Hailed as one of the most immersive fictional worlds ever created, Morrowind has stood the test of time over the years. One of the more important ingredients of this game’s formula has undoubtedly been the attention to detail and the sheer complexity that the game designers have weaved together. In today’s Pathology in Fiction we’re going to talk about one of these facets, namely Morrowind's Corprus disease.
We’ll place it under a microscope and extract valuable insight from its in-game lore and game-play mechanics. For those of you working on creating fictional worlds, it will prove to be invaluable inspiration for new, original ideas. But if you're here as a veteran or a newcomer to the game, rest assured, we'll showcase corprus in a new, refreshing way and help you find out some details you might not have known. At the same time, we’ll look into some real life equivalent pathologies for those of you that are more curious by nature. Let's get underway!
Early on during our time on Vvardenfel the player might hear various rumors regarding the innermost part of the island - Red Mountain. Most of them at first glance seem of a historical nature, detailing various superstitions and folklore. However, some warn the player of a more real and imminent threat. They warn of creatures living in and around Red Mountain that are affected by certain blight diseases.
Path to Red Mountain
Sooner or later we will inevitably be pointed to the Ghostgate. As the only apparent entrance through the magical barrier surrounding the volcano we would be wise to find out more here.
“Ghostgate is not for the weak” (1) is what the residents of the fortress will tell us while visiting. And while allowing us passage, they do advise caution. At least until we are quite a bit more powerful. Heeding their warning, our search will have to take us on a different path. While we didn't learn much here, we did get a feeling of how serious the situation is. Now we just need to answer the question "why is that?".
And what better place to find knowledge than a book? Luckily, plenty of in-game written sources offer insight on the matter. A short trip to one of the more important bookstores on the island will provide us with plenty of material to work with. Among them, we can find out that Corprus is:
“A deadly disease that attacks the victim’s mind and body. The victims grow insane and extremely violent, and their bodies sprout tumorous growths. It gradually deforms the whole body until the victim is nearly unrecognizable as human. The disease’s progression varies from victim to victim. Another interesting fact is, in contracting corprus, one becomes immune to other forms of diseases. [...] It is unproven that corprus can be spread through contact with a victim.” (2)
Quite interesting to say the least. But before we start dismantling the above we should corroborate with another source, maybe even find someone who is actively pursuing information on Corprus. The story doesn't end here, so keep reading!
A Scholar of Corprus
Digging even further, we’ll eventually be pointed to the Corprusarium, a research center and asylum belonging to one of the more prominent characters in the game - Divayth Fyr. Speaking with him and inquiring further on the topic will prompt some new information. However, he will not refer to Morrowind Corprus as such but rather as a “divine disease”:
“Poor devils. Wretched existence. Constant pain. Ferocious appetites and passions. No reason at all. Mad as marsh rats. But marvelous, too, in their way. Completely immune to disease. Live forever, barring accidents.” (3)
World-builders & story-tellers! At this point we should stop and take note of how this aspect of game-play was laid out for the player to find. While corprus is arguably one of the catalysts that drives the protagonist further along the story, quality information regarding it is hard to find. This may seem as a nuisance at first coming from modern storytelling methods but in the long run it adds that extra touch of “realism” to Morrowind’s world building. It offers us a puzzle to solve and not just an item to tick on a list.
Impact on the Story
Now then, let’s have a look at how the main quest presents this pathology. Corprus is very much intertwined with not only the in-game lore but also is an important catalyst for our journey. But before that we need to warn you that we’ll be spoiling some aspects of the story. If you’d rather experience it for yourself firsthand, you should skip the next portion.
With that in mind, if you don't already own the game but you've been intrigued so far, we recommend having a look over at Humble Bundle. They offer the full game of the year version for steam. You'll also be able to donate a portion of the price to a charity of your choosing so it's a win-win! Also please note that the link is an affiliate one, so if you decide to purchase while being referred by us, you'll be able to donate a portion of the sum to our project at no extra cost. Win-win-win!
That being said, let's focus on the story aspects next. If you're a veteran of the game, keep reading! You might still find out some new things you might have not known before.
Getting Corprus & Curing It
The “Sixth House Base” main quest is certainly the intended way that the developers wanted us to get afflicted with corprus. After successfully defeating the boss, Dagoth Gares, a scripted event will occur that doesn't take into account any of the player’s resistances. However, the contraction is not passive (during combat) like all other pathologies from the game. With his dying breath Dagoth Gares actively curses the player, mockingly so.
While it might not seem significant at first, it does however reinforce the idea that corprus is not merely a disease but rather the physical effects of a deity's power on mortal mind and flesh. At the same time, we also receive quite a bit more information about the progenitor of the disease, Dagoth Ur.
Following this, the very next quest prompts the player to seek out Divayth Fyr in search for a cure. After all, who better to ask than the prominent researcher in the field? After a bit of travelling and a small fetch quest we are awarded with a still experimental potion. Apparently none of the other test subjects managed to survive the treatment. Even so, this will have to do as we don't have any other options.
Conveniently, the potion works and even more so; rather than curing corprus, it only removes the negative effects making our character overall even stronger.
World-builders & story-tellers! This is arguably the weakest link of the story. This “divine disease” was presented as the means to dominate and conquer all the known world and was properly hyped as such. However, we managed to combat the problem through a way too convenient solution. This is a typical case of Deus ex Machina (4) that unfortunately makes this part of the main quest feel rushed and unfinished.
