Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Non-Divine Divine Item: Curse Tablet

(Note: I have re-labeled and re-titled this post because it was brought to my attention that this should be classified as a divine item, not a magic item. I blame brain farts.)


Ok, so I was getting lost in Wikipedia and I came across this entry on Curse Tablets, which lead to this entry on the Bath curse tablets which sparked a memory from the early 1990s.

Back in the 2e days, TSR put out a Roman-themed splat book, "TSR 9425 - HR5 - The Glory of Rome Campaign", which included the below quoted spell. As far as I know, this is the only reference to Curse Tablets in "official" D&D materials outside of a clarification in the Sage Advice column in Dragon:

Curse Tablet (Necromantic)
Level 3
Range: 5 yards/level
Components: V, S, M
Duration:2 days/level Casting Time: 1 turn
Area of Effect: 1 creature
Saving Throw: Negates

This is the most common spell used by evil Roman magicians to kill via magic. The caster writes the name of his victim on a lead tablet, drives a nail through the tablet, invokes the spirits of the dead, and places the tablet within an occupied tomb.

Every midnight the subject must roll a saving roll vs. spell. If he fails the roll, he suffers horrible dreams of his own death and awakens sick and exhausted, having lost half his current hit points (round fractions down) or 1-hit point, whichever is greater. If he succeeds, there is no effect. If he succeeds three times in a row, the curse is broken, the writing on the tablet vanishes, and that particular wizard cannot use a curse tablet against him for one year.

The spell can be safely negated by finding the tablet (it radiates magic and evil) and casting a bless or remove curse spell upon it. Melting or breaking the tablet also breaks the curse, but this causes ld4 points of damage to the subject.


Here's my problem with the 2e approach: it limits the use to magic users. All real-world scholarly research suggests that curse tablets were a widely used form of folk magic or common religious practice. It was akin to Jews writing prayers to place in the Prayer Wall in Jerusalem or Catholics lighting a votive candle while offering up a prayer. Only in this case, the polytheistic Romans were asking the gods to punish someone who had done them wrong.

So why not open these previously closed requests for a curse to ANY PC in a campaign?

Non-Divine Divine Item: Curse Tablet

Any PC may send up a curse request to a deity to punish a wrong-doer in the form of a written prayer. The curse must be written or etched on a thin sheet of lead, rolled into a scroll, and pierced with an iron nail.

The curse must be written in the following form and include:

1) The petitioner's name
2) The deity being petitioned
3) The nature of the request and the punishment to be exacted
4) The target of that request (as specifically as possible)

Example:
"Grant this request, Oh Jale God, that I, Nord Timbertrot of Heartless Vale, beseech of thee! Unto your divinity and majesty I give my dice and purse of 2,000 coppers that someone hath stolen from me. Whether human or non, man or woman, slave or free, do not allow him who has done me wrong to sleep or eat or drink or have good health unless he reveals himself and brings those goods to your temple."

The curse must be delivered in one of two ways:

1) The curse may be placed at the foot of a statue of the deity being invoked, preferably in a temple or church dedicated to that deity.
2) The curse may be buried with the corpse of a follower of that deity, preferably someone who has recently died in service to that deity.

There is a 1-in-1000 chance that the deity grants the curse; the subject of the curse must make a Save vs. Death or be permanently cursed with whatever affliction was requested. The chance of the curse being granted improves to 1-in-500 if the petitioner is an active worshiper of the deity.