By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Rite Publishing is 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 31 pages of content – quite a bunch, so let’s check this out!
I hate curses in Pathfinder, at least the standard ones. Why? Because they SUCK. I come from the Ravenloft-camp, where curses have MASSIVE consequences, are next to impossible to break and fit the crime, not just impose some debuff on your player. They are what the gypsy that is lynched by the xenophobic inquisitor shouts at the top of her lungs at the torch-wielding mob as the pyre’s flames engulf her. They are a mother’s solemn cry for vengeance after having see her children slaughtered in a pogrom. They are the essence of love betrayed, of divine taboos broken, of suffering worse than death, of a chance for redemption – and NOT just some lame spell that can easily be removed by moderately capable clerics. PFRPG handles curses slightly better than 3.X, but imho not by much – as part of the core-rules, they still suck and got the shortest end of the affliction-stick.
Curses, to me, also should have either the component of malevolence or karmic justice – with poetic justice and hereditary sins making for EXCELLENT PC-motivations to go out adventuring. In my current campaign, we have a Godefroy-telepath. For those not familiar with the setting: Godefroys are a stinking rich family cursed with the ability to see ghosts and in danger of becoming one themselves upon death, damning them to an eternity of unlife. This character joined the church to escape the fate of eternal damnation, while using his gifts – his pisonic powers being explained as manifestations of the remains of souls e.g. throwing foes around, spirits that died in fire making up his elemental blasts, spectral hands carrying him when he’s flying etc. The character’s whole development is about coming to grips with his curse (or gift, as the family calls it) and his divided loyalties. THAT is what curses CAN be. Not just penalties, but motors of plot-, campaign- and character-development.
“But wait”, you say. “I have Rite’s 1001 Spells and there are better curse-spells in there.” You would be correct, but for me, that still doesn’t go far enough. Back to the file after this tangent: What are Legendary Curses? They are not balanced. They are not fair. Their DCs are ridiculously high. And they, for once, DESERVE to be called CURSE. The curses herein are not just penalties or deadly, they are versatile to the extreme: The first one, “Accomplishment’s Malediction” being a good example for one of the less high-concept curses herein – This curse, appropriate for e.g. grave-robbers or blasphemers/enemies of the hells prevents the bonus gained from any feat.
Yes. Any feat. It is here I’d like to comment on one component of these curses – they are not easily broken, but all come with a background (that can be used for an adventure in and of itself or just remain lore – knowledge DCs, rules for creating legendary curses etc. are btw. also provided in the pdf) and, also importantly, with a CURE. This cure, much like curses in literature, allowing for relatively easy breaking of what otherwise would be deity-level curses with a +20 bonus to the check. Reflecting concepts like “only those pure of heart”, “only the scions of bloodline xyz”, “only the seventh son of a seventh son” etc. add a layer of depth and uniqueness to the respective curses and also serve to make removing them well within the capabilities of adventurers – if they chose to embark on adventures/actions that allow them to do so. Thus we have an adventure-motor, flair and more rolled up in one neat bundle.
But, granted, the sample curse I chose ranks among the less exciting ones herein: “Accursed Settlement” for example, curses a whole town to go berserk killers each sundown, resurrecting on the following day until the dark secret, being a lynching or some other buried secret that lies on the collective consciousness of the complicit townsfolk has been revealed. Any DM can make an adventure from this, where the kind, neat settlement suddenly turns all ugly – now it’s up to th players to find out why – and live to see another day! Or take a curse that lets you lose any valuables, let’s you drop weapons that could be used as weapons. Or take a curse that slowly kills you for the sin of slaying dragons and also transforms the cursed into a colossal avatar of draconic power, essentially making him/her into a disaster-level force of destruction. There is also a curse that lets a dark personality, a kind of Mr. Hyde-like being emerge from your psyche and take control for short intervals (1 round per HD) on failed saves, while another has you transformed into swarms of vermin, marks you as an escaped sacrifice of a dark ceremony or turn everyone against the party.
