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Curses

No clear and official rules were presented in the OGL released content from WotC so the following is presented by various other top-tier publishers.

The “official” rulebooks present a small selection of curses, just half a dozen, including some of the most iconic curses in folklore in mummy rot and lycanthropy. However, in a fantasy campaign we have an enormous breadth and depth of curses to explore from literary and mythological sources even before we begin inventing curses from whole cloth. Of course, many things called curses in myth and legend would simply be considered spells in a magic-rich fantasy game, or monstrous abilities like the ability of vampires to create spawn (rather than calling it the “curse of vampirism”).

Even so, there is ample room for new curses in the campaign, as described in this section.

Curses such as these can be delivered by means of the bestow curse spell by the archetypes described in this book, rather than invoking the spell’s normal effect.

Cannibal Compulsion

This terrible curse afflicts the target with a terrible curse of hunger as the famine’s feast curse (see below); however, it also awakens an unquenchable physical and spiritual hunger for the flesh of the accursed creature’s own kind. The accursed creature can discern the presence of creatures of its own type as if it was proficient in Wisdom (Survival) via scent, and the sight of blood can unleash its cannibalistic impulses.

Whenever the accursed creature sees a creature of its own type within 30 feet take necrotic damage or a critical hit with a piercing or slashing weapon, it must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or begin plotting to eat that creature’s flesh, but the end result of the accursed creature’s plotting is always a cannibalistic feast.

If a creature of the same type (and subtype) is adjacent to the accursed creature when it takes necrotic damage or a critical hit with a piercing or slashing weapon, the accursed creature is compelled to attack that creature if they fail a Charisma saving throw for 1 minute, using its bite attack to the exclusion of all other forms of attack. If it lacks a bite attack, its bite is considered an unarmed strike that inflicts piercing damage. Its savage gnawing and tearing bites deal 1 point of Constitution damage with each successful attack; this Constitution damage is increased to 1d4 per round if the target is also grappled. The accursed creature must continue attacking the creature that provoked its bloodlust for 1 minute or until it or its target is killed. If its target escapes the accursed creature’s line of sight and gets far enough away that the accursed creature cannot detect it via scent, the accursed creature gains a new saving throw each round at the beginning of its turn to end the murderous effect; if failed, it attacks the nearest creature of its own type that is taking necrotic damage or that has less than one-half its hit points remaining.

If there is no such target, the accursed creature must search for its original target.

Once the bloodlust of this attack has been consummated, the accursed creature loses all memory of any hostile or acts committed as a result of these compulsions.

Dark Desolation

The target is shrouded in a mantle of darkness that clings to him and moves with him. The space occupied by the creature is always considered to be in dim light, and all illumination levels within 30 feet are also dimmed slightly. All creatures within this radius take a -2 penalty on saves against being frightened, and the target also has disadvantage on the saving throw against such effects.

Deadly Diminution

The target’s body begins to diminish in height, weight, and strength, as this curse causes him to shrink more and more each day. Each time the target fails a save against the curse, it shrinks by one size category, reducing its Strength score by 4 points and its Constitution by 2 points (minimum 1 for each score) and reducing its AC by 1. These reductions cannot be ameliorated except by returning the creature to its proper size by removing the curse. These reductions also stack if a creature shrinks more than one size category. If the target is already Tiny in size and fails another saving throw against this curse, it is shrunk to a subatomic size and liable to implode. This affects the target as disintegrate (9th-level spell). Even if the target survives, he is effectively incorporeal, invisible, and paralyzed while at subatomic size. He must save again once per day against a potential implosion.

Because the target is unused to its new size and how best to move within it, the target has disadvantage on all d20 rolls while shrunk. The target’s gear shrinks with it, though items the target drops return to their normal size 1d100 minutes after being dropped. The damage the target deals with weapons is halved each time it shrinks a size category. In addition, if the target shrinks more than two size categories the range and area of effect of any spells or magical abilities it uses is also reduced by 50%. The effects of deadly diminution persist even if the target uses a polymorph effect to assume a different form.

