Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dealing Out Curses
Hey kids, wanna buy a curse?
My first gaming group was not set in Dungeons and Dragons, we used a homebrew world and system.

The group was pretty large, and it was mostly non-gamers. The main crowd was actually theater kids, so we had a pretty good mix of gender and age (18-30something). The system was light, so people didn't have to learn complex rules or buy special dice to play, and the game focused heavily on interaction and conversation. We usually didn't even have a table, we kept our (often quite short) character sheets on clipboards and walked around talking to each other throughout the game.

The crazy part was that the games were usually not subterfuge or intrigue games, they were classic, run-the-challenge adventure games. The difference was that each of us had a character deeply thought out and connected to the game world. The characters had personal reasons for going on a particular quest. They had epic destinies. We could easily spend 4 hours interacting with each other a week, and only a couple hours on combat (which was also cut down - a fight usually lasted less than 15 minutes).

No! My beautiful face!
Now some of you may be thinking this is a RPG dream, while others might be getting suspicious that we were actually LARPing (and we did all have costumes. We were theater kids, after all). But the important part for me is the idea that characters are fleshed out, close friends, and losing someone on a quest is difficult.

Many Old-School gamers revel in the fact that they rarely have characters make it to level 3 or 4. I don't want to disparage that play style, because in a world that features adventuring and deadly magical monsters, going into caves is a foolhardy quest that will more than likely get your character killed. But modern gaming is focused more and more on story, characters, and building a hero, not a cutthroat gold-seeker.

I'm not convinced either one is better. I grew up on hero stories, but I am starting to consider Old-School adventures and play style. I want to hit hard, to challenge players, to make every adventure exciting. Perhaps that's what happens when you switch from being a player to a DM. But when you remove the threat of death, it changes the game a lot.
Plot twist: the thief is cursed, the ring is just fine
To make excitement, you introduce plot twists. To make things dangerous, you give NPCs leverage over the characters. Even on a dungeon-crawl adventure, the villains become plotting and mischievous, with far-reaching plans and allies, rather than simply being the Orc between you and the Pie.

The point of all this ranting is that I want to find a way to combine the character development of my old group with the threat of danger that D&D can provide. So, in that spirit, I came up with one way to infuse character moments into a game. I think this would work particularly well with players who are aware of their character's personality and traits, but still want to go on dungeon crawls. I have a few players like that in my game, and they seem to respond well to things like this.

 D&D 5th Edition Curses

Circe: OG Curse Lady
 Curses replace a personality trait, ideal, bond, or flaw. They are broken until permanent or removed.

  1. Argumentative "Every idea needs a devil's advocate"
  2. Arrogant "I am far more important than anyone else here"
  3. Blustering "It takes me twice as long to say something as it would someone else"
  4. Rude "As long as I get what I want, there's no need to be nice about it"
  5. Curious "I love to touch things and ask questions, no matter what the situation"
  6. Friendly "Why can't we all just live together in peace, friend and foe alike?"
  7. Honest "I will always say what's on my mind, even when told to keep it a secret."
  8. Hot Tempered "I am always ready to fight at the slightest provocation"
  9. Irritable "I hate staying in one place too long, even to rest or sleep""
  10. Ponderous "I always make sure I'm absolutely certain I want to do something before I do anything"
  11. Quiet "It's better to say and do nothing than say or do the wrong thing by accident"
  12. Suspicious " Everyone is out to get me, and I have no problem calling them out on it."
This guy is just lousy with horrible curses
  1. Domination "Everything I see must do exactly as I say or else"
  2. Greed "I must have everything, especially things I'm told I can't have"
  3. Might "I am nothing more than my strength, and I must prove this to everyone I meet"
  4. Pain "Nobody is truly alive unless they know what it's like to hurt"
  5. Retribution "Every slight towards me is worthy of the highest punishment"
  6. Slaughter "The screams of pain, the taste of blood, the feel of entrails... I can't get enough"
  7. Change "Nothing is right as it is, and It's up to me to change it"
  8. Freedom "Anybody or anything that restricts me is evil to the highest degree"
  9. Independence "What I have to do is more important than what anybody else thinks or cares about"
  10. Whimsy "Everything is just a joke, get it?"
  1. New life goal, chosen by curse giver
  2. Protective of curse giver
  3. Protective of curse giver's interests (might carry on their work after their death, for example)
  4. Loyal to someone, chosen by curse giver
  5. Captivated romantically by curse giver
  6. Drawn to a special place, chosen by curse giver
  7. Protective of an item, chosen by curse giver
  8. Precious memories implanted by curse giver
  1. Alcoholism "Being drunk keeps me sane."
  2. Kleptomania "I keep whatever I find."
  3. Imprinting "I try to become more like someone else I know: adopting his or her style of dress, mannerisms, and name."
  4. Pathological Liar "I must bend the truth, exaggerate, or outright lie to be interesting to other people."
  5. Sociopathic "Achieving my goal is the only thing of interest to me, and I'll ignore everything else to pursue it."
  6. Ennui "I find it hard to care about anything that goes on around me."
  7. Social Anxiety "I don't like the way people judge me all the time."
  8. Narcissism "I am the smartest, wisest, strongest, fastest, and most beautiful person I know."
  9. Paranoia "I'm convinced powerful enemies are hunting me, and their agents are everywhere I go. I'm sure they're watching me all the time."
  10. Schizophrenia "There's only one person I can trust. And only I can see this special friend."
  11. Mania "I can't take anything seriously. The more serious the situation, the funnier I find it."
  12. Psychopathic "I've discovered that I really like killing people."
Ending a Curse

If your curse extends longer than 5 minutes, see a cleric immediately
The most common method of curse removal is the spell "Remove Curse." This spell costs 90GP at a temple or wizard's shop (per D&D Adventurer's League rules). However, the curse may require a spell ability check to remove, based on the Charisma/Wisdom and proficiency of the curse-giver. On a failed check, the curse is not removed, and the spell slot is wasted.

Some common Curse-givers and their save DCs, based on 5e stats:
  • Death Knight: DC 18
  • Devil, Pit Fiend: DC 21
  • Drow Priestess of Lolth: DC 15
  • Effreti: DC 15
  • Hag, Night: DC 13
  • Lich: DC 18
  • Mummy Lord: DC 17
  • Oni: DC 13
  • Rakshasa: DC 18
Some curses are harder to break. A curse may change the "Remove Curse" spell so it requires a material component unique to the curse. This could be a trinket, a specific holy symbol, an artifact of great enough power, or even a specific person to cast the spell (or be sacrificed to it!). Other curses may be tied to items or places: the victim must be separated or removed from them before the spell can be cast successfully.
Deal or No Deal?
Some curses are the domain of divinity and are impossible to break by any means short of a wish. If a God wants you to have a bad life, then you don't really get a choice in the matter.

And that's how I do curses. The astute might have noticed that the "Flaws" list is directly the same as the "Indefinite Madness" list (DMG pg. 260), but I don't think curses should change a character's flaws all that often. It's far more interesting to turn someone from a benevolent person into an unpredictable or insane one.

In a good game, a character can go through an adventure and collect a few curses here and there (and not be guaranteed to dispel them with a single 3rd-level spell slot), and perhaps turn some NPCs they liked against them. Or maybe their party members have to come up with a new way to deal with the curse, or make a deal with the cursed player.

Hopefully by the end of it all they are more in touch with their character and can role-play their actions more cohesively and consistently.

All the fun of Lycanthropy, none of the inadvertant baby-eating
Thanks for reading!

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