Mining Tropes for RPG nuggets: The Blessed Cursed.

Image Source: WotC’s Ravenloft baby!

This is part of a continuing series of articles that tackles the concepts of tropes and how they can be applied by a DM/GM to improve their favorite Role-Playing game adventures. It is heavily inspired by the sheer goodness of the TV Tropes Wiki.

This afternoon, while Gtalking with PM, my new Troper partner-in-crime, he proposed an interesting one for the series. While it didn’t strike me like an easily RPG-adaptable trope at first, inspiration struck me shortly afterwards.

With no further ado, I give you:

Cursed with Awesome (I love the trope’s name)
A character has some “terrible” curse placed on him that is actually pretty awesome. Often, such characters will bemoan their fate and go to great lengths to be rid of the “curse” instead of taking advantage of whatever cool side effects the curse may have. Other times it’s the “reward” for Heroic Willpower. Sometimes there’s a subset of people who try to tell him this.

The most classic RPG application of this trope is immortality. I mean you can’t die! What’s not to love about that? A very simple application (and possibly hilarious) is to make a more-annoying-than-evil NPC truly un-killable. Oh, he drops ‘dead ‘ in a fight all right, but his body disappears, Michael Myers style, and he keeps coming back at a later time.

No matter how badly the characters treat the remains, he comes back, possibly slightly less fresh from one encounter to the next. Dealing with the cause of the curse can become a secondary focus to the campaign.

Aside: Actually, I seem to recall a reader’s comment about this exact example… I just can’t find it anymore (sorry, I’ll link if I do).

Alternatively, if you are of the Evil DM persuasion, maybe the curse is transmissible like a blood-borne or airborne disease. An Immortality Plague then starts to spread in the lands. That’s initially a great thing, until the local evil overlord realize that such a plague translates into zero-maintenance infantry units…

Then the problem can becomes the campaign’s main issue.

For special-extra-crunchy-bonus-evil-DM points, have the PCs ‘catch’ the immortality bug when they finally get the nerve to open the Chest made of Pure light. Let them enjoy the curse in the next few sessions. Poison them, expose them to the worst diseases known to humanoids and have a few dragons drop by and comment on the barbarian’s Dragon Hide armour. Always with no lasting effects on the players… Then have the ‘plague’ start to spread with all kinds of repercussions on your game world.

That’s Epic baby!

Aside the second: The Night’s dawn trilogy is an insanely good Sci-Fi literature application of this trope.

Other ideas for such curses:

The Hellbred race from the Fiendish Codex II is a repented evil soul reincarnated to get a second chance. It can handle evil artefact’s and weapons regardless of alignment but if he dies, it’s over, his soul is damned to Hell unless redemption was achieved.

Vampirism is one cool curse to have! (I even heard they made a whole extra fluffy game about that in the mid nineties). Have a look here for one of the coolest d20 mechanics I’ve seen for Vampires.

Lycantrophy is also cool. It hardly qualifies as a disadvantage if you are the type to disregard hordes of peasants with pitchforks, PCs with silver weapons and the occasional morning where you wake up bloodstained and naked in the forest. Sean K Reynolds’ Curse of the Moon is also a great re-interpretation of the d20 rules for balanced and cool were-creatures. It’s just 5$ US.

David Farland’s Runelord series features Magic Crucibles that transfers an attribute (Strength, Brains, Beauty, Stamina, etc) from one person to the next, creating a superhuman on one side, but leaves the giver a cripple that needs tending to afterwards. Death of the giver leads to loss of the attribute.

Actually that last one could qualify for a subversion of the trope, a Blessing that has the added curse of responsibility.

Finally, you can apply the trope to put a fresher twist on the much-maligned Cursed Magical Item. By cursing a truly powerful magical item, you can create some very interesting role playing challenges:

The Sword-Relic of the Sun Gods slays the undead on touch during the Night… but it must be kept immersed in fresh blood during daytime to work properly.

The land’s legendary suit of full plate armour, as light as silk and as strong as 5 inches of laminated steel. With the slight disadvantage of fusing with your skin and powering its magic by feeding off your soul. (Inspired by Iron Heroes magic items. They’re all like that!)

Any other ideas for Awesome Curses? Let your inner evil DM out!

By the way, I’m having a real blast writing these posts on tropes, in no small part because of the awesome feedback I’m receiving on them. Thanks to all!

Comments

  1. One of my players has said he wants a magical tattoo. He’s a nice guy, loves interacting with NPCs. I’ve been thinking about bring out some manipulative unseelie type tattoo artist to give him everything he’s asked for and more, a little geas, or maybe a big one. Put some fear of unknown NPCs into him. Just because they’re not trying to kill you outright doesn’t mean they’re your friends!

  2. We had a player in one game that could embed spells in his skin as tatoo runes… with the caveats that he literally had to cut them into his skin (1-4 dmg per lvl, I think), plus they had to heal naturally (their magic prevented healing magic). So he could “power up”, but it left him at a distinct disadvantage.

    We had another player – a non-spell caster – who had an innate talent for casting “evil” spells of all sorts. Each time, though, it eroded the character’s soul a little more. We (the other players) helped “tempt” the afflicted character by pointing out all the situations in which using the spells would help our (ostensibly good) party accomplish it’s goals :-) Much fun.

  3. Magic Tattoos are a great representation of the Awesome Curse. They can glow evilly in the presence of Angels or Innocent beings or have other nasty side effects.

    They can also have a high cost to use, making them Blessed with Suck, the perfect subversion of Cursed with Awesome.

  4. Well, one of the PCs in my Exalted game is a master orator – he’s so great at public speaking that he can convince pretty much every normal mortal of anything.

    However, this has a downside as he has begun to discover – he is a believer in democracy and free will (he’s originally from modern-day Earth), but how valid are those concepts in a world where sheer awesomeness will turn other people into your fanatic followers?

    See also the “You are all individuals” speech from “The Life of Brian”…

  5. One from Burning Wheel: Dealing with devils may lead to damnation. When dealing with angels, the similar fate is perdition: You will walk upon earth for ever, but nobody will remember you. People forget you immediately after you stop bothering them, even for a short period. You can’t become a reknown anything. You can’t establish personal relationship of any kind to anyone.

    You are, of course, the perfect assassin. But nobody knows of you. Not even your former friends and family.

    Tommis last blog post..WoAdWriMo

  6. This curse is interesting for players uncomfortable to roleplaying/storytelling whose group is mostly made up of Method Actors and Story tellers.

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