"The path to power is fraught with difficulties. Arrayed on all sides are those do-gooders who believe it their duty to obstruct your efforts. It is not enough to arm yourself against these foes, for each one slain only underscores your apparent threat and inspires others to continue the work begun by those with whom you already dealt. In effect, slaughtering adventurers will consume your time and thus frustrate your long-term plans.
"A better solution for dealing with such enemies is not to confront them, but rather to lure them onto battlefields of your choosing—ones adequately prepared for the inevitable hero intent on your death. My tomb has served me well in this regard. The heroes believe I reside there, hiding in some deep vault waiting for the final death only an adventurer can deal. I, in fact, am nowhere close to the tomb. I trust in the traps and guardians I set there to keep the ruse alive and lure tomb robbers, group by group, to an unspeakable end. Thus have I been able to go about my business untroubled by their sort... untroubled by interference of any kind."
"Do not speak to me of curses!"
—Azalin of Darkon
A hag curses the knight who spurns her affections, barring him from ever finding love. A well-intentioned hero who kills a werebeast finds herself cursed to transform under the full moon's light. A band of heroes finds their flesh rotting and health failing after plundering a tomb king's vault. Curses are a staple in fantasy tales, and in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, curses can prove as deadly as anything the heroes might fight.
A curse is an affliction gained as a result of a specific action or event. A character can become cursed after destroying an evil enemy, exploring a cursed site, or angering a great power. Once a character gains the curse, the affliction attacks the character each day, growing in intensity and severity. To lift the curse, a character must usually undergo a quest or make restitution for the act that triggered it, though powerful rituals might remove the curse as well.
Curses in the Game
There are several ways a character might gain a curse. Use curses sparingly. You can use a curse to drive the story, and thus draw the adventurers into a new quest, or you can use one to reflect a particularly vile adversary whose evil lives on even after an encounter ends.
A Cursed Existence
Each curse has stages of increasing severity. Most curses have four stages:
Stage 0 (the curse is dormant)
Stage 1 (the curse's initial effect)
Stage 2 (the curse's more severe effect)
Stage 3 (the curse's worst effect)
The effect that curses the creature specifies the stage of the curse that applies. Once a creature is cursed, the creature is subjected to that stage's effects. Unless the curse is removed from the creature, it might progress at the end of the creature's next extended rest.
A curse might worsen over time. A creature can try to resist the curse by making a skill check. The creature must fight the curse by itself and can receive no aid from its allies.
Skill Checks: Until the curse ends, the creature must make a skill check as specified by the curse at the end of each extended rest to determine if the curse's stage changes or stays the same. A curse specifies two DCs. A check result that equals or exceeds the higher DC causes the stage to decrease by 1 (thus reducing the curse's effects). If the result equals the lower DC or a number between it and the higher DC, the curse remains at its current stage. A lower check result causes the curse's stage to increase by 1 (thus intensifying the curse's effects).
Some curses have more than two DCs or require skill checks at different times.
Reaching a New Stage: When a creature reaches a new stage of the curse, it is subjected to the effects of the new stage right away. Unless a curse description says otherwise, the effects of the new stage replace the effects of the old one.
Dormancy: Unlike a disease, a curse does not end when a character reaches stage 0. Instead, the curse becomes dormant. At the end of the creature's next extended rest, it must make another skill check to see if the curse worsens. You cannot reduce the curse's stage beyond 0.
No Final Stage: There is no final stage for curses. Until the curse ends or is lifted (see below), its effects can weaken or intensify each day.
Lifting the Curse
Lifting a curse is not a matter of waiting it out. If a creature does nothing, the curse stays around for the rest of the creature's life and persists even if the creature is slain and later raised from the dead. To end the curse, a character must complete a quest described in the curse's description. You can replace the quest with another that better fits your campaign. Once the character completes the quest, the curse ends.
A character can also lift the curse by receiving a Remove Affliction ritual or similar magic. At the DM's discretion, some curses are so potent that they cannot be lifted by common ritual magic and require a special quest or unique ritual to lift.
When a character ends the curse, he or she gains experience points as if he or she had completed a minor quest of his or her level.
Accepted lore claims lycanthropes are humanoids that can transform into beasts and back again. There are tales, however, of mortals cursed by Melora or Sehanine for some crime they committed against nature. Each time the full moon rises, the transgressor transforms into a savage beast. Other cursed creatures can pass on their affliction through bite attacks, in which case the curse replaces the monster's disease.
This curse is designed for werewolves, though you can adapt it for other kinds of lycanthropes by changing the form the creature assumes.
"Issue forth and multiply, my children! Work your evil! Show these mortal meat bags no mercy! I want to see eyeballs bleed, boils burst, and skin slough from bones!"
— Phraxas the Oinodemon
Though capable of creating much misery and suffering, disease isn't usually innately evil. Knowingly spreading disease, however, is evil, and certain creatures, such as slaads, do so without reservation.
Some plagues stand out from the rest. They are strange and unsettling diseases whose effects are so profound and so horrific that they qualify as being evil. This section presents several of the more notorious diseases adventurers might face. Some diseases affect the body, while others target the mind. All, however, leave their victims far worse off than they were when they began.
A magical disease designed to punish those who give into their hatred, faceless hate fills a creature with uncontrollable anger. The most awful aspect of this disease is revealed when the creature's facial features slough away, leaving behind smooth and unblemished skin. At this point, the creature is doomed to blind rage until it dies from starvation or thirst.
A creature that kills a creature infected with faceless hate becomes exposed to the disease. The creature must make a saving throw at the end of the encounter. On a failed save, it contracts faceless hate (stage 1).
Vile Traps and Hazards
"In retrospect, I might have gone a little overboard. The best traps make their prisoners suffer and scream. Adventurers who visit my tomb die too quickly."
Traps and hazards are common obstacles to adventurers. There are some dangers, though, that have such wicked effects that those who run afoul of them face death or something worse than death. The following assortment reflects the kinds of wicked devices one might find in and around the lairs of the world's worst villains and supplements those traps and hazards described in the Dungeon Master's Kit and the Dungeon Master's Guide.
Thought to be some form of malevolent undead guardian, a crypt thing is in fact an advanced magical trap designed to protect a valuable treasure. All crypt things are brown or black-robed skeletons seated in highbacked chairs. A crypt thing rolls initiative and attacks on its turn when a living creature enters the room it occupies.
The crypt thing can speak and will converse with creatures that talk to it. Even if the adventurers get the crypt thing talking, it does not break off its attack. A crypt thing knows information about its location and all adjacent rooms and answers one question per turn as a free action.
A character can identify a crypt thing with a successful DC 32 Arcana or Religion check.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll).