under the guidance of one of his deity’s clerics. The ritual prepares the character to undertake the deed.

Each deity’s faith has a list of ritual good deeds that the faithful may perform to prove their dedication to their deity. For example, church followers may choose to put on garments sacred to their faith (and which identify their faith to anyone who sees them) and patrol a particular part of their home as part of the militia or city guard. Adventuring is never part of a good deed, and a character who undertakes an adventure prior to completing his good deed must begin again with the ritual.

Deeds must be repeated every day for a week. Upon completion, the character’s taint score is reduced by 1 point. The character may continue the deed for another week to continue losing taint, or may return to the temple to undertake the ritual again and begin a different deed.

Alternatively, deeds may be quests undertaken on behalf of the deity. After the quest ends, the character’s taint score is reduced by 1 point per week required to complete the quest.

Good deeds may reduce a character’s taint score to 0.

Sacred Spring
Springs sacred to a particular deity or cause are located in remote regions, requiring long and dangerous travel to reach. For each day a character spends resting and cleansing himself at a sacred spring, his taint score is reduced by 1 point. A characters using this method to reduce his taint score can undertake no activities other than resting, eating, sleeping, and normal conversation.

Cleansing at a sacred spring may reduce a character’s taint score to 0.

Cleansing Places and Objects
Clerics may use hallow to remove taint from an area, but it takes time. The spell must remain intact for a year and a day to remove the taint from the area. If, during that time, an opposing character casts unhallow on some or all of the area, the effort is lost and must be reinstated by another casting of hallow. (The hallow spell only affects a 40-foot-radius area, so large areas may require many clerics working simultaneously to completely guard them.)

Unintelligent items left in a hallowed area for a year and a day lose their taint. Items that have an Intelligence score (and are thus treated as constructs for this purpose) can only be cleansed by using the spells mentioned above.


The two prestige classes presented here use taint as a source of power. Depending on your campaign, certain taint scores (or lack thereof) could be prerequisites for other published prestige classes, such as the alienist or the blood magus (both from Tome and Blood)
pict Tainted sorcerers find an easy path to tremendous magical power. Young wizards frustrated at the slow pace of their studies, old scholars chafing at the limitations of traditional magic, peasant folk-magic practitioners, even those who wage endless battle against unspeakable evil and thus succumb to taint — for all these spellcasters, taint offers a way to overcome obstacles that the sanctioned magic of the world cannot provide. At the mere cost of the character’s soul…

Tainted sorcerers come from a variety of backgrounds. Many are sorcerers or wizards — some inexperienced, some quite advanced — who stumble across or seek out the forbidden secrets of taint in arcane libraries. Others are adepts who learn tainted magic from an older practitioner. Some are clerics or druids of evil cults who learn from their elders, in the same way that their cult has passed on knowledge for centuries.

NPC tainted sorcerers are everywhere, though they usually hide very carefully.

Table: The Tainted Sorcerer
Attack Bonus
SpecialSpells per Day/Spells Known
1st+0+2+0+0Blood component,
taint suppression,
tainted metamagic,
tainted spellcasting
+1 level of existing spellcasting class
2nd+1+3+0+0+1 level of existing spellcasting class
3rd+2+3+1+1+1 level of existing spellcasting class
4th+3+4+1+1+1 level of existing spellcasting class
5th+3+4+1+1+1 level of existing spellcasting class
6th+4+5+2+2+1 level of existing spellcasting class
7th+5+5+2+2+1 level of existing spellcasting class
8th+6+6+2+2+1 level of existing spellcasting class
9th+6+6+3+3+1 level of existing spellcasting class
10th+7+7+3+3+1 level of existing spellcasting class

Hit Die: d8.

To qualify to become a tainted sorcerer, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.

Alignment: Any nongood.

Base Will Save: +4.

Skills: Concentration 8 ranks, Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks.

Spells: Ability to cast 1st-level spells.

Taint: Character’s taint score must be 4 or higher.

