The touch of the outer planes can corrupt even the most righteous of mortal souls. Unprotected contact with extraplanar essence can even prove fatal, twisting those victims into near-mindless dretches under full control of their infernal masters.

But powerful souls can resist and overcome the burdens of corruption, taking control of the unholy essence, and learning to harness it for their own benefit. But no matter how much one resists, the touch will always manifest on their body in the form of a dark brand: A mark that forever scars their souls.

A brand most commonly manifests as a birthmark, sigil, or tattoo covering one’s arm, but have also been known to also manifest on a leg, chest, or even tail. The nature of a brand varies from case to case, depending on alignment, ancestry, and patron. An evil elemental lord may leave your limb charred and burned, whereas a daemon of fungus and mold could manifest their sign as spore-filled pustules instead of hair. Regardless of the specifics, each brand can be easily recognized as an unholy symbol. Even those unfamiliar with the nature of fiends will find themselves unsettled, their souls naturally repulsed by even the elaborate beauty of a succubus queen’s scintillating tattoos.

Some clans have developed special rituals to safely bind the essence of the outer planes into their own bodies, inscribing themselves with tattoos using ink made of fiendish blood. In some cases these are families of demon hunters who use this as a coming of age ritual, demanding the young adult slay their first fiend to harvest their blood. Some fiendish cults also use this method as a rite of initiation, often receiving doses of blood from their patron. A less elegant method of branding oneself involves using a tourniquet made of celestial reagents and then injecting yourself with fiendish blood.

Brands can also manifest supernaturally, often as the result of a contract with a being of immense power. Fiend worshipers generally only bear the mark of their patron, usually doubling as an unholy symbol.

But fool-hearty souls can receive multiple brands, often as a result of making deals with rival fiends. In such cases, their contracts often stipulate conditions in which one fiend or the other gets control over the mortal’s soul depending on which backlash they accept when they refuse to bear their brand’s burden.

Some are born branded to one or more fiends, oftentimes the result of a deal made by the child’s ancestors. This is often the result of a family’s foolhardy attempt to back out of a deal with a fiend, doing whatever they can to counteract the corrupting influence and prevent the birth of a monster. Even tiefling born with a brand are often persecuted by other half-fiend communities, especially those who fear your brand cements negative stereotypes by those already wary of plane touched mortals.

Etching a Brand: Boons & Burdens

Each dark force has its own particular powers that reflect its areas of interest. Players should work with their Dungeon Masters to develop a brand based on the source of that power, although in certain cases a dark patron may wish to keep some boons secret until the time is right. You can get an idea of the sort of boons most patrons are willing to confer below, but this list is far from comprehensive.

Activating a boon always causes the brand to emit a manifestation, even through clothes and armor.

Concealing the manifestation requires using your reaction to hide the brand using a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check opposed by an onlookers Wisdom (Perception). It will still be obvious you are the source of the effect, but the nature of the brand itself remains concealed to onlookers. If you don’t keep your brand concealed, you take a disadvantage to Charisma checks involving those who are aware of and oppose the nature of your dark patron.

Power always comes at a price. Each boon has a burden and backlash that should be customized to reflect the nature of the deity in question. Each time a character violates a burden, they must succeed at a Charisma saving throw against a DC of 10 + 2 for each burden you have or they trigger that backlash. Whether or not the save is successful, a creature cannot receive another backlash from this boon for 1 hour. A character still has access to all of a brand’s boons if they fail to bear a burden, even if they are actively fighting against the source of their corruption.

Brands as Alternate Class Features

Dungeon Masters may allow some clerics of fiendish deities to select a brand invocation instead of a domain power. Clerics should use Wisdom instead of Charisma whenever a brand invocation asks to use Charisma. Sorcerers with a fiendish bloodline may also want to use brands instead of normal bloodline powers. In both cases, the characters must follow the level prerequisites of the invocations and should not use this feature if they are multiclass Warlocks.

Brand Feats

If using the optional feat system, players may take an invocation instead of an ability score improvements.


You become branded, gaining a boon, a burden, and a backlash. Taking this feat an additional time unlocks another invocation. Some infernal patrons may improve an existing brand after they are taken as a feat. Doing so often requires a ritual or additional contract signed with the patron in question. Other times, a branded individual may force the power from their brand by accepting an additional burden and backlash, in addition to the higher degree backlash the new power requires.

