Cursed items are items that adventurers find that have some type of negative consequence. These consequences can range from mild to extremely dangerous. They can directly affect the user or they might cause long-reaching issues with the world.
Cursed items often have benefits attached to them, which makes using them a risk worth taking. They may have specific requirements that need to be met in order to use them. You can also add a hidden drawback, which may be immediately apparent or have hidden side-effects known only to the DM.
Some cursed items are so powerful that they have their own sentience. Use of these items might be dependent on the will of the item itself. The cursed item might try to change the alignment of the player or try to take over the player’s mind. Sentient cursed items often have their own objectives and have no qualms about using their wielder to achieve them. In these cases, players may wonder if they are in control of their actions or if it is the item.
Give Your Items Lore
Most cursed items should have a backstory attached to either how they were made, how they were used, or how terrible the curse is. Finding a random dagger that does +2 damage but takes away 5 HP every use is not as exciting as finding the Black Dagger of Petrovich, genocidal leader of the Cult of Infinity. Spend as much or as little time on the item’s backstory as you wish, but remember that the best way to make a world feel alive is to have things that have actually lived in it.
How to Integrate a Cursed Item into Your Story
Cursed items can be very useful plot devices in your game. If you make an item with a sufficiently interesting or mysterious backstory, your players may want to investigate where the item came from. Perhaps in order to remove an item from their person, your adventurer will have to go on a specific quest.
Another idea is to have someone in your world who is creating numerous cursed items and must be stopped. You can easily integrate cursed items into any quest, regardless of the method you choose. These quests can take precedence over anything else the adventurers are doing. Cursed items that come with illnesses or other time related factors will immediately take priority over anything else your players are doing.
One of the best thing about cursed items is that they can come from anywhere. An NPC can give a cursed item to adventurers at the beginning of a quest, it can be something found in any dungeon or on any corpse, or even a plot McGuffin. You can give any amount of plot importance to a cursed item. The curse could even come from the specific actions of a player.
Making Your Own Cursed Items
There’s no specific formula for making your own in-game cursed items. Just remember that the best kind of cursed items are the ones that players want to use. It doesn’t make any sense to make a cursed item that will cause something terrible to happen instantly or continuously without any benefit. Make sure the risks outweigh the dangers or you’ll end up making a bunch of items that your players never use. Similarly, if you make the risk too low and the benefit too high, you risk overpowering your players.
Items with Minor Curses
Cursed items can easily add an element of fun to your game without being too punishing. Items with minor curses can have very useful benefits with a very low cost of use. Adding an element of humor to the curse is always a good idea. The goal is to make the player comfortable with the balance of the item’s power.
Ring of the Emperor: This gold ring is inlaid with a beautiful opal. 24 hours after donning this ring, Charisma based skill checks have a +2 bonus. Curse: Each time the bonus on this item is used, one item of the wearer’s clothing or armor becomes invisible. The bonus decreases to -4 if all items of clothing on the player are invisible, rendering the player completely naked. The wearer may remove the ring at any time, causing the items to reappear.
Boots of the Snail: While wearing these boots, the wearer cannot be knocked prone and can climb solid surfaces. These boots have a thin layer of mucus along the soles. This mucus transfers to the ground with each step the wearer makes. Curse: decreases movement speed by 10. Only a pinch of salt will remove the boots.
Items with Medium Curses
These items are more likely to have heavier negative side effects. As such, it’s not a bad idea to increase the benefit to make it more appealing. These items might be sentient and have their own motivations. These motivations may or may not align with the player’s. In addition, these items may be more difficult to get rid of.
Items with Dangerous Curses
With this type of item, you’re looking at a very substantial curse. It could be as serious as the item killing the wielder, dominating the player’s mind, or sucking out their soul. To that end, the benefit has to be so incredibly tempting a player will take the risk of using it. These are the types of items that are more likely to have hidden negative effects known only to the DM. And in classic curse fashion, the negative effects can reveal themselves at the most inopportune times. Moreover, these items may be near impossible to remove without heavy consequences.