Special: Must have learned the basics of taint magic from a tainted sorcerer of at least 4th level, or must have summoned a demon or devil to gain instruction.

Class Skills
The tainted sorcerer’s class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Bluff (Cha), Concentration (Con), Disguise (Cha), Hide (Dex), Knowledge (arcana) (Int), Knowledge (the planes) (Int), and Spellcraft (Int).

Skill Points at Each Level: 2 + Int modifier

Class Features
The following are class features of the tainted sorcerer.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Tainted sorcerers are proficient with all simple weapons. They are not proficient with any type of armor or shield. Armor of any type interferes with a tainted sorcerer’s arcane gestures, which can cause her spells to fail (if those spells have somatic components).

Spells per Day/ Spells Known:When a new tainted sorcerer level is gained, the character gains new spells known and spells per day as if she had also gained a level in a spellcasting class she belonged to before she added the prestige class. She does not, however, gain any other benefit a character of that class would have gained. This essentially means that she adds the level of tainted sorcerer to the level of whatever other spellcasting class she has, then determines spells known, spells per day, and caster level accordingly.

Blood Component:
Component CostDamage Dealt
50 gp or less5
51 gp-300 gp11
301 gp-750 gp17
751 gp or more23

A tainted sorcerer must use blood in place of any spell’s material component (if the spell has no material component, ignore this cost). She has two choices for a source of blood: herself or someone else.

If she uses her own blood, the minor knife cut to draw the requisite blood is a free action that becomes a normal part of casting the spell. Using this ability deals 1 point of damage to the tainted sorcerer, but the character does not need to make a Concentration check to successfully cast the spell, despite the wound.

Substituting blood for a costly material component requires drawing a greater amount of blood. A tainted sorcerer deals more damage to herself when drawing a large amount of blood, as shown on the table below. Also, when using blood to replace a costly component in this way, the tainted sorcerer must make a Concentration check (DC 10 + damage taken + spell level) to successfully cast the spell.

If the tainted sorcerer draws someone else’s blood to use as a material component, the rules given above generally apply. If the source of blood is willing (or helpless) and is adjacent to the tainted sorcerer, she can make a minor knife cut to obtain a small amount of blood as a free action during the casting of the spell. (If the source is not willing or helpless and not adjacent, how long it takes to draw blood depends entirely on the circumstances.)

No single source of blood can be used to replace a costly material component unless the character or creature’s current hit point total is high enough to absorb all the damage without falling below -10. For example, the blood of an orc with 6 hit points remaining is not sufficient to replace a component that costs 301 gp or more, because the orc cannot take the necessary 17 points of damage before it is dead.

Taint Suppression: While a tainted sorcerer is likely to accumulate a high taint score over the course of her life, this taint is not immediately obvious to onlookers. A tainted sorcerer’s taint manifests in mental effects — insanity, rage, and nightmares — and in internal physical effects. If a tainted sorcerer is split open, the character’s internal corruption is obvious: Her body is full of bloody pus and strange growths, even internal limbs. If a tainted sorcerer enters a tainted area, her corruption immediately manifests externally as well. Barring these two conditions, it is impossible to detect a tainted sorcerer based on appearance.

A tainted sorcerer no longer applies her taint score as a penalty to her Constitution, and only applies one-half her taint score as a penalty to her Wisdom.

Tainted Metamagic: A tainted sorcerer who learns metamagic feats can apply them by paying an additional cost in blood. By draining blood, a tainted sorcerer can enhance her spells without using a higher-level spell slot. The cost is a number of points of Constitution damage equal to the spell slot adjustment of the metamagic feat. Thus, casting an empowered vampiric touch spell costs a tainted sorcerer 2 points of Constitution damage, because an empowered spell uses up a spell slot two levels higher than normal. A tainted sorcerer cannot enhance a spell to a level higher than she can cast by this means. For example, a tainted sorcerer must be at least a 9th-level caster to cast an empowered vampiric touch spell (or at least 10th level, if the character is casting as a sorcerer), since the empowered spell requires a 5th-level spell slot.

