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I am playing The Curse of Strahd in D&D 5e. I am a good priest, who has just been inflicted with the character flaw "power at any price" after touching a staff.

We are in the old temple in the mountains. I have been fighting with my party over taking any of the gifts as the gods obviously want your soul in the dungeon dimensions for ever.

I feel I should at least be able to have a will power save (wisdom) if I can argue this "power at any cost" goes against already establish character core beliefs. I feel this would have to change my alignment as I would no longer be good, and that is a major change not just a little funny aside.

My DM is much better at debate than me (he could win the argument black is white against me) so I need to go in well armed.

The question is:

How can I convince the DM to reduce this flaw to allow for the good nature of my priest, for example selling my soul to an evil god for extra power. Are there any sections of the rules I could use to support my position in my upcoming 'discussion' with my DM?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited your question slightly and removed/added the warning/spoiler tags. \$\endgroup\$ – Sh4d0wsPlyr Apr 3 '17 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ What are your core beliefs exactly? What are some of the ideals that your character holds that you feel are challenged by this "power at any cost" flaw? \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Apr 3 '17 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. (Note that suggestions for alternative solutions count as answers. Those must face the voters like any other answer.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '17 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments confused about where the flaw comes from have been removed. Reminder that being familiar with the adventure in question is highly recommended before answering questions about published adventures. (For the curious, this effect and item are not being invented by the DM, and is not from character creation.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '17 at 18:27
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You're in Ravenloft, a setting designed around dread, horror, and the inevitable moral corruption of even the best good people, exploring the temple of the darkest forbidden knowledge in known existence… and you touched an Object of Power.

This isn't your DM making things up, or messing with you with a “funny little aside”. This is “you have been infected by ancient evil.”

To be precise, the flaw you have is quite specific in how extreme it is:

I crave power above all else, and will do anything to obtain more of it.

Anything! This isn't inflicted on a whim, it's part of the adventure design. The adventure even notes

that it's impossible to resist and overrides any personality conflict. (Chapter 13, area X17, page 187)

The whole point of this item is that merely touching it will forever ruin your goodness. Your alignment is likely to change, yes. This will affect the rest of playing through Curse of Strahd, in which part of the theme is that moral injury is far worse than mere death.

Welcome to Ravenloft. It has things to say about our assumptions about what matters in a D&D campaign.


That said, this is a flaw (the technical D&D 5e term), so it's not compulsory. If you don't play to it, there's no adverse mechanical effect, though expect that the DM might bring it up in roleplay situations (e.g., NPCs reacting to your unconscious greedy facial expressions; or other beings of evil sensing your twisted nature, which has precedent in Curse of Strahd). If you play to it though, you'll earn Inspiration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't want to answer like this due to spoilers, as they are in the middle of the adventure. But yeah, Tracy Hickman's little world of horror is just that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 3 '17 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I mused on that a bit. On balance I think the effect is “personal” enough that it should be known to the PC instantly and not spoiler-y after already getting to that part, and tackling that might help with the disconnect between player and PC motives; and that others are inherently spoiled already by the question itself if they read past “Curse of Strahd”, so I decided it was worthwhile. Though perhaps CoS should be in the title… \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '17 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I understand the dilemma, and I upvoted the answer due to its merits. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 3 '17 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a hole on this curse, however. If your character truly believes that the most powerful beings are good gods, his "ultimate power goal" could be very well be one of them - the price to pay being unlimited goodness. "I will do anything to obtain more" could very well be to refuse small boosts now to get the ultimate power later. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 '17 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TSar This DM wouldn't grant Inspiration for that because I'm pretty sure it doesn't actually work. The “curse” (it's not technically a curse) doesn't say “I will do anything to get the most power”, it says more, which is present-tense motivation. (Moral) death by a thousand cuts. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '17 at 21:30
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So, to me, this is a pretty simple case where the ultimate maxim of gaming (any gaming) applies: we are here to have fun. If this flaw changes the character you designed, that you wanted to play, into a different character than what you wanted, to a character you don’t want to play, and you wouldn’t be having fun if you did, then you should not play that character. It’s a game; why would you play a game if you weren’t having fun?

