There are initially four different ways to use the Bestow Curse spell in D&D 5e. Those are as follows:
Disadvantage on ability checks and saves for one ability score
Disadvantage on attacks against you
WIS save or do nothing during a given round
+1d8 necrotic damage when you damage them
The spell normally lasts for a minute, but if cast with a 9th level slot, it lasts until dispelled, which is worth noting because the best curses last until dispelled. if cast with a 4th level slot, it lasts for 10 minutes. A 5th level slot is 8 hours. A 7th level slot is 24 hours. These all have their uses for creative players, but the best part of the spell by far is the encouragement to invent your own curses, which many players and DMs have taken as a challenge for their own creativity. So while it is certainly not new, it’s my turn to take a crack at it!
* - A curse marked with an asterisk is a 9th-level only curse due to its powerful detriment or long-lasting nature. But who is to stop you from enchanting an innocuous item with such a curse?
Hair Growth/Loss: You are cursed to grow hair at a rapid rate for the duration of the curse or else lose all of your hair (it grows back after the curse ends).
Mute/Deaf/Blind: You are rendered either mute, deaf, or blind for the duration of the curse.
Forbidden Speech: You are cursed to never speak about a certain subject, topic, or word for the duration of the curse.
*Rapid Aging/Deaging: You are cursed to either age by one year each day, or to grow one year younger each day. After you reach your final day, you die.
*Phylactery: Your fate becomes tied to a creature or object. If the creature or object is slain/destroyed, you die as well.
Ugliness: You are cursed with horrible deformity for the duration of the curse. You have -5 on Persuasion checks and Deception checks for the duration and are easily noticed and shunned by most humanoids of any race.
image source: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Possessed Limb: One of your limbs (usually an arm) acts on its own for the duration of the curse, usually attempting to harm its host, harm others, or sow chaos.
Petrified Limb: One of your limbs becomes petrified and is unable to be used for the duration of the curse. It could turn into any solid mineral like stone, iron, glass, salt, or gold. Any damage it takes is retained once the curse is lifted.
Funny Looking: For the duration of the curse, anyone who you attempt to communicate with bursts into uncontrollable laughter. This does not prevent hostile creatures from attacking you, but prevents them from speaking.
Lichsight: For the duration of the curse, you can see the spirits of the dead. Whether real or illusory, you cannot communicate with them and you must make a WIS saving throw each round or become frightened and run in a random direction or cower in place (50%/50%).
Butterfingers: Each round while the curse is active, you must make a DEX saving throw. On a failed save, you drop whatever you are holding and cannot pick up or hold anything for the rest of the round.
Forgetful: You have a tendency to forget things. During the curse, whenever new information is revealed to your character, you have a 50% chance to not be able to remember it, even after the curse has ended.
*Lady of Shalott: You are doomed to die if you ever lay eyes directly upon another being, and must therefore look at the world through a mirror and avoid direct sight of others. The difficulty of maneuvering a hand mirror or the necessity to close your eyes effectively makes you blinded while in combat, imposing disadvantage on attack rolls.
Stingy: During the curse, you must make a WIS saving throw whenever you intend to part with money. On a failed save, you opt not to spend your money on it. You cannot make another such save for the same purchase, even from a different seller.
Empty Coinpurse: You are compelled to buy things until all of your wealth has disappeared. You will even go so far as to barter your own goods once out of money. Whenever you find something for sale, you must make a WIS saving throw. On a failed save, you will do anything you can to attempt to purchase it or trade for it. Only if the seller refuses three times will you give up.
*Baleful Polymorph: You are transformed into a small creature or tiny animated object for the duration of the curse. You retain the ability to speak using a disembodied voice emanating from the creature or object, usually paired with animation like a moving mouth (if a creature) or a mouth-shaped part (if an object; like a book opening and closing its covers and such). You can move with a move speed of 10 ft. per round if an object.
image source: Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Talking Tumor: You grow a tumor-like second head that can speak that embarrasses, berates, or otherwise annoys and inconveniences you. It has +6 for Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation checks, helping it be a complete jerk.
Evil Aura: Plants within 15 ft. of you wilt and turn brown or gray and animals within 60 ft. feel afraid or threatened by you for the duration of the curse.
Bad Taste: Eating food or drinking water causes you to become poisoned for 1d6 hours, or for the duration of the curse.
Bad Luck: Whenever you have advantage for the duration of the curse, you instead have disadvantage.
*Prophecy: You become destined to die under certain circumstances. Whenever it is possible for those circumstances to be met, you must make a relevant saving throw (falling boulder? DEX save. Poisoned apple? CON save. etc.) or begin dying. The victim cannot be threatened by the curse more than once every 2d4 hours. The curse will take increasingly convoluted measures to try and make the prophecy come true the longer the curse lasts.
*Guardian: The victim is polymorphed into a hostile creature of CR 6 or less. The victim is given some sort of command like guarding a location or spreading suffering, and will continue to do so until the curse is lifted or they are slain. They revert to their regular form if they are slain. The victim cannot communicate and is hostile to all creatures. The creature becomes immune to the charmed condition.
image source: Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam
Slumber: You fall into a deep slumber and cannot be awoken until the curse is lifted.
Eternal Rest: If slain while under the curse, you cannot be resurrected by any means even after the curse fades.
Phantasm: You believe that you have been polymorphed into a small creature (like a toad or chicken) and act as such for the duration of the curse.
Unquenchable Thirst/Hunger: You feel eternally hungry and thirsty. You must make a WIS saving throw whenever you encounter food or drink, no matter how dangerous or questionable it might be (swamp water, obviously poisoned food, moldy bread, etc.). On a failed save, you consume it.
*Obedience: Whenever someone you can understand issues a verbal command to you while you are cursed, you are compelled to obey. You may attempt a WIS saving throw to resist a given command for one minute.
Hold your tongue! (Ella Enchanted)
Magical Immunity: You become immune to nonharmful spells for the duration of the curse. Spells cast by enemies or damaging spells still affect you, but healing spells and buffs do not.
Unhealing Wound: A wound you have will never heal. Your maximum hit points are reduced by 2d4+the caster’s spellcasting modifier. This curse cannot reduce a creature’s health to 0 in this way.
*Wandering: While under the effects of the curse, you are compelled to wander. Each day at dawn, you must leave and never return to the same city/town or 2.5 mile radius (if in the wilderness).
*Deadly Descendants: All of your descendants are cursed to kill their birth parents, whether intentionally or not.
*Lonliness: You are cursed to die alone. Anyone you become romantically close to or close friends eventually leaves or dies or meets a horrible fate.
*Gargoyle: You are petrified during the daytime and return to normal at night for the duration of the curse.
Voyager: You cannot set foot on dry land for the duration of the curse, taking 1d6 psychic damage each round that you do.
Yes, there’s always a Wish spell or a Remove Curse spell, but I often believe that if any cleric can remove a curse it undercuts the drama of the punishing spell. Instead, use an alternative way to remove the curse. Most of it depends on how the curse was placed and the reasoning behind it. For instance, if you refuse to give a gypsy shelter from the cold in your luxurious castle, you might get transformed into a beast until someone falls in love with you. Here are some ways that one could feasibly break a curse (if the situation allows).
Give back an item that was stolen from the caster
Complete a quest or mission for the caster
Kill the caster
Pass the curse onto someone else (through some deliberate means like a handshake or kiss or losing a wager)
Seek out a powerful extraplanar being
Seek out special magical ingredients for a cure
Find a loophole in the wording of the curse (either through tricky wording or by finding a liminal loophole. “No man of woman born” could exclude a man born by C-section. “Neither day nor night” could exclude twilight)
Change your alignment (an evil or chaotic character learns to be good or lawful.)
Change your ideal or traits after learning some sort of lesson
Overcome one of your flaws.
Let the curse run its course instead of fighting it.
Find true love/True love’s kiss etc.
Prove your worth to the caster
Atone for past sins
Selflessly risk your life for someone else
Convert a creature to worshiping the caster’s deity
Avenge the caster
image source: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Feel free to use this list and add to it your own ideas for curses! There are so many possibilities that it’s never out of the question to find a new curse that uses arbitrary magical rules to drive the plot of a story. I guess that makes curses the sitcoms of the fantasy world.