A tainted sorcerer without a Constitution score cannot use this ability.

Tainted Spellcasting (Su): Rather than using a key ability score for spellcasting, a tainted sorcerer uses her taint score. To cast a spell, a tainted sorcerer must have a taint score at least equal to the spell’s level. Tainted sorcerer bonus spells are based on a number equal to the character’s taint score + 10, and saving throws against tainted sorcerer spells have a DC of 10 + spell level + the tainted sorcerer’s taint score.

A tainted sorcerer accumulates taint for casting her spells. All spells a tainted sorcerer casts are evil spells. She must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + spell level) or increase her taint score by 1.

Level Advancement: The power of taint is seductive. Once a character has tasted its attractions, it is hard to resist. Whenever a tainted sorcerer gains a new level and wishes to advance a level in some other class, she must succeed on a Will saving throw (DC 10 + taint score). If she fails the saving throw, she must advance her tainted sorcerer level. If she succeeds on this saving throw, she can advance a level in some other class.

Attack Bonus
1st+1+2+0+0Taint suppression
2nd+2+3+0+0Damage reduction 1/good
3rd+3+3+1+1Tainted strike 1/day
4th+4+4+1+1Damage reduction 2/good
6th+6+5+2+2Damage reduction 3/good
7th+7+5+2+2Tainted strike 2/day
8th+8+6+2+2Damage reduction 4/good
10th+10+7+3+3Damage reduction 5/good

pict When a character’s taint threatens to exceed the capacity of his body and soul to contain it, he may become possessed by its evil power and transformed into a creature of taint. Such characters feel an irresistible urge to travel to regions of taint, often walking until their feet bleed, slaughtering anyone in the way. The lucky ones are killed by adventurers, militias, or monsters. The unlucky ones are guided by evil cults and become transformed into living servants of evil.

Most tainted warriors were barbarians, fighters, or rangers before their taint overcame them, although a member of any race or character class can adopt this prestige class. Clerics, druids, sorcerers, and wizards are usually seduced by the tainted sorcerer class instead.

NPC tainted warriors are found near regions of taint, often serving as commanders for small groups of evil humanoids.

Hit Die: d12.

To qualify to become a tainted warrior, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.

Alignment: Any nongood.

Base Attack Bonus: +5.

Taint: Character’s taint score must be 10 or more.

Special: Character must locate and join a temple devoted to an evil deity.

Class Skills
The tainted warrior’s class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Climb (Str), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Ride (Dex), Sense Motive (Wis), and Swim (Str).

Skill Points at Each Level: 2 + Int modifier.

Class Features
The following are class features of the tainted warrior.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Tainted warriors do not gain any additional weapon or armor proficiencies.

Taint Suppression: By definition, a tainted warrior is overwhelmed with taint, but this taint is not immediately obvious to onlookers. A tainted warrior’s taint manifests in mental effects — delirium, anger, and cruelty — and in internal physical effects. If a tainted warrior is split open, the internal corruption is obvious: His body is full of vile liquids and distorted growths, even internal limbs. If a tainted warrior enters a tainted area, his corruption immediately manifests externally as well. Barring these two conditions, it is impossible to detect a tainted warrior based on appearance.

A tainted warrior no longer applies his taint score as a penalty to his Constitution, and only applies one-half his taint score as a penalty to his Wisdom.

Damage Reduction (Ex): At 2nd level, a tainted warrior gains damage reduction 1/good. The value of the character’s damage reduction increases by 1 point at every even-numbered level thereafter.

Tainted Strike (Ex): A tainted warrior of 3rd level or higher can infuse a melee attack with the power of his taint. The character adds his taint score to the damage dealt by the melee attack, and the target’s taint score increases by 1.

If a tainted warrior strikes a creature immune to the effects of taint (such as an undead creature or a creature with the evil subtype), the tainted strike has no effect.

A tainted warrior can use this ability once per day upon attaining 3rd level and one additional time per day for every four levels gained thereafter.