I have two mechanics in Exalted that I have a serious love/hate relationship with. One is the Great Curse, the other are perfect defenses. I like the idea and intent behind both, but I’m deeply dissatisfied with how they were implemented. Leaving the issue of perfects for another day, I’m going to lay out my initial thoughts on how I’d like to handle the Great Curse in FATE/Exalted.
I have always enjoyed the concept of the Great Curse. An ancient curse that slowly causes you to betray everything you hold dear. An insidious darkness that creeps inside your soul and warps it until you aren’t you anymore. Something that makes you rationalize your actions as you give in to the darkness by inches.
At least that’s how I always thought it should work. In actual game play I always found it to be more of a “BAM! Now you’re a dick for a scene!” The way the limit breaks work always seems really jarring whenever a character would hit the tipping point.No organic slow decent into madness, just a sudden snap. “Oh, guess I just went into limit break. At least I get my willpower back as I wreck 5 sessions worth of effort.”*
The Dresden Files RPG has a mechanic called Sponsor Debt that I think may fit how I have always conceptualized the Great Curse. In Dresden, a character can enter into a bargain with a more powerful individual, cleverly called the Sponsor, to “borrow” some of the patron’s magic power. The finer details are much more complicated than that, but the quick and dirty version is the debtor can call on the Sponsor to power certain actions (spells, invoke an aspect for free, extra power, etc) as long as those actions are in line with the Sponsor’s agenda.
I think this mechanic can be adapted to fit the Great Curse fairly easily. The Sponsor becomes the curse itself, with its agenda being the tainting of the character. This would give players a bit more control over when the Great Curse effects them, by allowing them to twist what they’re doing subtly to gain those “free” effects. The debt could then be used as mostly unavoidable compells to represent when the Great Curse has a much stronger hold on the character. Feels like I’m on to something here, but it’s still not finished.
Another much simpler way to model the Great Curse is to have the character’s Trouble relate back to the curse. This certainly has the bonus of being simple, but I’m not as happy with it for some reason. I think it’s at least partially because I like the idea of the Great Curse as a force external to the characters. In the end I may just end up using both.
Further noodling is once again required.
This is very much a rough draft of the Great Curse and I’m sure it will change before I’m done. For now I think I’ll let this simmer in the back of my brain and come back to it later. Maybe a bit of aging will help things become clearer.
*I saw this happen first hand. Set backs can be fun, but to lose that much effort to a random die roll kinda took some of the starch out of the group.