Last game session my character dodged a bullet in the form of a curse. A very cool curse.
My character is a cleric of Rosartia, a deity described in the outstanding free book Petty Gods (an OSR resource worthy of its own post). Rosartia is the goddess of finding and hiding magical items, keeping them safe until they are needed.
If ever there was a suitable patron deity for adventurers…
Not long ago our party said, “screw level appropriate encounters!” and signed on to clear several wyverns out of an abandoned fortress. The keep turned out to be haunted, with an interesting history that emerged through exploration (an OSR trait worthy of its own post). There were losses among PCs and followers but in the end we cleared the wyverns, lifted the curse, and made off with a tidy bit of treasure. This included a frost brand sword that my cleric recovered from the undead lord of the castle.
The sword was a particularly good one, doing an extra 1d6 damage on every hit. That should have been my first clue that it was more dangerous than it seemed. Power never comes without a price and that’s a hefty amount of power. Yet I was oblivious and made good use of the blade. I relied on it heavily during one adventure in particular where, upon stopping the attempt by three evil cults to form a new dark pantheon, a saint appeared to my character and blessed the sword, removing its curse.
At which point I said, “curse?”
The DM then revealed the blade’s curse and the trigger that would have enacted it. The curse itself is wonderfully horrible, but the trigger was what sold it as particularly creepy.
The curse was tied to the haunting of the castle and the tale of cannibalism that formed its history. If the curse had been triggered, as described by my DM;
“That night, you would have dreams of killing children. You wouldn’t find these dreams unpleasant at the time of dreaming, so it wouldn’t interfere with your rest or ability to recover hit points through rest. However upon waking, the PC would be allowed to role play their own reaction to the dreams.
After that night, the PCs had a week to either kill a child with the sword or have Remove Curse cast upon them before things got worse.During the second week, the PC would require twice as much food to avoid the effects of starvation. During the third week, the player would require three times the amount of food to avoid the effects of starvation. And the amount of food would also keep increasing.”
The trigger was the second wonderfully horrible thing about the sword.
“To activate the curse, you had to roll a 16 during an attack roll.”
In other words I was playing Russian Roulette and I didn’t realize it. This is what sent a chill up my spine, even though the curse had been banished from the sword. It’s the nervousness you get when you realize something Very Bad just missed you, that sinking feeling when something you trusted turns out to have been ready to drop you into the void. In that moment I wasn’t thinking about how the curse had been lifted, I was wracking my brains to remember all the die rolls I’d made since finding the sword. I was acutely aware of several 17’s I had rolled in that game session.
It didn’t matter that I was now safe. My imagination was captured by what might have been and even in escape it had left its mark. My cleric will still pick up any magic item he can get his hands on, but there will always be a hint of trepidation involved. Is this item all it appears to be? Or is it a ticking time bomb.
That’s the brilliance of this curse.
What if I’d discovered the curse ahead of time? Would I have stopped using the sword or would I have risked the curse? Magical weapons are rare in our game. A magic weapon that does another 1d6 damage is powerful. Powerful enough to change the course of a fight and we have faced desperate odds on many occasions. Add to that the divine mandate from my deity to recover and safeguard powerful magic items, and there is little chance that I would have discarded the weapon. At best it would have sat in its scabbard, slung over my back while I used another weapon.