Curse (Action)

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Heroic Action Role-Play

Certain powers and schticks are categorized as curses. A curse is a great and terrible power that alters your life drastically. Sometimes, the GM will invoke curses for other reasons; as fumble effects on powers, as side-effects of experimentation or rituals, and so on. Obviously, curses serve well as adventure hooks.

Curses are do not wear off on their own, but can be negated by performing the correct deeds. This might involve some semi-impossible tasks, like taking a quest, making a net out of nettles and throwing it over the victim, or learning the secret name of a demon and speaking it backwards. An important part of the cure is simply learning what must be done.

A curse on a player character is normally an obstacle to overcome, and breaking the curse before the end if the Story is normal. If a curse lasts past the end of a Story, the character should take steps to represent the effect of the curse, most commonly using Limitations.

Curses on NPCs are more permanent. The GM should not casually break a curse the PCs have placed on NPCs. Most curses are Finishers, which means the players have had the opportunity to kill the creature but instead choose to curse them, an option they generally need to pay experience points in order to get. If the GM has every creature the PCs cursed return without the curse, the players will stop using curses and instead kill their enemies, which is usually less interesting in play. On rare occasions a particularly memorable villain might return to action with their curse broken, the GM should play such moments for dramatic effect, making them notable as exceptions to the rule.

Having the players work to break the curse on an important NPC is perhaps the best way to use curses as a plot hook. This showcases the terrible effects of the curse and can range over multiple sessions without hindering the player characters' participation in the game.

Two-Step Process

There are several steps involved in removing a curse. First, you must find the inspiration and learn what to do. The various Dispel powers can give this information, but it is possible to find it in other ways; power skill knowledge element or Know skill rolls, prophetic dreams, or investigation. In general, this is the easy part.

Second, you must actually do the deed. Depending on the needs of the campaign and your character's resources, this can be easy or hard. Sometimes a curse has no particular role to play in the story, and removal is simply a matter of bathing in the correct temple pool or being kissed. But in many ways, this is a waste of a good adventure hook; even if the task is relatively trivial, it can be used to advance the story or fuel character development. Bathing in any holy spring is a less-impressive curse-breaker than to bathe in the holy spring of Diana at Dodona, and the later also works better as an introduction for a subplot.

The deed itself might involve further research. If the deed is to find a name or a secret, the methods are similar to those that let you learn what to do. Only now, the patent solutions provided by Dispel powers no longer work.

Specific Measures

The tasks required to break a curse can be tricky for the GM to come up with. The creator of the curse can set a condition for the curse to end, but there are always more than one way to break a curse. GMs are encouraged to use curse-breaking as a story tool.

When looking for what can break a specific curse consider what the curse does and, perhaps most important, the origin of the curse and involved characters. When a player character is cursed, the GM should consult with the player on what would work to absolve the character of the curse. As a GM you generally don't want a severe curse on a player character to last, as it inhibits their ability to partake in the game. Cooperate with the player to make curse-breaking cool, but don't make it too difficult or time consuming—a short montage at the beginning of the next session can be wonderful if it is memorable or significant to the character. Curses on places and NPCs can be a part of the plot and appropriately hard to break, making curse-breaking a mcguffin and adventure objective.

There is never just one way to break a curse. Even if one solution comes to mind as the most obvious choice, there are always other options. This is especially true when the apparently easy way to break a curse would be immoral. Doing so can be a critical and character-altering decision, to renounce your view of the world and embrace another. A villain can set up a curse condition to corrupt the characters and show them the weakness of their moral stance, but if you look hard enough there is always a way out of such a conundrum. Often the alternate way is the opposite of the obvious way, renouncing one possibility to embrace its opposite.

Chi Origin

Chi is based on self control and insight, and insight is the key to breaking Chi curses. The character has to find some personal enlightenment to break the curse. This often involves finding a chi master for advice, but the advice can seem nonsensical or be a riddle for the character to untangle. In the end, it is always the character that has to overcome their own curse.

Magic Origin

In many ways, this is the easiest origin. When we think of curses, we think of the magic origin, and there are plenty of stories about curses and curse-breaking. Often, you need to learn something about the caster and do some symbolic deed related either to the curse or to yourself. Research in old books and the wisdom of ancient masters is often instrumental in breaking a magical curse.

Gifts Origin

Gifts curses are personal, and the solution is often to find a power source; either one of similar or opposite gifts, or one that is free from the kind of temptation the gift represents. Gifts seem to come out of nowhere and are not earned like the powers of other origins. One way to break a gift curse can be to go trough a process of earning the powers you have or reaffirming your right to use them. This usually either brings you in closer alignment with or greater opposition to the values of society around you, making you either more or less monstrous depending on your choices. Defeating the creature that placed the curse usually removes this kind of curse.

Occult Origin

Occult curses warp the fabric of the world in unnatural, disruptive ways. It often involves some kind of possession or attunement to the otherworldly. Getting rid of the occult influence is the obvious solution, which requires either distancing yourself completely from the occult (which may require retiring from adventuring) or to confront the deeper cause of the curse. Ideally you defeat the source of the curse, but sometimes you may have to surrender to it, trading one consequence for another.

Psi Origin

Psi curses are ghosts from the unconscious, either your own, that of the curser, or the collective unconscious around you. The way to break such a curse is by overcoming the tension between the conscious and the unconscious or tensions between individual and society. This is not as esoteric as it sounds, you need to face your fears and inhibitions and overcome them, often by seeking out a phenomenon or situation to represent your curse and overcoming that.

Spiritual Origin

Spiritual curses require that you reexamine your faith. You must either appease the divine agency that gave you the curse, or firmly align yourself with another, opposite dogma. Note that philosophic world-views, such as atheism, can qualify as faiths for this purpose. Making the curser recant also works, but spiritual curse-users are often fanatics. Note that it is wise to thread carefully on a player's beliefs; this is a very personal matter and forcing a decision on faith can antagonize players.

Technology Origin

Technology curses are impersonal, effects of science gone wrong or deliberately used to harm. Things we can see as the curses of technology are radiation sickness, disease, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, tinnitus, vertigo, stress disorders, and alienation. As technology grows into the manifold possibilities of the Technology Origin, the potential to go wrong also grows. The cure for such ailments might require that you take a position on technological issues; either you align yourself with another origin at the expense of using technology, or you use even more technology to seek a technological solution and scientific treatment. The later makes you even more dependent on technology, perhaps in the form of a prosthetic or life-support device you must constantly wear.