The magical viruses of Ravenloft are microscopic horrors that are invisible to the naked eye, but deadly in their effect. These magical strains are similar to their mundane counterparts in several ways: Both magical and mundane viruses lie dormant until they contact living cells, and once such contact is made, both types of virus become active and begin to spread through the host’s body.
Background: An elderly, embittered mage named Phagius first introduced magical viruses to the Land. His wife bore him six children before dying in childbirth. Although Phagius paid little attention to his brood, he demanded from them absolute obedience, verging upon worship. Phagius grew more cruel, petty, and tyrannical over the years, refusing to allow his children to marry or to become apprentices to any other wizard than himself. Eventually, his offspring grew desperate and mixed a lethal poison into his meal, hoping to rid themselves of their evil sire. In this they succeeded, but not before Phagius had his revenge.
Phagius was working on a series of potions designed to spread infection throughout his homeland, Invidia. Only he would know the cures, and he planned to use his knowledge to control the domain. Realizing that his death was but moments away, Phagius cursed his children and drank the six virulent potions he had created.
As the aged wizard collapsed onto his bed, his body transformed. When Phagius’s children crept upstairs to witness the result of their dread deed, one of them touched the body, which immediately collapsed into dust. Choking, the children fled the room and the keep, taking with them their evil inheritance: six magical viruses (Combustion, Crystal, Petrification, Phobia, Psionic, and Shadow Virus). Each child of Phagius became the carrier (see Transmission, below) of a different disease, spreading an evil legacy.
Description: Viruses are microscopic and thus are invisible to the naked eye, but even eyes of minute seeing are incapable of spotting them. They are not revealed by a detect invisibility spell either, for their invisibility is due to their minuscule size, not any magic. A detect magic spell will reveal the presence of these minute menaces when they are highly concentrated, as is the case in an infected person.
Combat: Viruses do not participate in combat per se. Rather, the virus waits in a state of suspended animation until it comes into direct contact with living tissue, at which time it activates and attempts to invade the tissues of the body. Once the virus is inside the body, symptoms of infection appear.
Magical viruses can affect living beings in three ways. A magical virus can imprint its own genetic patterns over those of the host tissue, forcing the original tissue to die, leaving virus-patterned tissue in its place. Other viruses cause such frenetic activity in the tissue that it grows out of control, causing excruciating pain before death. Perhaps most horribly, some magical viruses affect the victim’s psyche, twisting and warping the mind instead of the body.
Transmission: Phagius’s viruses exist in two states: dormant and active. They are contracted through physical contact with their dormant forms. When a dormant virus contacts living flesh, it attempts to infect the body. If the virus successfully infects the victim it becomes active. An active virus perishes immediately if exposed to any elements outside the body, so, ironically, an infected individual cannot spread the infection to others. The active virus spreads aggressively within the host, however, never ceasing its attack until the victim’s death. Once a victim dies, the virus falls dormant. Thus, anyone touching the body of a deceased victim risks infection.
Viruses may also spread by means of a carrier. A carrier is not himself affected by the virus, but carries the dormant virus within his body. Such a carrier can infect others by touch, saliva, or any other direct physical contact. Whole villages have perished when just one member became a carrier for such a virus.
A character who comes into contact with a magical virus must roll a saving throw vs. spell with a -2 penalty. Failure indicates the character contracts the virus. If successful, the character does not contract the virus, but must immediately make a saving throw vs. death magic. Failure this time indicates the character is now a carrier. He continues to be a carrier until the virus is purged from his system.
A periapt of health and similar items prevent the bearer from either becoming infected or carrying the virus to others. Dispel magic or cure disease kills any dormant or active viruses within a 15-foot radius of the caster.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis of Phagius’s magical viruses is very difficult. Initial symptoms appear within 24 hours of contamination, often including fever and irritability. Each virus has its own unique signs, but relatively few physicians or priests are yet trained to recognize these early symptoms. If the sick individual is isolated and all magic removed from him, a detect magic spell may reveal the infection. If the spell is successful, parts of the infected victim’s (or carrier’s) skin will faintly glow a sickly greenish-yellow.
The Vistani are adept at recognizing the signs of Phagius’s viruses. They also have several potions said to cure victims, but rarely give such potions to giorgios. The Vistani are not immune to the viruses, but seem to be resistant to them. When a Vistana becomes infected, prompt medical attention is always provided, although many of the gypsies died before they developed their cures for these terrible viruses.
Treatment: There are two main ways to treat victims of Phagius’s viruses without the help of the Vistani.
Magical Healing: The heal spell is the most effective magical treatment. As long as it is cast before the victim’s death, it destroys the virus. The cure disease spell is also effective. Unfortunately, it is not always completely reliable unless cast on the victim within 24 hours of infection. After that time, the virus has made significant changes in the victim’s body and psyche, and the cure becomes less certain. For every 12 hours after the first day, the chance of success decreases by 10%. Hence, a priest has a 90% chance to kill the virus within 36 hours of the infection, but a few hours later the chance of success drops to 80%. On the seventh day, the virus can no longer be cured in this manner. A priest may only try once to cure the victim (although another priest is free to attempt a cure if the first fails). Dispel magic and purify food and drink can prevent infection by killing any dormant viruses in the area, but they are of no use to an infected individual.
Psionic Healing: The psychometabolic devotion absorb disease can be used to cure Phagius’s viruses. However, the technique is dangerous because the psionicist must roll his power score or become infected himself. If, however, the psionicist is immune to the virus in some way, this is a safe option. Suspend animation delays any effects of the virus for as long as it is in effect. Certain other psionic sciences and devotions might affect particular viruses as well. The psychometabolic science complete healing does not affect the viruses, due to their magical nature.
Experience Points: The experience point values indicated for the various viruses indicate the reward that a character receives for curing (or aiding in the successful treatment of) a character that has contracted one of these dread diseases.
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