It was the first dungeon of a fresh campaign, and the chaos cultists had fled. They’d left behind all manner of undead minions and deathtraps, but as fortune would have it we were a bunch of big damn heroes. The cultists’ defenses were summarily dispatched. Thus it was that, booting open the double doors at the end of the dungeon, we discovered the Temple of Chaos and Also High-Value Art Objects. We took the lot.

“Who,” asked our intrepid GM, “Is carrying the idol?”

“Which idol? The crazy-looking inhuman idol with the blood gem eyes that seem to peer into your very soul?”

“Yeah. That’d be the one.”

I did my best Frodo impression at that point and volunteered to carry the r̶i̶n̶g̶  idol. Unlike Frodo, I did in fact know the way. As you might have guessed from the description, this hot little number was extremely cursed. More importantly, it was obviously cursed. I picked it up anyway.

Remember the Tomb of the Unknown Potion from last week? Well this was very much one of those “I drink the potion to find out what it does” situations. But what’s more interesting to me is what happened over the course of the ensuing sessions.  My fellow players forgot about the odd idol and the very telling “who carries it?” question. There were no roguish types trying to rifle through my pack. There were no concerned clerics asking leading questions. The curse got to play out among the players just as it did among the PCs.

For my part, I slow-played the change. As the idol slowly increased my Strength and sapped my Will, my character became short-tempered. He snapped at his fellow party members. He became bloodthirsty, hacking at the corpses of fallen enemies. He even developed a nervous tick, always keeping a hand on the idol tucked inside his cloak (I mimicked this at the table by fidgeting with a ghoul miniature). Slowly but surely, the others caught on that something was up. After three or four sessions of, “You worry too much. I’m fine,” they decided to take action. And by the time their hired priest arrived on the scene, I was more than halfway along the path to “mindless killing machine.” The resolution was the same-old-same of “I cast remove curse on the crazy guy,” but this time it felt earned.

Curses are, I think, one of those situations where you should strive to avoid metagaming. When you’ve got easy access to remove curse or break enchantment or 1-900-EXORCIST, getting rid of the affliction is academic. In my experience, the fun of the situation rises from the dawning in-character realization that a curse is actually present.

How about the rest of you guys? Have you ever slow-played a curse? Or does your group prefer to treat curses with take-two-dispel-magics-and-call-me-in-the-morning? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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