By Julian Kuleck

Illustration by Aaron McConnell & Lee Moyer

To conclude the series on curses, we’ll be discussing other ways a PC might become cursed in play . . . or inflict curses of their own.

At No Extra Charge

Magical items are the most common way that heroes encounter a curse. Early F20 games loved to set cursed items as traps to ensnare characters with magic, whereas 13th Age uses them as traps to ensnare players with power. See 13th Age, 13 True Ways, and Loot Harder for specific examples.

But it’s worth pondering what makes a cursed item, whether it’s fault, age, or a troubling self-awareness. With enchanted weapons, maybe centuries of exposure to trauma and violence turns an enchantment into a curse. Smiths forge weapons to harm and kill, and what could be more spiteful than that? For a low-level curse, consider a magic item whose quirk is truly malicious and sometimes hard to resist. Maybe the cursed-quirk will go away as the magic item accepts you as its user. Or maybe it will mutate into something weirder.

Maybe magic items adjust to their users. If you’re taking a magic item from a monster, maybe the item has become monstrous over time.

For the GM looking for ways to generate curses, abandonment could be just as bad as over-use. If magic items are alive, even if they’re not alive as we are, being abandoned for decades could have deleterious effects.

Iconic Wrath

Of the icons, those on the “evil” side of the alignment grid are most often associated with curses in the text, with the Diabolist and Lich King coming up the most often in that context. But those in power often deal out curses in myth regardless of their moral compass, and it’s not hard to imagine even the Great Gold Wyrm cursing a great paladin that betrays their watch, or the Prince of Shadows using a curse to lay a rival low.

But there’s more we can do with icons that mere in-character tales of twisted tongues. The bard’s Balladeer talent (13A pg. 85) introduces the idea of cursed icon dice, which could easily represent an in-game curse, either adding cursed dice to a character’s icon relationships or replacing their dice with cursed dice—perhaps one per icon roll, at least until the character finds a way to purify themselves of bad luck.

If you want to get into the business of cursing icons yourself, look up the bard’s Song of the Iconoclast in Book of Ages (BoA pg. 81). Why would you want to do such a thing? Well, we assume you have your reasons.

So You’ve Got a Curse

We haven’t talked much about curses on heroes in play. And by “curse”, in this context, we don’t mean the ongoing damage coming from a mouthy goblin mystic. We’re talking about curses as a plot twist, the sort that take agency from players. Some players may be fine with that, and some far less so. It’s best to know in advance, and there’s no rule against asking them straight-out. Spoiling a surprise is better than violating trust.

The simplest way around this is to make curse-based plot twists largely about NPCs, preferably ones the characters have become invested in (or who invest in the heroes to solve their problem). Most curses leveled at PCs themselves should be flavorful in nature, or at least short-term, requiring a ritual or an icon’s favor. Of course, if a player really digs the characterization a good (bad?) curse brings, they can choose to embrace it. Just make sure it’s not an undue weight on the rest of the group.

Most curses on PCs are best as narrative story elements rather than in-game penalties. If you do offer penalties, they should be modest, like those for cursed items. Our interest in cursing PCs would be for the story that evolves from such, and the story where a hero became 20% more likely to miss isn’t a particularly interesting one.

Hexing 101

There’s no rule that PCs can’t get into the cursing business. Outside of class spells or a tiefling’s curse of chaos, handle this through the existing ritual rules (13A pg. 192). But depending on the nature of curses you’ve decided upon, curses may run on pure drama as much as magic. What hard-hearted GM could refuse the dying curse of a PC? And it could just be when the stars are right and emotions run high, even ill-considered words could have an impact.

When handling ritual curses by PCs, balance their narrative weight against their efficacy as a solution, as they shouldn’t be a go-to solution for most games. Curses are rarely justifiable as heroic, and often carry an unwanted side effect or troublesome requirement. It’s likely that severe curses, the kind that blind people or cause unreasoning hostility from each passerby, may inflict a curse on the caster themselves. GMs may also want to consider curses the way they consider other personal and profound forms of violence. Casting a powerful curse is an act that seeks severe, premeditated wrong to somebody, and it’s up to you to figure out if that’s appropriate for your table.

