Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Curses!
Curses often figure prominently in Faerie stories. The search for a cure may be a driving force in a campaign, or the curse could simply be a burden a character has to bear, something that marks them as an extraordinary individual. Consider a few ways that a curse can work into a story.
- Ancestral Guilt. A character could be born cursed due to the fault of an ancestor. In Sleeping Beauty the princess is cursed because her parents insult a faerie patron. In the Ulster Cycle Macha curses all the men of Ulster for the actions of their king.
- Personal Backstory. A curse could be something a character has earned through their own misdeeds, while still being something that is part of a backstory as opposed to happening in play. Your rogue stole from the Tomb of the Forgotten King and the curse has haunted you ever since.
- A Fey Wronged. One aspect of faerie stories is that power isn’t always consistent. A nymph might have the standard statistics provided by the Monster Manual – being a relatively minor spirit, not an archfey – and still have the power to curse someone who scorns her love. This is especially true if adventurers travel into Thelanis itself. The plane itself is a magical place, and the people who break its rules can suffer consequences.
- The Price. A curse that afflicts a player character could be the consequence of a negotiated bargain: the character willingly accepts a curse in exchange for a service or goods. This could be part of a backstory – the price of a warlock’s Fey Pact – or it could be part of a campaign, where an archfey offers her assistance provided someone will give up their fame, their heart or their voice. More often than not, fey are more interested in intangible things than in material goods, and it’s part of the unnatural logic of Thelanis that the nymph can offer you something in exchange for your ability to love.
Choosing to have a player character cursed from the start of the game may seem like a strange decision, but it’s something that can give an adventurer immediate purpose: What do you need to do to lift this curse of poverty? The best curses don’t affect combat or prevent the character from being an effective adventurer; instead, they shape story, which is what Thelanis is about. Beyond this, a GM might choose to provide a corresponding benefit to a character who willingly takes on a curse. Perhaps the Forgotten King has cursed you with poverty… but you still have the mysterious key you took from his tomb, and some day you may find the door that it opens. Or perhaps your line has ties to two fey sisters; one has always favored you, while the other cursed you out of jealousy. You have to bear the curse, but your patron may come to you in your darkest times to offer advice or assistance.
The spell Bestow Curse gives examples of curses with concrete effects, and you can certainly have a wronged fey lay such a curse on an enemy. However, those curses are severe mechanical penalties and not something you’d casually take as a ongoing handicap. As I said above, the best fey curses don’t prevent a character from being effective at what they do: instead, they shape story. They are extremely meaningful to the individual, but not crippling. Consider the following…
- Upcoming Doom. The character will sicken and die when they reach a certain age. Three generations of their ancestors have fallen prey to the curse, and they only have one year to find the answer.
- Infamy. No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
- Poverty. All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
- Loneliness. The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
- Suspicion. A more severe take on Infamy, the character will by default be blamed when things go wrong. People can’t explain it – that character just seems like the kind of person who would be up to something.
- Cloud of Misfortune. The character themselves doesn’t suffer, but bad things happen to the people they care about. This is primarily aimed at NPCs. If they start to frequent a tavern, it will burn down. Their horse breaks its leg. Their family farm suffers a bad harvest. They should always feel concerned about getting too attached to anyone… because what will happen if they do?
Looking to Infamy or Poverty, as described other PCs can mitigate the effects; the cursed character can’t touch gold, so someone else has to handle all transactions. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the other players aren’t jerks about it. But if the cursed character is a rogue who longs for personal wealth, it’s a curse to them. Likewise, shifted fame or lost love is only an issue if love and fame are things the character wants. They won’t stop you from saving a village from marauders; you’ll just have to heave a sigh when the grateful villagers heap their gratitude on everyone but you.
In any case, the usual purpose of having a curse is to drive the story in a direction: How can the curse be broken? Is it about righting a wrong committed by an ancestor? Earning the gratitude of the fey you angered? Simply finding a holy person whose power is great enough to override the will of the Fey? Or if it’s the price of your warlock pact, can you find a patron willing to grant you power on better terms?
As with many of the previous topics, the primary purpose of curses is to enhance a story. Yes, you defeated that evil dryad… but now you have to deal with her dying curse. Not all players will enjoy such things, but with the right group a curse can be a great way to explore how characters deal with adversity.