Sealed Brand

Whether lashing in the burial shroud of a saint or sealing it in paper talismans, you know how to seal or disguise your brand and gain the following benefits:

  • You do not suffer the backlashes associated with your brand as long as it remains sealed, but you cannot activate and do not receive the benefits of your boons. You may release your sealed brand as a move action. Resealing your brand takes one minute.
  • When you use the ability of any of your brands, you may automatically conceal any manifestations of activating the boon without having to use a reaction. You still must succeed at a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check, but may take advantage when you do so.
  • You leave your brand disguise or partially sealed enough that disadvantage is not imposed to Charisma checks involving characters opposed to your patron.

Boon Invocations

In addition to the boons presented here, abilities relevant to the nature of your brand can be found in Cleric domain powers and Warlock invocations.

Boons from these sources should require being at least one level higher than a character obtaining them without the use of a brand. Players should work with their Dungeon Masters to determine what boons a patron is most likely to offer, but in some cases, a patron may keep the future benefits of a particularly powerful brand a secret. Brands that specify the use of a branded arm may often be used on a brand instead closest to the limb, but must always specify a single specific hand.

Animus of Trickery

Prerequisite(s): Fey Presence

The touch of your brand can siphoning the luck from those around you, nourishing your patron’s whimsical realm. Make a melee spell attack. On a hit, you can use your reaction for the next minute to roll 1d4 and apply the number rolled as a penalty to the creature’s roll. You can do so after the creature rolls but before any effects of the roll occur. Once you do so, you must finish a long rest before you can use this feature again. Any time before you regain the use of this feature, the DM can have you roll on the Wild Magic Surge table immediately after you use the eldritch blast cantrip. You then regain the use of this feature.

Animus of Chaos

Prerequisite(s): 9th level, entropic ward

You are branded by the entropic touch of chaos, and even your own destruction can help fuel that disorder. You still gain disadvantage on your next attack roll against the enemy whose attack roll your entropic ward imposed disadvantage to even if the enemy’s attack hit you.

Animus of Fear

Prerequisite(s): 11th level

You may emit an especially fearsome display of your brand’s power. You can cast fear at will, without expending material components. You must finish a long rest before this invocation will effect the same creature again.

Animus of Pestilence

You can enhance the virulence of afflictions with a single touch. Make a melee spell attack. You have advantage on the attack roll if the target is wearing light armor or no armor. On a hit, the target has

Blessing of War

Prerequisite(s): 7th level, Pact of the Blade feature When you use Pact of the Blade, you can create a weapon out of unholy blood and shadow energy that appears to seep from your branded flesh. This weapon often takes the form of the iconic weapon of the patron of your brand. This weapon functions as a +2 weapon. Your brand may permanently consume an attuned magic weapon with properties in line with your fiendish patron to apply that weapon’s property to your Blessing of War. Common magic weapons that align with the nature of most friends include flame tongue, frost brand, wounding, or vicious. When you hold a compatible magic weapon, you will feel that it can be consumed by your brand.

Blessing of The Wilds

Prerequisite(s): 9th level, Animus of Savagery

Your claws are strong enough to support your body, and can extend out of both your fingers and toes. You can cast spider climb on yourself at will, without expending a spell slot or material components.

Ascension of Darkness

Prerequisite(s): Fiendish Resistance, 18th level

You embrace the dark lineage of your patron, your brand becoming impossible to hide as it spreads across your body. You gain darkvision 120 ft, immunity to poison, and your choice of three additional resistances using Fiendish Resilience or advantage on saving throws against spells and other magic effects. If you choose this invocation, you must select two burdens instead of one.


Each boon comes with a burden. This is by no means a definitive list but can help give you an idea of common burdens and backlashes. Burdens chosen should be relevant to both the source of the brand’s power and the player character in question.

For example, limiting a creature’s diet if the player’s race cannot consume food is not an appropriate burden. While usually, a character has one burden per boon, especially restrictive burdens can account for two or more boons depending on the nature of the character and campaign in question.

A character will always know when they are about to violate one of their burdens. Their brand will often trigger a warning associated with a specific backlash, but the character should be given the opportunity to follow the compulsion of the disadvantage against poison and disease for 24 hours. If the target is immune to poison or disease, they lose their immunity and gain advantage against it for 24 hours instead. If one’s brand is successfully hidden when using this invocation, there is no noticeable effect when this boon is used.

Animus of Strength

You can cast enhance ability once per hour, without expending a spell slot. You may only choose the Bear’s Endurance, Bull’s Strength, or Cat’s Grace effects.

Animus of Cunning

You can cast enhance ability once per hour, without expending a spell slot. You may only choose the Eagle’s Splendor, Fox’s Cunning, or Owl’s Wisdom effects.

Animus of Savagery

You can grow or retract claws as an action. These claws are natural weapons which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike. You may treat these claws as a pact weapon for purposes of other invocations that improve your pact weapon.

