Friday, February 19, 2010

Adventure Ruining Spells

As a DM of many many years, there is nothing I hate more than players ruining a good adventure opportunity with a simple spell.

How many times have you, as a DM, allowed a party to stumble on an interesting Cursed magic item and thought "Gee, it'll be interesting to see how they cope with this" or "This will make for a great side quest to see how they rid themselves of this item" only to have the know-it-all cleric throw Remove Curse all over your adventure hook?
I can understand the frustration of being saddled with a cursed item that weakens your favorite character or a strange malady that forces you to play in a way that you hadn't intended or wanted, but it just seems too easy to rid yourself of anything that doesn't always go the players way. And I guess in a way its nice to be able to actively do something about these ill effects, but wouldn't it be more fun and more interesting if there were a was to do something about it that doesn't seem like just a speed bump in your daily agenda?

I've often had players square off against werewolves and wererats and all manner of were-whatevers, and inevitably someone is bitten and they contract a fun little disease. Gee, that sounds like a great chance to have them role play having to deal with this malady or at least have them seek out a way to cure themselves and become fully human once more. Silly DM, lycanthropy is for kids! Remove Disease will clear that were-rash right up.

I don't like to force my players into anything if possible (except when they don't go to where my adventure actually is), but once in a while I would like to see them try to solve a problem without just relying on a simple spell that they, at worst, have to camp for eight hours to memorize the appropriate spell. These campaign and character altering adventure hooks simply become a minor annoyance rather than another night of adventure. 

I think that these Adventure Ruining Spells are too common or, at least, too readily accessible and can quickly put the kibosh on a DM's plans. Heck, I've even thought of making some of these situations the main focus of an adventure, but it becomes an argument rather that a night of fun! 

DM: The gleaming sword your paladin withdrew from the dragon's hoard has become black and drips green venom from its keen edge. You can see the souls of the damned swimming through the depths of the steel blade and you feel compelled to bring destruction upon the world.

Paladin: No problem, I'll cast remove curse.

DM: Ummm, you can't.

Paladin: Why not? Its a curse item and I can cast Remove Curse!

DM: You have to rid yourself of it by going to the ancient volcano in the land of evil.

Paladin: That's Bulls***, you're railroading us!

Maybe I wouldn't have such a problem with these spells if there was actually something involved with the spells that required some real effort on the part of the caster, but there really isn't. Speaking from a 3rd edition perspective (because that's what I have in front of me at the moment), here is basically what is required:

Remove Blindness/ Deafness - 1 action
Remove Curse - 1 action
Remove Disease - 1 action

No special components are required. No extended time spend purifying the subject or preparing a herbal brew from rare plants. Hell, it took longer to Identify a magic item! And if you got to a high enough level you got the Granddaddy of all Adventure Ruining Spells: HEAL! Which as well all know heals all damage (if I recall, in 1st Edition it healed all but 1d4 damage, big whoop), cures blindness, removes disease and cures poison. And what does it require you ask?

Heal - 1 action

It's hard for a DM to justify forcing a player to go on an adventure to remove one of these bad mojos when the rulebook itself says they don't have to. It gives the player the impression that "if they DM is just going to throw THAT rule out, what else is he going to throw out when it suits his need?"

Maybe if the spell could temporarily suppress the effects but a long term cure needs to be found, that would allow the player to function normally for a while, but he would still need to do something about it at some point. It was still instill that sense of urgency without completely hampering the players ability to enjoy their character for the night's adventure. And, more importantly, it wouldn't ruin the effect's threat and possible adventure hook for the DM.


  1. Curses are for low level PCs. Geas is the way to "curse" your badass players... Saving Throw: None :)

  2. true, but unfortunately, most of the "Remove" spells are around 5th or 6th level caster spells see even that early they are rendered moot.

  3. Geas - hehehe...I was playing in a campaign once and I came up with what I thought was a foolproof way to stop party bickering, backstabbing and downright treachery by drawing up a contract of co-operation and binding every party member to it by Geas. It worked, sure, only insofar as everyone tried their level best to provoke everyone else into breaking it, just to see them die.

    Adventure-ruining magic items - one DM I knew failed to check the magic item list of a player who'd come into the adventure from someone else's campaign (happened a lot with our group back in the day) and could only watch as the character in question decapitated a Pit Fiend with a vorpal frisbee...

  4. Vorpal Frisbee huh? did it glow blue and return to TRON's hand...I mean...the character's hand after he threw it?

  5. Yup.

    We instigated firm character sheet vetting procedures after that one. Players would often deliberately seek out games run by a particular Monty Haul DM who thought he was funny, gather up the 'quirky' magic items that he created and then move on to other DMs' worlds, causing havoc as they went.

  6. Interesting. I have noticed how everyone and their sister seems to rail about spells ruining games, the magic system wrecking everything, etc. But really, it is not the spells that are making it difficult for you--it is your understanding and approach to magic and spells that is the real culprit. Yep. It is your own fault, sort of--no offense meant. You see, the spells are presented with no real context for their existence or operation beyond the vague, ambiguous so-called Vancian mechanics and left at that. This does you no favors as a DM. In the instance of a curse that you do not want the players to just remove with one spell, take a step back for a moment and get some perspective. Is this curse equivalent to a spell cast by a character of a specific level? Or is it the equivalent of an Artifact or the work of a God or somesuch? Curses can be ramped-up just as much as a fighters' attacks can be or a Thief's skills can improve...and they ought to increase in nastiness, especially if they are the left-overs of a perfidious prehuman race of serpentfolk, or the twisted work of mind-blasted cultists, or whatever. PCs are not the epitome nor acme of all there is in a world, they are (mybe) the best at what they do, perhaps, but there is far more to a world than a bunch of unwashed grave-robbing vandals can even imagine...and a curse that they can repeal or revoke with a single spell is a weak curse you allow a 3rd level fighter to casually decapitate a 20th level fighter in fair combat? This is a similar situation, if you think about it. But then, that's just one opinion. YMMV

  7. The problem is, the rules state one thing and the players come to accept that as law. If you curse a character, they will automatically assume that it can be dispelled in a short amount of time with a minimum of effort because the rules tell them so. For a DM to stop them in their tracks and say "Sorry, in this instance I'm changing the rule and that doesn't work" makes the players feel like you are 'out to get them' or that you will be changing the rules that they are familiar with at a moments notice whenever it suits the DMs needs.

    I understand that the rules are merely guidelines and sometimes changes need to be made, but they are also the basis of the entire game that everyone has studied and become familiar with and make changes in the DMs favor on the fly could set up an "Us vs. Them" attitude.


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