Rest of the Main Quest
During the reminder of our time on Vvardenfel, we find out that Red Mountain is indeed the epicenter of all blight diseases that appeared on the island. The epidemic source. Finally, Dagoth Ur's death completely erases all traces of the disease giving us one final confirmation for our assumptions. Baring the above, we can’t find out much more so we should conclude this part of our search and move to the gameplay effects.
Gameplay Effects of Corprus
For our final piece of the puzzle, we should have a look at the actual game-play effects of corprus. The tooltip describes our pathology as: “Corprus is a deadly disease profoundly affecting a victim's mind and body. Symptoms include dementia, violent behavior, and distorted, disfiguring skin growths. It may be contracted from corprus beasts or other blight monsters.” (5)
And its in-game effects are:
- Drain Intelligence, Willpower, Personality & Speed 1;
- Fortify Strength & Endurance 1;
- Resist Common Disease, Blight Disease, Corprus Disease 100%.
In other words, corprus is characterized by four Drain Attribute effects which will reduce your Intelligence, Willpower, Personality and Speed, as well as two Fortify Attribute effects which will raise your Strength and Endurance. These effects all start off with a magnitude of 1, but will increase in effect over time. Another interesting fact to note is that, when used in spellmaking, the corprus effect actually causes some of the other effects to strengthen over time but on its own, it does not actually do anything. (5)
Signs & Symptoms
Now that we have a good idea about the context, let’s sum up what corprus’ medical signs and symptoms are. This will help us get a clear picture and maybe offer some insight into the creative process of the developers.
- Mental Disorder described as "insane", "extremely violent", "mad", "no reason at all" etc.
- Tumorous Growths usually on the exterior of the body but in later stages, the growths completely change the physiognomy of the organism.
- Immunity to Other Diseases and not just common ones but also all other blight variants.
- Increase in Physical Strength as seen from the in-game tooltip.
Apart from the above, an honorable mention should go to "immunity to death". Since the player is still able to die during combat or similar encounters, the intended effect would probably be biological immortality. However, we aren't able to test this theory out since none of the canon material from later games mention the protagonist in any significant way.
All in all, we can see an amalgamation of signs and symptoms that work well together in fleshing out the details of this disease. At this point it might be somewhat difficult to track down exactly from where the writers drew inspiration from. However, in the next section we will have a look at some similar diseases to corprus that you might draw inspiration from.
Similar Diseases in Real Life
The two major characteristics of corprus are an unspecific form of neural degeneration leading to psychological abnormalities and sever tissue changes similar to a neoplasm. Unfortunately this exact cocktail of traits isn't common, at least not in human beings. While some forms of cancer that originate from nervous cells ( neuron, oligodendrocyte, etc.) can lead to abnormal behavior, they don't usually present "tumorous growths" visible from the exterior. Especially not those located in the CNS (Central Nervous System).
The "Zombie Mushroom"
There is one pathology that does stand out, although it only affects a more simple life form. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a type of fungus more commonly known as the "zombie mushroom". It primarily affects a certain species of tropical ants. After infection it attaches to the outer shell of the host, slowly making its was to the nervous system. Once gestation reaches a certain level, the fungus begins altering the behavior of the ant in order to facilitate the survival and spread of the parasite. (6)
Kind of spooky, eh? Don't worry we had a similar reaction when we first heard about it. Sometimes real life beats fantasy, doesn't it? In any case, we considered this to be the best match; the corprus of ants if you will.
Similarities to Corprus
- it affects the behavior of the host even though this happens with a specific goal in mind (survival of the fungus);
- various tumorous growths appear caused by the fungus as you can see in the picture above;
- the fungus itself does seem to contain anti-infectious substances (7) that might offer protection to the ant;
- the ants jaw is forced shut in order to attach itself permanently onto a leaf, directly affecting its "strength";
- the fungus is quite ancient in itself; some findings dating it back 48 million years ago (8).
World-builders & story-tellers! The developers might not have looked at this specific disease for inspiration but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look to the natural world for the "weird" and the "alien". Weaving some of these aspects into your narrative can and will make it memorable! Hey, why not let us help you out?At least as far as medical science go, we can definitely be of use.
Thank you for taking your time to read through our thoughts. You're awesome! We hope you managed to enrich your knowledge about the incredible game that Morrowind is, about the medical and natural world in general and hopefully gave you some inspiration for your own work.
We'd like to give a big shutout to Alexey Rudikov for the artwork at the top of the page and to Sarah Dimento for one of the references. We highly recommend you check out their other work, they are highly talented artists and moders respectively.
And as per usual, if you enjoyed our content do have a look at how you can help us out! Thanks again and see you soon!
- Buoyant Armigers
- (mod) Sarah Dimento, “Alvo’s Book of Blight Diseases”
- Divayth Fyr
- TvTropes, “Deus ex Machina”
- UESP Wiki, “Corprus Disease”
- Evans H., "Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. A keystone species for unraveling ecosystem functioning and biodiversity of fungi in tropical forests?"
- Wongsa P., "Isolation and in vitro cultivation of the insect pathogenic fungus Cordyceps unilateralis."
- Hughes P., "Ancient death-grip leaf scars reveal ant–fungal parasitism"