Tuesday, 8 June 2010


"Dear Enemy, I curse you and hope something slightly unpleasant happens to you. Like an onion falling on your head."


D&D goes into scant detail about curses. On page 47 of the Player’s Handbook, we have the Spell “Remove Curse”. It’s a third level cleric spell, which means that a cleric must be fifth level, a Prefect, in order to cast it.

The spell itself is reversible and therefore can be used to bestow curses. But what curses are there to bestow?

The bestow curse spell in D&D lasts for one turn per level of the caster, and will do such things as
*Lower an ability of the victim to 3
*Reduce the victim’s to hit and saving throws by –4
*Cause the victim to drop whatever it is that they are holding

Or, as the book says “it is possible for a cleric to devise his or her own curse and it should be similar in power to those shown”

I must admit that those seem pretty mild by comparison to the sort of curses that chill the blood and strike fear into those who suffer them. No need to go off on a quest to lift a curse that’s going to expire anyway in five turns.

What we need is something beefier, something that is really going to put the wind up those who get on the wrong side of a curser.

I propose the following:

A curse is a conduit through which the malicious intentions of one person are empowered by dark energies and inflicted on another. A curser channels the energies and binds them into a protocol that remains in force until it is either lifted or its victim dies. The agencies of darkness who grant the curser raw power to create a curse may well feed off the misery that it causes. Prolonged contact with both books of curse lore and the agencies of darkness will warp, corrode and corrupt a curser so that in the end, they pay a heavy price for wielding such terrible power.

(a possible method of representing this in game terms is to deduct a point of Charisma for every year that the curser practices their art and, if Sanity rules are being used, a commensurate deduction from that as well)

Levels of Intensity

A curse can come in three forms, mild, medium and severe:

For a mild curse, the curser need only know the name of the cursee and something about them to distinguish them for the curse.
For a medium curse, the curser needs to see the cursee and have touched something of theirs at some point in the past seven days
For a severe curse, the curser must have in their hand at the time of cursing a piece of the cursee, although this can be as small as a fingernail or lock of hair.

Curses that only come in mild forms tend to be those cast by hedge cursers, such as sterility and/or miscarriage in both humans and animals and inducing blight and disease in crops. More powerful cursers tend to view these as mere cantrips and not worthy of attention.

A curse can also be placed on an object that the cursee will take into their possession. In this case, the curser need only fulfil the conditions of the minor curse, place the curse (of whatever intensity) upon the object and the victim must freely accept it into their possession or home.

Of course, the victim, if they discover that an object is the source of a curse, may just get rid of it. To overcome this problem, the curser will often use either the Affinity curse or the Return Curse.

An Affinity curse can be cast upon the object to ensure that the cursee feels a strange affinity for the object and will be reluctant to part with it.

The Return curse ensures that even if the cursee gets rid of the cursed object, it will make its way back to them by a strange set of circumstances.

The different types of curser.

There are several levels of curser:

1.Hedge Curser – the crazy old woman in the last house in the village, knows a few incantations but just how powerful are they?

2.Curser – knows the proper incantations but is still a novice in the true art of cursing and tapping the dark powers that fuel the really powerful imprecations.

3.Maledictor – has studied for at least five years, often under a more senior curser.

4.Imprecator – has studied for at least fifteen years, learning from an execrator and has taught an apprentice, either a curser or a maledictor.

5.Execrator – feared and shunned by all except those who really need their services. Their contact with dark power has scarred both body and soul and a cold detachment enables them to do what they do with little regard for the consequences. They often have a court of minor cursers, maledictors and at least one imprecator, who they will be nurturing and tutoring to take their place when life finally ebbs from their wracked bodies.

Each level gives more abilities regarding the curse, including the ability to strengthen the curse so that it is harder to lift.

The above are the base percentages of casting the specific level of curse correctly first time.

These are the percentages for casting the curse correctly first time.

Lifting the curse

There is a chance that the curse may be lifted, but it requires either
 the consent of the curser – to find them and persuade them to do so is a task in itself;
 the possession of a curse object if it is bound to the owner;
 the possession of a curse object if it is cursed to return to them.

In both the latter cases, it may well be that the object has been made invisible so that the victim has precious little chance of finding it.

The above percentages assume that the lifter is of the same level as the curser. For every level that they are above the curser, add 10% and for every level below, deduct 10%

The chance of lifting the curse decreases with the length of time that the cursee has been under the curse. For every six months that the victim has been under the curse, 10% is deducted from the lifting roll.

Various magical protections, charms, talismans and such like will lower the chance of a successful curse casting and increase the chances that a curse can be lifted.

A curser may also impose conditions on a curse that, if fulfilled, will dissolve it. This added level of complexity reduces the chance of success by 10% although successful fulfilment of the conditions automatically lifts the curse, no further roll required.

Sample Curses

"Dear Enemy, may the lord hate you and all your kind. May you turn orange in hue, and may your head fall off at an awkward moment."


The following curses are examples of how one curse can be intensified by degree. There are twelve here, but with three levels of intensity for each, it’s really thirty-six curses.

A rash of irritating health problems will plague the victim’s family and friends.

The victim’s family and friends will suffer debilitating and painful illnesses which will plague but not kill them.

The victim’s family and friends are struck down with horrible diseases which will kill them in a matter of days

The victim is hit with a series of bills that must be paid at once, even though they can’t afford it

Several things go wrong at once that will cost a lot to repair and will get more expensive to rectify if delayed.

A financial meltdown means that the victim’s investments are wiped out and the value of any property they hold goes through the floor

The victim rolls each to hit roll twice and take the lower of the two rolls. On a 1, rather than a fumble, the weapons shatters or breaks.

