D&D Did You Know’s: Curses and Ravenloft’s Dark Lords

Ravenloft has always been my favorite of the official settings for D&D. Nor am I alone in this particular regard, since Ravenloft’s popularity is self-evident from a look at its product history. After the original module (and its sequel) made a landmark impact on AD&D First Edition, Second Edition saw Ravenloft receive an unprecedented three campaign setting books.

First among these was the original Realm of Terror boxed set, though it needed the Forbidden Lore expansion set to really reach its full potential. Later, they’d be effectively combined as the Ravenloft Campaign Setting boxed set (aka the red boxed set), before finally having the Domains of Dread hardback published. And of course, Ravenloft made a very fast return as a licensed setting during the days of Third Edition, first with a hardback Ravenloft Campaign Setting book for 3.0, and then the Ravenloft Player’s Handbook and Ravenloft Dungeon Master’s Guide for 3.5. Clearly, demand for Ravenloft was considerable!

But among all those campaign settings, there seems to have been a curious little rule that was only found in one of them. Specifically, a rule that it was impossible for anyone to lay curses on the domain lords of Ravenloft. But (unless I missed something) you wouldn’t find this rule if you looked in the Realm of Terror boxed set or the Domains of Dread book, or any of the Third Edition books.

Rather, it seems to be exclusive to the red Ravenloft Campaign Setting boxed set. Specifically, from page 65 of the set’s “Realm of Terror” book, which says:

Exclusivity of Curses

As a general rule, any individual–player character or nonplayer character–can suffer the effects of only one curse at a time. Otherwise, a truly evil brute–the type of person who makes for an excellent antagonist in any adventure–could quickly become so burdened with curses that he or she would be crippled. What a waste of a perfectly good villain that would be! Therefore, no curse can affect a character if he or she already suffers from one.

An important note to make at this point concerns domain lords. By definition, all of them are laboring under the most horrible curse of all: that of ruling a domain in Ravenloft. Thus, any curse that the players might wish to lay upon them is doomed to fail.

And there you have it. Trying to lay a curse on a domain lord, whether via a spell or as your PC’s last act of retribution when slain by them, is an act that simply can’t work. It’s a small, but possibly not-insignificant, advantage that domain lords have, and yet seems to have been overlooked everywhere outside of the red boxed set.

Now if only there were a way to lift the curse that seems to be keeping Ravenloft from being revived as its own campaign setting once again…

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5 Responses to “D&D Did You Know’s: Curses and Ravenloft’s Dark Lords”

  1. Ryan Conrad Says:

    I actually DID know this rule, as it came up once with Yash in the old college game. I had forgotten about it and have not needed it since. It is interesting though as Lord Soth seems to be an exception to that rule, at least for a time. His curse placed on him by the gods of Krynn was overridden and eventually in direct conflict with the curse the DP gave him. But these were separate curses…just shows you that the DP were breaking the rules even back then…

    • alzrius Says:

      I seem to recall that some of the Egyptian gods did something similar in The Awakening, where Set and Bast were both involved with cursing the mummy in the adventure (and the Dark Powers twisted the curse). Of course, I haven’t read through it in years, so I’m probably getting some of the details wrong, but then again, the gods (like the Dark Powers) were sort of expected to be beyond mere rules during the 2E era.

  2. Thoth Says:

    I suppose it comes of playing with engineers, but the first thought that comes to mind is that this rule would make cursing the new baby a standard part of whatever the local ceremonies for a new infant are. Forever shall they be unable to develop skill in hacky-sack, or be bad at lace-making, or unable to learn to speak some rare language – and forever shall they be immune to all other curses.

    • alzrius Says:

      It’s funny to consider now, but Ravenloft’s rules about curses actually seemed like they were designed to prevent this sort of thing. Not only did the rules explicitly state that bestow curse was too minor to count as a curse (the spell-based “curses” were restricted to spells that had a much harsher effect), but the rules for laying curses without spellcasting were slanted in favor of the curse-layer having some sort of serious grudge against their target if they wanted the curse to actually manifest. And, if I recall correctly, laying a curse required a powers check anyway, opening the doorway to corruption for the person laying the curse.

      It was fairly robust system, all in all.

      • Thoth Says:

        Which is why you must do research!

        That’s the real problem with any rule with specified exemptions; each new related spell or method involves making another sub-ruling., often with very little to go on.

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