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The spell bestow curse lists 3 different things it can do, and also allows you to create your own.

  • 6 decrease to an ability score (minimum 1).
  • penalty on attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks.
  • Each turn, the target has a 50% chance to act normally; otherwise, it takes no action.

These are all decent choices, but the effects on a creature changes. So how would you balance a new curse in terms of power? Just because its a minor inconvenience to most doesn't mean its not devastating to one.

For instance, you make someone slur. For most its nothing, but for a spell caster with a verbal component, terrible.

Would ill fortune (on d20 rolls, roll twice and take the worse result) be a fair curse?

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So how would you balance a new curse in terms of power? Just because its a minor inconvenience to most doesn't mean its not devastating to one.

Take your cue from the examples. They are limited in scope so try to impose similar limits on new curses. Just as it says in the spell, "You may also invent your own curse, but it should be no more powerful than those described above."

I would suggest the following guidelines:

  1. No single penalty is greater than -6.
  2. No across-the-board mechanic penalty is more than -4.
  3. Total failure is not an absolute, at best that only happens 50% of the time.

So there is a set of limits you can point to, taken from the examples. Using those, your could have a single mechanic roll, say all save rolls, have a -6. Or say 50% of all NPC reaction rolls fail.

For instance, you make someone slur. For most its nothing, but for a spell caster with a verbal component, terrible.

That's a good one. Keying off the examples, I would implement this a great deal like the third example. So, on any spell casting with a verbal component, 50% of the time it fails due to the slur.

Would ill fortune (on d20 rolls, roll twice and take the worse result) be a fair curse?

On all d20 rolls? No. Again, limit it like the examples are. Say two or three types of roll, skills, or saves, or random encounter rolls, or reaction rolls, or treasure rolls, you get the idea. Target the "ill fortune" a little more than all d20 rolls.

Just to throw it out there, one of my favorite curses of all time, note this was e2 AD&D, was any critical hit does minimum damage. When it hurt, it hurt, but it was very focused in effect so it wasn't over powered.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That effect would really hurt crit builds however, but I do like not having to worry about crit damage so much \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Dec 18 '16 at 23:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, it was back in the old days. We didn't have crit builds then so it was a little more fair to all :) \$\endgroup\$ – Leezard Dec 18 '16 at 23:13
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This is going to be almost entirely a matter of opinion, and really it's up to the GM of your individual game. The decision is going to be different for different people, in different contexts, at different times.

However, you can always compare the effects to the ones listed and ask "would I rather have one of the listed effects than this?" And if the answer is "yes" for any of the listed effects, it's almost certainly not too powerful.

For your example, try comparing it to either the second or third listed effect (because failing to act 50% of the time is comparable to being forced to fail 50% of the time). In the case of the second effect (a -4 penalty), you can try to figure out what the equivalent penalty is for having to roll twice. As it turns out, when you would normally succeed a roll 50% of the time (have to roll an 11), it's the equivalent of a -5 penalty. However, as the rolls get easier to pass (something the character's good at, for example), the effect becomes reduced. Likewise, for something the character's bad at, the effect becomes less important (because the chance of them passing was low anyway). After running the calclations, the equivalent penalties are listed below for each target roll.

  1. 0
  2. -0.95
  3. -1.8
  4. -2.55
  5. -3.2
  6. -3.75
  7. -4.2
  8. -4.55
  9. -4.8
  10. -4.95
  11. -5
  12. -4.95
  13. -4.8
  14. -4.55
  15. -4.2
  16. -3.75
  17. -3.2
  18. -2.55
  19. -1.8
  20. -0.95

As you can see, it's usually going to be roughly equivalent of the -4 penalty, and therefore probably about right, if perhaps a bit worse for the rolls you'll typically be expected to make. Numerical comparison to the third listed effect shows that the third effect is a lot worse for easy rolls, but not as penalising for hard rolls.

All in all, your suggested penalty is probably about right.

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The Horror Adventures (pg 138) gives even more examples of curses that can be used by the GM or players (at GM's discretion):

  • When the victim is adjacent to the area of a damaging spell, the area expands to include the victim (even if she created it).

  • The victim can't heal naturally, and magic healing only heals the victim by half the usual amount (minimum 1). if the victim has regeneration of fast healing, it is reduced by half.

  • The victim is plagued by cacophonous sounds and strobing lights that only she can hear or see. She is distracted (-5 penalty to perception checks), cannot take 10 on skill checks, and must succeed a concentration check (DC 20 + spell level) to cast spells. Any time she picks up or retrieve an object (including drawing a weapon or ammunition), there is a 50% chance that she immediatelly drops it (for ammo, that attack is lost).

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