Monday, March 1, 2004

Curses for the Gramarye

By Tony Spallino (aspallino @ nc . rr . com)
Since February had a Friday the 13th in it, it seemed appropriate to include an article about magical curses. Note: This article uses the Gramarye magic system designed by Carl Cravens for its sample spells. These spells can be easily adapted to another magic system of your choice.

Curses can be used in a variety of games, but the more traditional types are found in fantasy games. Some curses can have a humorous style to them while others can be downright deadly. Who's casting these devastating spells? Typically angry or evil wizards or witches. They may cast these to take revenge on a particular person, especially if this person has somehow wronged the magician. The witch may have been hired by someone to cast the curse on this fellow's rival.

How are they casting them? These spells have high mana requirements! Curses just can't be cast cheaply. Aside from suggested props, the use of a ritual is strongly encouraged. The magician must be willing to invest some serious time in order to cast these curses. It's an extremely difficult task to alter a victim's situation on such a drastic level. A simple ritual will add +1 to a mage's mana bonus, so the mage will benefit from more elaborate rituals to be able to cast these. [Editor's note: Recall that the ritual bonus is for prepararing the caster's mind and body to cast the spell and comes before casting of the spell itself. I recommend a maximum bonus of +3 mana for the most involved rituals, such as spending three days meditating in a sweat lodge without food to open the caster's mind to the spirit world, or whatever is appropriate to your game world.]

How can the curse be broken? In a typical fantasy style game, there could be a spell such as Remove Curse (Break Magic) that would erase the curse. For game purposes, there may have to be a condition such as only the wizard who cast the spell may dispel it. Other wizards would need to find other methods.
There are some great roleplay possibilities here. A whole evening's adventure could center around the breaking of a PC's curse. Perhaps they need to travel to a dangerous area and gather a particular herb. Literature is filled with stories where the character must accomplish a particular task in order to break the curse. They may also need someone's help to accomplish this. An attribute such as Willpower could be used to allow the character to break the curse. This could be done at certain times, such as once a day or during a strenuous task.

Let's examine some of these curses.

(Rules Note: For our purposes, a 1-year duration, costing +20 mana, is considered "permanent".)

Bad Luck Curse

Control Spirit, Great effect (+9), one target (0), short range (+1), 1 month duration (+8). Total mana = 18

This curse will cause the character to suffer a -1 to -2 (at most) to any critical Fudge die rolls. The penalty will only occur during an important skill roll. This curse could possibly affect an Ability roll such as Dexterity, if necessary. The player will also notice smaller bad things happening to them, such as a ripped shirt more often than usual, the barkeep "accidentally" spilling a drink on them, and other roleplay possibilities. This could work especially well if the player doesn't know he's been cursed yet.
Possible props:
  • Collected hair and fingernails of the victim - this gives a kind of voodoo feel to the spell (-6)
  • Using a symbol of bad luck when casting the spell (-1)
Note: The use of Spirit assumes that luck is a spiritual quality that can be somewhat controlled through magic. If the use of Spirit in this way doesn't fit your campaign, please feel free to change this. Perhaps a Luck Realm would fit better in your campaign? Other possibilities could include the Realms of Mind, Body, and Magic. These could have rationales as follows:
  • Control Mind - The victim has bad luck because their mind does things subconsciously that does them harm.
  • Control Body - The victim has bad luck through unconscious movements of their own body.
  • Control Magic - Luck could be a magical quality that can be manipulated.
These other choices will depend greatly on your personal worldview.

Dancing Curse

Control Body, Great effect (+13), one target (0), long range (+2) 5 hour duration (+5). Total mana = 20

This curse will cause the target to start dancing and they will be unable to stop. At first, it will be more embarrassing than anything else, but it will then become tiring. Since the victim cannot stop, he will start to hurt from this constant strain on his legs and body. After a half an hour of this, one point of damage is taken. Each half an hour after this, another point of damage is taken until the victim reaches Incapacitated and collapses from exhaustion. He will stop dancing, but his feet will continue to twitch. Whether the curse starts up after he awakens or not is up to the referee.
Possible props:
  • A shoe belonging to the victim (-6)
  • Playing a silver whistle or flute during the casting of the spell (-3)

Shapeshifting Curse

Transform Body, Great effect (+11), one person (0), extreme range (+4) permanent duration until condition is met (+20). Total mana = 35

This is one of the classic curses of literature. It will cause the victim to change shape into an animal of some sort. The animal should be something relatively small and harmless, such as a frog or mouse. With an increase in effect, the victim could also be transformed into something original but bestial. The victim will still have his normal intelligence, but will be unable to speak. He will be limited to the senses and abilities of the animal he is now changed into.
Traditionally, these sorts of curses require some sort of condition for them to be broken. Victims could spend years in their new form trying to get someone to break it for them. A kiss from a princess, true love, or finding a magical object are possible conditions for breaking the curse.
Note: This curse would normally qualify for Good effect, but since it's such a massive transformation, Great effect seems more appropriate. Carl has noted that the Transform samples are under-valued and that Transform should not be permanent. Both are changed in the revised Gramarye rules he is currently writing.
Possible props:
  • A small totem resembling the animal (-1)
  • The same totem carved from a precious stone or cast in precious metal (-3)
  • A living animal that the victim will turn into, which must be sacrificed when casting the spell (-3)
  • Casting the spell in the environment of the animal desired, such as a cave or swamp (-1)

Sleeping Curse

Control Body, Great effect (+12), one person (0), long range (+2) permanent duration (+20). Total mana = 34

This curse will cause the target to fall into a deep sleep and not awaken until a certain condition is met (the kiss of a Prince?). The target will not age while they sleep, so it's a kind of suspended animation. The person could conceivably be sleeping for years! Again, I have used a permanent duration in the spell. This will keep it more in line with the classic literature.
Possible props:
  • A pillow or other sleeping item belonging to the victim (-5)
  • The sacrifice of an animal that hibernates, such as a bear (-3)
  • A golden "sleep mask" designed to be placed over the victim's face (-4)
There you have it, a variety of curses to make your players remember Friday the 13th! They are very expensive spells, but if your wizard can cast these successfully, they will certainly never be forgotten.