“The punishment should fit the crime” is a good general rule, but there’s plenty of room for exceptions. One of the worst curses in Ravenloft canon is the mishamel, which has nothing to do with a specific crime, but exists as a general deterrent against offending the Vistani. Likewise, stealing from Ankhtepot’s tomb causes a character to age a year every day, but there’s no clear reflection of the crime in that punishment, either. Even matching the severity of the crime only applies to the most traditional curses of vengeance; as explained in my earlier article, it’s possible to receive a powerful curse for a small offense, or even for a good deed, under the right circumstances. With that in mind, here are some plug-and-play curse ideas that are just looking for the right opportunity.
1) Adventure Magnet
“Live you always among monsters, and see everyone you love die beneath their claws!” With those words Madame Radanavich unwittingly set Rudolph Van Richten on the road from humble herbalist to a legendary scholar of the occult. I thought of this when one of my players came up with a great character concept that was just too practical for an adventuring career. On the first adventure, the PC turned down a desperate woman’s plea, and was cursed that “Those without help will always find you, until you cannot stop your ears to their cries!” The character who was too practical to pursue adventuring found adventure hooks just landed on the doorstep, refusing to be ignored.
2) Marked For Death
The Final Destination film series portrays a struggle against rabid coincidence that makes for a good Lethal curse. There are many ways to reflect it in the rules: all attacks against the character might be treated as critical threats (i.e. automatic hit, roll for crit) or do max damage. Traps or spells that should randomly select a target always select the PC, and they don’t ever get a save against area effects. To truly create a sense of faceless danger like the films, have the PC save once a day to avoid a freak accident. This is a good substitute for lycanthropy in some break-the-curse adventures, as some players might see lycanthropy as a bonus.
3) Shadow Boxing
While the Vistani see curses as serious business, other creatures such as Midnight Cats might be much more inclined to play around. An animated shadow is often just the ticket for comic relief, as would be a harmless silhouette on the wall or floor pantomiming commentary on the PC’s words and actions. This can be customized for specific situations, such as a shadow that depicts the truth when the target lies, or taunts people the target respects. Such a curse might never rise above the Frustrating level of severity, but it gives lots of opportunity for roleplay and can even entertain the players as it frustrates their plans.
4) Unnatural Aura
The Scent of the Grave feat offered in Van Richten's Arsenal is often an example of being blessed with suck (Warning, TV Tropes link). If your PCs can find a bonus in normal animals being frightened or aggressive in their presence, then more power to them, but most people would consider that a curse. For every situation where they avoid being tracked by bloodhounds, there are many more where horses spook and bolt, wolves attack, dogs cause a ruckus or cats yowl and hiss until the locals start whispering about witchcraft. It works far better as a curse than taking up a feat slot, but if you think your PC is getting too much mileage out of it, add the additional effect that food spoils quickly in their presence, such that they can’t save any for longer than a day.
So if your PCs are on the fast track for some mojo but you don't know the specific whammy you want to put on them, consider a generic version. Punishments don't always have to have that perfect fit, as long as they are punishments. After all, it's really what people do about it that makes them unique.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement.
Picture Reference: http://dndspeak.com/2017/12/100-curses/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.