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I am curious, what do people think of cursed magic items? On one hand, they add an extra element of risk, something which is very nice in a game where death is a minor inconvenience. On the other hand, they lead to paranoia, and pretty much totally screw low levels, whereas high levels just brush them off.
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner -- Samuel Coleridge Taylor
Last edited by White_Drake : 07-18-2012 at 11:04 PM.
Cursed Items are my favourite thing, ever. I love being given cursed items, especially if they're the printed ones (almost all of them are amazingly awesome). You've just got to be a little... inventive with them. Even at low levels, you can still get by with the penalties and have a great time figuring out what to do with them.
The fun lies in turning the curse into an advantage; that -2 Cursed Sword seems like a pain, doesn't it? But then it dawns on you that as long as you have it, you are never without a weapon. I go out of my way to acquire -2 Cursed Swords.
Of course, this doesn't hold true for crap like the Boots of Dancing or the Scarabs of Death. Those are just mean ways for the DM to kill your character
As a DM I love them. The more 'good-with-bad' the better.
My favourite was a +5 Scimitar, created back when we were playing 2nd ed. It functioned exactly as intended, except when it was used to strike a creature that needed +5 weapons to hit. Even then it still functioned as a +5 weapon, but, for every hit on such a target the wielder was required to make a saving throw (rolled by the DM, so as not to give the game away) or lose a point of wisdom. Each time a save was made the next save got 1 point harder. After a point of wisdom was lost the save 'dc' reset to its original difficulty. Subtle, and even after the curse is discovered, what do you do when you find yourself needing a +5 weapon to hit something? Mwahahaha!
I'm not so much for the 'basic' cursed items, as they can be a bit of a mixed curse. Dust of Sneezing and Choking has entire threads devoted to its 'broken nature', and I got bitten once, in the same game as above, by clever use of a Helm of Opposite Alignment. More than any other magic item, you have to be very very careful with cursed items.
I've only had one experience with a cursed item, and while the method of it being acquired by my character was... debatable, it was still a fun experience nonetheless. It was a custom cursed sword of my DM (who I KNOW visits these forums, yet don't know his forum name so I can't properly credit him for his awesome creations) which was in the hand of a powerful undead which we eventually brought down by casting cure light wounds wands on (no, really).
I, at that time, was playing a wizard planning on becoming a swiftblade. Being weary of a weapon wielded by a powerful undead, I stipulated that I was identifying the weapon - while doing everything I can not to touch it. He ruled that to properly identify the weapon's magical enchantments, I needed to properly handle it, which lead to him being cursed by it (but at least I knew the effects of the curse).
Luckily it was at the stage of the character that having a weapon which caused negative energy damage to him equal to the damage he dealt wasn't that big of a handicap (just keep casting spells!). He later got rid of it by pretending to be defeated by a joke NPC, who 'looted' the cursed sword from his body, thus transfering the curse to him. That poor, poor NPC.
So yeah, I recommend them. They can be great fun if used well, and trying to find a way to overcome a powerful cursed item can lead to adventure hooks and new plot lines.
The way I see it, there are two good environments for cursed items...and two different TYPES of cursed item that fit into those environments.
In environment #1, magic items are relatively plentiful...they can be bought and sold. You can pay someone to identify them, or at least get a sackful of pearls in exchange for your "cash" treasures.
In these situations, magic items are IDed as magic, maybe even spellcrafted for school, then they're stuffed in an interdimensional device and ignored until after the dungeon is cleared when everything is bought, sold, traded, etc...liquidation sale at the end of each adventure.
Cursed items that work well in this kind of setting are "nuisance" curses...more side effects than anything else. Curses that can almost be described as unusual features. "It's +2 AND Aberration bane AND it turns your hair green". Curses of this sort work because they increase the cool/interesting factor of items that would otherwise be converted to gold at the first available convenience, and might even lead to the PCs hanging onto something odd just because its odd instead of casting "transmute loot to cash" on it.
Nastier cursed items don't work as well in this enviornment, since they're likely going to undergo a standardized item checking/sanitization process during down time. The presence of nasty cursed items will just mean they take extra precautions and steps during the sanitization.
In environment #2, magic items are more unique, rare, and hard to come by. Time pressures, economic realities, or just ginormous dungeons conspire to keep the PCs from 'liquidate and purchase' as the primary means of equipping, so they have to put items into use that they find in the field.
In this environment, cursed items with actual, painful curses work better, because they have the opportunity to do so. PCs will grin and bear it, or even try things out of desperation, because the circumstances actually call for that sort of thing. Curses actually have a chance to have some bite to them, since there isn't time or opportunity to put every item that pings as magical through a thorough testing.
Just be sure to account for the resource drain that such cursed items will cause.
Whadda ya mean, Orcs got levels too?
When I ran Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for my group, I deviated a little bit from the script. They had just rescued the town from the zombie infestation and had visited the castle once. When they returned to town to stock up before they visited the castle again, they were the recipients of "gifts" from the townsfolk. This town was pretty poor, but they willingly took on these super items and donned them and said thank you.
Meanwhile, genius Vampire Mr. Von Zarovich had had these items cursed long ago and held onto them from his conquests and decided to let the shopkeep give them to the party.
Anyway, the paladin got a Cloak of Charisma +4 that turned -4 at night (he never figured that one out). The sorceress got a Cape of the Mountebank that did dimension door in random directions instead of where it was told to go (straight up was fun). The monk got a vest of resistance +3 that glowed so he could never hide (not as fun of a curse as I thought it would be), the NPC Knight of the Raven got the Mace of Blood (was very fun). And the thief got a +1 Undead-Bane bow that would back-bite on crits (only critted once the whole game, but the look on his face was stellar).
So, in this case, it made a lot of sense for the bad guy NPC to put cursed items in play, and the players in this case were too blinded by the generosity of the villagers (who really did pull together about 200 gp, which the shopkeep pocketed) to realize what was happening.
And it was fun for me.
I think that randomly finding cursed items can be a little bit off-putting at first, but players in my group know to look for them now and also know to look for Legacy weapons and the like, so it's not a big deal.