Blessing of Persistence

Prerequisite(s): Fiendish Resilience

You may choose two damage types to gain resistance against with Fiendish Resistance.

Blessing of Blood

Prerequisite(s): 5th level

Your brand thirsts for fresh blood. After a successful attack made with an unarmed strike using your branded limb or a manufactured or natural weapon wielded by your branded limb, you can wound the target. At the start of each of the wounded creature’s turns, it takes 1d4 necrotic damage for each time you’ve wounded it, and it can then make a Constitution saving throw against your Warlock spell save DC, ending the effect of all such wounds on itself as a success.

Blessing of Destruction

Prerequisite(s): 11th level, eldritch blast cantrip

Your brand enhances your destructive energy, causing your eldritch blast to explode on impact. You may choose to fire only a single ray. If the ray hits, each creature in a 15-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 2d10 damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. This explosion deals 3d10 damage at 17th level.

Branded with an Unholy Sign brand before receiving a penalty. This can even help a character determine the true nature of their brand if the burden has been kept secret from them by a particularly cruel patron.

  • Burden of Anathema: You must maintain one or more tenets of your patron’s Paladin or Antipaladin Code. This burden may be selected multiple times with additional tenets added to your burden.
  • Burden of Contracts: Your brand is a sign of a deal with a dark power. Your body bears the terms of the deal, and going back on it triggers your brand’s backlash.
  • Burden of Envy: You must take every opportunity to malign or otherwise sabotage a particular category of creature, such as an organization or a member of the nobility.
  • Burden of Greed: You must steal an item of significant value whenever the opportunity presents itself.
  • Burden of Lust: You must accept or deny advances of an intimate nature, even if you suspect the advance is a lie, or the act itself would be dangerous.
  • Burden of Gluttony: You must control your diet. This often means having to eat everything you are offered, or even refusing to eat or drink at certain times of the day. Other patrons demand you only eat food you steal or only eat living creatures you killed with your own bare hands.
  • Burden of Pain: The character must attempt to inflict 1 point of damage to themselves for each burden they have every hour they are awake.
  • Burden of Silence: You may not communicate with a specific type of creature or organization. Some patrons will also specify certain words you may never communicate, including your name, the patron’s name, or the details of your contract.
  • Burden of Pride: You may never directly order or take the orders of another creature that doesn’t match a specific category, usually based on alignment. This oftentimes restricts what creatures a character can summon.
  • Burden of Sloth: You must never carry a physical burden if someone else is willing or able. Some patrons even demand you refuse to act during surprise rounds.
  • Burden of Truth: You cannot tell the direct truth. Some patrons instead demand that you cannot lie.
  • Burden of Wrath: You must physically hurt, main or even kill a creature of a particular category, such as a member of a particular faith, or someone who has mocked you.


Each burden has a backlash. A PC unwilling to accept their burden triggers the backlash of the brand. This list is by no means comprehensive, and backlashes should be customized the match the nature of the brand, the burden, and the patron. A backlash should be something that significantly impacts the character and gets worse for each brand feat the character has. For example, a patron would not afflict a character resistant to energy damage with Burning Backlash.

  • Absorbing Backlash: Your body resists the first 2d8 points of magical healing you receive for every boon you have.
  • Bleeding Backlash: You take 1d4 points of necrotic damage for every boon you have.
  • Burning Backlash: You take 2d6 energy damage based on the nature of your patron for every boon you have.
  • Frightening Backlash: You become frightened by painful visions.
  • Painful Backlash: You take 3d6 nonlethal damage for every boon you have as pain wracks your mind.
  • Pestilent Backlash: You contract a disease. For the next 24 hours, you suffer one level of Exhaustion, and regain only half the normal number of Hit Points from spending Hit Dice and no Hit Points from finishing a Long Rest. At the end of each Long Rest, you must make a Constitution saving throw against DC 13. On a failed save, you gain one level of Exhaustion. On a successful save, your Exhaustion level decreases by one level. If a successful saving throw reduces your Exhaustion level below 1, you recover from the disease.
  • Rampaging Backlash: You lose control of your branded arm. Your arm acts as if under the confusion spell for 3 rounds, acting at the start of your turn without using your actions. On a 1, your arm draws an item and drops it in a clumsy attempt to activate it.
Section 15: Copyright Notice

Branded With An Unholy Sign, 5e © 2020, Owen K.C. Stephens; Author: Dustin Knight. Publisher: Owen K.C. Stephens. Project manager and Planning: Lj Stephens. Bon Vivant: Stan!

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