+1 Profane Bonus

Sometimes cursed words are just foul instead of fiendish. We’re not going to dig deeply into profanity, but after all these words on ill fates, here’s something fun to think about ill words: what unique or special things do characters and monsters say when they run into unpleasant surprises? What would a dwarf be without some foul phrase about beards? Hell, what does a demon say when things go wrong? They can’t just say “hell!” or “damn!”—what’s a curse to others is normal for a demon.

Some tables don’t appreciate profane cursing. Others thrive on it, and you can apply creativity either way. Your characters’ backgrounds, icons, and class can all contribute! If you’re a bard and you don’t have a colorful phrase when you drop your lute, I want you out of my tavern.

by Julian Kuleck

illustration by Dagmara Matuszak

We focused on demons in the first curse article—cursed and accursed demons. Here, we cover the many other 13th Age and F20 monsters that originated as curses or get much of their oomph delivering curses.

Deathly (Well, Undeathly) Curses

After the Diabolist, the Lich King is the icon most frequently associated with curses. Cursing a foe with a fate worse than death is a long-running fantasy trope, and what fate could be worse than undeath? (A few, but let’s not belabor them.)

Many undead arise from curses, possibly even as a careless curse as one dies. As such, it could be that some undead aren’t entirely destroyed by being reduced to 0-hp—to eliminate a truly cursed undead, you’ve got to resolve the curse that created them.

Start with the zombies of the Silver Rose (13TW pg. 207). Are their curses spoken in service to the Lich King, or are they condemnations of a world that failed them?

To take this idea all the way to the top, consider the Lich King. The One-Eyed King is almost certainly a self-made monster rather than the product of somebody else’s spite, but it could be that while another—like the Emperor—sits on his throne, the Lich King cannot fall, fueled by fated hatred that goes beyond necromantic artifice.

Orcish Objurations

Orcs, goblins, and other followers of the Orc Lord often deal in curses, which could easily be a lesson or secret unearthed by their icon. Or it could be that curses are a primal form of magic born of emotion, not requiring the towers and textbooks that produce many wizards. With that, it also could be part of the training a “book-wizard” goes through is just to steer them away from the easier and more troublesome hexes offered by magic.

Or it could be that curses are the magic of the underdog, and that those who lack power in an age find them easier to cast. This wouldn’t really square with the tales of icons casting curses, but icons break the rules.

The fact that orcs emerge from ruined lands absolutely feels like the ancient curse of an icon.

Curses of the Moon

Werebeasts (13TW pg. 204) spread a deadly, curse-based infection. If the moon is full, an adventurer who takes a nip from a lycanthrope can be infected with lycanthropy. How easily heroes can diagnose lycanthropy before the full moon shines is a matter for GMs to decide. If you’re seeking a more playable version of lycanthropy, the beastblood from Book of Ages (BoA pg. 77) could fulfill that need.

Before lycanthropy was a curse, it’s said to have been a blessing given by the Wolf Druid (BoA pg. 74). Perhaps the Wolf Druid punished those who stole his gift of shapeshifting, creating the infection the Dragon Empire knows today. Alternately, if the Wolf Druid forbid those who took on bestial shape from feeding on humans, one of the Druid’s folk biting down on the Emperor of a past age would certainly have broken that ban. The lesson you could apply more widely is that any blessing, with sufficient corruption via replication, can mutate into a curse.

Curses of the Blood

In fiction, vampires (13A pg. 248) are often the result of an ancient curse. Perhaps they arise from the curse of a god (or blessing of a dark god), a curse cast by the Lich King on his wayward descendants, or maybe they’re an object lesson as to why alchemists don’t include elven blood in their potions anymore. But how would a PC come under the effect of a curse? We suggest making it a slow process, requiring several nights or multiple bites, so that the characters can race against time to keep the curse from taking full effect.

