Defixiones: or How to curse your enemies while poisoning the water table!

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. At least, that is what people say. The truth of the matter is, if you want something done right, you usually hire someone better qualified at doing what you need doing. I’m not going to fool around with my furnace when I know a reputable HVAC guy who can do it for me. This is why when people need to curse someone, they go to one of those odd men or women in pointy hats. A Wizard knows just how to draw out pretty little designs onto parchment to entice the proper spell to do your word for you. Chances are, he or she went to school of this or, at the very least, has a lot more trial-and-error practice than you do.

But just as today there are folks who decide that after watching a few youtube tutorials, they are suddenly experts, folks have often decided to cut out the middleman. Why pay a man, who doesn’t know how to shave himself properly, a bag of gold to scribble illegible nonsense when you could do that just as well for essentially free? And thus, we have the poor man’s scroll, more correctly known as the Curse Tablet.

Not bad looking for a 2000+ year old negative Yelp review.

A Defixione, or Curse Tablet, is basically a plea to whatever local spirit to intervene in a manner on your behalf. Historical examples often include requests for love, money, and protection, but more often than not, of vengeance. In the Roman-British city of Bath, around 130 defixiones were uncovered and the vast majority of them requested the local goddess to beat up thieves, apparently public baths were a prime target for pickpockets.

A public bath, or a hotbed of criminal activity?!

So how does a Defixione work? I’m glad you asked. While there are various modifications and forms, the tried and true Curse Tablet functions follows a recipe.

Take one thin sheet of lead and write your complaint upon it. Say, for example, “I, Marcus Aurelius, have been wronged by Tertius Agelastus, who has slept with my wife, stolen my money, and called me a fool in the Forum. May Trivia remove his tongue, curse his mind, and shrivel his balls. Ablanathanalba .” Adding a few “barbarous names,” or nonsense words makes it sounds more magical and convincing.

Roll up your sheet of lead and pound a nail through it. If you are feeling especially artistic, make a little clay figurine of your target and stab it with a few nail in the appropriate places. Terius here is getting stabbed in the head a few times and the crotch. It is also popular for the figurine to be tied up or shaped in a curled position to represent being bound. Good old sympathetic magic.

Finally, go to your nearest body of water (the public bath, the local well, a river, a spring) with any sort of significance and toss the whole lot in. Let simmer.

If Aurelius did things right, Terius is going to have a hell of a week.

Fuck you Terius!
Another popular addition to deal with thieves was to give the spirit/deity whatever the thief had stolen, thereby making it so the thief retroactively stole from the spirit/deity. Bad move friend.
So how can we tie this into the OSR?
As I’ve ranted, Spells are spirits of Possibility, or Magic-Brain-Ferrets. Wizards attract them by thinking right thoughts (like “drinking mercury is the path towards immortality!”) and can then cage them in paper by illustrating those thoughts. Someone had to be the first person to write something down and have a spell decide to take root, so if they could do it, why can’t you?

While time consuming and not assured by any means, it is worth a shot!

Body of Water
Spirit Strength
Extremely Profane
Very Profane
Mildly Profane
Genius Loci
Mildly sacred
Very Sacred
Extremely Sacred
The table above can be used by the GM to determine either the relative strength and personality of a local established water spirit or to randomly determine what the PCs get when they throw their Curse Tablet into some random creek. Profane spirits are more likely to respond to malicious intent while Sacred spirits are more likely to respond to beneficent intent. Inversely, Profane spirits are more likely to twist beneficent requests and Sacred spirits are more likely to punished malicious requests. Neutral spirits usually don’t care one way or another, and are generally the least motivated of the spirits.
I am working on a whole list of possible curses and effects that these spirits may work for or against you, but I believe I can hold that off till another post. In the mean time, there are a broad number of quality curse tables out there to choose from.
Translation: May the waitstaff at Bucket o’ Gyros never know true love.

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2 thoughts on “Defixiones: or How to curse your enemies while poisoning the water table!

  1. I'm a big fan of this as "purchasable spells scrolls" it fits a low magic setting really well by playing on the variable night of wizards as either charlitans or actuallly potent spell casters. I especially like the variable spirit dispositions.

  2. Thank you Lung! Big fan of your work! I generally think all wizards (regardless of potency) are charlatans in one way or another. Why buy the snake oil when you can just squeeze the snake yourself eh?

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