By Julian Kay
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 . . . .
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.
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.