Curses and cursed objects are a staple of fantasy and D&D. A cursed item you can never remove or a family curse that you must contend with before it strikes are great plot hooks or complications to an ongoing campaign.
Of course, where there are curses, the narrative demands that there be a way to break the said curse. That’s where the spell Remove Curse comes in.
Remove Curse is the standard method for clerics, paladins, warlocks, or wizards to get rid of curses on people and objects.
However, the actual usage of this spell can be kind of tricky. Remove Curse has some edge cases that DMs may not be clear about how to handle. Plus, making space for Remove Curse in a campaign can sometimes be awkward. DMs unfamiliar with handling curses might include a curse just to necessitate the use of the spell, making the situation feel forced or mechanical.
That’s why, in this guide, we’ll go over not only how the Remove Curse spell works and how to use it but also advice for DMs about how they can design campaigns and story arcs in such a way that Remove Curse can both be an interesting and helpful option for the players and not a necessary spell to continue the story.
So, what exactly can Remove Curse do?
- Casting Time: 1 Action
- Range: Touch
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Abjuration
- Class: Cleric, Paladin Warlock, Wizard
- Level: 3rd level
- Effect: Buff
- Attack/Save: None
- Components: Verbal, Somatic
Spell Description: “At your touch, all curses affecting one creature or object end. If the object is a cursed magic item, its curse remains, but the spell breaks its owner’s attunement to the object so it can be removed or discarded.”
How To Use Remove Curse
On the surface, Remove Curse is easy to use. When someone or something is cursed, you simply cast the spell, and the curse is gone! For the most part, that’s true.
In practice, there are a few restrictions to be aware of. While the spell allows you to target a cursed object, cursed magic items do not actually count as cursed objects. Instead, targeting cursed magic items with Remove Curse simply breaks attunement, giving you a chance to throw away the item.
Of course, this doesn’t allow you to use those cursed magic items for whatever advantages they do have, but that’s a separate issue.
Many would think that an object that is cursed would be, literally, a magic item, but it seems that Remove Curse makes a distinction between a cursed object and a cursed magic item.
For DMs understandably unsure about the difference, I recommend treating items that provide some advantage as cursed magic items and all other items as simple cursed objects as a simple rule of thumb.
Finally, there are a few conditions and magical effects that Remove Curse can lift not included in the spell description. For the most part, these are listed in the effects description explicitly, like for lycanthropy or the Geas spell.
However, there are a few cases where Remove Curse should work, but it isn’t explicitly listed as an option.
These are spells or abilities that explicitly say they “curse” a target, but they don’t say that Remove Curse can undo the effect.
Examples of these include Hex and Bestow Curse, both of which should have their effects neutralized by Remove Curse but don’t mention the spell in their description. I recommend treating any other effects like Hex and Bestow Curse similarly.
Remove Curse in Your Campaign
It can often be tricky to make room for Remove Curse in a campaign. It’s a good rule of thumb that if a player takes a spell, the DM can provide a few situations where it would be useful. However, for Remove Curse, this can feel flat and uninspired. Since curses aren’t particularly common in 5e, including one often feels like a transparent excuse for a player to use a 3rd-level spell slot and be done.
Rather than your players feeling like they used their spells to solve problems, they might feel like you are creating problems to make them use spells. While that’s technically true, it makes for a poor gameplay experience.
The obvious solution is to include more curses and effects that can be neutralized by Remove Curse in your game. These can be from both standard sources, like Bestow Curse, Hex and Geas, and more homebrew versions that fit your setting.
However, this doesn’t really solve the underlying issues that mean DMs avoid including curses in their campaigns in the first place. Curses tend to have a lot of narrative weight, so DMs tend to use them only when they explicitly fit into the plot. They feel like they should be severe and unmanageable, like the dramatic curse of lycanthropy or something broken only by something with an artifact’s level of power.
One way to approach this issue is to make curses more like magical diseases in your settings. Lower their stakes! That way, sometimes a curse is just something a person can get that kind of be annoying or even dangerous, but with appropriate magical care (a 5th-level wizard or cleric), the issue is solvable.
When curses are a little more common, peppered into the side effects of an ancient trap or used as a character quirk for a recurring NPC (imaging a curse that imposes constant hiccups, and therefore disadvantage, on everything someone does), the occasional use of Remove Curse will make a lot more sense.
Plus, once curses are common, you can make curing a curse a way the players can advance a scene or the story.
For example, the players might need to get information from a hostile informant with a minor curse. Casting Remove Curse might make the informant friendly enough (or be worth enough in a bargain) that they give the information willingly. As long as the curse isn’t the only way for the players to move forward and the world has other curses that the players could choose to remove or not remove, it’ll feel natural to use the spell to solve this problem.
The players might simply make a really great Charisma check and persuade or intimidate the informant as well, or they might find the information another way. But by giving the informant what you’ve established as a rare but not infrequent magical ailment, you present the players with a door to an alternate route, something that is key to making the use of a spell to solve a problem feel natural.
Finally, I have one other suggestion to fold Remove Curse more naturally into the world.
If curses have alternate solutions that don’t require the players to have a particular spell, even if these solutions are somewhat difficult to achieve, then players won’t feel like they need the spell to progress in the story. That can help your campaign world feel less like “The Land Where You Need Remove Curse to Survive” and more like a setting where curses are just a part of life that magic can provide a shortcut for.
You can even still include the more serious curses that have dramatic narrative weight, but let your players know that these are much stronger than the common kind. If the everyday curses that unfortunately attach themselves to unlucky souls are the common cold, these curses are like the Black Death. They might require specialized magic, rituals, or specific events to remove, and Remove Curse might only be helpful when cast at a higher level.
By providing options for handling a curse that isn’t the spell and by making it more common to use the spell, a curse that really does need to be broken to progress the story won’t feel like such a hollow plot point.
Common Questions About Remove Curse
Can You Remove a Curse From a Magic Item in D&D 5e?
Generally, it is possible to remove a curse from a magic item, but the method is up to the DM to decide. While Remove Curse does not, by default, simply remove the curse from magic items and instead just breaks the attunement, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to remove the curse entirely. You’ll just have to check in with your DM or in some cases the magic item description for the details.
Does Remove Curse Work on Lycanthropy?
Yes! Sometimes. Remove Curse does remove lycanthropy but only for people who have been actively cursed with lycanthropy. Those who are lycanthropes by birth cannot have the lycanthropy so easily removed.
Does Dispel Magic Work on Curses?
Dispel Magic generally does not work on curses. This is because Dispel Magic specifically ends any spells on their targets, and the vast majority of curses are not spells. That is, cursed magic items, bloodline curses, and other kinds of curses are not on the official spell list, so they can’t be dispelled.
The exceptions to this are spells like Bestow Curse and Hex, which curse a target and can be ended by Dispel Magic.
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.