Among the many weapons in the DMs arsenal, often we overlook the idea of curses. Monsters and traps aplenty, puzzles and challenges, sure, but a curse is something wholly other. Disease is frequently too random, we rarely use disease because it is not something earned through foolish action, but a curse can be laid upon a player who does something foolish, or stumbles across something terrible.
These curses broadly use Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition rules, but can easily be adjusted for other systems and settings.
Deep in a winding maze – perhaps a weaving run of hedges grown by a hag to protect her coven’s hideaway, or a labyrinth of stone walls in which minotaurs wander freely – there are traps of blades, and fire, and worse. This particular spell lays upon the intruder a curse that ensures that no matter how deep they probe into this protected place, they will never emerge from that place alive. The cursed party notices only that they are a little woozy, but as time goes by every turn is the wrong one, every decision is a misstep, and every clue and hint is missed.
Even if the player makes it out alive, they are not going to be able to navigate. Any attempt to navigate on the players behalf leads them in the wrong direction, even if following maps, divination magic such as Find the Path or Augury, or other signs that might help direct them. The player loses proficiency with the Survival skill if they had it, and any Survival roll made to attempt to navigate, or to discern location or direction, automatically fail.
This curse can be removed with the Remove Curse spell, but the spell has a 30% chance of failing. If the spell fails then the curse becomes permanent, removable only by the Wish spell.
Hands of Trove
The victim has proven too light fingered for their own good. Perhaps they have earned the ire of a dragon, who delights in the irony Hands of Trove can deliver. Perhaps a Naga caught a thief in a sacred place, and decided that such a disrespect should be met with just punishment. Or a greedy fey might see a like minded soul and manipulate them into feeding a hoard of shiny delights. Whatever the case, the thief will soon find themselves unable to so much as handle their riches, ill-gotten or otherwise.
The first time the victim of the curse handles coin of any value or quantity, be it stealing it, or as part of a transaction, there is a 10% chance the money will vanish, instantly replaced with wax replicas. The money is transferred to a place of the cursing party’s choosing. Each time thereafter, the percentage increases by 1.
When the chance of coin vanishing increases to 30%, the process begins with precious gemstones, starting at 10%, and increasing in increments of 5%. When the chance of gems vanishing increases to 30%, the process begins again with magic items, starting at 10%, and increasing by 2% each time an item is used by the victim. Art items may be unaffected, as art is ephemeral and subjective, and the magic of the curse cannot distinguish it from other items.
The curse can be removed only with a Wish spell, or be petitioning the creature who applied the curse.
Mark of the Flenser
Demon Princes are terrible things, prone to violent and destructive whims. No one need act against the wills of a Prince to earn their wrath, they only need to stand close enough to catch their attention, and among their many dread weapons, is the Mark of the Flenser. The sigil appears written in tomes printed on pages of skin, stained in blood on the flags and pennants of foul cults, or found carved from the hides of nameless corpses in forgotten and forsaken corners of the world.
The bearer of the Mark has it appear somewhere on their skin, with a 10% chance that it is visible while fully clothed. You scar easily, and every combat risks your skin becoming increasingly marked, scarred, and simply painful to exist within. You have vulnerability to slashing damage, and each time you are hit with a slashing weapon you lose one of your hit dice permanently, instead if you would spend that hit dice you gain 1 hit point only (adding your constitution bonus as normal). A Greater Restoration spell can restore the hit dice to normal, and a Regenerate spell can return them all to normal.
When you have lost a number of hit dice equal to your level, regardless of whether or not any have been restored, you gain an insatiable desire to tear off your own skin. You may choose to inflict slashing damage against yourself (if you possess a weapon that deals slashing damage), if you do, your next attack will deal additional slashing damage equal to the amount of damage you dealt to yourself. If you do not do this at least once in a day in which you have been in combat, all of your hit dice are lost.
The curse cannot be removed with a Wish spell, however it can either reset all of the curse’s effects as if it had only just been applied, or allow the bearer of the Mark to communicate with the Demon Lord to whom the Mark belongs, and appeal to them to remove it.
As per usual, the next issue will be decided by your votes! I am not running out of ideas any time soon, and for next week:
The Circle of Death druid is a subclass that can embrace death as a part of life. Shapeshifting and summoning abilities concerning the undead, weaving life into that which once lived.
A gang of criminals, small but alarmingly proficient, between only a few key-players they are toppling a government, leading some to believe there is a greater force at play.
Twenty rumours, some of which lead to adventure, some of which lead to nothing, none are entirely right, none are entirely wrong. Should be easier to do twenty of these than NPCs, but I don’t learn lessons well.