(Concept inspired by the Dresden Files)
When a powerful wizard dies–truly, utterly, commits to the notion of their life coming to an end–they can cast one final, devastating spell against a single creature by digging into their final reserves of arcane power: their own soul.
A wizard crafts their death curse over months, if not years, perfecting a range of deadly afflictions that they might bestow upon a creature whom they truly despite in their final moments.
Most (but not all) Death Curses target a single creature. As a reaction upon being reduced to 0 hit points, the wizard chooses a single creature that they can see within 60 feet. The target must make a Charisma saving throw against the wizard’s spell save DC or suffer the consequences of the curse. The Death Curse is cast at the highest level that the wizard is capable of casting for the purposes of Counterspell and does not expend a spell slot. Casting a death curse instantly kills the caster, foregoing the chance to roll death saving throws and preventing resurrection by any means other than a Wish spell or the interference of a god.
More powerful wizards may cast more powerful Death Curses as appropriate. Breaking a Wizard’s Death Curse requires more than simply casting the Remove Curse spell. Affected creatures may have to undergo special trials, collect special ingredients, or have the Remove Curse spell cast at a higher level and at special times in order to fully break the curse. There should be a way to break the Death Curse, but it should be an immense adventuring challenge.
Note: this works for any full spellcaster. Arguably, neither wizards nor full casters need a buff, but this is also an exercise in crafting useful curses more generally. Do what you will with that.
Death Curse Examples
- “Die By Fire.” The affected creature gains vulnerability to fire damage.
- “Never Recover.” The affected creature cannot benefit from magical healing.
- “Rot in Hell.” The affected creature’s soul is marked to enter the Nine Hells upon death. This marking appears as an invisible brand on the creature’s skin, noticeable by any celestial or fiend, or creatures that can see invisibility.
- “Sleep No More.” The affected creatures must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw when they try to fall asleep; if they fail, they are unable to sleep and do not achieve the benefits of a long rest.
- “Forget Yourself.” The affected creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw each time they awaken; if they fail, they slowly begins to lose memories of their past.
- “Petrify.” The affected creature slowly begins turning to stone. Their AC immediately increases by 1. On each subsequent day, their AC increases by 1, their weight increases by 50 pounds, and their movement speed is reduced by 5 ft. After 7 days, they are considered Petrified. Casting Greater Restoration on the creature can undo one day’s worth of transformation.
- “Slow Thyself.” The affected creature has disadvantage on Dexterity checks.
- “Live in Fear.” The affected creature has disadvantage on saving throws against being frightened and disadvantage on death saving throws.
- “Twist Thy Words.” The affected creature has disadvantage on Charisma checks.
- “Draw Forth Undead.” Any undead within 1 mile of the affected creature is pulled toward it and hostile to the target.
- “See No Evil.” Aberrations, fiends, and undead are automatically invisible to the affected creature.
- “Wither And Die.” The affected creature has disadvantage on Constitution saving throws and their Constitution score is reduced by 1. Their Constitution is reduced by 1 again every day. When the creature hits 0 Constitution, it dies. A point of Constitution can be restored by targeting the creature with a Greater Restoration spell.
- “Lose Your Will.” The affected creature has disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws and their Wisdom score is reduced by 1. Their Wisdom is reduced by 1 again every day. When the creature hits 0 Wisdom, it dies. A point of Wisdom can be restored by targeting the creature with a Greater Restoration spell.
- “Change Thy Form.” The affected creature gains the curse of lycanthropy.
- “Die in Light.” The affected creature gains Sunlight Hypersensitivity, taking 1 radiant damage for every minute spent in sunlight. While in sunlight, it has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
- “Perish.” The affected creature dies.
Player-Side Death Curses
Notably, most of the above Death Curses are designed for NPCs; they’ve built to keep the game relatively fun for PCs playing long-term. If a PC wants to use a Death Curse–foregoing death saves and the capacity to be resurrected–they probably want something immediately flashy and beneficial. If you’re using this mechanic, feel free to work with PCs to craft their own unique Death Curse with powerful immediate effects. Otherwise, here are some examples:
- “Burn.” The affected creature takes 10d10 fire damage.
- “Come Forth!” The caster calls upon an elemental, fey, or fiend ally and summons them to the plane to fight for his team. The specifics of this curse vary depending on the relationship between player characters and the creatures they meet.
- “Be Ensnared.” The affected creature is surrounded by a Magic Circle as if the spell were cast by the wizard.
- “Freeze.” The affected creature is paralyzed for one round.
And so forth. An alternative to Death Curses, of course, could be Death Blessings–a Cleric buffing their team with a mixed Mass Cure Wounds and Bless, for example, or a Druid creating a sacred grove by transforming into a tree on-the-spot. These flavorful last-ditch abilities give players the chance to channel the full extent of their beloved character’s power, channel their creativity, and change the tide of battle–all at the expense of losing the character permanently. At its core, it’s a way to let them go out on their own terms.
For more fun ideas on Wizards, check out The Tome of Arcane Philosophy on the DMsGuild, which has tons of wizard worldbuilding and lore for your world! 95% of all proceeds go to charity, so if you purchase the book, your money goes directly to NAACP Legal Defense Fund.