Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cursed Scrolls: retrospective and more evil mischief: Inscribe Curse spell

Following on my theme of curses over the last week see here and here, I'm going to tackle the written variety and propose a new spell to get the maleficium flowing.

Firstly a retrospective rules dump. Rules dump because I gathered the stuff when looking into cursed swords and haven't really carefully consolidated it. I give it to you anyway.

*The referee must take extreme care in handling all Scrolls with an eye towards duping the players when a Curse Scroll is found. The curse takes effect immediately upon reading the Scroll; therefore having non-Curse Scrolls disappear on occasion if not identified will help to force reading of Curse Scrolls. To determine the type of curse use the table below:

To determine the type of curse use the table below:
Scrolls 51-60% = 1 curse
Die Roll Curse: (Range 3" diameter)
1 or 2 Any monster of the referee's choice
3 or 4 Disease, fatal in 3 turns unless healed
5 or 6 Polymorph to insect of referee's choice
7 Transportation 1,000 miles, random direction
8 Transportation to another planet [Old School totally gonzo - what a DM headache!]

Supp 1

Flask of Curses: This container looks just like the bottles, jugs, decanters, and breakers. When it is opened some form of a curse is loosed—the list of curses for scrolls is recommended as a good start for a list of possible curses.
[Not written but drunk]

Supp 2
Anyone who attacks or kills a sage is automatically changed to Chaotic alignment unless the sage himself was Chaotic. Sages are able to cast curses when close to death or dying because of assault or mayhem or murder. The power of the curse depends upon the knowledgability of the Sage. A very low-level one might curse a person so that all of his teeth fell out, while a very high-level one could curse you so as to never be able to make a saving throw again! A normal curse removal would not work to remove a sage's curse, but some form of Cleric-assigned quest might.

[No idea what this is about but fascinating]


Scroll roll %
98-100 = Cursed Scroll
It is incumbent upon the Dungeon Master to do his utmost to convince 

players that cursed scroll should be read. This is to be accomplished 
through duplicity, coercion and threat, etc. i.e., any 
scroll not read has chance of fading in normal air, but this can be 
noted by the archaic wording if read in the still dungeon atmosphere.
A curse takes effect immediately; suggested curses are:
01 -25 Reader polymorphed to monster of equal level which attacks 

any creatures nearby
26-30- Reader turned to liquid and drains away
31-40- Reader and all within 20' radius transported 200 to 1,200 

miles in a random direction
41-50- Reader and all in 20' radius transported to another planet, 

plane or continuum
51 -75- Disease fatal to reader in 2-8 turns unless cured
76-90 Explosive runes
91 -99 Magic item nearby is "de-magicked".
00 Randomly rolled spell affects reader at 12th level of 


[More gonzo craziness and below some more liquid problem in a bottle]

Flask of Curses: This item appears much the same as any beaker, bottle, 

container, decanter, flask, jug, etc. It has magical properties, but detection 
will not reveal the nature of the flask of curses. It often contains liquid substance 
too, or it may emit smoke. When the flask is first unstoppered, a 
curse of some sort will be visited upon the person or persons nearby (it will 
subsequently be harmless). The suggestions given for the curse reverse of 
the cleric bless spell, and those stated for typical curses found on a scroll 
are recommended for use here as well, or some monster can oppeor and 
attack all creatures in sight, etc.

Cursed scrolls, curse affects the reader immediately: the curse may change the reader of the scroll into a toad or an insect, or it may teleport to him an enraged monster chosen from the appropriate list by the Dungeon Master. The reader of the cursed scroll is allowed his saving throw to see if the curse takes effect. 


4 on d8 Cursed scroll (affects reader immediately)
Cursed Scroll
Unfortunately, when any writing on a cursed scroll is looked at, the reader will immediately be cursed....

36-40 (Cursed scroll (affects the reader immediately))

What struck me is how totally gonzo and out there cursed scrolls are. Transport to another planet. Turning to liquid and draining away.

One saving throw or else...

Not to mention the hope dashed feeling as ones hard fought for treasure, turns nasty.

But really what is the purpose of cursed scrolls. They take up time and money to make. Why would a wizard devote so much time and money to them?

They would devote this energy if the magical writing, ala curses, can protect the person or property of the  wizard, or cleric, who has written them. 
Particularly they are designed to protect the wizard remotely, when the wizard is not present.

For example, any sane wizard would wish to have curses throughout their spellbook ready to deal suitable pain to anyone foolish enough to peruse the wizards most valuable item. But no mechanism is given in the rules to make what must be routine wizarding practice, easily possible.

So I propose the following spell, for B/X predominantly but with some allusion to AD&D :

Inscribe Curse

Level 3 Magic User Spell, Level 4 Cleric Spell 
Range 0'
Duration: Permanent until read

Casting time: Variable, days.

