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One foot in the grave
Darkrot, Marsh Fever, and Blacktongue are just a few diseases that adventurers can contract while traversing the dangerous world of Dungeons & Dragons. While adding illnesses into a campaign may seem inconsequential, there are several ways in which they can enhance a play session. Diseases can stand as a part of the story's central narrative, add an element of realism or urgency that influences the mood of a session, or provide a new degree of difficulty for those afflicted.
There are many ways for a creature to contract a disease in D&D, from being bitten by a disease-carrying beast to failing a saving throw against a cursed item or rare poison. Once infected, a character may suffer penalties to their ability scores, fall victim to disadvantage on saving throws or ability checks, or even fall unconscious and die if left untreated. However, the importance of diseases in D&D goes far beyond added gameplay challenges. Illnesses can also serve as a plot device, increasing a campaign's pace or adding realistic depth to the world.
Dungeon masters can craft many profound disease-related quests. A simple example would be to have the townmaster hire the party to find a cure for a deadly plague ravaging their village. Not only does the potential of an increased death toll add a sense of urgency, but as the quest evolves, players will explore the world and its lore discovering new lands, characters, and organizations. Although, it's important to remember that not all adventures have happy endings.
Diseases may also showcase the consequences of the party's actions. Suppose they fail to dispose of a cursed item properly, mishandle the creation of a medicine, or lose sight of an infected townsperson. These minor missteps could unwittingly rerelease a plague upon an unsuspecting town. Sharing these potential faults with an adventuring party adds weight to their decisions and creates opportunities for future quests and plot points.
Take a turn for the better.
Beyond plot devices, diseases can also serve as a tool for character development. When a character contracts a disease, their mortality comes to the forefront, forcing them to confront it. This revelation can lead to interesting character moments and growth as they overcome the disease and emerge stronger for it. Direct character affliction adds a sense of realism to the game. Diseases often run rampant and become deadly in the bygone days of D&D, and having players interact with them directly makes the game more immersive and believable. It also provides roleplaying opportunities for players to act as medical professionals and healers, providing another layer of depth to the world and its story.
Regarding gameplay, diseases can also add an extra layer of strategy. Parties must carefully manage their resources and make difficult decisions like exposing themselves to continue their travels or progress the story. They must also prioritize finding a cure for afflicted members or risk that player's well-being or potentially their life. Dungeon masters can also use diseases as a tool to balance encounters. If a party is breezing through combat, a well-timed infection could increase the challenge and force the party to think creatively.
Overall, diseases play an essential role in Dungeons & Dragons. They add an element of authenticity, challenge, and profundity to the game. They can act as plot devices, character development tools, and balance encounters. So the next time your party finds a disease, don't be too quick to dismiss it as a nuisance. It may be the key to unlocking the latest adventuring epic.