Or what about Auberyon’s Curse that disfigures those hit by slashing or piercing weapons with disfiguring scars to show clearly the character as one who lashed out versus the hopeless and helpless. On the relatively mild side of curses, uttering a ruler’s name sans permission may inflict you with a relatively easily redeemable weakness that shows itself as you being susceptible to massive damage death when hit, incurring a penalty on fort-saves and objects breaking. From curses prohibiting evasion, rage powers etc. to polymorphs into all kinds of shapes and forms, a curse that attracts unwanted lovers that do destructive and obsessive things to have the curse’s recipient all for themselves and one that transforms any alcohol near the character into clean water – the variety is interesting indeed. Oh, and just think what the dwarves will say if their kegs now contain only water? How the character will be run out of any tavern? Or what about a curse that kills any creature a character becomes romantically attached to? Exile from one’s home-soil? Inability to perceive a creature type or to hide from it? Being unable to heal critical hit damage? Expanding the critical failure range to 1-5? A curse that erases a whole town from collective memory? Eating a harm-spell every time you defeat a foe, resulting in all your victories being pyrrhic victories?
Other curses sicken you every time you are healed via positive energy, regressing to a savage Int 2-state, suffering from colonial hubris etc. Some curses may even seem like boons at first, like the “Plague of Good Fortune” which lets you roll 2 d20 whenever you or your actions might be mistaken and take the better result. One day, though, all the accumulated benefits come crashing down: Hard. Speaking of hard: There’s also a curse that prevents any healing but natural one.Also rather evil: Every time you suffer damage, you turn to FRAGILE glass for one round when suffering from “Shattering Sacrilege”: Worse for you: Upon shattering, you do not die, but can be put back together – now where did that piece of the face go again? Among the more disturbing curses, there’s is a curse uttered by slaves that may take the eyes, nose, mouth and ears of a creature away – disturbing (and if no-one can cut a breathing hole, also potentially deadly!) and another one creates two duplicates of the character, one’s alignment being in complete opposition, while the other’s is one step away on each axis of alignment – Great storytelling mechanic – what if the kind paladin is in truth just a curse-created duplicate of a neutral man with a troubled past? I love conundrums like this!
Or what if the character gets a terrible, wis-damaging beauty, Helen-of-troy-style that may incite even wars? There is yet another curse that erases knowledge about the existence of a group from all but them, alienating them from everyone, one that prevents you from lying, forces you to spend all time counting your wealth and even become incapable of dealing ANY kind of damage.
The pdf also features a feat to allow players to pronounce legendary curses (though still, of course, subject to DM-approal) with her/his curse-spells.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RiP’S 2-column full-color standard and the artworks are stock, but fitting to the theme. The pdf is bookmarked by alphabetical order and can be considered relatively printer-friendly.
Steven D. Russell has spent more than 3 months creating these legendary curses and it shows – once in a while, the 101-series provides us with an installment that is innovative, extremely usable and could spark whole modules. I’m happy to report, that at least for me, 101 Legendary Curses falls in line with the best of installments of the series – by succeeding in making curses a) matter mechanically, b) matter in the flow of a narrative and c) spawn ideas and options galore. Now if there would be anything to nitpick, then it would be that there are quite a few curses that transform the recipient, slightly more than I would have liked. It should also be noted that DMs should take care of not spamming these left and right, but if handled with proper foresight and care, these can rock hard and change your gaming experience for the better.
The fact that each curse comes with a short utterance (often in poem-form: Great callback, since in Ravenloft, rhyming curses had a higher chance to succeed) that evokes the curse (and often hints at the way with which to lift it!) is only the icing on a cake that is great and which I hope will be expanded in future publications – whether by Rite Publishing or some other company. Finally, lifting curses is not necessarily just a trip to the local clergy away and closer to the mythological realms from which we know them.
If you always felt that curses are lacking and fall short of what they were supposed to be, then this pdf is a godsend for you and if you don’t -there still are MANY great ideas for adventures contained in these curses, so even as a form of inspiration, this should provide ample fodder. Better yet, the majority of the curses, while hampering, crippling even, don’t take control away from the player, which makes these options that can be used sans excluding afflicted character. This is not true for all of them, but I can see turning into a venomous, large scorpion when trying to cheat others as a great roleplaying opportunity – whether for PCs or NPCs. My final verdict will thus clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
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