Making Non-Player Characters (NPC) with unusual problems can really help spice up the game. Oftentimes it is too easy to fall back on “The smith’s daughter is kidnapped. Go save her.” But a cursed paladin who must perform a dark ritual to keep those he loves alive has interesting internal conflict.
What follows is a series of tables designed to help you make an NPC that has been cursed. This supplement will help give your next NPC a splash of interest, inform their motivations, and provide backstory.
To start, determine how the NPC got their curse:
Origin Of Curse
An evil mage through experiment or malice.
A magical accident.
A god or goddess's disapproval.
A magic item which must be returned to its rightful owner.
Deal with devil or fey gone wrong.
A hereditary curse passed down through generations. The origin is lost to time.
Wild magic triggered through the casting of a spell or breaking of a magic item.
The aura of an ancient monument (that may be sentient).
A magically trapped item, such as a chest or door.
Eating the fruit of a magical tree.
Once the origin of the curse has been determined, define what the curse does to them:
Once a month the NPC phases into another plane of existence for four hours.
The person who the NPC most loves is invisible to them.
The NPC’s tongue is removed / they are mute.
As long as the NPC is sitting, they fart uncontrollably and loudly.
The NPC has an open wound that will not heal.
The NPC continually hears their mother's voice chiding them for whatever they do.
Whenever the NPC sneezes they teleport 60 feet in a random direction.
Whenever the NPC sees the color green, they have the uncontrollable urge to steal something.
The NPC has freezing breath. Their lips are always pale blue. Food turns to ice in their mouth. They may have an icy breath weapon as well.
Whenever the NPC sees the color red, they fall into an uncontrollable rage.
The NPC is telepathically linked to a common animal or beast. Thoughts are shared between them and make both act unusually.
The NPC is blinded.
The NPC must drink human blood to survive, like a vampire. They cannot go longer than 72 hours without drinking at least 24 oz. Any less than that leaves an insatiable thirst.
The NPC's soul is trapped in a mundane physical item. It makes it difficult for them to feel any emotions.
A plant grows out from the NPC's body. If it is pulled it only grows back larger and more heartily. Where does it grow from? What kind of plant is it?
There is a small purple worm living inside the stomach of the NPC. It makes the NPC always hungry.
The NPC's most loved one has been turned into a gibbering mouther.
The NPC must stay in the same house for the rest of their life or suffer incredible pain.
The NPC turns to stone if exposed to sunlight. It takes 1d12 hours within absolute darkness to return to flesh.
Half of their body has been transformed into a terrible beast.
Reaction. Think about how your NPC would react to the curse and its effect on their life. Would the NPC have figured out a way to live so the effects are lessened? Decide how long the NPC has suffered with the curse. Has it been days or years? How does suffering with this curse for that long affect them? Or maybe the party is there to witness the curse take place.
Removing the curse. As DM you may choose that a spell like remove curse cannot simply counteract these curses. In those cases, removing the curse could be its own quest altogether. This information may be unknown to the NPC and added into the adventure for the characters to discover.
Remove The Curse
Killing or destroying the curse giver.
Drink the tears of a phoenix.
Learning and performing a blood ritual on the top of a mountain during the winter solstice
Cutting a deal with a more powerful entity than the curse giver, maybe in another plane
Building or locating a healing orrery, which turns opposite to the direction of the planet's cycle. This arcane device can revert a single event in the past and remove the curse.
Bathing in a magical pool of water.
Collecting five souls to pay off the curse giver or use to remove the curse.
Build a dream catcher with a hag’s hair and griffon’s feathers. Sleep with it over the bed for 1d12 days and pray for a painless cure.
Create a painting from the blood of a vampire.
Create a chess set from the bones of a lich and carry it always.
Drinking a potion made with a rare magical component that must be retrieved in a swamp
Receive the blessing of an ancient dragon
Putting it all together. Our sample cursed NPC is a Ratfolk named Camila. She is a rogue who once opened a chest triggering a rune (Origin of Curse, 9) that turned her tongue a glowing purple (Curse Effect, 3). After a day, she realized her tongue was losing circulation. Unable to find a solution for her curse, the tongue slowly and painfully fell off. She now always carries around a small slate and a piece of chalk to communicate. Unknown by her, the curse can be removed by smearing the blood of an elf on the wound (Removing the Curse, 3).
Now it’s your turn! Try rolling up some characters on these tables and let your imagination indulge in vexing ruminations. Alternatively, apply them to an established NPC, making the world feel dynamic or giving motivation for a future quest. Give your players a memorable NPC they may feel motivated to aid next time you play!