How to handle curses and cursed objects


In every respectable role-playing game, especially if it's of the fantasy genre, sooner or later the group of adventurers will encounter a curse. Whether it's because of an object chained to a dark altar, smeared with pitch-black runes, hastily picked up by the character of the moment, or because of an enemy cursing "dishonor on you, your house, your cow," it doesn't matter.

We know, many consider curses to be real "game killers," but with the right approach, they can make the group laugh without being unpleasant. Various GMs often rack their brains to create the most suitable object for their needs... But it happens that the chosen curse is too harsh, and the player can no longer enjoy playing their character because they are constrained in every way. Or even worse, that its effect is too situational, and the player doesn't feel at all that their character is cursed.

Although the web is full of interesting finds and noteworthy "homebrew" objects, we want to offer our opinion, trying to make some premises that you should keep in mind before preparing your next adventure.

Cursed objects, in addition to disadvantages, must grant some bonuses. Yes, it may seem contradictory, but we believe that curses, besides making life difficult for the poor unfortunate on whom they are imposed, can grant small advantages that, to some extent, balance the situation. Certainly, the negative factors must outweigh the positive ones, but not all bad comes to harm. Let's give a couple of examples from our game manual, Alba Nova:

Curse of Petrification: whenever the cursed character performs a certain action, rarely verifiable, a portion of their body hardens, becoming much more resistant but losing much of its mobility. The action that triggers the effect is chosen by the creator of the curse and some examples can be: "stealing from someone," "killing an innocent," "insulting a deity," and so on... If such actions were performed 10 times before the curse is removed by "curse removal - person" of equal or higher level, "ritual magic - curse healing" of equal or higher level, or by a divine miracle, the afflicted will turn into a stone statue identical in appearance to themselves and their status will be considered "petrified," losing all ability to move and communicate, even telepathically. Upon reaching 10 actions performed, the status can be annulled within 1 month via the abilities listed above.

Each time the cursed person performs the action that triggers the petrifying effect, they gain +1 armor point but suffer a penalty of -1 in agility. After repeating this action 5 times, they will no longer be able to run and their movement ability will be halved, but they will be immune to situational effects like the "ignite" penalty and will gain a +2 in poison resistance checks. If the action is repeated 8 times, they will no longer be able to grasp objects or unequip/drop what they are holding while the curse effect is triggered.

As you can see in this example, in addition to the multiple penalties from the petrifying effect, there is also a series of considerable advantages... And let's be honest, who wouldn't be amused to see a thief moving through a crowd like Robocop.

This curse, in addition to constantly reminding the character that they cannot perform a certain action, can be contained/removed over time, without creating a situation that is too anxious or hasty, and in certain situations, can create hilarity.

Funny CursesNot all curses are a complete disaster... We shouldn't generalize and reduce these types of magic to merely deadly traps with a 50% chance of killing one or more characters. There are also whimsical, humorous, or situational curses meant to teach a lesson to those who don't behave as they should. They can last for a limited period or be a strong motivation to help a party member, proceed on a quest, and so on. Here are some examples, again from our manual:
Curse of Bulky Objects: This curse is tied to an indestructible accessory (such as a ring or bracelet) that, once worn, binds to the wearer with no possibility of removal except through "curse removal - person," "Ritual Magic - remove curse" of a level equal to or higher than the one who enchanted it.
Once active, it prevents the owner from wearing and using a certain type of object, armor, or weapon because, when they try to lift it, it will seem extremely heavy (weight equal to maximum fatigue). Being unable to equip certain types of objects results in situational penalties such as: reduced defense if it's a piece of armor (with a penalty from -1 to -5 depending on the unequippable piece); difficulty moving on particular terrains like snow, mud, ice, or boiling sand if shoes can't be worn; inability to read and a -3 penalty in perception if the character needs glasses and loses the ability to use them, and so on.
This curse can also have the opposite effect: the accessory's owner will no longer be able to unequip (for example) the first object they grab, without altering its weight, however. The effect can be permanent or last for a limited period, at the curse creator's discretion.
In this last example, imagine a barbarian who, after grabbing a soup ladle, can't let go of it. They would find themselves with one hand occupied to make room for the perfect tool for devouring a delicious soup!
In short, to sum up, before casting deadly curses on your players, it's always good to think about the "fun" side of role-playing and laugh about it. The advice we feel to give should not be generalized and, just like funny curses, truly harmful ones can exist. The important thing, in any case (and we always remind), is to have fun together.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
Happy adventuring, may the D20 be kind!