On every to hit roll, a score of 5 or less means that the victim’s weapon shatters or breaks

Every single weapon that the victim touches will shatter in combat, break or malfunction in a way that will damage the wielder

Incessant rain accompanies the character everywhere he goes.

When the character stops for more than 12 hours in the same place, a ferocious storm hits that place.

High winds and torrential rain strike in a five-mile radius of the character’s location at all times.

If the character is in a relationship, it is plagued by arguments and if a remark or conversation can be taken the wrong way, it is.

A close friend of the character is gravely offended by something the character says and becomes an implacable foe

Inadvertently, the character has offended his home town/tribe/family, who decide that the offence is so grave, it must be expunged. Permanently

Cats and dogs hiss and bark at the character whenever they see him

The character is subject to attacks from predatory animals. Other animals flee at the sight of him

No animal will come within a quarter-mile of the character

Food and drink taste slightly iffy if consumed by the character and his friends.

Any food and drink in the same house as the character starts to putrefy at once

Any foodstuffs within a mile radius of the character begin the process of putrefaction

Everyone around the character starts to have bad dreams that cause sleepless nights and fatigue

Elements of the bad dreams start to manifest as shadowy and intangible reality

The nightmare sufferers find that they wake to find themselves stuck in the dream with no hope of escape

The victim starts to obsess over their appearance, finding flaws and blemishes where there are none

The victim is convinced that they are a malignantly ugly version of themselves and resort to stranger and wilder remedies in order to combat this.

The victim now sees their image in any reflection as a hideous apparition and will destroy all mirrors and avoid reflections wherever possible.

The victim starts to become lucky. All his to hits get +1 as do his saving throws. He wins at gambling more times than he loses, seems always to be in the right place at the right time for freebies and good fortune. However, with the increase in luck comes a commensurate decrease in popularity as he suffers a penalty of 10% on reaction rolls

The victim is now very lucky. His rolls have a +2 bonus and in his daily life, it is almost as if plums are dropping into his lap. However, his image in the eyes of everyone else is worsening by the day. He suffers a 20% penalty on all reaction rolls and the initial reaction of anyone meeting him is antipathetic.

The victim is now uncannily lucky. His rolls get a +3 and the sort of good fortune that happens to him defies the odds of probability. He is however reviled by all who meet him; no-one wishes to have anything to do with him. He has a 30% penalty on reaction rolls and the initial reaction of anyone meeting him is hostile to say the least.

The victim becomes fixated with a certain locale or landmark and will somehow find himself passing it or visiting it sufficiently often that it becomes odd. If he is somehow prevented from doing so, he will experience symptoms of disquiet and anxiety

The victim now thinks about the locale or landmark a great deal and can see it clearly in his mind even when he is not there. When he passes it or is nearby, he is inclined to stay there, and leaving it will cause shaking, sweating and palpitations.

The victim can see the landmark all the time, in dreams and with his eyes closed. He cannot move further than a few dozen yards without very severe headaches and nausea. If he turns away from looking at it, he will shake with a very severe anxiety attack.

Friends and relatives start to have trouble remembering the victim’s name and personal details. He will find others helping themselves to his belongings although they are not sure why.

The victim’s name and personal details are unknown to his friends and relatives although they still recognise him but only through a nagging sense of familiarity. If he insists that he is known to them, they will become hostile and drive him away. If he has done anything notable in the past year, it is now attributed to someone else who was there at the time. Anything he owns is now believed to be the property of others.

The victim is not recognised or known by anyone who he knows. There are no records to be found of his existence or past history. If he has sired any children or done anything significant, those achievements have disappeared, to be replaced either by nothing or by an alternative version of events.

I hope that you find this article useful for livening up curses. They can make very interesting situations for characters and with a little imagination can really ruin a party's day.

Happy Cursing!


  1. Cool idea. I particularly dig the curser level titles. It also reminds me of a Simpsons quote: "Ah, the accursed one. How's that curse I cursed you with, Curs-ty?"

  2. Glad you liked it, Trey. Strangely, no-one else has commented on it - perhaps they were a bit freaked by either the imagery or the concept.

    At least I know it didn't suck.

  3. This is very good Daddy Grognard. Discovered through Links to Wisdom, works fantastically for rescuing great material like this.

    Makes for great NPCs. I wonder if it isn't too powerful.

    One suggestion: If the roll is failed the curser loses a randomly determined ability score - permanently. Getting weaker, uglier, sicker, dumber.

    The chance of casting a successful curse could be improved by allowing a +10% improved chance of success if the curser satisfies the material component for a more severe curse but is casting a less severe one.
    For example, Hedge Curser casting a mild curse (50%) but has a physical object of the victims (+20%). 70% chance of success. Most Hedge Cursers will demand a physical object. Higher level cursers may not, to cast a mild curse.
    Always a role of 66 fails whatever the level of curser.

    This means that a curser won't cast a curse every day. It is a big deal, and will therefore demand suitable payment from their client.

    It also makes death bed curses very appropriate to curse your very worst. Losing an ability is nothing when you are about to die.

    Definitely an NPC class, and one easily used against the PCs, if they annoy someone.

  4. I love this, though I'm not wild about the professionalisation of cursing: I reckon everyone should be able to do it. But: you lose attribute points on a successful curse, representing the bit of you that goes and plagues the cursee, so those who do it a lot get warped in the way you say, and are therefore also rightly to be feared, since they have demonstrated their malevolence. Maybe the attribute point lost should be appropriate to the nature of the curse, or maybe it should always come out of CHA or WIS.

  5. Sweet!

    Thank you Daddy Grognard for doing the heavy lifting. I'll definitely be tinkering around with these rules now and add some variation of them to my campaign. I enjoyed the art too.