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In Volo's Guide it is suggested that a curse could transform someone into a race of 'monstrous origin' (p. 118). Does this apply to the Bestow Curse spell specifically? Note: this is a complicated question (my apologies).

In film / lore, such magic does tiny animals, magical beasts, golems & monsters - or even troll-human transformative curses.

Points & Concerns:

  • this is within guidelines for a 'reasonable' curse, i.e. less harm than the listed set

  • Bestow Curse writeup encourages DM-homebrewing &/or interpretation.

  • Great role-play possibility / RAI (hence most myths, fairy tales, cartoons, legends, etc)

  • this could be subject to abuse, temptation to bestow a 'curse' as a blessing / boon

  • one could also change: age, size, weight &/or gender (all great curse ideas... but RAW-legal?)

Summation: What are the limits of the 3rd lvl / Necromatic Bestow Curse spell for transformation?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you like me to hack that one down with this re-write? Will anyone miss the previous version? What happens to the array of comments that no longer apply? Am i now allowed to edit my comments? So many questions! Is this version clear? Is it valid &/or 'good' as a question? Should i move those points to a discussion? If so, how does that work? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim of Time Oct 22 '19 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I think this question is suffering from the same issue as the other. You start with a clear topic "Can X cause Y?" but then throw in so many variables that the question is now muddled. You start with "Can it change race?" but end with "What are the possibilities?" It is better to ask a number of focused questions than make one question try and handle it all. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Oct 22 '19 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've closed the previous question as a duplicate of this one for now. But yes, generally speaking, it's preferred that you edit your existing post to what you want to ask rather than making a new post instead. As noted by MivaScott above, you may also want to remove most of your "points and concerns" (specifically those past the first two) because they're only tangentially related to whether this is possible by RAW. (Also, what do you mean by "RAI" in your third bullet point?) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 22 '19 at 20:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comment about the mention of curses in Volo's guide. I believe this to be a reference to wider folk tales, such as the lycanthropy curse, vampiric 'curse', etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Oct 22 '19 at 21:10
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Spells only do what they say they do

The Bestow Curse spell is very specific about what it can do:

You touch a creature, and that creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become cursed for the duration of the spell. When you cast this spell, choose the nature of the curse from the following options.

  • Choose one ability score. While cursed, the target has disadvantage on ability checks and saving throws made with that ability score.

  • While cursed, the target has disadvantage on attack rolls against you.

  • While cursed, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw at the start of each of its turns. If it fails, it wastes its action that turn doing nothing.

  • While the target is cursed, your attacks and spells deal an extra 1d8 necrotic damage to the target.

Nowhere in that is there anything which suggests it can physically change a creature.

I think you are confusing curses when you ask your question. The spell applies a specific, limited curse to a creature. The type of curse that might transform a creature into some kind of hideous monster would be from either a higher power like a God, or a higher-level spell like true polymorph or wish. As always, the DM has final say on the matter but, given that polymorph is a fourth-level spell, I'd be surprised if they allowed a third-level spell to have a similar effect.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems many spells can 'curse' someone - even though they are neither named nor listed for doing such. My apologies for any confusion... and my thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim of Time Oct 23 '19 at 1:22
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Adding on to Allan Mills answer with a clarification a bit long to be a comment:

I believe what I've gleaned as the essence of their answer is correct "the power to change a creature's race is far beyond the capabilities of the spell, especially since more powerful already cover what's being asked"

However, Bestow Curse can :

At the GM’s option, you may choose an alternative curse effect, but it should be no more powerful than those described above. The GM has final say on such a curse’s effect.

Because of this there's some room for leeway in what this curse can do. I like the 3rd interpretation in the linked 'complicated question' post with one caveat. That being transformed into a specified race is actually a curse. If you're playing in a universe where there isn't your fantasy racism and races aren't inherently bad/good, then changing your racial appearance isn't much of a curse. That being said, in a world where Orcs are attacked on sight, being transformed into the figure of an Orc, while keeping all your original stats and racial features, would most certainly be considered a curse.

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This is fundamentally a question that can only be answered by specific DMs at particular tables

The spell description for bestow curse barely even tries to give guidance here:

You touch a creature, and that creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or become cursed for the duration of the spell. When you cast this spell, choose the nature of the curse from the following options.

  • Choose one ability score. While cursed, the target has disadvantage on ability checks and saving throws made with that ability score.
  • While cursed, the target has disadvantage on attack rolls against you.
  • While cursed, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw at the start of each of its turns. If it fails, it wastes its action that turn doing nothing.
  • While the target is cursed, your attacks and spells deal an extra 1d8 necrotic damage to the target.

[...] At the DM's option, you may choose an alternative curse effect, but it should be no more powerful than those described above. The DM has final say on such a curse's effect.

I mean, it's a little bit overdetermined, since literally everything in a game of D&D is at the DM's option and is subject to the DM's final say. The emphasis on these in the description of the spell itself suggests to me that that the rules as written are not intended to touch on the case of a customized bestow curse effect.

The described guidelines for curse effects also seem like they would be very case-dependent for specific applications. For example, even if we all agreed that a permissible effect of casting the spell could be changing the target's race, changing a bear into a human seems worse than any of the listed effects:

The bear's physical stats would be changed (possibly negatively), it would lose its natural weapons, and it would lose some features of its stat block such as multiattack. Losing a multiattack involving claws and biting and gaining a basic human's unarmed strike is much worse than having disadvantage on ability checks using a single ability score. So even if transformations, generally, would be permissible, this particular one violates what little guidance we have available.

A popular general guideline is to not allow spells to overlap with higher level spells

There are already spells that can definitely change a creature's race, such as polymorph and true polymorph. But the lowest level of those is polymorph, which is a 4th level spell. If bestow curse can transform creatures in the manners described in the question, then polymorph suddenly has a lot less going for it-- you can get mostly the same results off of a 3rd level spell slot. That means that characters will have access to the transformation effect earlier, and less expensively, than the plain text of the rules suggest, and all based on a very vague wording that explicitly charges the DM to evaluate case-by-case.

Thematically, a transformation curse of indeterminate duration seems like it should be relatively uncommon

There are a lot more 4th level spellcasters than 9th, but backgrounds like monstrous origin seem to be fairly rare in-universe. Details of the setting are always up to the DM, but there are implications of having such powerful effects be accessible to so many and they seem absent from settings as described (RAW).

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