And it’s entirely reasonable to take exactly this tack with the DM. You don’t get into a debate, you don’t even give him a chance to offer any arguments to the contrary, you simply offer the statement that, with this change, you are no longer having fun, and you are not interested in playing a game that isn’t actually fun. Reason doesn’t enter into it; fun is about as purely-subjective as a thing can get, and no amount of rational debate is going to change your mind (nor should it). No matter what argument he offers defending the curse, your response should be “I’m sorry, but I do not enjoy this character with this flaw, I won’t enjoy playing him/her, and I’m not going to play a game that isn’t fun for me.” You can even agree with every single argument he makes and still respond “But it still isn’t fun for me.”

The advantages here are many:

  1. It is absolutely impervious to debate or argument. No argument can be made against it.

  2. You stand your ground, you draw a line in the sand that tells the DM where you no longer accept his authority over your character. Your character is yours after all; anything that changes your character in a forced, permanent way is something every DM should be extremely careful about. This DM wasn’t.

  3. It is completely within your control; you hold all the cards here. No one can claim you should play a game you aren’t having fun with, that you are in any way obligated to do so. Everyone playing is and must be playing voluntarily, and anyone can stop volunteering at any time (presumably, when things stop being fun). You do not rely on the force of your arguments, any authority the game says you do or don’t have, or your social standing with the group; you rely only on your own individual choices that no one has any right to control over.

And it does have one obvious, serious disadvantage:

  1. You have to stop playing if you and the DM cannot come to a compromise, and you cannot force the DM to do anything he doesn’t want to do—he holds all the same advantages that you yourself hold, with respect to his own choices. If playing with your character as you want to play that character isn’t fun for him, he is in no way obligated to play with you, just as you aren’t obligated to play a different character with him. In order for this approach to have any meaning, you have to be willing to give the game up. Maybe the DM will offer some kind of compromise; maybe not. You have to be willing to accept that the answer may be not. And you have to truly be honest when you say “playing this character with this flaw would not be fun for me, and I would rather not play than play like this” in order for your position to hold any merit.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ all of my comments removed, we covered it in chat. Thanks. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 3 '17 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ (This answer already has a chat room dedicated to discussing it, please use that.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 3 '17 at 18:36
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This need not be an argument at all: it's a flaw

Here are some tools for your discussion with the DM

Flaws have a place in D&D 5e that is soft around the edges; there should be room to work with the DM on how this fits into role play. You two need to have an OOC conversation about this.

Your line to take: this new flaw should not be treated as a curse nor a compulsion (like a magical effect) based on what flaws are in D&D 5e.

What are flaws in D&D 5e?

Flaws are by intention a point of departure for role playing that are created collaboratively between the player and DM at character creation. Basic Rules, p. 8 (same as PHB)

Choose your character’s alignment (the moral compass that guides his or her decisions) and ideals. Chapter 4 also helps you identify the things your character holds most dear, called bonds, and the flaws that could one day undermine him or her.

Flaws (Basic Rules p. 35)

Finally, choose a flaw for your character. Your character’s flaw represents some vice, compulsion, fear, or weakness—in particular, anything that someone else could exploit to bring you to ruin or cause you to act against your best interests. More significant than negative personality traits, a flaw might answer any of these questions: What enrages you? What’s the one person, concept, or event that you are terrified of? What are your vices?

What's different in this case is that you already have a flaw, presumably, chosen at character creation. You have subsequently interacted with, or have been exposed to, some form of eldritch magic that has either added to your original flaw or overwritten it with a new one. (Ravenloft is a dark and dangerous place to play).

But what does a flaw do, in this game? Typically, it provides a way to reward a player for good RP with an inspiration point. In an ideal world, or at an ideal table, role playing this flaw particularly well would earn you an inspiration point, which is something that can allow you to get advantage on a die roll at some point (mechanically) when awarded by the DM based on the DMG's guidance.

Inspiration (Basic Rules p. 35)

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.

You can probably negotiate with the DM for how inspiration is awarded. Basic guidelines in the DMG (pg 240-241) says this:

Awarding Inspiration is an effective way to encourage roleplaying and risk taking ... the character can have no more than one Inspiration at a time.

My recommendation

Have a discussion with your DM (before the next session) about how important flaws are at your table if you all don't already have a consensus about that.

Further that point, I have offered you the points that flaws are a role playing feature, not at the level compulsion like curse, for example a cursed weapon (there is one that induces people to attack anything nearby).