Deliquescent Flesh

The target’s flesh becomes flaccid and unstable as its internal structure collapses and the target’s organs begin to slip and slide within them. Each time the target fails a saving throw against the curse, it loses 2 points from its Dexterity score. Dexterity loss from this curse cannot be healed unless the curse is first removed. Greater restoration can be used to end the curse or to restore lost Dexterity; two castings are required to accomplish both.

If the target’s Dexterity score is reduced below one-half its normal Dexterity, its speed is halved. In addition, each time the target fails a save against this curse it must succeed on a second saving throw or its Strength or Constitution score (equal chance of either) is reduced by 2.

The target’s Dexterity cannot be reduced below 1 by this curse, but when its Dexterity reaches 1 its body collapses into an amorphous, boneless blob. All worn or wielded items fall off and it cannot grasp objects, though it can make Strength (Athletics) checks to Shove or Grapple opponents. The target is permanently prone and can move only by crawling with a speed of 10 feet.

Any critical hits against an amorphous victim of this curse are treated as normal hits.

Regenerate restores lost points from ability scores due to this curse at a rate of 1 point per minute to each score once the curse has been removed.

Famine’s Feast

The target becomes afflicted with an insatiable, gnawing hunger. While no amount of eating can assuage its pangs of hunger, it finds the presence of food nearly irresistible. The accursed creature responds to any offer of food (unless the food is obviously rotten or otherwise inedible). If the accursed creature successfully saves, it can ignore any further offers of food from that creature for 1 minute. Eating food turns the accursed creature’s stomach, however, and they must make a Constitution saving throw or be treated as poisoned for 1 minute after they finish eating. If the accursed creature eats without becoming nauseated in this way, they can likewise refuse all offers of food for 1 minute.

The hunger of this spell causes the target to begin wasting away, gaining 1 level of exhaustion each day (a Constitution saving throw negates this effect for 1 day), and as long as the target has any amount of exhaustion while suffering from this curse it becomes gaunt and emaciated. Worn items fit very loosely on the accursed creature, draping and sagging uncomfortably, causing the target to take a -2 penalty on all Dexterity checks (except checks related to escaping from bonds of any kind). The target’s exhaustion cannot be cured without first removing the curse.

Fatal Strength

The target is infused with a strange vitality, increasing its Strength score by 2 and granting a +2 bonus on saving 12 throws against effects that cause exhaustion or fatigue.

However, this increased strength comes at the cost of leaching away the target’s lifespan in order to increase its physical prowess. Every time the target uses its Strength ability score for anything – attack, skill checks etc. – the target ages 1 year if it fails a Constitution saving throw. Every 50 years the target ages, it gains an additional 2 points of Strength.

If the curse is removed, its Strength returns to its normal value, and then the target immediately loses a number of points of Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity equal to the extra points of Strength score it had when the curse ended. If this reduces the target’s Constitution to zero it dies.

Hatemonger’s Halo

The target is invested with a deep-seated hatred towards all creatures of a certain type, or a specific and distinct group such as members of a particular ethnic group or religion. The hatred of the accursed creature is a palpable thing, causing him to have disadvantage on all Charisma checks checks with creatures of that type or group. Creatures of that type can feel the accursed creature’s hatred for them and their attitude towards the accursed creature are automatically negative, and in combat creatures of that type or group gain a +1 bonus on attack rolls and damage rolls against the accursed creature.

The accursed creature’s hatred is a contagious thing, allowing the accursed creature to cast enthrall at will as an innate spell, though only when regaling an audience with tales of the perfidy of his hated foes. Once per day, he also can cast mass suggestion as an innate spell, though this affects only creatures that have already failed their save against his enthrall spell, and affected creatures have a 50% chance to attack the nearest creature of the hated type or group, rather than the nearest creature.

The accursed creature automatically fails saving throws or opposed Charisma checks to resist any charm effects that would cause it to take hostile actions or develop a hostile attitude against the objects of its hatred, and creatures within 10 feet take a -2 penalty on their saving throws against such effects (including the accursed creature’s innate spells). The hatred is so all-consuming and obsessive that it wears away at the accursed creature’s sanity, causing it to lose 2 points from its Wisdom or Charisma score (equal chance of either) each day (a Wisdom saving throw negates this effect for 1 day). Its Wisdom and Charisma cannot be reduced below 1 by this curse.

