Bestow Curse: D&D 5e Spell Guide

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Embrace your inner witch with this spell by uttering foul words and maledictions upon a creature, so that only woe may come its way.

Bestow Curse Spell Details

Found In: The Player’s Handbook (p.218)
Available to: Bard/Cleric/Wizard
School: 3rd-level Necromancy
Casting time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 minute (concentration)
Components: verbal, somatic

As your action, you touch a creature to curse them in one of several ways. The chosen creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw to resist the curse effect.

When you cast the spell, you may choose one of the curse options presented below, or work with your DM to create an alternative effect, providing that it is not more powerful than the options provided (your DM has final say).

The curse effect lasts for the duration of the spell or until a remove curse spell is cast on the target.

Curse options:

  • You may force the target creature to have disadvantage on ability checks and saving throws made with one ability score of your choice at casting.
  • You may force the creature to have disadvantage on attack rolls against you.
  • You deal an additional 1d8 necrotic damage for any attack or spell dealt to the target.
  • You may force the target to succeed on a Wisdom saving throw at the start of each of its turns before it can act. If it fails the saving throw, it cannot take an action.

Casting this spell at higher levels increases the duration of the spell as follows:

Spell Slot Level Spell Duration
4th 10 minutes
5th or 6th 8 hours
7th or 8th 24 hours
9th Until dispelled

Additionally, casting this spell with a spell slot of 5th level or higher means that the caster does not need to maintain concentration on the spell.


What Does All This Mean?

Bestow Curse can aid a spellcaster in many combat situations due to the varied spell effects you can choose at casting.

Once the effect has been chosen, it cannot be changed. And subsequent casting (even by another spellcaster) on the same target would cancel out the first effect cast.

The biggest point is the last one in the description.

Being able to cast this spell without demanding concentration is a huge bonus that spellcasters should always consider if they have the 5th level spell slot available.

However, the fun of the spell is that you can also work with your dungeon master to create a custom curse.


Custom Curses

When considering alternative curse effects, a good guideline is to compare what other spells of the same level or lower can achieve.

A spell effect that’s comparable to a spell of a higher level, would change the balance of the spell and may set an unfavorable precedent.

Some example curses could be to have the target suffer:

  • Inability to speak (or making a constitution saving throw each turn in order to be able to)
  • Reduced movement to half their usual speed
  • Inability to rest for the duration (useful as the duration is extended with higher level casting)
  • Change of appearance (maybe gain the head of a ass like in a Midsummer’s Night Dream)
  • To see other people as a different creature
  • Age the creature by 1d4+10 years
  • A level of exhaustion
  • A madness effect flaw from the table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide

Who Gets It?

This is a spell for bards, clerics, wizards, Oathbreaker and Conquest paladins, and warlocks (via the Sign of Ill Omen invocation).

But could also be picked up by a Divine Soul sorcerer, Eldritch Knight fighter, or Arcane Trickster rogue.

Bestow Curse is a good spell to pick when you get 3rd level slots, or when you get 5th level slots available.


Bestow Curse: Pros?

The fact is, this is one of the few debuffing spells in the game.

So if debuffing is a play style you like, then it is a must-have.

Being able to impose a disadvantage on a saving throw for more than one round is very powerful and hard to achieve through other routes. Possibly more powerful though, is the effect to deny a creature its entire action if it fails its Wisdom saves.

It could be a combat ending spell in cases where a boss creature has a low wisdom score.

As a touch spell, it also meets the criteria to be cast through a familiar, using its reaction.

This is a nice way to keep you out of harm’s way.

Another key feature is that the debilitating effect can be picked to have the maximum impact at that moment, especially if your DM lets you create a custom curse effect.

The biggest bonus here is being able to avoid concentration by casting the spell at a 5th level. This allows so many tactical moves which would otherwise be impossible without additional casters and excellent teamwork (see further in this article for some ideas).



The biggest downside with Bestow Curse is linked to the biggest perk of the spell; that to get the most from the spell, you actually need to expend a 5th level spell slot.

Which can sometimes be better used on a 5th level spell like Animate Objects, Contagion, or Wall of Force.

Additionally if you don’t have a familiar, getting into a range of touch might not be where you want to be if you’re a squishy wizard or bard.



Cursing someone has such a tradition in our history that there’s plenty to draw from.

You can flavor the spell effects in a lot of ways, such as having the creature emit a foul smell giving the mechanical effect of disadvantage on Charisma checks and saves.

Alternatively, you could curse a creature with awful luck when you give it disadvantage on attacks as it slips with every swing.

As part of the touch aspect of the spell, you could add that witchlike flavor by plucking a hair or extracting a drop of their blood.

Calling down a curse by invoking the power of a god of a warlock patron is another great thematic way to cast the spell. Lots of options here!


How To Use Bestow Curse

Really, there are so many effective uses to consider. And its effect to deny a creature an action is very appealing.

However, when possible, it’s best used in conjunction with another debilitating spell from an allied caster (or from yourself if you cast at 5th level to avoid concentration). I’ll list a few good combinations here, but the focus will be on lower level spells as they get more use throughout the game.

One great strategy is to target Wisdom checks and saves as the spell effect along with an a additional spell that requires a regular Wisdom saving throw, such as:

  • Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1st level spell that leaves the creature prone and unable to take actions)
  • Crown of Madness (2nd level spell which lets you pick who the creature attacks on its turn)
  • Hold Person (2nd level spell that paralyzes a creature meaning free critical hits).

Alternatively, you could target Constitution checks and saves to make sure concentration checks fail, as well as making them susceptible to powerful spells, such as Blindness/deafness (2nd level spell that kind of does what it says) or Contagion (5th level spell that inflicts a grim disease).

Targeting Strength checks and saves works well on a creature that likes to grapple, or as a set up to then attack with a spell like Maximilian’s Earthen Grasp (2nd level spell which can restrain and crush a target).

Another good combination is with the first level spell Bane.

This will ensure that not only does the target creature have disadvantage on a set ability saving throw, but they also have to subtract a d4 from their roll as well as their attacks, making the chances of success much slimmer.


Ideas For DMs

Bestow Curse is an excellent spell to create a plot hook for a party.

Early in the game, have your big bad boss curse a party member at 9th level. So now they have to find someone who can remove the malediction.

It could even be a great way to explain a player character’s (or NPC’s) backstory.

It’s also a fun one for enemy creatures to have, especially hags or those in league with them. The storytelling potential with this spell is fantastic. Discuss ideas with your DM as you go through the campaign, or even before starting.


The Big Picture

Bestow curse is one of my favorite spells because of the huge amount of strategic and roleplay opportunities that it offers.

The chance to cast it without concentration also makes it incredibly potent. But it’s easiest to see why it’s so great once you put it to good use.

So get out there and get cursing.

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Dan Leighton

Dan Leighton is a freelance writer and a shameless D&D addict. He is often homebrewing mechanics or writing short stories for his world of Orverdis. You can find him hiding under a rock on reddit as u/Barilla_in_the_mist.