Friday, 10 October 2008

Cursing Shrines

Shrines are generally places of veneration and blessing, where people can come to seek favours from ancestral or nature spirits. However, certain shrines are also known for being the haunts of less benign beings - spirits who are willing to act towards malevolent ends. Shrines where these spirits are found are usually hidden in isolated mountain valleys or forest groves, away from prying eyes and centres of population. They are known as 'cursing shrines'.

The malevolent spirits inhabiting such places are shy and unwilling to reveal themselves to strangers. They are ever watchful for intruders into their shadowy lairs, and will flee into hiding as soon as human beings approach. Therefore, communication with them can only be accomplished through less direct means - the most common of which is the tying of written messages, on small scraps of paper, to branches and shrubbery around the shrine's perimeter.

Typically these messages are only three lines long and contain three pieces of information - a desired victim's name and location, and desired ill-effect. If the spirits read one of these messages and are satisfied with the gift they are given (see below) they will act out the curse to the best of their ability within certain restrictions:
  • The victim must live within a fifty mile radius of the location of the cursing shrine.
  • The victim must be human.
  • The victim must not be a paladin.
The curse typically takes one of the three following forms (although other effects are possible on consultation with the DM):
  • Effect of a contagion spell
  • Effect of a feeblemind spell
  • Effect of a geas spell
These effects allow no saving throw and are permanent; they can only be removed by a cleric's remove curse spell (this means that, for example, a heal spell will not remove the contagion). In the case of a geas, the character requesting the curse must specify the nature of the geas in his written message to the spirits. Restrictions of the geas spell apply, i.e. a character cannot be forced to kill or recklessly endanger himself.

The spirits require costly gifts to carry out a curse. Typically, an offering should be made in the form of a magical item worth not less than the level of the spell on which the curse is based x 1,000 gps. Therefore a contagion curse will require a gift of a magical item worth not less than 4,000 gold pieces. The DM should feel free to double the cost for particularly powerful or difficult targets.

Characters who are affected by the curse will usually be unaware of the cause of their affliction. However, if a detect evil spell is cast on the character by a cleric of at least 3rd level, the nature of the malady will become apparent.


  1. Why only humans? I could see it being something like, "only people," meaning only races that human-like or non-monstrous, but what made you protect, say, half-elves?

    Why are paladins immune, and why aren't priests?

    What recourse is there for a cursed individual? Put differently, how can I use this to provoke gameplay? Maybe the spirit comes shuffling down from the mountains at night to inflict the curse, sitting on the victim's chest at night, or putting some of its hair down his throat. Maybe players have a chance to keep the curse off as long as they stay awake all night with their eyes covered in magic seals and without making a sound as dry twitching hands run over their body (or, more action-oriented, cover their weapons in magic seals and fight off nightly assaults), while spending their days trying to find out who first put the curse on them, since only they can rescind it (or, again for action, traveling into hills to see the shrine destroyed). Or maybe similar things are required for the curse to be cured.

  2. Nick: Why only humans? Because the shrines are part of a human religion. The reason paladins are immune is that they are presumed sacred or blessed - for the same reason that their innate holiness allows them to cure wounds with a touch, so they are protected from the malevolent spirits.

    Recourse and flavour are open to the DM. Obviously the detect evil spell will reveal something of the nature of the curse, whereupon the solution (and cure) can develop from there.