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All Rules in Infernal Contracts

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Researching Contracts

Source Book of the Damned pg. 203
An infernal contract is a baffling linguistic labyrinth, rife with eons-old legalese, otherworldly citations, and near-endless clauses and counterclauses. One might consist of single scroll covered in fine handwriting, while another might consist of volumes of printed text bound in sable.

Skimming an infernal contract and getting the gist of it takes only a matter of moments. Reading one in its entirety, though, can take hours, if not days, and is similar in many ways to performing research in a library. All infernal contracts have a number of knowledge points (abbreviated as “kp”) representing the sum of the contract’s information. To research an infernal contract, a character must succeed at a Linguistics check or a specialized skill check as indicated by the contract in question. The DC of this Research check varies, but if the researcher uses the more specialized check to perform this research, she gains a +2 circumstance bonus for using precisely the correct skill for interpreting the contract, as opposed to the more general use of Linguistics. Attempting a Research check requires an uninterrupted 8-hour period of research, and characters cannot take 10 or 20 on this check. Each additional 8-hour period of research on the same contract grants a cumulative +1 bonus on Research checks. Up to two characters can use the aid another action to assist a researcher.

Succeeding at a Research check reduces the contract’s knowledge points, similar to dealing damage to a creature’s hit points. As the knowledge points decrease, the contract reveals its secrets. The amount of kp reduced on a successful Research check depends on the intellectual capacities of the contract’s primary researcher. A character with the ability to attempt any Knowledge check untrained (such as a bard, loremaster, or skald) reduces a contract’s kp by 1d12 + the character’s Intelligence modifier. Other scholarly characters (alchemists, arcanists, investigators, wizards, and so on, at the GM’s discretion) reduce the contract’s knowledge points by 1d8 + the character’s Intelligence modifier. All other characters reduce the contract’s knowledge points by 1d4 + the character’s Intelligence modifier. Rolling a natural 20 on a Research check acts like a critical threat. If the researcher confirms the critical hit by immediately succeeding at a second Research check with all the same modifiers, the resulting knowledge point reduction is doubled. Rolling a natural 1 on a Research check results in an automatic failure, and the contract’s knowledge points increase by 1d8. Because of the purposefully obtuse nature of infernal contracts, some researchers reach a dead end in their understanding of the document and are unable to further decrease a contract’s knowledge points. Failing two consecutive Research checks means the researcher has misunderstood the contract’s terms. In this case, the contract’s knowledge points return to maximum and the researcher can’t attempt to research that particular contract again until he gains a level.

Infernal contracts contain only the overt terms of the agreement and, potentially, oblique provisos. Unless a GM stipulates otherwise, no knowledge other than that specified is gained through researching a contract. Not every infernal contract has hidden language—some are completely forthright. Those that do conceal cunningly disguised traps, though, can have their secrets revealed by reducing the contract’s kp to its hidden condition threshold. Note that it is possible for a contract to have multiple hidden condition thresholds, though the ones detailed in this book have only one each. If such an unfavorable term is called out to a devil, it will usually acquiesce to changing the contract, though doing so means creating the contract all over again, and the new contract is by no means assured to be free of insidious new stipulations.

Once a contract’s kp is reduced to 0, the researcher discovers a flaw that could allow for an early termination of the contract. A mortal might exploit such a loophole to end the contract. In doing so, she would lose the contract’s benefit but regain her soul. The specifics of this loophole might not be simple to engineer, but they provide hope of an escape. Not all infernal contracts contain such flaws, although the four detailed in Sample Contracts do.