Fable is a fun series because it has a lot of range to the emotions you get out of just the lore.
All Chickens in Albion have naturally steel reinforced feathers, making them totally safe to kick around at your leisure– this is a fun family activity for the average Albionite, as it does not do anything to the chicken other than slightly relocate it.
Chickens [some anyway] in Albion are capable of understanding human language and communicating in a complex enough manner that they will march single file while clucking/singing “The Farmer in the Dell” [it sounds like the imperial march from star wars].
They are smart enough to determine their own destiny and rebel for however long that lasts.
They HAVE killed before
You need a literal giant bone cutting cleaver to just get through the feathers. These are present in all Albion homes.
Every adult and child in Albion is afraid of the dark based on a fairy tail about the shadows whispering you away from home.
The stories are real
But the shadows really only whisper your soul out of your body, enter it themselves and turn you into a Hobbe
There is no such thing as a lighthearted fairytale in Albion
One day, the wise woman of the village called all the children to her house.
She sat with them in a circle, and they ate and sang together until the moon was high in the sky. The children had never been allowed to stay up as late. They were excited. Their tongues prickled with the spicy soup that the wise woman had given them.
When the fire was just a low glimmer of ash and wood anymore, the woman lifted her hand.
The children that had been laughing and chattering fell quiet.
The woman said: “Show me the palm of your hand, and tell me only the truth. Swear on it.”
“I swear,” said the children. Some whispered it, some barely got out the words, but all of them were shivering because they felt something old and large reach for their hearts. They didn’t know if it was the soup, the woman’s power, the moon, or just their own awe before the world and the night that made them speak truthfully.
The wise woman lowered her hand. She looked at one after the other. Her eyes were warm as the fire, dark as the moon’s shawl above.
“Speak what you wish to raise in your life.”
Everyone was silent for a long time.
The woman turned her head towards the first boy.
“Family,” the boy mumbled. Then, a bit louder, clutching his empty soup bowl, he looked at everyone with honey golden eyes, wide with kindness. “Mine and others.”
The old woman said nothing. Only her head moved from then on, and it pointed to the next, the next, one after the other.
And the children spoke.
While the children said their words, the old woman drank them in. She let then settle into her memory, anchored them where they were safe.
One day, when the children were of age, she would ask them again.
Some would have changed. If they had lost their path, she would remind them of their old words, of the dreams their hearts had forgotten about. That there was a way forward, in whatever direction it may run. If they had found another way for themselves, she would gift them their once-adored word still, so that they had something to always return to and would know that once feeling something did not mean that you wouldn’t ever feel something else.
And if the children still chose the same way, then it would be their time to raise something.
So the children spoke their words. Only two were left now and before the woman could turn her head, they spoke at the same time.
The other children shivered. For a long time, nothing moved. Even the fire seemed frozen in the moment. Finally, the woman tilted her head.
“What do you mean?” she asked the two. She hadn’t asked anyone else.
The first child stood up, hands curled into fists, eyes burning. “If anyone gets in my way, I’ll bring all of the world down on them!”
“I’m scared,” whispered one of the children.
The woman looked at the other child, whose eyes were calm as the dark sky above. “And you?”
“Myself,” said the child once more. “Nothing more and nothing less.”
The first child laughed. “That’s stupid. Just yourself? What can you do with that! When I’m older, the world won’t stand a chance against me.”
Before the second child could speak, the old woman stirred. She reached out for the child’s fingers and took them into her own. The other children watched, wary and confused.
“Before you raise any of your dreams,” said the old woman, a smile on her fire-warmed lips, “I want all of you to remember this.” And when the child who stood glared at her, she took its hand as well until it sat and put its head against her shoulder.
“Raise yourself, children, and you will stand against anything. Raise yourself, and the whole world will rise with you. Hell and heaven and every fear will fall if you hold yourself upright and look to the stars. And if you cannot rise anymore, stand. Stand. The horizon has been born for thousands of years, every morning and every night. Admire its strength, when you are weak, but do not forget:
You are the dawn. You are the dusk.
The world will follow. Raise all that you are, before anything else.”