But if you want a playable vampire curse, here’s an option for those who have become creatures of the night:

Bloodkin

+2 Str OR +2 Cha

Since vampires have many interpretations, we’re providing two different racial abilities for bloodkin. Players should choose one for their characters. Draining bite is more suitable to those who like wading into the thick of combat, while hypnotic gaze can be used by any character.

Draining Bite (Racial Power)

Once per battle, after you have hit with a melee attack that staggers a non-mook foe, you may heal using a recovery as a free action. You may substitute your Strength modifier for your Constitution modifier for the purposes of this recovery. This recovery must be rolled; you may not take the average result.

Champion Feat: When you trigger draining bite, the foe staggered becomes dazed until the end of your next turn.

Hypnotic Gaze (Racial Power)

Once per battle, when an enemy misses you with a natural attack roll of 1-5, they may not target you with an attack until the end of their next turn.

Champion Feat: When you trigger hypnotic gaze, you may deal 3 x the enemy’s level in damage to a different enemy engaged with you, as you induce the attacking enemy to strike another. If the enemy that triggers hypnotic gaze has a damaging ranged attack, the target of the damage no longer needs to be engaged with you!

But Vampires Can’t . . . .

As with their more monstrous cousins, it’s suggested that you customize a bloodkin’s weaknesses and requirements to the specific character or campaign. Such limitations should serve as roleplaying flavor and fodder, not as blocks on what the character can do. Maybe bloodkin just find the sun uncomfortable rather than harmful, or can shield themselves with heavy clothing. They could can feed on lifeforce or magic as much as blood, or may choose to feed on animals and monsters. Perhaps garlic tastes like soap rather than repelling them. This might seem lightweight, but is ultimately just a necessity of including vampires in an ensemble cast—having them bound by hard limitations risks too much of the game revolving around their needs.

Haggish Doggerel

The monster most strongly associated with inflicting curses would be the hag (13B pg. 104). After all, the name “hag” also gave us the German hexe. Their ability to cast a death curse is one thing, but just as interesting is their ability to remove other curses. They could be good folk to consult for any curse. . . for certain definitions of “good”, anyway. But what price might a hag ask? Self-serving requests come to mind, but it could be to remove a curse, one must inflict an equal curse. Does a hero choose to live with their affliction, or pass it on, not knowing who might be the next victim?

It could be that a hag is what you eventually become after casting one too many curses. Or they could be victims of the first curse, a lesson they took to heart. The hags aren’t telling, at least without exacting a price just as severe.

The Modern Hag

In my games, hags can be any gender. I also don’t call them “hags”I give them specific names or titles, like Anali the Soulsmith or Ever-Hungry Tvertak.

By Julian Kuleck

illustration by Lee Moyer

In many F20 games, curses are a flavorful inconvenience, temporary problems that can be removed by a single memorized spell. In 13th Age, freeform character creation options and flexible magic provide some mechanical and narrative space that can spin curses into blessings!

In the big picture, curses have begun and ended ages, spawned monsters, and shaken the Dragon Empire to its core. While keeping those momentous occasions in mind, this series of articles will focus on the smaller picture, embracing the rich heritage of supernatural curses as fun options for player characters and GMs.

One Unique Curse

Curses are often singular, which makes them perfect candidates for a player character’s One Unique Thing. Mythology is rich with colorful curses you can adapt to your character, along with the adventure-driving hook of one day escaping from the curse. But that’s not the only reaction a character can have to be cursed. Some characters might accept a curse as a form of penance, or even take on a curse voluntarily. A character who is blithely unconcerned about a curse that freaks out the rest of the adventuring party can be a roleplaying treasure!

Some players might view taking a curse as their unique as a hassle, but that’s not necessarily so. Even a drawback can become a boon. While a curse that grants power at a cost is classic, you can also consider what advantages might come of a purely-unfortunate curse. Having a curse to always speak the truth is a definite limitation, but it also means those aware of your curse can’t easily question your sincerity.

