Curses, Foiled Again! (September 2015 RPG Blog Carnival)

This month’s blog carnival is being hosted by Johnn Four at Roleplaying Tips – Cursed Items and Calamities in your Campaigns. He’s opened up Pandora’s Box, asking bloggers to write about the ways curses have found their way into their campaigns over the years and any ideas they would like to share.

rpgblogcarnivallogocopy-227x300My Take on Cursed Items… (I hate ’em.)

Well, honestly, I hate cursed items. I don’t remember when it happened, but somewhere – whether at the table or in a game on the computer – I got stuck with one. And it was awful. Took me far too long to get it removed. I wish I could remember what it was specifically, but whatever it was left a bad taste in my mouth for all the years that have followed.

D&D has had cursed items for as long as I can remember. In Pathfinder (easiest references to find thanks to the d20pfsrd site), you have the Bestow Curse and Remove Curse. There’s even a list of curses and cursed items.

But the problem with cursed items is that you end up with a bit of a “Gotta Boogie” (Weird Al Yankovic) problem. “Gotta boogie on my finger, And I can’t shake it off!”

So you get a curse. You either have your party cleric “Remove” it or you find your friendly local temple and have them do it… Wham, blam, thank you ma’am. It’s an annoyance, but it has a clear solution.

Turning Curses Back on the Players a Bit…

Conceptual photo of love magic. Composition with skull, voodooThat said, I love the *idea* of curses. But I suggest we turn it slightly.

It’s well known that players often exaggerate or connect the dots in ways that GMs never considered. So why not use their imaginations against them?

How do we do that? Leave it a little vague.

A Cursed Item Example…

Cursed item? Suggest that a particular item has a backlash. I sort of hinted at this last week with one of the “Insta-Items” I created. Sales people are storytellers by trade, making up things as they go…

“Oh, that? Yeah, that weapon’s been here a while but there are some stories ’round it. What stories you ask? Well, remember the big war that happened in these parts half a century ago? This blade saw action back then. Note the words etched near the base just above the pommel… they’ve faded to the point where you can just see the first three words… ‘Smite thine enemies…’ It’s said that the owner, a major during the war, killed nearly a hundred goblins with that weapon. But one of those goblins, a shaman I think, cursed him with his dying breath. And that major lived through the war but died painfully of some disease within a year of it being over. The sword was given the catchy name ‘Misery, the Goblin Slayer’ and was passed along to his son who had a decorated military career and died painfully of some disease or another. The same has happened to at least three other people rumored to have used the sword. It’s been here a few months now, found in the estate of an adventurer who never returned…”

Is it a weapon of legend? Sure. Does it have a downside? Definitely. But perhaps that’s an acceptable price for the PC to pay.

Down the line, as GM perhaps you can double any disease effects the PC suffers while wielding the blade. Or maybe you just let it go and rub salt in the wound every once in a while. Have some NPC notice the blade and give the PC a wide berth. Or have a goblin see the blade and raise an alarm to avoid the PC on the battlefield. And every now and then maybe you tell your player that your PC has come down with something on the road…

It doesn’t have to be much – just the suggestion that something is wrong. The dice may collaborate with you on this from time to time.

Other Curses…

realistic design element: voodoo DollAs far as non-item-based curses, those can use the same approach… After a quick Google search, I found a good list over at (Hexes & Curses)…

  • Perhaps an NPC who feels he or she has been wronged by the PCs will spit out a “Payback Curse” upon them – “Before the night is over, before the day is through, whatever you have done to others, will come right back at you…” And have them mutter it as they walk away. The players are likely to blame the curse – even if there’s no actual rules-based effects to it – on any poor rolls they may make until they make amends…
  • Have the PCs stumble upon a black jar or bottle of some sort filled with 13 nails. On a piece of canvas with charcoal have the names of the PCs scrawled with the name of some evil deity.
  • On the body of a NPC or intelligent monster have the PCs find a piece of clothing or lost item from one of the PCs wrapped in bloody black cloth (along with a healing cut on the inside of one of the NPC’s hands). Don’t tell them what it means – let them puzzle it out and see what they come up with, then run with it.
  • Have a NPC throw a bottle at the door of the PCs at an inn and have it shatter with a note inside with the words “May dark spirits enter here and destroy those within… arastray, sardreyardor, malagastro!” (choose your own magic words if these don’t “jive” for you)…

I find that leaving things vague makes the players come up with all sorts of fun things you can use… I know it’s worked on me at the game table from time to time!

Just some ideas to toy with!

Thanks Johnn for a great topic! Be sure to subscribe to the Roleplayer Tips site newsletter or just check out the blog if you haven’t – it’s always chock full of great stuff!

And for other great inspiration, check out the RPG Blog Carnival Archive… Lots of great inspiration!

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