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One Curse Limit
"A more powerful spell is already active."

When a world's rules state you can't curse someone who's already cursed.

This trope centers on situations where an attempt to cause Standard Status Effects fails because the intended victim is already being affected by something. It could be the same effect from a different source or else the fact that they were hit by something separate previously is preventing a new effect from working.

Not to be confused with Acquired Poison Immunity, in which a character is resistant to a poison or effect because they'd been affected by it previously and recovered. This trope is when an attempt at poison outright fails because they're currently affected by something else. Bonus points if the current curse is useful in the first place.

This sometimes overlaps with Hybrid Overkill Avoidance if the curse would turn the character into a monster (for example, vampires can't be cursed with lycanthropy and vice versa). In cases where the resistance is caused by being diseased, this overlaps with Beneficial Disease. See also Disability Immunity, which this can be a sub- or Sister Trope to.

Not to be confused with only allowing one swear word in a work. Compare Curse That Cures, when a curse cures a character of an existing illness or injury.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Berserk universe, a person who's already been branded for sacrifice by the Godhand on behalf of another cannot be made a sacrifice by anyone else. Since most people who get branded do not survive their initial sacrifice, cases of branded survivors are vanishingly rare so this seldom comes up, but during the third major manga arc (the last one before the Golden Age arc), the Count tries this with Guts only to be told by the Godhand that he can't sacrifice him because of what Guts already went through during the Eclipse, and because Guts is an enemy, not someone the Count loves.
  • In the Death Note universe, once your name is written in a Death Note, you can't be affected by any other Death Note. Of course, since you're going to die within the next 23 days at most, it's a rather cold comfort (but see the movie, below).
  • In Dragon Pink a magic sword obtained after defeating a monster had a death curse on it: Santa immediately falls sick and his lifeforce is slowly being drained away, but Pink (who's already cursed) is not affected.
  • In One Piece eating a second Devil's Fruit is supposedly fatal. Stealing powers however is perfectly okay. Though there seems to be something unique about the character who is able to do that which allows it.

    Fanfiction 
  • In Yu Gi Oh Dark Messiah, anybody who uses the Seal of Orichalcos will wander the Earth as a ghost unable to pass on after they die unless they have special protection. When it is pointed out Yami Yugi used it before, it is explained that Yami was already under the curse that erased his memories and bound him to the Millennium Puzzle.

    Film 
  • In the movie version of Death Note, Kira couldn't kill L with his Death Note, because he had already "cursed" himself with another one.

