Any players worth their dice know to fear offending the Vistani, lest they be stricken with some unspeakable curse, but the gypsy-folk are not the only ones who can invoke their wrath. Just as Ravenloft games keep players on their toes with vampires immune to garlic and mirrors, or lycanthropes immune to silver, players should never become too confident in their expectation that being nice to the Vistani--or anyone else--is a guarantee against being cursed. If your plot calls for a PC to be cursed but they are on their best behavior for all the usual suspects, you might want to review some of these less usual alternatives.
1) No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Ravenloft is known for moral quandaries, and sometimes getting cursed is the result of doing the right thing: The Evil Eye has an example of this. In addition, because justification is measured from the invoker’s point of view, an evil or deceived invoker might feel wronged for all sorts of reasons. In the epic-level Reckonings campaign, a charismatic PC encouraged an abused daughter to stand up to her mother and leave, and the mother felt highly justified in the Dangerous curse she invoked on him in response.
2) Midnight Cat
These supernatural felines had a +15 to curse checks in 3E. Some DM’s would temper that to avoid upstaging the Vistani, but it's also possible that the cats are so rare, so solitary, and so stealthy that their curses haven’t earned a reputation yet. With such a bonus, a Midnight Cat could toss out unjustified curses at will with a reasonable chance of one sticking, no matter how frivolous. Heaven help the poor party who actually does something to offend the creature. Of course, Midnight Cats can also remove curses, but their price for doing so may require a Powers check.
3) The Wishing Imp
As the song goes, “There is no curse or evil spell...that’s worse than one we give ourselves.” This truism at the heart of Ravenloft Powers Checks is also known by those who have once possessed the infamous Wishing Imp, a diabolical figurine that grants twisted wishes. The difference between a twisted wish and a curse is mostly a matter of perspective, but it's even possible a wish could be granted in the form of a literal curse, such as a character wishing for prowess in unarmed combat and becoming infected with lycanthropy.
4) The Ancient Dead
Ancient Dead (mummies) with the Curse of Vengeance salient ability add their rank +4 to curse checks. Between that and their bonus to charisma, a powerful mummy could rival the Vistani for laying curses. In addition, the single minded passion that drives their unlife, combined with any unusual customs of their culture of origin, makes it possible for them to justify curses for unexpected things (see #1).
5) Alchemical Purgative
From Van Richten’s Arsenal, spiritual purgatives expel the affliction from the body, but the effect is temporary unless another takes up the burden. While a few selfless souls will knowingly take a curse for someone they love or to spare an innocent, (see below) most uses of this purgative involve a hapless victim duped or even forced to ingest the purgative before the time limit expires. PCs should beware bets or dares to eat or drink anything, especially if the other person seems to be in a hurry.
One 2nd edition alternative to paladins in Ravenloft was the paragon, a pure soul reborn over endless generations to fight the forces of darkness. One of their powers was “expiation,” the ability to temporarily absorb curses. This allowed the paragon to absorb a curse temporarily, either to give a little respite or to endure some rigorous cleansing process that the original victim might not have survived. Alternately, some religious group might have an expiation ritual that could work for other volunteers, allowing any PC to stand proxy for someone less fortunate, only to remain cursed when the cleansing portion of the ritual goes awry.
7) Flask Of Curses
In a land like Ravenloft, we often forget about items like this from the original DMG, whose powers are enhanced in the Demiplane of Dread. Not only does it not matter whether the curse is justified, but these flasks can release any magnitude of curse, even the Lethal kind that could permanently change someone into an undead or other monster. Of course, this works best if the flask is a unique item with a history that explains its accursed nature and provides a theme for the curses.
The Unspoken Pact that distances clerics from their gods does not prevent every expression of divine supernatural power. A PC who violates religious tenets or desecrates holy ground may pass the Powers check, but there may yet be divine consequences. Touch of Death has an example of a powerful divine curse for grave robbing from the Akiri: aging one day per year, with lifespan unchanged.
Curses come in all shapes and sizes, from embarrassing to lethal, mildly humorous to eternally torturous. Having ways to inflict or remove curses in unusual ways allows them to be used more creatively, adding depth and drama to your gameplay and explore hidden parts of the world’s mythology. Your players may not actually thank you for cursing their characters, but they should still have a good time fighting against the darkness, and that’s what Ravenloft is all about.
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.
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