Monday, February 23, 2009

REVIEW: 100 Calamitous Curses

There are lots of things one can focus on when trying to pinpoint specific game mechanics that separate old school games from their modern descendants -- save or die effects and level draining are two of the most popular ones. Strangely, I almost never hear anyone mention curses. Back in the day, cursed magic items were pretty commonplace -- about one out of every ten scrolls or swords, for example, was cursed -- which is why both magic-users and clerics got the remove curse spell in OD&D. Curses were a standard part of the referee's bag of tricks and players understood the need to be wary when picking up that cool new sword you looted from the troll lair or reading that scroll you found on the dead body floating in the subterranean lake.

If there was a problem with curses, it was that, after a while, it became increasingly hard to come up with new and interesting ones. Volume 2 of OD&D, for example, provides exactly five sample curses for use in the game. Now, five is better than none, but, if a campaign lasts long enough, odds are you're going to use up all those options and how many more times do your players want to see their characters transported to Barsoom as a result of a cursed scroll? That's where the relentless James Mishler's 100 Calamitous Curses comes in. For $2.50, Mishler gives you just what the title promises: 100 different curses for use with your favorite fantasy RPG. Though written for Castles & Crusades, like so many of Adventure Games Publishing's products, this 12-page PDF is effectively system-neutral. There's only a small amount of C&C-specific game mechanics in the text, so little that I don't hesitate to recommend it to any referee who's looking for new and unusual curses to add to his campaign.

And what curses! I've commented many times before that James Mishler has a real knack for creating game material with a decidedly swords-and-sorcery vibe. 100 Calamitous Curses is no different. Consider just two curses:
  • Curse of Unquenchable Thirst: The accursed one is always thirsty, and must drink a gallon of water every hour. If in hot dry weather or during exertion (such as extended combat), the accursed one must drink two gallons per hour. Every gallon missed the accursed one suffers one point of subdual damage, which cannot be healed naturally or by magic until she catches up on all the missed water.
  • Curse of the Ghoulish Gourmand: The accursed one develops a taste for the flesh of humans, demihumans, and humanoids, but especially those of his own race. This is first noticed when he is within 10 feet of a corpse, which to the accursed one smells like an irresistible well-seasoned and perfectly-grilled steak. The accursed one must make a Charisma check each time he encounters a new corpse (with a -2 penalty for the flesh of his own race), or he decides to succumb to temptation and tucks in without worry for cooking or seasoning (though he still seeks to do so surreptitiously, if others can see). After failing and consuming such flesh a number of times equal to his Constitution score, he is hooked, and can only subsist on such flesh; all other foods are regurgitated or simply provide no sustenance. Thereafter for every day he goes without the flesh such a being he suffers 1d6 points of subdual damage, which cannot heal naturally or be cured by magic until he once again consumed forbidden flesh.
And there are 98 more curses in this product, many of them even more inventive than these two examples. This really is a remarkably useful product for old school fantasy games. I know I'll get a lot of use out of it and I expect I'll not be alone. Once again, a superb piece of work from James Mishler and AGP.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 polearms


  1. >The accursed one is always thirsty, and must drink a gallon of water every hour<

    I think this one happened to me 20 years ago - but with ale and beer instead of water.

  2. Death by water poisoning. More than just a curse.

  3. I have this as well, and agree that it is excellent.