Long term consequences of actions for the characters

In my recent game two of the characters consumed flesh of a horror being. I would like this to have interesting, not purely punishing consequences for the characters. I think the consumption was actually a very cool, exciting highlight of the game. I don’t want to discourage actions like that, so I don’t want to make players feel like they are punished. On the other hand, for the interactions with the horrors to be horrifying, there must be some consequences.

We established, that the consumption is likely responsible for the monstrous bodily growth of the cultists. How could I use existing rules to provide such body horror consequences?

A metamorphosis clock? When does it get bumped (as a consequence)? What happens if it gets filled?

A change in the fiction? People get scared or disgusted by their look?

Modifiers to action rolls?

I think you’re on the right track here. A big part of this system is choosing which mechanics to use to represent the fiction best – and which are going to be the most fun for the table.

I think a clock would be great for this. Give it a cool name, and bring it into play when it makes sense in the fiction. It can be obvious (the crew is messing with a ritual cast by the same cult, which energizes the body-altering flesh inside them), or it can surprise everyone at the table including you (“You get electrocuted by touching the lightning wall, aaaaand – Oh! I think the desperate consequence is that the electroplasmic discharge wakes that god-flesh you ate way back when… You feel this rending pain as it expands inside you – and you stare in horror as you grow a strange vestigial limb under your right arm. 3 ticks on that clock. Or do you want to resist that?”).

Changes to that fiction and clock can happen due to consequences, fictional occurrences, master-level npc actions, Devil’s Bargains and so on. Often (usually, I’d say), these moments will allow the players a chance to resist or decline if they want to. Something like this might be quickly played out, or it could become the slow-burn throughline of a campaign.

In the Blades rules as written, it’s specifically stated that clocks are meant to be seen as gauges that measure the progress of the fiction but don’t dictate it. (Fiction First) So when the character grows an extra arm, and we see that 4 of 8 segments of the clock are filled, we the players know that while it looks grim right now, there are worse things to come. There is also time to stop it.

Personally, I find it helpful to think of the idea that clocks can be both prescriptive and descriptive (a concept regarding mechanics in Dungeon World) for the gm. This is not an idea stated in Blades, and may be a little heretical to offer up here. But what I mean is: if you’re staring at the dice, which say that there’s a Risky consequence, and there’s a six-clock on the table with 3 ticks filled, you can decide mechanically to add 2 ticks to it. There are rules to this game, and they are legitimate aids to our fiction/story-making. The trick is that then you need to let yourself be inspired by that shift. Change the fiction to reflect it. The situation gets much more dire. Everything hangs on the precipice. Describe it. Make it real. Then change the clock.

As to what the fictional changes are – you might be totally inspired with cool ideas, or you might ask your table. I’ve had players pitch really twisted and interesting stuff at me for things like this, which I immediately added into the story. These moments can be great opportunities to discover what you as a group are interested in finding through play. (Your players had their characters consume this flesh. It seems like they’ve bought in to this story and its potential consequences.)

Your job as gm is then to realistically portray the world. A bunch of monstrous PCs sprouting extra limbs will definitely change how people react to them. The Lampblacks stop dealing with you because they think you’re freaks? Lynch mobs appear as a consequence to a botched roll? Reduced position on that important Consort roll? A Devil’s Bargain that the Spirit Warden will see your supernatural limb under your cloak? Let the world react, then let the players find ways to overcome that stuff. Disguises? Developing a ritual or concoction to reverse the transformation? Slipping metamorphosis flesh into the food supply so everyone ends up that way? Now it’s getting fun!

This sounds pretty similar to something happening in my game right now. The crew was tasked with retrieving the death mask of an old Iruvian king which was being used by cultists to try to summon a terrible demon. They stopped the ritual but the Whisper couldn’t resist trying the mask on (in our fiction, spirit masks are often made from the death masks of powerful spiritual figures). As soon as he got it close to his face, it snapped on (like in The Mask) and he was wrenched out of his body and suddenly suspended over the black of the ocean. He travelled at incredible speed over the waves, passing over islands and occasional Leviathans and hunters, eventually seeing the lightning field of the city, passing through it, and coming face to face with himself. At that point he snapped back into his body, saw a shadowy, ethereal figure which matched the description of the demon fading away, and heard a voice in his head laughing and saying, “So this is my conduit? Interesting…”

So now he’s basically being targeted somehow by the demon and I think a clock or two will determine how long it takes for consequences to manifest. Until then, odd things might happen around him, things related to the demon’s powers - especially when he attunes to the ghost field. This could seriously freak people out, both his crew and passers-by. Of course these things could be resisted as usual. I might also add it as temporary xp trigger - if he chooses to let the problem manifest in such a way as it materially holds him back in the game, leading to some interesting/dramatic developments in the fiction, he gets to tick an xp box.

As a fun aside, by sheer coincidence a related event happened in his downtime right before this score. He’s from a tribe of demon hunters and his vice was obligation, a church which used demon blood as part of its rituals. He overindulged and decided that what happened was he had no demon blood to hand so he cut himself and got a jar of his own blood to pass off as the real deal. He got rumbled and kicked out of the church, meaning he’s cut off from indulging his vice, so he’s thinking of starting a cult as a long-term project and making that his new purveyor. Could this cult somehow get tied to the demon thing? Might he even get persuaded to switch allegiance and help the demon? Who knows. Can’t wait to find out!

Another mechanic you could use is Harm. You could have this produce a very special type of harm (The Hunger) that would only affect certain circumstances, like not eating the flesh of your enemies. This would mean that nominally it could be healed, but you might dictate that requires special circumtances.

You could use Vice. Change their Vice so that they now hunger for this new type of flesh.

You could use Trauma. Maybe this is so perverse and horrific that it weakens their character on an existential level. This would also be cool because they would get XP for playing into it. Considering the moment has passed some players might be not excited about having this happen retro actively though. Check with your players.

You’ve already hit on the big one if you want to do the slow burn thing: clocks. Make it a clock so you can stall for time while you come up with good stuff.

As for what happens when you fill the clock. What happened with your cultists? Have that happen as a lesser version, and then start a new clock for the next phase of the change until it becomes something that can’t be hidden.

Also, I’d offer them a unique playbook advance. Something like:

When you push yourself you may use your twisted flesh to __________ or change your flesh to _______ then tick your metamorphosis clock by one.

What goes in those blanks depends on your game. What could your cultists do?