Curses are an element of Dungeons & Dragons that are often underappreciated, but can lead to some great stories when used properly. One would automatically assume that a curse is a bad thing, and in most cases they are. However, a curse can be an excellent springboard for a new adventure, or even an unexpectedly useful new tool.
Curses in Dungeons & Dragons are most commonly associated with cursed items, although they can also be bestowed directly onto characters by certain spells or creatures. In most cases, cursed items will be disguised as typical useful items. However, their curses either cause them to work the opposite way, or have some other, usually negative effect. Many have found what seemed to be one of D&D‘s helpful magic items, only to get a troublesome cursed item. Curses can be identified or broken through the use of specific spells, but their main role is to teach players to be careful.
The most obvious use for curses in Dungeons & Dragons, beyond simply being used as a trap disguised as a treasure, is to weave them into the storyline. One good thing that DMs could do is create a curse that the players can see the effects of. For example, the starting village could be cursed to waste away unless the curse is broken. The DM could explain the state of the village, with buildings crumbling and barren farmlands, only getting more dire as the adventure continues until the curse is broken. That kind of setup could lead to a better and more satisfying D&D endgame, especially if the players get invested.
Curses Are Great Storytelling Elements In Dungeons & Dragons
Another trick that can be used is to include cursed Dungeons & Dragons items that can be made useful. For example, a sword that heals instead of dealing damage could be re-purposed into a healing item for as long as its charges last. Likewise, a magical staff cursed to detonate itself could be re-purposed into essentially a magical grenade. More subtle items, such as a charm that forces the user to tell the truth or other such effects, could be made useful by either planting them on key antagonistic characters or otherwise manipulating them into taking the item so that the negative effects would be applied to them instead. Rogues in One D&D are powerful as is, but moments like this can let them use their stealth in a more creative fashion.
Finally, a character could have a curse from the start of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that plays a prominent role. For example, a player could be playing a fighter with a cursed sword that he cannot remove from his hand, so he can only use one hand for anything that doesn’t involve fighting. Likewise, one could be playing a warlock whose powers are the result of a curse, enhancing their spells as the cost of a penalty each time they cast, such as a small HP or stat reduction that persists for a certain amount of time. This option would be good for players who want to take a unique, more challenging route with their characters, and would have to be discussed in-depth before being incorporated. However, plans like this are great for encouraging roleplay in D&D.
A lot of players and DMs shy away from curses for fear that they could be too much of a drag on the campaign. However, the secret to making a curse work is to use it in a way that works with the campaign, rather than as a random obstacle. Used correctly, curses in Dungeons & Dragons could be an excellent storytelling tool.