Heartless

This curse suppresses the emotions of the target and leaves him cold, dispassionate, and nearly robotic in all its interactions. It gains immunity to being frightened.

Its inability to perceive emotional cues or respond to emotional subtext causes the target to have disadvantage on Wisdom (Insight) skill checks and a -2 penalty on all Charisma checks related to interacting with intelligent creatures. In addition, the target loses 2 points from its Charisma score each day (Wisdom saving throw negates this effect for 1 day) as its personality gradually becomes more withdrawn and remote. When its Charisma reaches 0, it falls unconscious and begins losing 2 points each day from its Constitution score.

When its Constitution reaches 0, it dies.

Insidious Insomnia

The target has great difficulty falling asleep, causing a slow but steady erosion of its mind and body as mental and physical exhaustion take their toll. The target has advantage on saving throws against sleep effects, but it must succeed on a saving throw against the curse’s DC in order to obtain restful sleep. If the save is failed, the target is unable to sleep for 24 hours and gains a 1 level of exhaustion.

If the target successfully goes to sleep but is awakened before sleeping at least 8 hours, such as by a nighttime attack, it must succeed on a saving throw to get back to sleep. If this save is failed, the target is treated as if it had not slept at all.

A poison or drug that induces sleep or unconsciousness can be used to obtain sleep; however, the target’s save bonus against sleep effects applies against such poisons.

If the substance is a drug, it takes a -4 penalty on saving throws to avoid becoming addicted to it.

Kinslayer

The target is consumed with a lurking urge to destroy those nearest and dearest to their heart, especially the members of their own family. The target knows exactly where and how far away a blood relation is so long as the target is on the same plane, and whenever it sees a member of its family within 60 feet it must successfully save against the curse’s DC or be compelled to attack that family member for 1 minute or until the target is killed. In addition, any weapons (including natural weapons and unarmed strikes) it uses against a member of its family score critical hits on a 19 or 20 and do an additional die of damage on each successful attack.

On a successful save, the target is able to overcome the urge to attack a family member for 24 hours. However, if the target fails a save against any enchantment or charm effect while a family member is within 60 feet and the target has line of sight to that person, the target must safe or be afflicted by the curse even if it has previously succeeded on a save that day for that family member (it assumes the family member tried to compel it through magic). If the target succeeds on its save for three days in a row, the strength of the kinslayer curse abates for that family member and it need save only once per month to keep its murderous urges in check.

If a family member attacks the target, it must make an additional save against the curse, with a cumulative -1 penalty for each attack that family member has made against it in the previous 24 hours. If failed, her kinslaying rage escalates in effect and it is compelled to seek that family member’s death as if under the effects of a geas spell. If the target witnesses the death of a member of its family, it must immediately save against the curse with a -2 penalty; if failed, it is filled with vengeful outrage for the creature that killed that family member – as if under the effects of a geas spell – but once that creature is killed or escapes the effect of all previous successful saves for family members is wiped away and the target is prone to murderous fury against any family member it encounters, as described above.

Labile Lunacy

The target’s moods are shackled to the ever-changing phases of the moon, tied to an obsessive fascination with the moon’s silvery glow. If any night passes in which the target cannot see the moon, it must succeed on a save against the curse’s DC or have disadvantage on attack rolls for 24 hours. The save DC increases by 1 for each consecutive night it does not see the moon, but the condition ends immediately when it next sees the moon. When the moon is in view, the target is distracted by its lovely luminescence, having disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks and initiative checks.

During combat or other similar stressful situations, however, the target’s eyes are irresistibly drawn to it.

Each failed save causes the target to become stunned for 1d4 rounds as it becomes fascinated and just looks at the moon longingly.

If the target is attacked while fascinated by the moon, the fascinate effect is immediately broken and the target is immune to the moon’s fascinating effect for 1 minute, but the target must make an additional save against the curse’s DC or take an additional spell effect based on the phase of the moon, as noted below.

Labile Lunacy Effects
Phase Effect
Full moon The target gains 1 use of the rage class ability as if it was a barbarian of the same level. It attacks the closest target but otherwise acts confused until the rage ends (as the confusion spell).
Half or more Confusion
Less than half Calm emotions
New moon Fear

This secondary effect persists for 1 minute. If combat is still ongoing after this duration elapses, the target is once again subject to the moon’s fascinating effect. Once combat ends, the fascination effect ends 1 minute later.

Minimus Micromagic

This curse draws away the physical substance of the target by binding its flesh and bone to the flow of magical energies. This functions similarly to the deadly diminution curse (see page xx); however, during any day in which it does not cast a spell it is not required to make the usual daily saving throw to avoid shrinking.

However, whenever it casts a non-cantrip spell it must make an additional saving throw with a penalty equal to one-half the level of the spell or shrink an additional size category.

Nighteyes

The target’s eyes become entirely black. The appearance is eerie and strange to other living creatures, causing the target to take a -1d4 penalty on Charisma (Persuasion) skill checks, though the target also gains a +1d4 bonus on Charisma (Intimidate) checks against creatures with fewer Hit Dice than its own.

Besides their strange appearance, the target also becomes completely blind in areas of bright light or normal light, while treating areas of dim light and darkness (including magical darkness) as if it were dim light. If the target uses a reaction or bonus action to focus its vision, it gains darkvision with a range of 30 feet until the end of its turn. The range of this darkvision is extended by 30 feet for each action or bonus action used to focus.

Mythic Curses

One of the great mythic tropes of magic is the dark and baneful curses that fall upon those who violate ancient tombs, transgress the will of the gods, or provoke the ire of mysterious witches and hermits and the nameless, forgotten powers they call master. Mythic curses can be inflicted by a bestow curse spell cast by a level 20 spellcaster and cannot be removed by non-level 20 spell effects except for wish.

Mythic Heroes and Villains Any creature with a Challenge of 20+ or any character of level 20 is considered a mythic character for the purposes of these curses. At the GM’s option, creatures with that have one or more divine blessings or epic boons also may be considered mythic if their level or Challenge is at least 10.

Anoris Curse

The anoris curse causes the flesh of the victim’s mouth to knit together and seal itself shut. The victim can breathe through its nostrils or similar orifices but cannot speak or use a bite attack. The victim is unable to eat or drink unless a system of drip tubes is devised and used to deliver liquefied nutrition.

The anoris curse can be ameliorated by slicing open the flesh of the victim’s face, dealing 5 (2d4) slashing damage and reducing its Charisma score by 2, though unless a regenerate spell is applied the victim’s oral tissues remain ragged and malformed. Until properly healed, the accursed creature must succeed on a DC 10 check to successfully cast any spell with a verbal component; if the check fails, the spell is ruined. Enemies also have advantage on saving throws against any spells the accursed creature casts that rely on speech as part of the spell’s effect, such as enthrall, holy word, power word kill, or suggestion.

If the reduction to Charisma from this curse is cured, the DC of the check to successfully cast spells with verbal components is reduced to DC 5 and creatures gain only a +1 bonus rather than advantage on saving throws against the accursed creatures speech-based spells. This remedy is only temporary, however, as if the curse is not removed the victim must succeed at a Constitution saving throw each day with the same DC as the effect that caused the curse, or its mouth will seal itself shut again.

In non-mythic creatures, the anoris curse is more severe, causing not only the target’s flesh but the bones (including chitin and similar exoskeletons) of its jaws and face to knit together. Cutting open the victim’s mouth is of no help to a non-mythic creature.

The anoris curse has no effect against creatures without flesh (or bones, for non-mythic creatures).

Cruciatic Sympathy

Cruciatic sympathy causes the target to feel the pain and suffering it inflicts on others. Whenever the accursed deals damage to a living creature, it takes half that amount of damage as psychic damage, and as long as the victim has this psychic damage it is wracked with pain, causing them to gain 1 level of exhaustion, or 2 levels of exhaustion if they dealt a critical hit.

In addition to the above, if the victim successfully affects another creature with a condition, the victim must succeed at a Wisdom saving throw against the effect’s DC or be affected by the same effect for as long as the creature it affected has the condition.

