Divination Card Stories: The Price of Loyalty

Inspired by https://www.pathofexile.com/forum/view-thread/2978293/page/1

As a teen in the 90s I’d been obsessed with traditional RPGs like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy 6 – then when I got a PC, I fell in love with the faster pace of Diablo and Diablo 2.

By the early twenty-tens I’d moved on to Dungeons and Dragons Online, but was looking for something new – and heard of a spiritual successor to Diablo 2 and thought I’d check it out.

I took the Path of Exile plunge during the Anarchy league, and went in blind. I knew the game was complex, but I jumped in at the deep end, creating some monstrosity of a Shadow using Viper Strike and no life nodes. My build was terrible, but I had a lot of fun muddling through, full clearing monster level 47 zones over and over at level 54 before finally meeting a boss I simply could not beat. I then followed guides and reached maps in Torment league.

From Incursion onward I’ve been solidly at endgame, getting 36 or 40 challenges in each league (except Legion which I didn’t enjoy much and stopped at 24).

I also created a now very outdated video guide on Youtube on the strategies I’d used to trade for a Headhunter in Incursion league, which got unexpectedly popular and sent me down an unexpected path – working in aviation technical records by day, while making POE related videos in my spare time. These are mostly aimed at ’24 challenge a league’ players who aspire to improve to the 36 or 40 challenge level. This also got me to the point of trying to learn streaming, and I go live two or three evenings a week (AU TZ) on Twitch.

Inspired by Betrayal’s “The Nurse”, I purchased a divination card commission originally planning to make a divination card for The Fiend, which would have been named Deadly Sins. But then Synthesis league came out just before I submitted the design.

I fell in love with the newly added divination card Arrogance of the Vaal after trading for and turning in 20 sets of it on day 5 of Synthesis. Arrogance is my favorite card, surpassing the two I have commissioned (and my third which is in the pipeline).

I like Arrogance because it is high variance, super high maximum payoff but low expected value (like a lottery), and because it adds strange, unique and cool treasures to a trade league economy that otherwise would not exist. Threshold jewels with two powerful corruptions, levelling uniques that get enough of a boost to work into endgame, and more. As someone with a maths background, the two “hardest” math related problems in statistical inference related to POE are working out the expected value of Arrogance of the Vaal turnins, and Stacked Decks – and this makes me love both of them.

After seeing Arrogance I considered a two-implicit krangled power unique like Zerphi’s Heart or Headhunter, then realised I’d enjoy something with higher variance more, to capture more of the feel of turning in Arrogance of the Vaal.

The design coalesced in my mind when someone in global chat linked a two-implicit Tabula with two +2 gems mods and I snarkily replied “shame to waste those corrupts, they would be amazing on Skin of the Loyal”.

At this point I knew my original plan for an influenced, ilvl 86 atlas base was out the window, and I was going to change the commission to a double corrupted Skin.

I quickly decided on ilvl 25 as Skin is an all-offense piece of armour, so you do not want the weak defensive corrupts that become possible at ilvl 45, nor the very strong one that comes online at ilvl 80. 20-44 is basically always the “correct” choice and so rather than penalise players that do not know the mechanics of how to influence the ilvl of items sourced by divination cards, I just set it at a number arbitrarily chosen in that range.

I also find it poses an interesting puzzle for builds. If your build usually uses 4 blue gems and 2 red ones, can you use a 3 blue 2 red 1 green Skin if it has good corruptions on it? Is that better than using a crafted chest without the incredible corruptions, but with the ‘perfect’ colours? These sorts of build puzzles appeal to me.

Thoughts then turned to the card flavour. Given that the card reward deals with three intersecting horror themes – the Vaal’s ruthless cruelty, the name ‘Skin of the Loyal’ and the otherworldly, almost Lovecraftian horror themes of Chayula, I knew I wanted to design a self-contained horror story.

This made me ask questions.

  • Who was skinned?
  • Why were they loyal, and what to?
  • Who skinned them?
  • Why?
  • Did their loyalty matter?
  • Did they regret it?

I settled upon answers of “a useful idiot”, “an idealised version of Chayula that they believed would grant them power”, “someone Chayula didn’t regard as useless – perhaps Zilquapa, Architect of the Breach or someone under his command”, “to stop power-hungry petitioners pestering them”, “no” and “noone alive will ever know”, respectively.

I wanted the flavour text to convey both the horror and a sense of utter contempt for the skinned cultists. This wasn’t a High Cultist making a human sacrifice in an important rite, this was someone taking out the trash because they were told to do so. When I initially submitted it the quote was attributed to Zilquapa, but this did not fit cleanly at certain resolutions so the attribution was removed. However, the card does drop from Zilquapa.

I came up with the following art directive for the commission

About three cultists (of diverse appearances) in identical garb stand in a line, staring blankly into the distance.
A fourth cultist is using a ceremonial dagger (the Chayula unique United in Dream) to skin one of the three cultists alive. The victim is not reacting at all to the mortal wounds and neither are the other two cultists who will be next. The victim has a chunk of skin hanging loosely to their side.
The soul of the dying cultist, instead of escaping, is being drawn to this skin. As it leaves the body it is white, as it enters the skin, a sickly red.

which Shaun did a phenomenal job of.

I did have a few other ideas in mind when submitting The Price of Loyalty, which I ultimately decided against. These were:

  • a card named Entropy for a 19% quality double-corrupted timeworn unique
  • a card named Prehistoric Remnants for 6 of the same “ultra rare Delve fossil” with flavour text ‘In a bloodstained tangled hollow, the faceted glyphic fractured’; the shortest English language sentence
  • a card that was functionally similar to Nook’s Crown, which was probably commissioned at the same time as mine
  • an Eternity Shroud inspired card for a random unique that can be created by chance orb, except with Shaper influence
  • a card for an ilvl 86 Shaper Hubris Circlet with a random Eternal Labyrinth enchant on it

If people are interested in commissioning a divination card, email GGG support. It’s not cheap as you are buying a professional artist’s time at enough of a markup that it also helps fund POE2 development, but The Price of Loyalty cost me less than my gaming monitor.

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