    Literature 
  • In Princeps' Fury, book five of Codex Alera, Amara is able to resist the effects of a Discipline Collar, a Slave Collar that causes ecstasy in the wearer, by having one put on her by someone else prior to getting captured.
  • Inverted in Patricia Wrede's short story "The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd". The cure for the unbreakable curse the family is under turns out to be having a different curse put on them, which displaces the first.
  • A form of this occurs in the Discworld book Making Money when Topsy Lavish has a contract put out on Moist von Lipwig. This actually protects Moist, as the Assassin's Guild won't take two separate contracts on the same person and Moist is only in danger if the dog doesn't live out a natural lifespan.
  • In Alcatraz versus the Scrivener's Bones, Attica Smedry foils a Deal with the Devil by realizing that the trick is to not own your soul when you sign it away, and bequeathing ownership of his soul to his son Alcatraz first.
  • A variant shows up in Eyes of the Overworld. A ghost threatens to condemn Cugel to unending tedium if he does not perform a certain task. A bandit outside the ghost's tower curses Cugel with an immediate onset of cankerous death when Cugel kills him. Cugel's response is to simply leave, causing the ghost to make good on his threat. The "undending tedium" and "immediate onset of death" perfectly cancel each other out, leaving only the "canker," which Cugel is already suffering from in the form of a demon attached to his liver.
  • In Animorphs, the Animorphs can go back in time to fix the broken timeline, but Crayak has a condition—one of them must die in the process. Not surprisingly, Jake dies partway through their mission. However, the Ellimist turns out to have made a condition too—if Crayak gets one death, it could only be one death, meaning that the others are invincible for the rest of their mission.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Sinbad, Sinbad is cursed to die if he stays on land for more than 24 hours at a time. In "The Siren", Roisin the Siren enchants him and steals his memories so he will stay with her on her island. This conveniently nullifies the curse so he survives long enough to be rescued. The curse comes back when Roisin is defeated and his memories come back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Averted in Munchkin, where the rules state that curses (or traps) may be played at any time. A player can get a pile of curses at once, but if it allows you to win....
  • Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition AD&D. Insane creatures were immune to psionic attack.
  • In New World of Darkness, no creature in existence may have more than one supernatural template. Vampires cannot Embrace werewolves, mages cannot undergo the First Change, supernatural creatures stolen away to Arcadia cannot become changelings, and using a supernatural being's body to make a Promethean only makes a new Promethean, with all previous powers and abilities lost. The only partial exception is that the ghosts of mages can still use the magic they knew in life... and even that is altered into a form befitting their new state.
  • In the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the status conditions Sleep, Paralysis, and Confusion are mutually exclusive because each one is indicated by rotating the affected Pokémon card at a specific angle. On the other hand, Burn and Poison conditions are indicated by placing specific tokens on the card, and are therefore not mutually exclusive.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, The Hero is already under the effect of a curse, which is why the spell on the castle didn't effect him. In an aversion of Gameplay and Story Segregation, he cannot be placed under the Curse status effect in battle, either.
  • In Pokémon, any given Pokemon can only be under one of the major status effects (Sleep, Paralysis, Burn, Freeze, Poison) at a time. They can still be affected by secondary status effects like Confusion or Attraction, but a burnt Pokemon can't be paralyzed, and a poisoned Pokemon can't be frozen. In fact, in high level Pokemon players it consider normal to intentionally inflict one's own Pokemon a status that isn't much of a bother (or with some special abilities, a benefit) purely to prevent more crippling ones: for example, a Pokemon with the "Guts" ability may be given a Flame Orb (which burns the holder) to trigger the ability while also rendering them immune to Paralysis or Sleep.
  • In the Shin Megami Tensei games you can only get hit with one status ailment at a time. As long as you have one, any other ailment will miss.
    • Averted in Shin Megami Tensei IV. A few of the bosses have attacks that leave the targets hit by multiple status affects.
  • In Final Fantasy games, being zombified grants immunity to poison and petrification. Regeneration deals damage though.
  • One boss in Bunny Must Die! Chelsea and the 7 Devils attempts to curse Bunny in his death throes. It doesn't work, because she was cursed in the backstory.
  • This can be exploited in Seiken Densetsu 3 to heal all status ailments on the party for free. Using the Chibikko Hammer will make your team miniature, replacing whatever status effect they have, and using it again will invert the miniature status effect turning them to normal.
  • Warlocks in World of Warcraft work this way, in that a Warlock can only apply one curse-type spell, such as Curse of Weakness or Curse of Tongues, on a target at a time, with any new curses overriding the previous. In fact, two strong spells that were once curses had to be made into a new type (Banes) so that Warlocks could use them with their other curses. Though it is played with since a target can have multiple curses at a time so long as each curse was placed by a different Warlock.
    • A spell specific to the Affliction specialization, Unstable Affliction, has this relationship with its counterpart in the other two specs, Immolate.
  • 12 Tails Online averts this not only by allowing multiple statuses to stack on a single character, but by also allowing (under certain conditions) multiple instances of the same curse to stack on a single character.
  • In Nethack, the Dunce Cap is a cursed item that fixes your intelligence (and wisdom) at 6 until you find a way to remove it. However, it prevents your intelligence from being reduced further, thus protecting against the mind flayer's brain-eating attack.
  • In Suikoden II, Neclord is not able to curse Riou because of the Bright Shield Rune.
  • In Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, only one attack can take effect at a time. A Kart spinning from a banana peel might shrug off Lightning-Strike Shrinking and a dozen red-shell hits. On the other hand, anything (besides Lightning) that's powerful enough will override a lesser effect. You can get catapulted by an explosion, rolled by a Giant Bowser Shell, or knocked back by a Mushroom-boosting or Power-Starred Kart.
    • In all Mario Kart games, falling off the track protects the racer from other effects until they hit the ground again. This is most beneficial in 8 when lightning strikes. Falls in 8 don't cost too much time, but getting shrunk by lightning does. Falling does cost 3 coins, but the lightning would have done that anyway.
  • In The Elder Scrolls games from The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall onwards, you can only be a werewolf or a vampire. You can't be both.
  • In Path of Exile you can only apply one type of curse on an enemy at a time, but there is one passive and a few Uniques that let you apply more curses at a time.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, Saucerors can learn 4 different kinds of Curses, but you can only have one of them on a monster per fight.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons Treehouse of Terror: The Devil demands Homer's soul, but he earlier promised his soul to his wife Marge, so the devil can't collect. However, to punish Homer for promising him something he couldn't give in exchange for a donut (that's right: Homer traded his soul for a donut), the Devil turned Homer's head into a donut.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants: Wanting his money to talk to him, Mr. Krabs sold his soul to the Flying Dutchman. When the Flying Dutchman tried to collect, he was sent to the end of a line that already had other spirits and SpongeBob, to whom Krabs offered his soul to avoid paying five dollars.

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