Polypollex Curse

The polypollex curse causes all the victim’s digits to become thumbs. This radically decreases the victim’s manual dexterity when using its hands, resulting in a -10 penalty on all Dexterity checks and saving throws, as well as any actions not based on Dexterity but in which the hands are required to execute the skill successfully – for example, using the Performance skill to play an instrument or the Athletics skill to climb a wall.

It is very difficult for the target to maintain its grip on objects, and if it does not spend a bonus action each round securing its grip it must succeed at a Dexterity saving throw or drop an item it is holding. Any action it takes to draw or retrieve an item (including weapons, ammunition, and material or focus components for spells) takes longer, also consuming its bonus action. If the target is a spellcaster, it must make a DC 10 check each time it casts a spell with a somatic component; if this check fails, the spell is ruined and has no effect.

The polypollex curse is considered a polymorph effect and can be negated with dispel magic or wish. If the victim uses a polymorph effect to assume a different shape, the effects of the polypollex curse are suppressed for the duration of that effect.

Regressive Rejuvenation

The victim begins to age in reverse at an accelerated rate losing 1d6 years of its age on a failed save. In addition to this initial effect, with each failed save (made at dawn each day) the victim grows 1d6 years younger and loses 1 point of Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (determine randomly). If the reduction in its age reduces it to childhood, its Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores are reduced by half. If reduced to infancy, all of its ability scores are reduced to 1. This curse cannot reduce a creature below infancy.

If the curse is removed, the victim begins rapidly aging back to its former age, aging 2d6 years and needing to make a Constitution saving throw each round to avoid gaining 1 level of exhaustion. When it finally reaches its former age, the victim must succeed on an additional Constitution saving throw or die from the traumatic shock of its sudden aging. Even if it survives, it loses 4 points each from its Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores.

Sectum Sanguinum

The cursed target begins to bleed whenever it casts a spell. The spellcaster takes 1d6 x the spell level in necrotic damage each time it casts a spell. It takes this damage for the duration of the spells effect each round. This necrotic damage does not interfere with the casting of the spell that triggers the bleeding, but it is considered continuous damage for the purpose of requiring Constitution saving throws for maintain concentration on a spell. The bleeding letters revealed by this spell are visible on the surface of any armor or clothing worn and are visible in bright or normal light and are not hidden by illusions. Thus, the bleeding runes clearly revealing the location of an invisible creature. The bloody letters are not visible in dim light or darkness, except to creatures with darkvision or blindsight.

Creatures able to see the bleeding runes form can identify the spell being cast, as described as the runes form the spells written form. The blood dries and flakes away 1 round after the bleeding stops.

Skinscription

Each time a spellcaster with this curse prepares a spell, or meditates to recover spells if a spontaneous caster, a detailed description of each magical spell it is able to cast that day is inscribed on her skin like a tattoo. This does not apply to spells cast by other creatures or spell effects created by magic items.

When the spell is being cast, that spell’s inscription begins to glow as brightly as a candle for 1 minute.

Each time the caster casts another spell that affects herself, the skinscription runes for all spells she has cast that are still affecting her glow for 1 minute. This glow is visible even through clothing or armor, and in conditions of dim light or darkness (though not in areas of magical darkness) is sufficient to clearly reveal the caster’s location. This glow results in a penalty to the caster’s Stealth checks equal to 1 plus the highest spell level the caster has used within the past minute.

When the spellcaster casts a spell, creatures within 30 feet with line of sight to the spellcaster can attempt a DC 20 Intelligence (Arcana) check as a free action to identify one of the spells (determine randomly) that the spellcaster has cast upon herself. Creatures within 30 feet that can see the spellcaster can make an additional check each round as a free action to continue identifying spells affecting the spellcaster.

If the spellcaster casts a mythic spell, the runes on her skin glow as bright as a daylight spell until the end of her next turn and as bright as a torch for a number of rounds equal to the spell’s level and for 1 minute thereafter. This glow clearly reveals the caster’s position as if she were shrouded in faerie fire.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Horrific Curses (5E) © 2020, Legendary Games; Authors Jason Nelson, Jen Page, and Alex Riggs.