Is the reward for role playing well, at your table, the award of a point of inspiration? If yes, then you can choose how badly you want a point of inspiration, or if your internal struggle with all of your other background features may result in your winning your internal battle versus this flaw. Discuss this with your DM and see if you two can reach a compromise. Your role playing can feature your internal struggle with this new thing, depending on how you see that internal conflict playing out.

If award of an inspiration point is not an option, you can rightly point out that you have no incentive to role play your newest/added flaw.

Caveat: this recommendation takes us a little bit into meta gaming territory, and we each have a different tolerance for metagaming.

Is this the best approach to take? Maybe.

We know nothing about the personal relationships and bonds, In Real Life, between you and the people at your table. If you push back on this at the table, only you can estimate how your fellow players will react. Some may support you, some may not.

How critical is it that you meet with and play with this group? If the DM pushes back during your away-from-the-table discussion, and you don't care for the answer, only you know how important it is to you to keep playing with this group. That, I can't advise you on: I am a poor mind reader.

The bottom line

Flaws in D&D 5e are not a mechanical feature, and not a curse, but are instead role playing tools that -- in an ideal case -- is a collaborative effort between the player and the DM.

So, collaborate. I hope you and the DM can arrive at a happy medium.

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The book doesn't offer much guidance about what your character's "flaw" actually means. If your character's flaw is "power at any cost", does that literally mean your character now has to accept any devil's bargain offered to him? Does it just mean your character now likes power a little bit more than previously? Or is it just something you can point to, when you make a decision about pursuing power, and say: "and by the way, this decision I made was consistent with this flaw I have"?

(Since the 5e flaw system is so underspecified, to understand how it should work we might try comparing it to other game systems. For example in the Fate system, if you had the aspect "power at any cost", the DM might say: "I'm using a compel on your aspect. I will give you a Fate point if you go mess with that cursed treasure -- or, if you really don't want to mess with the treasure, you have to pay me a Fate point to stay away from it." So, in the Fate system, a flaw is a way for you to get bonuses in exchange for doing things that activate the plot. In 5e, did the designers intend something similar to happen with Inspiration? We don't know -- the rules don't say.)

I'd also recommend reading our My Guy Syndrome page: if your character has a flaw, and it's really not going to be fun for you to roleplay the flaw, sometimes it's okay to just ignore the flaw and do the thing that would be more fun. One way to deal with your problem might be to just not roleplay the flaw unless your DM specifically tells you you need to do a specific thing. (And, even then, you could ask for a Wisdom save.)

Ben's answer suggests that the flaw is the DM's way of telling you to stop arguing the party away from the cursed treasure. Apologies for the spoiler, but this is not actually the case -- the staff appears in the sourcebook, and should not be interpreted as a message from the DM.

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This might not be what you want to hear, but one way out of your predicament is to ask the DM to give you a different flaw instead - one more in keeping with the character you have. That way, you're not arguing that he should go easy on you (often a hard sell) but you don't get your character concept broken. As a sometimes-DM, I'd certainly take a "could I have a different flaw please" in a better light than "That shouldn't affect me as much because (arbitrary thing with no crunch support)."

In spite of appearances, it appears (from the research of others) that the DM is playing the effects of the staff completely straight, but the ability to make small adjustments to situations like this is one of the reasons we have DMs and DM fiat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really insightful comment, but websearching indicates unfortunately it is wrong -- the staff development is straight out of the sourcebook, and is not something the DM added. (spoilers: reddit.com/r/DMAcademy/comments/5f2oyw/…) \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Apr 3 '17 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah? Good for the OP, then. It makes it much more likely that the "could I have a different flaw please" plan will work. Also, irony. Regardless, I've edited appropriately. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Apr 3 '17 at 18:19
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I had not seen this suggestion yet, so maybe just:

Start a New Character?

In many games: PC's are often turned into NPC's if they become evil, insane, maimed etc. or otherwise become unplayable.

Also, most DM's will allow you to start a new PC at the same level as the party.

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Since everyone else is giving you frame challenges without an answer, I'm gonna try and give you an answer in addition to telling you you're doing it wrong.

The first step in convincing your DM is to figure out what kinds of leverages they allow to force them into a decision. The second step is to create such leverage or the appearance of such leverage and apply it if appropriate.

