Magical Mondays: Curse of the Vampire, and Other Horrible Fates   Leave a comment

It’s been a busy week, and in spite of creating this post three days in advance I still forgot to get it published on time!  My apologies, folks!

Believe it or not, this is a Magical Mondays post that has very little to do with potions.  Instead, I thought I’d focus on something else: curses.  Few elements of fantasy literature are more well known (and feared) than a curse.  It can be laid upon a foolish person who insulted someone who seemed harmless enough, or a treasure hunter who broke into a tomb that was protected by an evil spirit that planned to accompany its stolen riches back to civilized lands.  Curses come in many forms and can fall under a variety of effects.

If we’re going to look at d20 gaming like Pathfinder or D&D, defining a curse becomes a tricky business.  The Pathfinder SRD, for instance, doesn’t have a “curse” spell.  Instead, it has “Bestow Curse”, a spell that implies the fact that curses are things that lie outside of regular spells and spell-like abilities.  The description of Pathfinder’s “Bestow Curse” spell is open ended, suggesting some possible curses, but also encouraging players and GMs to come up with other curses that fall “in line” with what they’ve suggested.

This open ended nature hints at the true nature of curses in gaming: they shouldn’t be defined by spell effects, and should instead contribute to the flow of a game’s story.  The school of Necromancy is given, but reading a number of examples of curses in stories like these suggest that they could be Necromancy, Divinaton, Enchantment, Transmutation, or possibly any other school.  (Once again, Necromancy indicates that it is cobbled together from the leftover bits and pieces of other schools.)  Bestow Curse, as a spell, winds up being effective for almost any player who can cast it, but ultimately does more good in the hands of the GM.

This is especially true when you consider the life of a curse on a PC as compared to the life of a curse on an NPC.  If a player casts Bestow Curse at a monster, then that monster will have an ability score reduced or its capabilities seriously impeded for… three rounds?  Five?  Ten at the most?  Unless it’s a truly epic fight, most monsters and villainous NPCs don’t last very long since the players will usually defeat an enemy easily (especially if their enemy is cursed).  Against a PC, though, the duration of Bestow Curse is permanent until something removes the curse.  Curses are like poisons: more dangerous against players than against monsters.

With this in mind, what if we decided to treat Curses like story elements instead of mechanics?  What if a curse was a strand of fate that wound itself around players and the world, bringing things together?  If a player was cursed to “Lose her hat twice before seeing it burn”, that might not be scary in and of itself, but a player might find it odd if there didn’t seem to be any event capable of dispelling this strange twist of inevitable fate.  Along those lines, a curse becomes more like a Divination effect, where the caster throws an anchor into a certain future, and the rest of the time stream begins flowing toward that anchor.  To reflect this, many types of Curse are treated almost like a disease in Pathfinder’s updated rules, having an ongoing duration for most effects.

An effect like this as a curse might be more effective in a horror game like Chill or World Of Darkness where the emphasis of the game is on survival instead of victorious combat.  It wouldn’t be out of place for a game like D&D, though, if a proper spin was given to it.  Here’s a curse designed for Pathfinder, inspired by (of all things) Sam & Max Season 3 (better known as Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse).


Curse of the Vampire
School necromancy [curse]; Level cleric 4, sorcerer/wizard 5, witch 4

Casting Time
1 standard action
Components V, S

Range Touch
Target Creature Touched
Duration Permanent Until Discharged (see text)
Saving Throw Will Negates; Spell Resistance Yes

When afflicted with this spell, the target will become a veritable magnet for vampires.  1d4 times a week, a vampire will just happen to be in the vicinity of the target, and will attempt to attack the target.  The vampire will attack the target with a strong preference for using its Blood Drain attack, attempting to convert the target through its Create Spawn ability.  Allies of the target will not necessarily be targeted in this way if the vampire deems it prudent.  The vampire will act in a manner appropriate to its wisdom and intelligence (which is to say, a vampire with only 8 intelligence might brashly rush into battle as soon as it encounters the target, though a vampire with 14 intelligence might take its time and attempt to lure the target away from the rest of its allies.)
The vampire will be of any sort that the GM selects, though always with a CR at least equal to the target’s ECL (or a minimum of CR 3, whichever is higher).  The person who places this curse upon an individual may choose to set a condition upon which the curse will be lifted (“The curse will be lifted only when you return that which you stole from me”, or “The curse will be lifted only when you apologize for what you did to us” or some other similar condition) though this is not necessary.  Similarly, the one who cast the curse may voluntarily choose to lift the curse.  Apart from this, the curse will only end through a fashion similar to those that would end a typical Bestow Curse spell, or through the death of the target.  If the target dies due to something other than a vampire draining its blood, followed by it coming back to life, then the Curse of the Vampire once again comes to it, as if cast under the original conditions.


I’m not sure about the level of the spell.  Ultimately, this is a spell meant for GMs and not for players, though a player focused on this kind of thing shouldn’t be denied it.  If this spell were to show up in my campaign settings, I’d almost certainly put the [evil] descriptor on it, though in lots of old stories there are people who put curses onto protagonists without them necessarily being portrayed as evil (though there are also times when non-evil characters can cast evil spells, so make of that what you will.

I made the spell one level higher than your traditional Bestow Curse spell.  However, I think that the spell can be a good model for other curses that work at the same level as Bestow Curse.  Bestow Curse could do the same thing and make a person be targeted by a swarm of flies (use the stats for a swarm of locusts) once every 1d4 days for 1d12 minutes.  Or, alternatively, go the 1d4 times a week thing and make it a “devil dog” that uses the stats of a Fiendish Wolf.  For a truly terrifying experience, you could make the creature hunting the player just be a generic, mundane warrior.  But even though it dies when the player fights it, it still shows up again, right on cue, with only the haziest of memories of the previous time that it died.

Naturally, I don’t think that *all* new curses should wind up with a horrible monster suddenly hunting somebody, but I think it’s a nice twist on a familiar pattern.  Tune in next time for yet another Magical Monday!


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