Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Variants - Curses!

One of the interesting things about the OD&D magic system is that it takes all sorts of different practices and subsumes them under Vancian Magic. Because of this we are asked to make choices about the sort of spells we want to use (in a bog-standard campaign) and if curse is the same spell list as a fireball, which would you pick?

The lesson in this, I believe, is not to have fireball or curse on the list. When you decide to make changes to things like spells lists,  many of the seemingly problematic elements of D&D cease to be an issue. You note in my previous variant on Vancian magic, there weren't any spells that affected more than one creature. This is deliberate. Of the following two images, which is more emblematic of sword and sorcery literature; a wizard casting a fireball that destroys many foes while the warrior guards the mage? Or a warrior slashing his way through a horde of foes, while the alchemist/shaman/sage prepares the ritual which will force the great old one back to the void from whence it came?

Hence curses. They become all the more interesting and useful if we divorce them from the Vancian model of Fire & Forget and treat them as a power that is usable whenever the caster chooses. Or, at least as much 1/day per level or hit dice.

Here are my standard three curses that I use when the party fights humanoids that have Shamans/Witch Doctors among them:

Curse of Weakness
Effect: Character may defend himself, but not attack. Treat strength as three for all other purposes. 

Curse of Cowardice
Effect: Character drops his weapons, and collapses in abject fear. 

Curse of Darkness
Effect: Character is blind (+4 Attack bonus to hit the blinded PC, and the PC may not attack).

For curses, always allow the curse to work and last a single round before calling for a saving throw. This is the character ‘throwing off’ the curse. In the event of a failed saving throw, continue to allow a save every round until the curse is thrown off. Curses of 3rd level and above may limit the number of save attempts before the curse becomes permanent.

Since these curses  are in the unintelligible goblin/orc/gnoll tongues, they can’t be learnt by a PC.  (Hint, at the start of your campaign don’t let the player learn any of the dark tongues.) If they do try to learn such magics, require them to undergo awful experiences to do so, far greater than the utility of the magic provides. The dark side has its price, you know.

As for players, curses should be available, but slightly more varied in power. Here are some PC curses from my campaign, along with spell level equivalents.

“Bright-coiffed Hekate, turn your triple-gaze upon mine enemies!”
Level: 1
Effect: Curses a single enemy with a -2 to attack. May cause a morale check, and 1s in Attack rolls result in self-injury.

“May all the demons in Hell damn your soul!”
Level: 2
Effect: The curse victim dies automatically at 0 hit points, and may not be resurrected. (Note: nasty villains will wait until you are nearly dead before casting this spell.)

“By Janus, let your weapon be turned against you!”
Level: 2
Effect: Any failed attack roll causes the victim to make a second attack roll, against himself.

Curses are like Invocations in that you can know any amount of curses, you can learn them from other players, NPCs or written sources, and you are limited to amount per day equal to your level. Curses always affect others, and always affect the target in a negative manner. You player is always required to role play and recite the words of the curse.

One thing I neglected to address is my earlier post on invocations is how expect these rules to affect play. Well, I hope to improve role playing by encouraging players to yell out these really flavorful utterances. I want to make magic users more flexible and interesting (by letting them access invocations and curses that affect magic-users only, or giving them access, through grimoires, to little known or powerful curses and invocations), while not overshadowing other classes. 

So far, play testing has turned out well. But the mage in my group just broke 2nd level, so time will tell how this works out at higher levels. 

Next: Quests and Milestones; or, how to have feats without breaking your game.

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