In terms of quantifying kinds of leverage, I find Dr. Brian Ballsun-Stanton et al's paper 'Clerics, Magic Users , Fighters and Thieves: Theoretical Approaches to Rules Questions on the Role-Playing Games Stack Exchange' to be useful. The paper breaks down approaches to questions on this site into a 2X2 grip of approaches that I think can be generalized to apply equally to personal theories of approach to resolving questions in rpgs as a whole.

I will discuss the sorts of leverage each kind of DM is likely to accept in a case-by-case fashion:

Cleric

For an answer to be considered good by a cleric, the answer must be well cited and situated within the literature of the game. While there are situations that may have not been anticipated by the rules, those situations should either be coerced into an appropriately fitting aspect of the rules or ignored outright. While a cleric may despair over the rules as being poorly written, they believe that departing from the rules will only create more misunderstandings and arguments without improving the quality of the game.

You will need to show that the rules of the game, the module, or some other published source proscribe the application of the flaw in the manner you object to. It may be passably sufficient to show that the rules as such do not require the application of the flaw, though if the rules permit it you will likely not be successful in using that as leverage unless your Clerical DM is extremely internal-ruling-adverse (unlikely, given the system).

If some action immediately previous to your curse was in violation of the rules, you may be able that that violation of the rules must be undone and, as your acquisition of the item gave you the curse, get yourself out of it during the retcon.

The Clerical position against you, given the specifics of the module you are playing and the rules of the game, is by far the strongest and if your DM takes a Clerical mindset your cause is likely lost.

Magic-User

For an answer to be acceptable to a magic user, it must not be a blind recapitulation of the rules. Instead, good answers are considered responses that present fundamentally good or effective rules. The effectiveness of the answer in question based on the rules presented is far more important than the rule being a fundamental component of the game in question. Magic users are perfectly happy to graft components of other systems into new systems to make up for real or perceived deficiencies of the system in question. If no component exists, they create one, imagining a framework of rules that corresponds to the activity in question.

You will need to show that the rules being applied here are bad. There are no established ways of removing or resisting this affliction, which seems rather contrary to the normal D&D 5e ethos (albeit not so much in Ravenloft). You can probably argue that the effect ought to have removal conditions or allow some form of save from that perspective. You would want to convince the GM that saveless character-altering penalties diminish player agency and/or make the game less fun.

Fighter

A fighter, when considering the rules, prefers to consider the “rules as intended,” a term which represents looking not just at the rules but also at the “flavor text” that those rules are supposed to support and the game-world concept the rule is supposed to be illustrating. By considering the intent of the game designers as expressed through flavor text and their other literature, the Realist can understand what situation the rules were trying to represent and adjust the rules for a better representation.

You will need to show that the blanket application of the flaw is unrealistic within the confines of the game. You could use stories like The Mockingbird Song and other "last vestiges of former self ultimately triumph/provide opportunity for death as a form of redemption" to build a case against this sort of thing from a genre standpoint.

Thief

To a thief, anything goes. A RPG is a free narrative space to explore and have fun within. Anything that hinders or constrains the Imaginative’s fun is beyond consideration. Rules, as to the fighter, are useful guidelines to be set aside when circumstances warrant. A thief places the entertainment quotient of a game above the consistency supplied by a game’s rules or the constraints of realism.

You will need to show that this change is not cool. You can do this trivially, by informing the DM that you don't like it so you're going to ignore it cause it's not useful to you having fun. This is the easiest kind of case for you to make.


That said, Ravenloft is supposed to be an awful and dangerous place. You may want to consider whether or not you ought to be trying to convince your DM to do otherwise before embarking on a plan of DM convincing. If you are trying to approach the game as a Cleric, Magic-User, or Fighter the appropriate thing to happen is certainly for the flaw to be inflicted in some fashion, though in the latter two cases the mechanism of the flaw and its drastic nature may well be altered somewhat. Only in the case of a largely Thief-like approach do you have a solid case to discard the flaw altogether.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I love your citing of CRoss', Brian's, and mxy's collaboration, the person asking the question has pointed out that when it comes to debate/argument, the DM can run circles around her (him?), akin perhaps to a 1st level rogue taking on a 6th level cleric. This answer would help someone like me, who is far more confident in a battle of rhetoric, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 4 '17 at 12:34

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