by Julian Kay
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.
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:
+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.
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.