Any magic-user or cleric wishing to inscribe a curse onto a scroll or other object must first cast this spell onto the scroll or object.
This spell allows a scroll or object to accept a curse.

Imediately after casting Inscribe Curse the caster must start to inscribe their chosen curse. The curse can be any spell currently memorized or copied from another scroll (the spell disappearing in the process) or a spellbook. That is the caster places on the scroll or object a spell they are capable of casting or a spell from another scroll. Such spells for a magic-user might include, web, fireball, polymorph others, teleport, flesh to stone, monster summoning etc. For a cleric the curses might include, cause light wounds, poison, quest etc.  
There is no requirement the curse has a maleficient effect, it might even be beneficiary. Naturally the type of curses will be influenced by the caster's alignment but there is no reason even good casters won't use curses, the chosen spell is however more likely to be delaying or holding, then killing. 
Casting time is one day per spell level of the curse that is intended. The cost of casting this spell is 500gp per spell level of the proposed spell, the scroll or object is to receive (this includes the cost of the scroll and other writing materials and magical ink). At the completion of the curse, the magic user must make a save vs magic. Success means the curse has been successfully inscribed, whilst a fail means the effort is in vain and the object destroyed in the process. However a roll of natural one means the spell was a success but the curse immediately has it's full effect on the caster, no second saving throw allowed.


What I like is with this spell I can mimic most of the curses given in the rules retrospective above. 
I can see both a player and an NPC magic user placing curses into their spellbook, as routine. 
What's more other objects, not just paper, can be cursed with words. The words written on a dungeon door or  tomb entrance now have real consequences.  
One could even imagine a magic user inscribing a curse onto a shield, kept covered by his fighter ally, until revealed in battle. 
My view of curses is they must be in a language readable by the viewer to take effect. It's why being the smart one who can decipher old languages, you had better be careful - watch out thief, that could be you.


  1. I hate blogger - just adds random spaces for no good reason. Grumble.

  2. Hate blogger, but curse the scroll!!!

    It's cool to see the evolution of the cursed scroll. They were very gonzo BITD. And I like the spell to! The one cursed scroll that my players ever triggered was a variation on the teleport variety. It teleported them to the abode of the devil that manufactured the scroll. That was one of my prime 'justifications' for the existance of the cursed scroll (the answer to the question 'why would one of these exist?'). Demons & devils mostly to trap and/or generally F with the Prime Materiallers.

  3. Most of these "cursed" scrolls are just un/mislabeled, aren't they? Maybe they're variant/foreign versions of spells, so the usual tipoffs that would inform a curious MU aren't there. I bet the teleports are mostly "leap of homecoming" spells lost by careful adventurers who weren't quite careful enough: they could take you to all sorts of interesting places (although rarely straight home: imagine if they fell into the wrong hands!). Even the cause disease "curse" might be part of a multi-part magic or ritual like the Bene Gesserit "Water of Life" transformation.

    Which gives me two ideas:
    1. what if a scroll is incomplete? Alchemy is full of biproducts and intermediate steps on the way to the philosopher's stone that are useful or harmful on their own: what if your deadly poison is just waiting for the right word or waft of hawthorn to turn into the very thing you wanted? (cf. wands of wonder, which you've already covered in your staffs and wands post, but this could be an interesting alternative take). So what if the first stage in casting fireball is to take the power into yourself before focusing and venting it? And that magic potential has weird effects if you don't vent...

    2. all the doors in the wizard's tower have spell-type security locks: opening them requires you to read the spell on the door or complete the phrase, so that only a wizard as learned and arcane as the builder can gain access to the bedroom or kitchen. Only the door to his library bears a curse. It looks just like all the others.

    And the curse is a geas. The wizard has never been able to find the seventh part of the Great Rod. Anyone resourceful enough to get to his library door must be worth something. Maybe they can find it for him. Maybe they won't even know they're under the geas, if they read the spell and a little scroll pops out with the information the wizard's been able to find about the missing piece...

  4. FrDave on his blog was suggesting that cursed items were a result of failed attempts to make magic items - which is certainly cool, though I think soul sucking items is equally good. But leaving them as half finished or botched magical attempts helps to explain their existence which is a neglected area. Explaining why cursed items and scrolls exists is the whole point of my recent blogs on this topic.

    The opportunity for security locks is a great example of written curses having a password to prevent activation - which is what would be required if they were in the wizard's private spellbook.

    I certainly see that not all cursed scrolls were curses to the one that put it there, being teleported to a certain location might once have been a good thing - just a shame the island has now sunk or that planet has run out of air. Even turning to liquid and running away down a drain may in the right location been part of a wizard's elaborate escape plan.

  5. Nice summation -- I really like the notion that MUs put cursed pages in their spellbooks as a security measure -- consider that idea horked!

    Also, gotta love Holmes!

  6. A commenter on DnDWPS just reconfigured my brain: how about a scroll that casts continual light on the reader? Great curse for scroll-reading thieves.