[[Editor’s note: For another example,  a character in one of my current 13th Age games was cursed by his enchantress ex-wife to have inanimate objects talk with him at inopportune times. It’s not only great comedy that everyone can chime in on, it’s also a potentially useful GM tool when I want to convey almost-helpful information as sarcastically as possible. –Rob H]]

But curses needn’t center on a character. It could be the hero’s unique is the result of a curse on somebody else. For example, a curse laid on an oppressive ruler might return an ancient hero to the world. Or perhaps the character is the only one immune from a curse laid on a community or locale. The character could be only one who can cast or inflict a specific hex!

If you want to get more ambitious, maybe it’s a shared curse that holds your motley party together in the first place!

Damn You From Hell!

Where do curses come from? In 13th Age, they’re often associated with demons and devils. Many demons have abilities that invoke the curse word, like an imp’s curse aura (13A pg. 210) or the nalfeshnee’s abyssal curse (13A pg. 214). And “accursed” is a common term thrown around in regards to hellholes. Do infernal beings have an (un?)natural ability to inflict curses, or does their spite just give them a gift for it?

What if demons were the ultimate source of all curses? What if all curses are summonings, bringing forth demonic spirits that attach to and bedevil the afflicted person. With that, a hellhole could be a form of curse itself, which would match the incidental curses that tend to arise in proximity to them. Could a sufficiently cursed person become a walking hellhole? One would hope not, but maybe that’s what made the current Diabolist what she is today. There certainly are enough reasons for others to curse her . . . .

Ancestral Sins

On the player side of the infernal coin, tieflings have access to the freeform ability curse of chaos. Causing trouble for others literally runs in their blood. But it’s worth thinking about how intentional this ability is (though the player is always in charge of the ability’s use). Is it something the tiefling can use instinctively? Is it triggered by their emotions? Or is it a trick passed down through demonblooded communities, learned long ago from abyssal lessons?

A lot of those answers will have to do with how you handle the infernal in your campaign and tieflings’ relationship to it. Either way, it’s a potent weapon. It could be that the combination of free-willed spite and accursed ancestors is an evolving brew that makes tieflings potentially greater than their forebears when it comes to hexes.

Hexperts

Book of Demons introduced the demonologist, and after the above, it should be no surprise that they’re the most curse-intensive class in the game. But because the demonologist emerged after 13th Age’s other classes, only the bard’s jack of spells talent (13A pg. 86) gets access to their toolbox.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s an alternative heritage talent for the sorcerer which could be adapted to other classes as you like. As you can see, this is another heritage talent related to the Diabolist. It’s meant to be an alternate talent for Infernal Heritage, the sorcerer talent on page 138 of the core rulebook that’s associated with the Diabolist. If you really want to play up your diabolic heritage and take two talents that are associated with the Diabolist, there’s nothing really stopping you except the sideways glances of your fellow adventurers.

Accursed Heritage (Diabolist)

Your existence offends fortune itself. This has its uses.

You can use one of your sorcerer spell choices to choose any demonologist curse spell, using the guidelines for curse spells contained under the demonologist class features (Book of Demons, pg. 9). When you cast such spells, you do so as if you were an initiate demonologist.

In addition, you may spend a quick action to come up with a curse spoken loudly and clearly. When the curse triggers, the target suffers a minor thematic effect in line with the curse proclaimed, as with the wizard talent Vance’s polysyllabic verbalizations (13A pg. 149) or the tiefling’s curse of chaos (13A pg. 72). Such effects should add flavor to the curse, not just exacerbate it.

Adventurer Feat: If you roll a 1 or 2 when casting a curse spell, it automatically recharges at the end of battle. Make sure to curse your luck.

Champion Feat: You no longer need to expend an extra quick action to perform a verbal curse.

Epic Feat: Once per battle when casting a curse spell, you may make its recharge roll immediately instead of at the end of battle.


13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.