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The Cursed

An RPG Character Concept

By Neal LitherlandPublished 10 months ago 6 min read
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The rain came down from the night sky with a sound like a shushing mother, and night fog embraced the town. Windows were shuttered, and curtains pulled, so no one saw the lone figure that came in from the black forest. It was tall, and wide beneath a ragged black cloak. A sword hilt jutted up over one shoulder, but aside from the weapon it bore no pack, or gunna of any sort. It walked on, silent in the dark night, until it came to the one place in all the town that still had a lamp on; the Green Vale Inn.

Heavy knuckles knocked at the door, and Vorman Krant felt something was wrong even as he unbarred the entry. A preternatural chill crept into the room, seeming to emanate from the strange figure, whose face lurked in the shadows beneath his dripping hood.

"I require a room," the figure said, its voice whispering from it. "And a meal. Meat. Rarer is better."

"Do you have coin?" Vorman managed, his knuckles white where he gripped the door. A hand wrapped in old, threadbare strips of cloth emerged from beneath the cloak, holding an oddly milled gold piece. Vorman took it, bit it, and nodded. "Come in then. Feel free to warm yourself by the fire."

The figure entered, water dripping from its cloak. As Vorman closed the door, he realized he heard no sound. By the time he turned, they'd vanished into the other room. He touched the gold piece to be sure it was real. When he looked at it more closely, he blanched.

It bore the head of the Wolf King. Barrow coins like this were not carried by those who toiled beneath the sun, or who practiced honorable trades. They were given as payment to those who walked the night roads, and who did deeds only spoken of in whispers around campfires. Those who had been cursed, and who had turned their curses into weapons.

Vorman tucked the coin away, and shuffled to the kitchen. Gold was gold, and it would spend just as well as any other coin... but he'd have to take it to the city, where none would know his face, or ask how he'd come by the coin.

The Dark Side of Power

Power comes in many forms in RPGs, but there is often a price for those who receive it. The idea of the Cursed is to make a character who has, in some way, been altered or changed through a circumstance of birth, an action they took, or even an accident they were present for, and which has cursed them in some way, even if it did grant them power as a byproduct.

When most of us hear about a character who draws strength from a curse, the first option that comes to mind is the Oracle from Pathfinder (which I covered in 5 Tips For Playing Better Oracles some time back), as this class has a mechanic for a curse that gives them negatives, while also granting them strange and unusual powers. However, this is far from the only option you have for making this character concept work, if you approach it with a little creativity.

The first is to ask which classes other than oracle you could treat as the result of some kind of curse. Sorcerer is the obvious choice (as I mentioned in 50 Origins For a Sorcerer's Bloodline), since there are several, unusual circumstances that might grant one a bloodline power. A summoner's connection to their eidolon, and their various class features, might also be an unwilling one, putting a great deal of strain on their lives even if they possess a great deal of power. Kineticists, and even witches, might also find their unusual, unique abilities are less of a boon than one might think, looking in from the outside.

The second option is to choose your species/template, and to use that as the curse your character is dealing with.

There are a lot of options to choose here. Tieflings and aasimar are one of the most obvious, as I mention in my 5 Tips For Playing Better Tieflings and Aasimar. There are also characters like the skinwalker (which is a descendent of shapechangers), the dhampir (thinblooded offspring of vampires), or if you picked up my supplement Moüd, City of Bones, the half-deads (which pass on traits from various undead sources to their descendants, ranging from wights and liches, to ghouls, zombies, and more). However, a character may have the current stats and appearance of a monstrous species like a troll, ogre, etc., but they didn't always have such. Perhaps they were transformed through a poorly-worded wish (like a fighter who wished for the strength of the trolls he slew), or they were changed through a spell by a powerful fae, like the Beast out of fairy tales (though this might have been through a reincarnation spell rather than a true curse).

For Pathfinder players, there's also a third option to add/consider for this character concept: Corruption. First introduced in Horror Adventures, a corruption is an extra track of power that puts more weaknesses and restrictions on your character, but which also gives you horrible, wicked sets of powers. Whether you're drawing on vampires, werewolves, liches, eldritch deep ones, the shadow realm, devils, etc., the corruption options play hard into the theme of a cursed character.

And, of course, there's nothing that says you can't connect all 3 of these areas/options, feeding into the singular curse your PC is trying to cope with.

Do You Want To Be Cured?

In addition to the mechanical aspects of your character, it's important to ask whether you want their curse to be cured. Because while most games have a spell that's the equivalent of break curse or break enchantment, the "curse" that these characters have is more thematic/story than it is an actual curse as a mechanic. As such, it's up to you to ask if their curse gets removed through story achievement, or as a part of the ongoing plot... or if, when the campaign is over, we hear the outro music from The Incredible Hulk as they walk off into the shadows, looking for something else that will lift this burden from their shoulders.

Like, Follow, and Stay in Touch!

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concepts post!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the Azukail Games YouTube channel. Or if you'd prefer to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my recent short story collection The Rejects, then head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

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Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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  • Adventure Nexus10 months ago

    I don't spend any time here. Because I don't have any lol But I registered to read and comment on your work. Keep it up. Amazing content that is very unappreciated for its worth.

  • Adventure Nexus10 months ago

    Very cool Neal. The more creative your backstory, the more we are both (all at the table) become invested.

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